Mother of Invention

I found NPR Cosmos & Culture blog contributor Stuart Kauffman‘s piece fascinating: “The Fruitful, Unprestatable Adjacent Possible.” It centers around Yusuke Ohki’s idea behind Bookscan in Japan.

I begin with a true, whimsical and lovely tale. Recently a Japanese man living in a tiny apartment, perhaps in Tokyo, with his 2,000 books felt utterly crowded. He scanned his library into his new iPad and sold the used books. But THEN: It dawned on him that this was a new business opportunity, and he is now offering “iPad library scanning” services as his new way of making a living.

I love it. Notice, to be a bit technical, that his “iPad library screening” business is a technological complement to iPad, as screw and screw driver are complements, creating value together.

Obviously the “iPad library scanning” business could not have come into existence prior to iPad’s invention and reasonably widespread sale.

What is the whimsical new “functionality” of this business that is the iPad complement? Screening libraries of those in tiny Japanese apartments crowded by books.

Then given the invention and widespread sale of iPad, the new “iPad library screening” business was in what I keep calling the Adjacent Possible of the evolution of our economic and technological web. The little example above demonstrates the ever innovation of new “complementarities”, that is new functionalities i.e., “screening libraries of those in tiny Japanese apartments crowded by books”, made POSSIBLE by what exists now.

So there are four huge implications: First, the Adjacent Possible is fruitful. There are myriad new Adjacent Possibilities, given the current Actual economy.

Second, we simply cannot PRESTATE what lies in this Adjacent Possible. Who would have thought of “screening libraries of those in tiny Japanese apartments crowded by books” as a part of the Adjacent Possible. Who would have thought, as I have blogged before, of the World Wide Web, eBay, Google, and Facebook, 30 years ago? We live in a fruitful world of ever new possibilities that we cannot prestate. As I keep writing, not only do we not know what WILL happen, we do not even know what CAN happen.

But the third implication is profound for today’s world. So, third, we cannot prestate the relevant strategy space of, say, the burgeoning economy becoming into its Adjacent Possible, so we CANNOT OPTIMIZE with respect to that BECOMING.

And the fourth implication is, I think, deeply empowering. iPad ENABLED THE POSSIBILITY of “screening libraries of those in tiny Japanese apartments crowded by books.” This new Adjacent Possible economic niche is not random, but not deterministic. Therefore we truly create the very possibilities we become. The same is true for the evolution of the biosphere where new species create non-random adjacent possible empty niches where the biosphere may/will evolve, then create ever new Adjacent Possible empty niches.

These issues are deeply important. Many people, including our elites, think we can prestate the possibilities, hence can optimize given a “figure of merit” and a set of expectations over those possibilities.

The new Japanese business is a tiny, profound, demonstration that this belief is just wrong. Sometimes, in confined conditions, we can optimize. Hence our aim is not only our limited prediction, optimization and management, it is enablement and adaptation.

I find this very empowering.

Think different, indeed!


No Flash, Explained

We should have known, but it took a full-time Flash developer to help us focus on exactly why the iPhone/iPad can’t use Flash, via Rougly Drafted

  • Video players where the controls appear on mouseover and hide otherwise. (This seems to be the norm, in fact. Whereas a click on the same video does something different: usually Pause. Try Hulu for instance.)
  • Games where you steer with the mouse without clicking (extremely common).
  • Menus that popup up subpage links when you mouse over a main button, vs. going directly to a main category page when you click.
  • Buttons that have important explanations/summaries on mouseover, which you need to understand before deciding what to click.
  • Functions that use mouseover to preview and click to commit; such as choosing hair colors for an avatar: you mouse over the colors until your character looks the way you like, and then you click to commit.
  • Maps and diagrams that don’t use click at all, but pop up info as you mouse around.
  • Numerous other custom mouseover functions that “just work” with a mouse and need no explanation.
  • None of these things can work right with a finger (or traditional stylus) because on a touchscreen, pointing at something without clicking isn’t a mouseover: it’s just holding your finger vaguely in the air. The device doesn’t even know it’s happening.

We’ll just have to wait for HTML5.


Interesting. CNET is reporting people will never buy computers without keyboards (iPhone, XBox, PS3, Kindle). And Silicon Alley Insider is judging the Crunchpad will fail:

The device has no local storage, and does not appear to have a slot for add-on storage like a SD card. That means you must have Internet access to do anything with it. That’s impractical in places like New York, where people spend a lot of time underground; on a plane; overseas; etc. An Apple tablet (or even a Kindle) has some functionality when it’s not connected to the Internet. The CrunchPad seems it will have none.

The device has no local apps, and only runs Web sites and Web apps. This, again, tethers you to an Internet connection for even the simplest function, like skimming an old email, reading an e-book, or looking at a to-do list. This also means that app performance will also depend on your Internet speed. While similarly priced netbooks are selling like hotcakes, they also include local storage and support for Windows apps, and we think netbook owners also spend at least some time using non-Web apps.

Apple’s marketing machine is stronger than CrunchPad’s. Most normal people are only going to buy one touchscreen tablet in the next year or two — if any. We assume Apple will find a way to make its offering seem sexier to a mass audience. For instance, syncing with iTunes so you have movies you can watch on a plane. Or reading an e-book in the subway. Plus, Apple will spend millions on its ad campaign. CrunchPad probably won’t have that option.

To be sure, there are definitely some cases where the CrunchPad would be adequate, such as goofing off on the Web from your living room couch, living on a wi-fi-blanketed college campus, etc. And if it’s really priced at $400, it’ll probably sell a bunch of units to curious Silicon Valley-types, coders and hackers, rich people, the geeks who also bought the XO educational laptop, etc.

An Apple “iPad” would be cool. With the iPhone, the concept of a touch keyboard has proven to be acceptable by many, and, I would argue, even sucked people in by its simplicity.