Unless you've been under a rock for the past year, you know that the high-tech bloom is off the proverbial rose. Hardly a day goes by that companies like Facebook, Amazon, or Google aren't tagged with egregious abuses and ham-handed cover-ups.
It's only a matter of time before smart people figure out that it might not be entirely wise to entrust all your personal and business affairs, and indeed your ability to survive, to cadres of stressed-out, half-trained engineers working in noisy open-plan offices for CEOs who think ethics are kryptonite.
We're already seeing it with vote counting systems, which like everything else, are eminently and easily hackable. Given that we know that foreign actors have been mucking around inside internet-connected ballot systems, sensible people want to return to paper ballots and hand-counts.
So the backlash is coming. Big time. The question now is: What kind of new and profitable businesses will the backlash generate? Here are three products that might ride the backlash to become viable businesses:
1. The Basic Car
Today's automobiles can be accurately described as smartphones on wheels, but your average smartphone only lasts about three to five years. In fact, a smartphone wouldn't last even that long if you regularly left it out in the rain and snow, shoved it through puddles of mud, and then steam-cleaned the dirt off.
To make matters worse, as cars become more "plugged in" to the internet, they become more likely to be hacked or hijacked. Now, we can pretend that car companies will "fix" such problems, but the lesson of history is that they'll botch it or, in trying to fix one problem, they'll create a dozen more.
In the '60s and '70s, the American automobile industry was rightly dinged for building cars with "planned obsolescence," a situation that created the market for (then) better-built Japanese and German automobiles.
The increased fragility and complexity of today's automobiles (from ALL companies) is also a form of (perhaps unintentional) planned obsolescence. For example, I drove my last car for 20 years and clocked 250,000 miles. There's no way my new car will survive that long, because it's chock-full of sensitive electronics.
The increased fragility and cyber-insecurity of today's over-computerized cars will inevitably create a demand for automobiles that cost less, behave more predictably, are cheap to service, and can be expected to last more than a decade.
I'm thinking something like the old Volkswagen bug but more stylish. No computers, of course, but everything tooled to be easy to use and easy to replace. You spend $10,000 for the car brand new and drive it for 20 years.
2. The Invisibility Service
I recently read an article about a bitcoin trader who essentially erased himself from being able to be tracked. He set his life up so that he could still do everything that you and I do--surf the web, buy stuff, go on vacation--but remain invisible and untrackable.
He did nothing illegal. It was all stuff like setting up an LLC in a state where LLC owners are anonymous, and then doing all your purchasing through the LLC. The tech stuff was straightforward, such as installing proxies on your PC.
Making himself invisible cost the bitcoin guy around $30,000, but I'll bet there are ways to provide a cheaper prepackaged service that would be attractive to people who are sick of having their every move monitored by corporations and the government.
3. The "Battlestar Galactica" Bank
Here's the concept: a full-service bank, with savings, checking, loans, investment portfolios, and so forth, but no internet connections. The bank would have a computer, but it would be kept standalone in a shielded room. Activities that require internet access would be handled by human clerks using telephones.
Such a bank would, of course, be unhackable, either by humans or A.I. It would have internal security, with regularly audited paper trails, so that you'd know that if you put your money in this bank, nobody could steal it.
While this sounds expensive, it might be an expense worth paying if the alternative were (as it probably will soon become) a constant 1 percent chance per year that your identity will be stolen and all your money hijacked.
While the three products above may not be brilliant ideas, they all provide something people want but aren't getting in today's overconnected, overhyped, and overwrought world: privacy, predictability and durability.