Author: Rohit Bhargava

How We Are Launching The Future Normal Everywhere At SXSW

Years ago, I was part of a marketing team that was managing the presence for global tech brand Intel at the Consumer Electronics Trade Show. Like most other big brands, Intel had a huge expensive booth to showcase all of their newest innovations. They were also the tech powering innovation from countless other brands at the show too. As you walked the trade show floor, you saw Intel’s technology inside cars or making smart appliances smarter or built into laptops. Everywhere you turned, it seemed like the brand was there … a running commentary on just how central their technology was to powering the technology industry.

More than a decade later, as Henry and I prepared to head to SXSW we imagined a similar strategy for our new book. The Future Normal tells the stories of more than a hundred entrepreneurs and instigators who are changing the world. The book introduces thirty trends that we compiled over more than three years of research and writing. The topics we cover, from psychedelic wellness to the future of remote work are widely present in the panels, lounges and activations across SXSW.

So this week, attendees of the show will see The Future Normal at all of them. When they land in Austin, they’ll see the book in the airport Book People bookstores. On Saturday morning we’ll start with our signature 7 Minute Meetup before heading to Ballroom D in the ACC to deliver a Featured Session on the book in our (Read more...)

Welcome to the Era of Co-Writing … With Artificial Intelligence

Right now people are alternately blowing their own minds with the capabilities of ChatGPT and criticizing it’s current limitations. Whether you consider it dangerous or useful, the most likely use case for generative AI right now is as an automated tool to write faster (and perhaps better). 

Consider the fact that Microsoft is already experimenting with adding ChatGPT functionality to Word, Excel and Powerpoint. It is also inspiring artistic explorations, such as the vintage AI-enabled typewriter built by self-described creative technologist Arvind Sanjeev. It’s no wonder this is already being described as the “Year of AI.”

As the experimentation continues, we will see even more applications of this “co-writing” as writers and creators find more novel ways to use the technology. It won’t take long for classes to emerge on how to effectively write alongside AI. In the process, the discussion online about generative AI will no longer be focused on dissecting the content it creates in order to spot its flaws. Instead, the tool will quickly become a seamless part of how any of us create the written word … becoming as ubiquitous as spell check.

CES 2023: The 25 Non-Obvious Inventions, Technologies and Ideas To Watch

Welcome to the future. Or rather, the future normal. That’s what I expect to unfold today from the Consumer Electronics Show here is Las Vegas. CES 2023 is back with full global participation and much of the usual innovation we have all come to expect from the show. Thinner screens (and foldable now too!), lighter laptops, more connected devices for the home, AI-enabled everything, VR headsets and lots of automation in automobiles. Reporting from the trade show floor all week, here are some of my early picks for the most non-obvious inventions to watch and why they are so interesting.

1. CRDL Therapeutic Instrument

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Sometimes the most interesting inventions defy description and are rife with contradictions. The CRDL was the perfect example … a device that is a therapeutic tool, magical instrument and art piece all in one. It was easily one of the most beautifully designed products at CES this year, and won an innovation award too. The mission of the product is also magical, as it uses tones and human-centered design to enable more meaningful connections between people with physical or cognitive impairments such as dementia, autism, mental disabilities or visual impairments by translating touch into sound. “Different types of touch will trigger different sounds that enhance the emotional experience, enabling people to connect naturally and spontaneously.” The only thing that is a miss with this product is the terrible name. Obviously, “CRDL” is supposed to stand for “cradle,” but it looks like “curdle” or like the keyboard (Read more...)

The Most Popular Non-Obvious Stories of 2022 (Based On Reader Feedback)

Every week for the past year, I’ve curated the most fascinating stories every week in my weekly email Non-Obvious Insights Newsletter. This year the newsletter was honored in the prestigious Webby awards too. It’s always interesting for me which stories seem to resonate most with readers based on how many email responses I get, how frequently a story is shared on social media and how frequently the link to the full story is clicked. Based on this combination of quantitative and qualitative data, here is a partial list of some of the most popular stories of the year, based on what my readers shared (scroll down to read the full stories):

  1. The Surprising Forgotten Medieval Habit of “Two Sleeps”
  2. Does Science Need To Be Dumbed-Down To Make It Meaningful?
  3. Why Humans Learned To Laugh (and Naming the Uranus Mission)
  4. The Predictable Failure of Unlimited Vacation Policy
  5. The Backstory of the Bookshelf That Converts Into a Coffin
  6. Is It Ever Possible to Avoid Buying More Stuff For Your Stuff?
  7. The Science Is In. Wearing Your Shoes In the House Is Disgusting.
  8. Oslo’s Secret Future Library Holds Books To Be Published In 100 Years
  9. Why Do So Many Media Personalities Use Our Hate As A Popularity Test?
  10. Why I Just Became A Noble Citizen of the Micronation of Ladonia

Note – Some of the most popular links are to stories that have photo collections such as the winners for the World Press Photo collection to TIME magazine’s best photos of the year (Read more...)

The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of 2022 | The Non-Obvious Book Awards Longlist

It’s mid-November and this time of year means one thing for our team over here at Non-Obvious Company … it’s Book Awards time! This year we considered a record number of titles for our awards (more than 1000 books from publishers of all sizes) and narrowed the list to our selections for the top 100 non-fiction books of the year which made the Non-Obvious Book Awards Longlist. Our choices are a diverse set of titles that talk about everything from zoning cities to speaking with whales.

The honorees feature the very best ideas and writing of the year. On December 1st at 11am we will announce our 10 Shortlist selections and top 5 books of the year in a livestream broadcast of my Non-Obvious Book Review Show.

For now, congratulations to all the winners and a big thank you to all the authors and publishers who submitted books – the choices for which ones to include were harder than ever this year!

How Are Books Chosen?

We consider every aspect of a book, from its writing and quality of the ideas to the originality of the work. We are, of course, looking for “Non-Obvious” ideas above all. What this means to us is a concept or way of thinking that we haven’t seen before. Something uniquely interesting and useful. An idea that makes us think. Read more about how our awards work and our selection process >>

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing reviews of the selected (Read more...)

California DMV Approves Usage of Pointless Digital License Plates

If you’ve been patiently waiting for your chance to buy a digital license plate for your car … you clearly have too much money. This week, California approved a digital license plate for use on all vehicles. So what does it do?

The features for this relatively pointless innovation include a combination of everything you can already do on your phone (renew your registration without going to the DMV!) and features that most electric cars already have (remind yourself where you parked!). The digital plate can also turn from dark to light, display a custom banner message, broadcast that your car is stolen and allow you to track the thieves location (unless they happen to remove the license plate!).

The problem is, this license plate doesn’t do any of the things that drivers would actually want from a digital plate. Like changing my plate number to a random number when I’m going through a zone that has photo speed cameras. Or letting me broadcast an angry message to the asshole driving too close behind me. Or letting me use a really cool photo or piece of digital art as the background to personalize my look. I mean, if you’re going to create a frivolous way for me to waste my money, at least make it fun. 

Why Are Stories That Glorify Murderers So Popular?

There was already a TV show called How To Get Away With Murder, but the new Netflix series Monster about mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer’s life might be similarly instructive. As the new TV miniseries reaches record audiences, many are asking whether the sympathetic portrayal of one of the most notorious serial murderers in US history is doing more harm than entertaining. The show helps audiences empathize with the killer, while forcing victims and their families to relive tragic memories.

An increasingly popular narrative arc in storytelling is to take a classic bad guy and humanize him to flip the story. The bad guy isn’t intrinsically bad – but becomes that way through some sort of trauma. When it’s used in animated films like Wreck-It-Ralph or Megamind, we’re happy to celebrate the redemption of a bad guy who isn’t a bad guy. When the same method is used to humanize someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, the valid fear is that it can end up glorifying the horrific in a way that makes future “monsters” aspire to become one themselves.

The Danger of Falling In Love With a “Petbot”

Loona is a small household robot with a personality designed to keep you company. There is more than a month left in her Kickstarter campaign, but the project has already raised close to $1.5M. The cleverest thing about the marketing for this so-called “petbot,” though, is how it can interact with your living pets. Loona isn’t meant to be a pet replacement.

Instead, it could become your pet’s best friend—while also offering a way for you to check in on your pet (via cameras) while you aren’t around. More significantly, Loona is the type of robot that will introduce all kinds of new dynamics into how we interact with technology. While we might feel no remorse at telling a tiny Amazon Echo hockey puck to “shut up,” most of us would feel differently about interacting with an exceedingly cute robot that exhibits joy, sorrow, anger or pleasure. 

I just hope Loona’s makers (and her buyers) learn from the tragic tale of Jibo, a beloved robot friend whose untimely obsolescence led to more than a few broken hearts. When you give your heart to technology, it’s best to be prepared for the reality that just because it could last forever doesn’t mean it will. Loona, like Jibo, might just be setting people up for a futuristic, but still devastating, heartbreak.

The Inevitable Death of the “Golden Passport”

For years the European island nation of Malta has offered what many call the “Golden Passport” – an exclusive citizenship to Malta for wealthy donors who can afford the nearly $1M fee. Critics complain that it enables shady characters to get access to a European passport to move freely through Europe. And more philosophically they argue that citizenship shouldn’t be something that is bought and sold. Yet the freedom an EU passport affords is a major benefit depending on which country’s passport you currently hold, since there are definitely good and bad passports to hold in terms of the benefits they offer.

Will the European Union successfully intervene and force Malta to abandon the scheme that has netted the tiny country more than $1B over the past decade? Does the program really make it easier for international drug kingpins to travel throughout Europe? According to economics professor Dr. Kristin Surak, “while it’s easy to imagine international criminals flocking to the program, most applicants are just looking for an easier way to travel.” That seems believable … and all the backlash seems more borne of jealousy from other European nations that haven’t figured out a similar scheme for themselves. 

Are Men Struggling More Than Women In Today’s World?

The headline of the story and this provocative question may feel biased.

In a world where men have enjoyed privileges and opportunities for centuries that women have only recently been able to enjoy, even suggesting that men (and particularly boys) are somehow ignored and that there may be a reversed “gender gap” feels like hypocrisy. Yet the danger of boys and men being left behind as our culture evolves is one that author Richard V. Reeves describes as urgent in his new book Of Boys and Men:

“When boys start failing at school, flunking out of college, failing in jobs and relationships then succumbing to ‘deaths of despair’ we really need to listen. I am very sympathetic to the complaint that after 10,000 years of patriarchy and only 40 minutes of girls being ahead, the alarm bells are rung. But in the end, you’re not taking away from women, you’re creating better men, and that can’t be bad for anybody.”

Of course there continue to be men who feel threatened by the rise of women and hold on to the small-minded need to reject anything they feel minimizes their masculinity. These are the men who reject plant-based meat because it feels too “woke” or refuse to date successful women and they shouldn’t be coddled.

The path to a more equitable world means making it better for boys and for girls, not letting boys fall behind in school or otherwise. We all need to work together to create better men (Read more...)