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Switch on your smartphone camera and look how fertile I am

Come as you are (every seed is sacred)

By Alistair Dabbs, 14 Apr 2017

Something for the Weekend, Sir? I have cheerful sperm.

This will come as a great relief to Register readers, I'm sure, but no doubt you're wondering: how do I know?

Ah well, I have an app for that. Medical researchers at Harvard have developed an inexpensive smartphone attachment that measures male fertility.

You can appreciate how facile it must be to turn something like this into a series of sexual puns, so let me explain in all seriousness how this disruptive technology works in layman's terms.

Heh heh, layman.

OK, on with the product tour and enough of the innuendo. Come with me and let's do the business.

The main device is a white plastic block into which you mount your smartphone. Once sheathed, your handset is augmented by a white LED and extra lenses to compensate for the limp performance of its existing one eye.

You then take a separate microchip card and obtain a sperm sample. I'll leave this bit to your imagination as I have no interest in childish double-entendres.

Insert the nozzle and squeeze the ball underneath to assist with the transfer of the sample, and slide it into the sheath. You then run the app to study the sperm in your hand.

Youtube Video

The device – 3D-printed plus LED, lenses and a bit of wiring – has a manufacturing cost of less than $5.

It is my idea of disruptive tech that serves a genuinely useful purpose and works for the greater good. And there are precious few examples of those. Normally, disruptive tech exists purely to fuck things up for the sake of it while turning some undeserving, immoral twat into a millionaire.

In fact, the "disruption" moniker often turns out to have little to do with improving modern life, instead acting as a smokescreen for some sort of scam, whether that be tax avoidance, regulatory loopholing or outright fraud.

That said, I admit to being impressed by the sheer ballsiness of the developers of a recent app found on Google Play that convinced users to stump up $19 to install Adobe Flash Player for Android. As you know, Flash Player is free and, come to think of it, should be avoided at any cost because of its colander-like security. Adobe itself discontinued it back in 2012.

Still, the ability to create, upload and successfully sell an app such as this encapsulates a great deal of what the disruptive tech movement is about. Sod innovation, let's make money before anyone finds out what we're really up to!

Such is the gullible nature of investors, the dafter the idea, the more likely they are to shovel cash into it.

For this reason, my favourite April Fool product launch this year – an easy choice given how obvious and jaded the rest were – was the CremMate. Promising to set the funeral industry "on fire", it purported to be a portable cadaver cremation unit that you could hire for DIY home funerals.

CremMate home cremation kit

CremMate © 2017 funeralbooker.com

Partly what makes it so convincing were the nice photos, screenshots and customer testimonials. But more than that, it ticks all the boxes for what people have come to expect from disruptive innovation:

  • It claims to cut out middlemen while actually just replacing them with other middlemen
  • It pretends regulations don't exist
  • It makes consumers do all of the work AND pay for it
  • It is insane

You'd think the corny puns would have given it away – "home is where the hearth is", "we expect this service to be in hot demand", "bid loved ones a warm farewell", "Kindle Fire compatible" etc – but in today's bat-shit crazy world, satire is not always obvious. Indeed, a day later, the jokers in question, Funeralbooker.com, felt it necessary to add a big red banner at the top of the CremMate page to label it helpfully as an April Fool just in case anyone was inspired to order one.

Of course, I spotted the joke immediately. The name gave it away: no self-respecting innovator would have dubbed the product CremMate and left all the vowels in. They'd have called it something like crM8 or stffBrn.

Nor am I the only one beginning to recognise the disruption emperor without his clothes, as investors show signs of backing away from the whole silliness of it all. The problem is that some are withdrawing from perfectly good tech products as well as the daft ones, leaving otherwise satisfied customers in the lurch and thoroughly confused.

One of the more interesting pro-class sport wearables of the past year, Kinematic TUNE trainer insoles that analyse the running style of the wearer, has just been kicked off the track by its investors whose own feet must have turned cold.

Where does that leave customers who purchased a pair of TUNE? Can they get a refund? Well no, obviously not. This is what happens when a business goes out of business. Then what are customers supposed to do with their expensive-but-suddenly-dud hi-tech insoles? According to the FAQ, "We recommend recycling your TUNE system by dropping it off at an electronic recycling center."

Consumers will have to get used to this. Gadgets will get bricked overnight; product development will cease without warning; truly innovative small brands will be bought up by corporates and promptly shut down; crowdfunding investments will get swallowed up without trace.

I predict that people who might otherwise have lived their entire lives without buying a product from a company that goes bust will now experience the phenomenon repeatedly and ever more frequently. Chaos is the new economy.

All I can hope is that worthy innovations such as the male fertility analyser smartphone device remain on track. The last thing it needs is for it to be hijacked by an investor who can't see beyond slick marketing and fantasy dollar signs.

Let's face it, if I'm going to the trouble of buying technology for analysing my sperm, I certainly don't want it left on my hands.

Youtube Video

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He believes that if the world has gone mad, it is not through chance but by sheer force of human will. He hopes everyone is now enjoying the nutso disruptive era they wished for and, in a couple of high-profile cases, voted for.

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