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David S. Rose

By 2045, human beings will become a new species, half human, half machine.

Or so futurist Ray Kurzweil believes. He argues that by looking at the how tech is being developed that one day we will sort of merge with machines and society will reach a state of "technological singularity."

That's because, in part, computer processors double in speed every year while they get increasingly smaller. One day, we'll inject tiny computers into our bodies like medicine or add them to our brains to make us smarter. 

In the meantime, tech is always getting faster, cheaper, and spreading to more markets and industries. And this creates a lot of opportunity for startups, until the day when we all turn into cyborgs.

"Because of this totally changing nature of society and the community business world, any company designed to succeed in the 20th century almost by definition has to fail in the 21st century," David S. Rose, Associate Founder of Singularity U and founder at Gust, tells Business Insider.

So what does that mean for startups today?

In order to prepare for the singularity, Rose says, entrepreneurs need to figure out what technology will change and over how long, determine what effect that technology will have on a particular market, figure out what holes there will be to fill, and then actually build a business that will intercept that market hole when it comes around.

Amazon, Rose says, is the perfect example of a company that built a business with the singularity in mind.  

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos foresaw a world where there was no longer a need for physical bookstores, so he decided to build one online. Once Bezos nailed down the distribution side of books, he had to start thinking about ways that competitors could kill his business. Given that the cost of storage, networks, and other digital technologies were dropping, Bezos realized the potential in digital books.  

Enter the Kindle.

Instead of waiting for a company like Apple to take him out, Bezos took himself out.

"He deliberately shot himself in the foot because he knew that if he didn't do it, someone else would," Rose says.

And someone eventually did. Apple announced in 2009 that it would be coming out with an iPad, and shortly after that, the tech industry proclaimed that the Kindle would die, but it didn't

Even though Amazon doesn't release its exact number of Kindle sales, the company has continued to expand its Kindle lineup and announced in November that worldwide Kindle device sales over the holiday shopping weekend doubled

Obviously, Amazon continues to face competition from the likes of Apple and Google. But Amazon is the perfect example of what a Singularity-focused business looks like, Rose says. 

In short, here's how startups should prepare for the Singularity moving forward:

  • Figure out where the ball will be a few years down the road.
  • Determine how to hit that ball when it arrives.
  • Figure out what could potentially take you out, and then take yourself out. 

SEE ALSO: Here's What Futurist Ray Kurzweil Thinks Life Will Be Like In The Next 20 Years

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Google NC data center via Street View

Google's Spanner database is designed to operate seamlessly between data centers around the world, keeping data synchronized across time and distance. To manage the global database and keep it running smoothly, the company had to invent its own reliable way of keeping time consistent between its servers. To accomplish this task, Google created the TrueTime API, a system that uses atomic clocks and GPS receivers in each Spanner data center to keep time consistent between its servers. Head over to Wired for the full story on Spanner from Google's engineers.

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DeptofDepartments writes "With Kindles and ebooks on everyone's lips (sc. hands) nowadays, this might come as a surprise to some, but besides being a techie, I have also amassed quite a collection of actual books (mostly hardcover and first editions) in my personal library. I have always been reluctant to lend them out and the collection has grown so large now that it has become difficult to keep track of all of them. This is why I am looking for a modern solution to implement some professional-yet-still-home-sized library management. Ideally, this should include some cool features like RFID tags or NFC for keeping track of the books, finding and checking them out quickly, if I decide to lend one." For more on what DeptofDepartments is looking for, read on below.

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According to an October eye tracking study, the iPad mini beats out the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD, and Nook HD in terms of consumer fixation, consumer recognition, and purchase intent. 

This study, performed by EyeTrackShop, used the web cameras on 600 Americans' personal computers (with their consent, of course) to answer the question "How are new mini tablets perceived by consumers?"

Here's a graphic representing what the study found, in terms of where consumers are actually looking when they look at tablets (click to enlarge):

mini tablet eye track study

From left to right, the tablets shown are the Nexus 7, iPad mini, Kindle Fire HD, and Nook HD. The tablets were placed next to each other in a randomized order for each study respondent. This image shows the areas of interest on each screen according to the eye track results.

Here is the same image, this time shown as a heat map. The areas in red are the most looked-at areas of the screens.

Mini tablet eye track study

The study showed that the respondents fixated 5 percent more on the iPad mini, recognized the iPad mini 23 percent more, and that the iPad mini created a 40 percent higher purchase intent than the other three mini tablets.

Despite these statistics, the Nook had the largest high-heat area of interest, meaning respondents fixated on a larger area of the screen. The Nexus 7 had the smallest high-heat area, with the iPad mini and Kindle Fire having similar sized high-heat areas.

When presented with the four screens at once, respondents tended to look at the Kindle Fire first, then the Nexus 7, then the iPad, and finally the Nook. 

So while the iPad mini is recognized by 73 percent of consumers (23 percent more than the average of the tablets), respondents still fixated on a larger area of the Nook, and noticed the Kindle Fire first.

It's evidence that Apple has managed to create an extremely loyal consumer base that sticks to its products, and shuns other company's products, no matter how similar they may be.

Given the choice, over 50 percent of the respondents said they would choose the iPad mini over the others if they were shopping for a tablet, according to EyeTrackShop. That's 40 percent higher than the other tablets.

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Amazon made back-to-back videogame announcements last week, showing its dedication to moving beyond music, video and e-books in the digital content space.

The first piece of news was Amazon’s new GameCircle, which allows gamers on the Kindle Fire to record and track their achievements and to save their game progress to the cloud — similar to features found in Apple’s Game Center.

The second addition is called Game Connect, an e-commerce distribution system that lets customers discover and download free-to-play PC games. Amazon is also handling some of the back-end features for the developers, such as selling virtual goods and subscriptions.

Take, for instance, Uber Entertainment, a 16-person development shop in Kirkland, Wash., that started distributing its game, Super Monday Night Combat, through Game Connect last week.

John Comes, creative director at Uber Entertainment, said that, until now, the company distributed its games only through Steam, the Valve-owned-and-operated digital game distribution platform on the PC. With Amazon, it now has two points of distribution.

“We’ve been working with them for six months. We were talking to various people about getting the game to more people, but for us, they can bring a lot of users,” he said.

Uber Entertainment’s Super Monday Night Combat game is a free PC download that makes money through the sale of virtual goods, similar to games distributed on Facebook. Uber does not have the infrastructure to charge customers directly, which makes a partnership with Amazon sensible. The retailer has millions of credit cards on file, enabling customers to quickly link their game play to their Amazon account.

Once games are linked to Amazon, users can pay and shop for virtual goods on Amazon’s homepage. For instance, Hippies in the game cost $9.99, a tank costs $4.49 and Captain Spark costs $7.49. Each character in the game has a landing page on Amazon’s site, enabling all the sorts of features you would normally associate with a product for sale on the site — such as the ability to add it to your cart or add it to your wish list.

The wish list capability appealed to Uber. “A kid can say ‘I really want this character for Super Monday,’ and parents can buy it for them,” he said.

This is not Amazon’s first foray into the digital distribution of videogames.

In October 2010, the company launched its digital games store, which offers customers more than 3,000 titles, including free-to-play and massively multiplayer online games. But with Game Connect, it makes shopping for virtual goods much easier. It also makes it much more comparable to the Steam service, though that targets a much more hardcore gaming demographic.

Amazon said terms of the store will be similar to industry standards used by Facebook and Apple’s App Store. It will share 70 percent of virtual good revenue with developers.

However, when it comes to price, Amazon will decide the cost of virtual goods, not the developer (although he or she will have some influence). Amazon will set a sales price for an app, and developers will set a list price. Amazon also uses this model on its Appstore for Android, where it distributes games and apps for developers.

It claims to have the resources to monitor sales across the board and come up with a strategy that will maximize sales much faster than a developer or publisher would normally be able to react.

In addition to helping with the payment process, Amazon says with Game Connect it will provide significant resources to the developer, including marketing, discovery, customer service and downloads. A spokesperson said in a statement, “We work hard to help customers find and discover great new games they never knew about and are focused on offering a great shopping experience along with fast and excellent customer service. We do provide a download service from the cloud for client-based games but provide a link to developer servers for browser-based games.”

The one situation where payment terms could get a little sticky is when a player originally discovers a game on Steam’s service, but then connects to Amazon to pay for the virtual goods. Amazon and Steam have likely figured out a way to compensate each other behind the scenes.

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If I had to make a list of the top 10 things I've done in my life that I regret, "writing a book" would definitely be on it. I took on the book project mostly because it was an opportunity to work with a few friends whose company I enjoy. I had no illusions going in about the rapidly diminishing value of technical books in an era of pervasive high speed Internet access, and the book writing process only reinforced those feelings.

In short, do not write a book. You'll put in mountains of effort for precious little reward, tangible or intangible. In the end, all you will have to show for it is an out-of-print dead tree tombstone. The only people who will be impressed by that are the clueless and the irrelevant.

As I see it, for the kind of technical content we're talking about, the online world of bits completely trumps the offline world of atoms:

  • It's forever searchable.
  • You, not your publisher, will own it.
  • It's instantly available to anyone, anywhere in the world.
  • It can be cut and pasted; it can be downloaded; it can even be interactive.
  • It can potentially generate ad revenue for you in perpetuity.

And here's the best part: you can always opt to create a print version of your online content, and instantly get the best of both worlds. But it only makes sense in that order. Writing a book may seem like a worthy goal, but your time will be better spent channeling the massive effort of a book into creating content online. Every weakness I listed above completely melts away if you redirect your effort away from dead trees and spend it on growing a living, breathing website presence online.

A few weeks ago, Hyperink approached me with a concept of packaging the more popular entries on Coding Horror, its "greatest hits" if you will, into an eBook. They seemed to have a good track record doing this with other established bloggers, and I figured it was time to finally practice what I've been preaching all these years. So you can now download Effective Programming: More Than Writing Code for an introductory price of $2.99. It's available in Kindle, iPad, Nook, and PDF formats.

 More Than Writing Code (Jeff Atwood)

I've written about the ongoing tension between bits and atoms recently, and I want to be clear: I am a fan of books. I'm just not necessarily a fan of writing them. I remain deeply cynical about current book publishing models, which feel fundamentally broken to me. No matter the price of the book, outside of J.K. Rowling, you're basically buying the author a drink.

As the author, you can expect to make about a dollar on every copy that sells. The publisher makes several times that, so they make a nice profit with as few as, say, five thousand copies sold. Books that sell ten or fifteen thousand are rare, and considered strong sellers. So let's say you strike gold. After working on your book for a year or more, are you going to be happy with a payday of ten to fifteen grand?

Incidentally, don't expect your royalty check right away. The publisher gets paid first, by the bookstores, and the publisher may then hold on to your money for several months before they part with any of it. Yes, this is legal: it's in the publisher's contract. Not getting paid may be a bummer for you, but it's a great deal for the publisher, since they make interest on the float (all the money they owe to their authors) - which is another profit stream. They'll claim one reason for the delay is the sheer administrative challenge of cutting a check within three months (so many authors to keep track of! so many payments!)... a less ridiculous reason is that they have to wait to see whether bookstores are going to return unsold copies of your book for a full refund.

Here's one real world example. John Resig sold 4,128 copies of Pro Javascript, for which he earned a grand total of $1.87 per book once you factor in his advance. This is a book which still sells for $29.54 on Amazon new.

Resig-book-check

Tellingly, John's second book seems permanently unfinished. It's been listed as "in progress" since 2008. Can't say I blame him. (Update: John explains.)

When I buy books, I want most of that money to go to the author, not the publishing middlemen. I'd like to see a world where books are distributed electronically for very little cost, and almost all the profits go directly to the author. I'm not optimistic this will happen any time soon.

I admire people willing to write books, but I honestly think you have to be a little bit crazy to sit down and pound out an entire book these days. I believe smaller units of work are more realistic for most folks. I had an epic email discussion with Scott Meyers about the merits of technical book publishing versus blogging in 2008, and I don't think either of us budged from our initial positions. But he did launch a blog to document some of his thoughts on the matter, which ended with this post:

My longer-term goal was to engage in a dialogue with people interested in the production of fast software systems such that I could do a better job with the content of [my upcoming book]. Doing that, however, requires that I write up reasonable initial blog posts to spur discussion, and I've found that this is not something I enjoy. To be honest, I view it as overhead. Given a choice between doing background research to learn more about a topic (typically reading something, but possibly also viewing a technical presentation, listening to a technical podcast, or exchanging email with a technical expert) or writing up a blog entry to open discussion, I find myself almost invariably doing the research. One reason for this is that I feel obliged to have done some research before I post, anyway, and I typically find that once I'm done with the research, writing something up as a standalone blog entry is an enterprise that consumes more time than I'm willing to give it. It's typically easier to write the result up in the form of a technical presentation, then give the presentation and get feedback that way.

Overhead? I find this attitude perplexing; the research step is indeed critical, but no less important than writing up your results as a coherent blog entry. If you can't explain the results of your research to others, in writing, in a way they can understand, you don't understand it. And if you aren't willing to publish your research in the form of a simple web page that anyone in the world can visit and potentially learn from, why did you bother doing that research in the first place? Are you really maximizing the value of your keystrokes? More selfishly, you should always finish by writing up your results purely for your own self-improvement, if nothing else. As Steve Yegge once said: "I have many of my best ideas and insights while blogging." Then you can take all that published writing, fold in feedback and comments from the community, add some editorial embellishment on top, and voilà – you have a great book.

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that writing is just plain hard. Seth Godin's advice for authors still stands:

Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don't expect much.

Which, I think, is also good life advice in general. Maybe the easiest way to lower your expectations as an author is by attempting to write one or two blog entries a week, keep going as long as you can, and see where that takes you.

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The internet is disrupting many content-focused industries, and the publishing landscape is beginning its own transformation in response. Tools haven’t yet been developed to properly, semantically export long-form writing. Most books are encumbered by Digital Rights Management (DRM), a piracy-encouraging practice long since abandoned by the music industry. In the second article of a two-part series in this issue, Nick Disabato discusses the ramifications of these practices for various publishers and proposes a way forward, so we can all continue sharing information openly, in a way that benefits publishers, writers, and readers alike.

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ebooks are a new frontier, but they look a lot like the old web frontier, with HTML, CSS, and XML underpinning the main ebook standard, ePub. Yet there are key distinctions between ebook publishing’s current problems and what the web standards movement faced. The web was founded without an intent to disrupt any particular industry; it had no precedent, no analogy. E-reading antagonizes a large, powerful industry that’s scared of what this new way of reading brings—and they’re either actively fighting open standards or simply ignoring them. In part one of a two-part series in this issue, Nick Disabato examines the explosion in reading, explores how content is freeing itself from context, and mines the broken ebook landscape in search of business logic and a way out of the present mess.

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google I'm feeling lucky stock 1020

There was once a time when the business of consumer technology was conducted with tangible goods. You bought a thing, whether it was a Sony VCR or a Sega console, you carried it home amidst a hormonal high of hunter-gatherer instinct, and you prayed to the electro-deities that it wouldn't lose whatever format war it was engaged in. Adding functionality to your purchase was done in the same way. You returned to the store, picked up cartridges, cassettes, or discs, and inserted them into the appropriate receptacle.

That overriding paradigm hasn't actually changed in modern times, even as the devices themselves have grown exponentially more versatile. Your choice of hardware still matters in determining what you can and can't access,...

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