It’s finally here folks. The latest gift you’ll be wanting to buy for your loved ones. It’s at the cutting-edge of human engineering and scientific research. Yes – it’s the voice-activated selfie feature, only with the Pixel 2 and Google Assistant smartphone! But sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who sighs when the latest and a materially unnecessary product is released to the market. “Really…?” is the phrase that comes to mind.
Launching a product
One wonders what was going through the minds of Google Executives when they signed-off this product. Anyone who runs a business will know how much time, effort and money it takes to develop and launch a new product that you are sure your customers will want to buy.
Here are a few educated guesses on what Google must have mobilised:
- Product Engineers – to ensure the phone casing was suitably ergonomic enough for the selfie-takers.
- Software Engineers – to design, test and roll-out the software to ensure every human-speakable version of the phrase ‘take a selfie’ would be recognisable.
- Marketing & Branding teams – to devise the most creative way (see above for advert) to sell the feature to new customers, who probably already have a smartphone but are willing to part cash to replace it prematurely with another one so they never have to tap a button to take a selfie in their life again.
And following countless man-hours spent on product conceptualisation, development and testing, the latest must-have gift for Christmas is born! One wonders if we can do better than this? The combined intellectual efforts of the R&D department, creative efforts of marketing consultants and financial resources of Google – one of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world – cannot think of a better way to direct the efforts of its resources and staff?
Weapons or wind turbines?
I struggled with this question whilst at university studying Mechanical Engineering. In my final year, I watched many of my fellow students apply to and go on to work for Defence Sector corporations to design and make missile systems, tanks and military jet engines. I wondered if they spared a thought for where the products they were making would eventually be used. And why were they attracted to these companies? The answer of course, was that companies like BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics could afford to pay vastly higher starting salaries to graduates to design and make weapons to kill people, than say an R&D Engineer for Vestas, Siemens or Goldwind to design and make wind turbine blades to better harness renewable energy (even though the skills needed for both are quite similar).
The focus of our society
Whether we like it or not, as a society we collectively have limited resources – financial and intellectual – and it’s up to us to decide where to spend it.
- Why do we pay Marketing & Brand Consultants millions of pounds to think up of adverts designed to sell products that aren’t necessary to people who don’t need them? How about we design marketing campaigns that encourage us to cook healthier dishes to address childhood obesity or throw away less waste to reduce landfill.
- Why do we pay software programmers to design (yet more) video games that teach kids to shoot their enemies or steal cars? Why can’t we spend those same software programming efforts to produce software that helps children engage in creative art or explore what career to pursue when they grow up?
- Why do we pay engineers billions of pounds to develop submarines that can fire nuclear missiles or fighter jets for shady Middle East states? What if we took a fraction of that money and knowledge, and paid engineers instead to develop water systems that don’t leak, not give up developing cities with more efficient public transportation systems or roll-out solar energy in lesser-developed countries faster.
In the words of the late British politician Tony Benn, “If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.”
As a collective society – from the Private Sector to Governments to NGOs – we choose where to spend our limited financial and intellectual resources. There are literally thousands of products and ideas waiting to be developed, tested and produced to help humanity develop and advance forward. The voice-activated selfie is perhaps not one of them.
Let’s spend our resources wisely.