That Bumblebee? It's Just A Bank Spying On You

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Given that this issue of Credit Union Journal includes a special report on technology, we begin appropriately...

You never know what you're going to get when it's a futurist on the agenda; in other words, it's hard to predict the futurist.

Fairly often you can find yourself watching a pretty dull PowerPoint (microeconomic trend data chart!) with an even more obvious message (the Internet is changing the world!!!)

But every other once-in-a-blessed while you can find yourself listening to a futurist who is pretty cool and seemingly insightful. Of course, who can ever really know at the time if the forecast is spot on (tablets shall surpass PCs), or just spotty (bet on Betamax!).

That said, it was hard not to be intrigued by Salim Ismail of Singularity University, who shared any number of fascinating points during the Wisconsin league meeting.


A Sample Of Those Points

* Today, there are two billion connected items on the Internet. By 2025, there will be 10 billion. Just in case you were getting complacent about standing out in an online marketplace.

"The Internet is becoming the nervous system of the world," said Ismail. "There are one trillion connected devices using low bandwidth. Every relationship we have is being turned into information. We are just at the beginnings of this Internet revolution. We think we're well into it, but we're just at the beginning."

* So-called "3-D printing" (look it up and watch a demo on YouTube) has created an inflection point in "complexity. In manufacturing, it has always been that if it's more complex it costs more. Now, for the first time in our history, complexity is free. If I can think it up, the printer will spit it out." Ismail showed pictures of a motorcycle and a prosthetic leg that had been "printed."

Want to see something else cool on YouTube? Search "robotic mule on ice."

* Ismail noted IBM spent a billion dollars to develop the artificial intelligence used by the computer called "Deep Blue." Now, "they will float that to the cloud and you will have it available on your cellphone."

* Here's a new security issue to worry about: thieves watching your internal operations using robotic cameras that can fly and are the size of a bumblebee. It's just about here, said Ismail.

* The car loan market may be in for an upheaval as the technology developed by Google and others for self-driving automobiles becomes more commonplace. More people won't need cars, said Ismail. Instead, they'll use their PDAs to make an appointment for a car, which will drive to their location and pick them up, and then drive on its own wherever the passenger needs to go, before leaving to go pick up someone else. Meanwhile, the car developed by Google has driven more than 300,000 miles without an accident, which will have ramifications for auto insurance. "This will happen in the next 10 to 15 years," said Ismail. "We won't need parking lots; it will just go away. The exisiting capacity of our exisiting roads and highways will increase 15 times once this is fully implemented."

Ismail said there are other "eerie, science fiction things that are here right now," including glow-in-the-dark trees (so we won't need lights on roads), cancer fighting beer (this got a round of applause in Milwaukee), optogenetics (a light-sensitive neuron that can be used to control the mind and, at least in mice, even transfer memory and learning from one to another).

He also predicted the world is 14 years away from solar energy being able to provide 100% of the world's energy supplies.

And one other thing for financial institutions to think about: Ismail predicted that by 2025 virtual currencies will compete with national currencies. Just in case you didn't have enough already to think about.


There are a lot of poor people in the U.S. Or maybe there aren't. Or maybe there aren't as many as we think. Or maybe...

Trudi Renwick, chief of poverty statistics with the Census Bureau, explained during a recent CU meeting how there is an official U.S. poverty rate, but it comes with more asterisks than Barry Bonds' home run records.

Officially, in 2010 15.1% of Americans (46.2 million people) lived in poverty, as defined as a household of two adults and two children earning $22,113 or less each year. The first year that data was compiled, 1959, 22.4% of Americans lived in poverty, so using that metric we've seen some improvements.


Anything But Trivial

But beneath those overarching numbers are a pile of qualifications and caveats more numerous than I can list here, but that number is actually critical to credit unions, especially CDCUs, because those are the people who turn to payday loans (or loan options from credit unions) to get them through stints of tough times.

One interesting tidbit from Renwick: in 1959, a family spent about one-third of its income on food. Today, it's about one-seventh.

Want more info? Go to


How small is the world? Renwick used to work with former Federation Executive Director Cliff Rosenthal (now with the CFPB) 35 years ago when they were active in the National Association of Farmworker Associations and both worked to help to charter a credit union.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at

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