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Letter sent on Mar 3, 2016

Future Imperfect #13: The First Rule in Government Spending

Welcome to Future Imperfect! If you haven’t done so already, be sure to follow the FI publication to get this newsletter in your inbox each Thursday.

Here’s what I’ve been following this week:


“First Rule in Government Spending: Why build one when you can have two for twice the price?”

(Yes, that’s a quote from Contact). The British Secretary of Defense has committed to an additional £642m on their Trident nuclear submarine replacement project, taking the total expenditure to date to £3.9bn of an estimated £31bn project.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force announced the development of the B-21, which will cost $500m per unit (actually an improvement on the B-2, which cost more than $1bn per unit) after a total project cost of more than $20bn.

Maybe we need to rethink appropriations in an environment where a bunch of Air Force cadets can scrap together a fifth-generation fighter for only slightly more than peanuts?


Another harbinger of conversational commerce

According to Casey Newton, editor at The Verge, the App Store’s middle class is shrinking, and the easy money is gone. While in previous years many businesses started and thrived in iOS app development, now they are competing in an environment where people are downloading (and using) fewer apps. Paid downloads are decreasing in number and size, and consumers are weary of the pervasiveness of in-app add-on purchases. Not to mention, of apps that are the most frequently downloaded, they are by and large owned by the big players: Facebook, Google, etc.

Expect to see more companies focusing on messaging app integrations, a manifestation of conversational commerce, instead of apps in the coming months and years.


In space, Alexa *can* hear you scream…for an Uber

Amazon announced two new products in its smart home category: Echo Dot and Tap. And now they’ll even let you investigate the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. But there’s a bit more to this strategy.

From Leena Rao, “Amazon’s ambitions are much broader than becoming a consumer electronics giant. Yes, it wants to use Echo to increase its e-commerce business by giving users yet another way to buy songs and re-order products. But Amazon also wants to push into voice recognition….through Echo, and other devices, Alexa becomes a service for taking action. Because Echo is in the home, and can manage other products, it can collect more data about user behavior that can help Amazon recommend what those users should buy.”


Put away your wallet

Somalia, of all places, is proving that you don’t need cash for a functioning economy. From Quartz Africa: “In the streets of Mogadishu, the future has arrived: cash is disappearing, credit cards are unnecessary, and daily shopping is speedy and digital.”

In truth, the security situation more than anything else has spurred adoption of digital payments, ensuring secure transactions in a land where carrying cash isn’t necessarily a safe proposition. But eventually you’re going to see digital payments take off more so in the United States, perhaps driven primarily by integrations in widely used messaging apps.


A new meaning for maximized utility

From Terraform, investigating an altercation at a bar leads a detective to discover an interesting (fictional) solution to the housing crisis in San Francisco:

“Detective Morgan despised cases like this. Too many kids in a Mission bar where the orange lights and their indoor skin made them look like chickens in the first stages of rotisserie. One of the chickens drinks too much and runs in front of a hyperloop pod in a hurry to escape the roaster, and suddenly it’s a police matter, no longer a simple bar fight.
And the transcription software was down, too. Or worse, it wasn’t down, but it was constantly glitching out, producing statements like, ‘And then he made me put the scarf on the elephant.’ The software tagged the word elephant in yellow, helpfully adding: ‘Elephants are extinct. Please follow-up with witness.’
It was going to have to be old school. Nothing but a slender laptop and a set of underutilized 59 WPM typing skills. Morgan was going to have to ask the girl to repeat everything three times, which was going to feel like being drowned slowly in a vat of syrupy, double-synthesized bourbon.”

Science fiction aside, a real approach to fixing urban housing scarcity could be with micro-apartments, though concerns remain about low-income populations’ ability to rent these properties.


GIF of the Week: MFW I remember I left the stove on

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