Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Trouble With Stuff

English: Printed circuit board
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
During the recent hurricane Irma, a number of Tesla owners stuck in the traffic fleeing the path of the storm were delivered a software update by Tesla which upgraded their cars and extended the battery life and therefore range of their cars. Once the storm had blown over, another update removed the additional capacity and reduced their cars back down to the performance level they had paid for.

In fact, their cars were always capable of the extended range but they had chosen not to buy the full 75kw battery option. Few could have been aware that in fact their cars had the full battery installed, but that it had been effectively downgraded in software. Their cars were always capable of the extended range.

It all caused quite a bit of controversy, as you might imagine. But it's just an extension of a whole range of issues which are linked to the concept that you buy hardware but license software and that when you buy into any ecosystem, your rights are effectively limited. You might own that iPhone, bub, but you don't own the software or any of the content it stores and gives you access to. This is also true of your Kindle and your Apple TV or other box with your Netflix subscription.

We don't buy CD racks anymore and many of us don't have upgrade plans for those bookshelves. Content is digital, always-on and an Alexa command away. The ownership of content has changed forever. Of course, you never owned that book or music, you merely owned a physical medium containing the text or recording. The rights to the content subsisted with the author and publisher. But you could leave a book to your kid - you can't leave your Amazon account.

Worse, your iPhone, Kindle, Echo or Tesla is enabled by software which you only enjoy a grant of limited right to access. Amazon et al can simply turn your super-duper gizmo into a brick of e-waste at the blink of an eye.

Tesla extending that model to cars is sort of interesting. Next step is your house. An integrated home automation suite provided by the developer sounds really cool until you find out that if you break the terms of your licence (install the wrong type of shrub in your garden, say, if you've bought a Shiny) your kitchen will stop working.

Volvo has started down that road in a sort of legacy manufacturer trying to be hip with the kids kind of way with the announcement of a sort of extended leasing package called Care by Volvo.  You can bet other manufacturers are going to start exploring the delights of software/hardware industry models for disempowering consumers and disintermediating insurance companies and others who currently profit from the lack of a car 'ecosystem'. In this, Tesla is Apple.

Forget the threat of AIs and the like to our technological futures - here comes the spectre of the elife (and I don't mean Etisalat's crappy FTTH package) - your existence will be dominated by your parents' choice of life ecosystem for you and your world will be under license to The Man.

You mark my words...

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