Emergent Solutions



It is of interest to me when worlds juxtapose to form the next generation of 'something'. For example, I'm a pianist. In 1980s when I used electronic keyboards and/or synthesizers I was infatuated with the power of sound manipulation - always futzing with attack, delay, wave form, layering, etc. The power was amazing. The user interface on the other hand, was embarrassingly horrible. To provide the ability to manipulate a single note composed of three individual tones and compile three minutes of music into a single, mixed down sequence was unmatched - which was then ridiculously minimized down to a 3-5 line green screen window about as big as a mini toothbrush. Ridiculous. Even then it was apparent that legitimate computer peeps and legitimate music peeps had not spent enough time in the room together to provide technology with a useful, enjoyable user interface. Both industries had useful technology - no one had yet sandwiched them together into a new generational idea. Finally, just in the last couple of years have software and hardware engineers and their associative predispositions and experiences been juxtaposed into good software, good hardware and good music manipulation ability ... all have pre-existed, none have been melded together with elegance. Clearly, regardless how much time someone spent designing the future, their future designs weren't good enough for the 'now' needs of end-users. The juxtaposition, however, revealed itself through time. Here is an example of a yet ludicrous UI design given the sheer power embedded in this system; and here are two examples of people who got it right by minimizing hard-coded solutions and providing high configurability, high manipulation through a pleasant user experience.

The melding of cellular communications with additional media types is not yet there. Sure, we have the most current fantastical UI designs from a fruit company using a slim layout and having a reputation for wicked coolness; and then we have the post-apocalyptic clone wars thereafter. Yeah we have a cell phone melded with audio, video, text and web...but the industry is conflicted. They say to themselves, "How do we provide the highest multi-media bandwidth possible through the coolest user experience interface such that users cannot put our handsets down?" Well, the conflict is no longer merging my music with my phone to a single handset thereby eliminating one piece of hardware in my laptop bag; the conflict is now ... how to create the smallest, most non-intrusive piece of hardware that provides the largest experience possible? In particular, surfing. Aside from the unfortunate reality of so many websites sucking wind when pulled over a cell net down to the handset, the screen sizes - yes, even on the newest fruit company hardware - is still small. The emergent architecture most likely to emerge in the future doesn't even yet exist commercially... I argue the next evolution will be on demand HUD of sorts... yes, Star Wars. Cell companies are vying for position to merge media types into a single handset with configurability, flexibility, wearability, and small in physical stature for portability, but large in usefulness when pulling down web data that is miserable to utilize on a handset. One war at a time of course... all we're looking at today is the clunky third generation of emergent design. When cell companies put out their first generation cell phones, they were doorstops capable of phone calls only. Today? A completely different game. The next challenge is not data or media; the next challenge is making something small enough that you don't mind carrying it all of the time, but large enough to make anything you pull and view easy on the eyes, intuition and fat fingers. The next-gen will likely be a smaller physical with some sort of on-demand viewable hologram or HUD type solution. Emergent solutions reveal themselves in an evolutionary manner - in some cases based upon technology availability, and in some cases based upon user propensity or both.

And what of urban and regional planning? Does a town of 200 know the infrastructure design necessary as they grow to 50k people across the next 20 years? They indeed know the basic components; but do they know in what ratio these components should be mixed, implemented, administered and funded and when? No.

Sidewalks and college campuses? Oh, where to put a sidewalk in advance and where to let the dead grass underfoot 1000 collegiates reveal the need for concrete.

And cooking food for an unknown number of people? How much food to prepare? Even if we call each and every person planned for attendance, their appetite could vary between the initial phone call and showing up for the meal. As a host, do you gamble on less than or more than anticipated for food?

I believe that right solutions start with right ideas, but that end-state solutions ordinarily reveal themselves through the evolution of trial and effort. Just as customers ordinarily don't know what they want until they see what they don't want; systems and software engineers ordinarily don't know what solution needs to be in place until through time and effort a correct solution emerges. And yes, there are common baseline components and needs that we can be put in place as the initialization of the journey, but forecasting concrete end-state in advance is a waste of life and money. We are better served making sure we always leave ourselves with options rather than painting ourselves into a corner from which we cannot later escape unscathed (or unpainted as the metaphor may be).