A Good Collision

Collision from Home is a virtual version of a whole lot more than a tech conference. Having spent 24 hours over three days listening to talks, and virtual speed networking, I need to write about what I heard1 at Collision from Home to understand what the experience meant to me.2

The program was truly awesome; speakers included world leaders, executives from large tech companies, professional athletes, entrepreneurs at all stages of company development, participants from across the globe. Production was very professional and considering the time in which it must have been put together, the program was delivered with few glitches. 

I couldn’t help but notice how impeccably presented the speakers were and wonder if makeup artists were deployed. This may seem shallow but it’s an observation on professionalism and how it is changing during the pandemic. I find myself watching the videos not only for their content but also for delivery, to learn best practices in presentation for our new world.

The talks I enjoyed the most were ones that gave me insight into the business of big tech:

  • Netflix’s vision for growth
  • Uber’s drive to become profitable
  • Twitter’s chat on curating tweets, both for ethical and business reasons
  • proprietary podcasts giving Spotify its competitive voice.

I was impressed with the inclusion of many talks about the ethics of technology use, such as the recognition of the privacy aspects with tracking apps for COVID transmission and sharing of information across medical and public health agencies. There were also discussions about how to deal with racism and bias. We have a long way to go but the degree of awareness is encouraging.

There was talk of new products and businesses, but the uses of tech are the news rather than the tech itself. The World Health Organization has a COVID chatbot. The American Medical Association recently released updated guidelines on privacy of medical information in response to distrust of big tech and how personal data is used. Hanson Robotics’ Sophia (version 24), a humanized robot, appeared and talked about the difference between humans and AI. I found much of what she said cliched but many humans are also good at speaking in trite truisms.

Of course, there was much, much, much discussion on how the pandemic has and will change industries, demand and employment. Most of this is logical. The supply chain challenges are less intuitive, perhaps because they aren’t visible in everyday life and are intertwined with global trade and shifts in demand caused by the pandemic.

In a discussion about the connected world, I found a recurring theme: privacy. Interestingly, adoption of smart devices for the home has been slower than some anticipated. It was speculated that this is the result of concerns about privacy and where data collected from in-home devices ends up.

This is how it all comes together: I didn’t learn about tech at the Collision from Home tech conference. I learned about society and humanity. Now that’s innovative.

——

1These are my observations and intepretations from the conference. With several parallel sessions at all times, someone else could gather a completely different perspective on Collision from Home.

2Something I’ve noticed about myself in the Zoom environment: I take notes. Handwritten notes. I spontaneously started doing this. Perhaps it’s symbolic of learning how to live again in a new place.

Please follow and like us:

The Restart: Opportunity spotting.

Whispers of restarting the economy are building into conversations and escalating into announcements. Now is a tricky time to be an entrepreneur, or anyone running a business – starting one, restarting one, continuing one.

Business 101 teaches that successful firms deliver what customers1want. One way to spot opportunities is to consider whether customers want the same thing as they wanted B.C.2

Opportunities will exist to deliver on emerging demand. Some businesses are already prepared to supply, others many need to reposition. I see many avenues for shifts in customer needs:

  1. Sudden spikes in things people couldn’t get during isolation. The intensity may be short term but play out over several cycles with phasing in of economic restarts and if there are resurgences of infection.
  2. Specific products related to continuing the fight against the pandemic.
  3. Declining interest in items people realize they don’t actually want or need.
  4. Impacts of economic contraction.
  5. New needs that evolve from whatever odd things we’ve been doing in isolation.
  6. Longer term shifts.

Here’s few of my thoughts on each of the above. There are many more possibilities in each category and likely other categories I haven’t mentioned. The scope of possible opportunities is broad.

1. Sudden huge demands for existing goods and services:

  • Dining out. I’d predict this is a need to share a meal with friends, rather than a need for restaurant food. Many of us have been ordering more takeout than usual to support the restaurant industry.
  • Personal care: haircuts, manicures etc.
  • Healthcare for NON-Covid stuff. Many treatments have been postponed in the past couple of months. There is pent up demand for all the care that has been placed on hold during our isolation, including in allied fields, like dentistry, physiotherapy, and many more.
  • Entertainment: movies, sporting events, concerts, art galleries, museums, etc.
  • Deferred property maintenance. Many office and public buildings have sat unattended over the past two months that will need HVAC, plumbing and other systems upkeep. All this deferred maintenance provides opportunity for new entrants.

Over-demand will eventually be satisfied and decline to ‘normal’ levels of consumption. The opportunity is to attract new customers and a create a stable business, either as a new entrant or incumbent in the industry. If I were a leader in the industry, I’d try to meet the short-term request landslide, as failure to do so is likely to result in decreased marketshare.

2. Ongoing needs to fight the COV.

Clearly, PPE (everyone knows what this means now, right). Vaccines, drugs to treat COV infection. Floor stickers to remind people to stay 6 ft apart. Video conferencing. Health inspections. One of the most creative suggestions I heard recently was a need for pandemic planning for large organizations3. All kinds of services related to keeping us apart, sanitized and isolated if we have active infection.

3. What will we realize we no longer need? Questions that lurk in my mind:

  • how will the concept that pollution has significantly declined while we have all stopped commuting to work and generally running around in our fossil fuel burning conveyances play out?
  • how much working from home will continue as selected firms and employees discover efficiencies?
  • which things that we previously viewed as critical will be abandoned post COV – fancy office settings, pre-made bread, elementary school teachers (unlikely but I had to throw it out there)?

An interesting story I’m drawn to, because I wouldn’t have predicted it: music streaming has decreased (for example https://variety.com/2020/biz/news/music-streams-down-why-spotify-netflix-1203547387/ ) . I would have thought people would have more time to listen to music. The key to finding the opportunity is understanding why something happens, especially if everyone is doing it for the same reason.

Pay attention to what surprises you, there may be opportunity there.

4. The predicted economic fallout suggests that there will be fewer people with employment and even those with a job will be more cautious in their spending habits due to uncertainty and economic downturn. What do cautious people want to buy, compared to optimistic, high-spending people?

Cautious wants: insurance, personal protection devices, low cost goods, value items rather than luxury items, seeds to grow vegetables.

Optimistic wants: loans, vacations, bling for the self, office, and garden, gourmet food experiences.

5. Recovering from the things done in isolation.

Stockpiling of food and cleaning supplies has happened. Either the food banks will be well supplied with canned goods for years to come or there will be a market for creative approaches to utilizing 18 bags of pasta, a dozen cans of peas, and a flat of pineapple chunks.

Similarly, I suspect many people started DIY home renovation projects: Torn out the paneling in the basement, drawn up plans for a second level in the garage, taken the sink apart in the extra bathroom. The appetite for finishing these projects may evapourate when out of the home distractions become available. Home renovation services may expand to finish the unfinished DIYs.

What are we going to do with all the PPE when we don’t need them any more, even after keeping a good supply? There will be a need to recycle a few billion N95 masks soon. There must be a business model for reclaiming the materials in face shields.

6. Long term. One thing that is sure to linger for years is the cost of the government subsidy programs that have kept us afloat during our internment. Ultimately, these will need to be paid for, through higher taxes, probably personal and business. This may mean restrictive economic times in the future.

The cost of business will likely increase. Take home lessons from the current economic situation include that redundancy is smart. J.I.T. is risky. Outsourcing can be tricky if international borders close down or local economies are disrupted. More control, less low cost. I hear inflation rumbling on the horizon, like a thunderstorm on a humid July day.

Rainbows follow the torrential rains of thunderstorms. I hope the world can look new in a good way. Opportunities are out there.

—–

1This applies to either business or individual customers.

2B.C. Before Covid-19.

3Apologies to whoever said it. I’ve been to too many Zoom-inars, gathering fabulous information, and it’s all blurred into the cosmos of great ideas.

Please follow and like us:

App Apprehension

Does anyone else want to talk about something else other than [the global situation that will not be named] for a little while?

I do. I have a problem. I’m paranoid of downloading apps. If [the global situation that will not be named] has taught me anything, it’s that there are at least a million people doing the same thing as I am at any given time (giving up mascara, chatting with long lost friends, rewriting wills, etc.). Thus, I suspect there are some of you out there with app apprehension too.

For those of you who blissfully tap ‘GET’ when someone you hardly know says ‘this new app is perfect for grooming your dog’ and accept all the ensuing permissions, including signing in via Google, allowing location services, and using your camera – let me explain.

A dread fear grips me at the sight of a dialogue box which wants my information. I suspect phishing, malware or some kind of a scam. So NO, I will not put a password into the box, because passwords are to be guarded with extreme care. Ditto personal information. To me, it feels like walking down the street and having a stranger ask you where you live. Creepy.

Apps can be scary. Cambridge Analytica was a spectacular case of an app secretly collecting reams of information about Facebook users and their friends.1Ancient history? It was years ago and since then many platforms have tightened their requirements for third party apps.

Googling, I found an abundance of posts on how to tell which apps were the good ones, but couldn’t decide what to believe. If you had an app that steals peoples’ banking info, you’d write an unbiased post suggesting the app in question was a safe one. The most insidious thing I can think of is disguising a malicious app as antivirus or anti-malware software.

Common suggestions were that apps could be validated by the number of times they’d been downloaded, length of time they’d been around, where the app could be obtained, and the credibility of the app’s creator.

More than 10 million downloads equals credibility. Yup, except Facebook: number of users at the time of the Cambridge Analytic scandal – over a billion2. Tiktok – concerns have been raised about the privacy practices of TikTok.3A recent report puts its users at 800 million4.

The App and Google Play stores lend credibility because developers must obtain a license to sell in these stores and apps are scrutinized. This would deter small time bad actors but if your agenda is to derail civilization or take control of the power grid, you would jump through the hoops.

Sometimes, the app hasn’t had time to catch up to its popularity. Think Zoom, which is available in the App Store. A wonderful entrepreneurial story of a business that stepped up to keep a good deal of the world running in the past few weeks. The sudden humongous demand for this video conferencing app has revealed some security weaknesses – only natural with the level of usage and popularity.

Every business, from commercial banks, to communications conglomerates, to restaurant chains, have their own app – custom-made pieces of software optimized to deliver the company’s business. If I download multiple apps, I’m concerned about them mingling, with all those different permissions, developers, standards and policies, on my many devices.

Hard as I try, my devices are like amorous bunnies and make connections even when I think I have them segregated. A bit of information here, a bite there, and I imagine my phone could borrow a million dollars by simultaneously applying to eight banks for a mortgage to buy real estate that’s contaminated with toxic waste that I end up responsible for remediating.

I did say I’m paranoid. What is the risk of a bad app? There are the truly malicious that have criminal activity as their intent. While concerning, those won’t get through most of the checks mentioned above. The other category is the mostly ok with weaknesses that might be exploited to manipulate, rather than perform criminal acts. Cambridge Analytica purloined data from a huge number of people. Information was abused to sway voters in several national events. This is pretty abstract stuff. If I download an app, the fate of the world may shift? Shut up, I just want to find cheap frozen pizza.

Where does this lead me? I can see why people embrace apps. They deliver a lot of functionality, fun and deals. Research supports that many people are resigned to sharing their data with endless commercial concerns and accept it as a consequence of the value they derive from apps. And aside from the rare, truly malicious cases, data use is directed to direct marketing or abstract things that one person has little influence over.

Should I avoid apps? My apprehension has grown over time as various spectacular app-fails emerged. This doesn’t mean they are all bad. Just as all cars have certain risks – mechanical failure, expensive maintenance, manufacturing defects and circumstances leading to accidents – all apps share common traits. They are foreign bits of software that might invade your device with malicious intent and lead to personal or societal harm. But all cars are not the same. Some are better built, some easier to fix and some have more protective measures to lessen operational calamities. I concede. Some apps do exactly what they say they do. Some are better engineered and have a lower risk of backdoor information leakage. A very few will be malicious. Probably fewer will cause societal disasters.

When a new product type emerges into the market, the tendency is to treat all versions of the product the same way. Then, as the product grows in popularity and matures, the value of individual versions or brands becomes clear. We have passed the emergent stage with apps, so I should value each app on its own merits and risks.

How will I deal with my app apprehension? One app at a time.

———

1Here is one of many stories: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/23/17151916/facebook-cambridge-analytica-trump-diagram

2https://venturebeat.com/2015/04/22/facebook-passes-1-44b-monthly-active-users-1-25b-mobile-users-and-936-million-daily-users/

3For example: https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/27/21155845/reddit-ceo-steve-huffman-tiktok-privacy-concerns-spyware-fingerprinting-tracking-users

4https://www.oberlo.ca/blog/tiktok-statistics

Please follow and like us:

Fighting the COV : The Economic Enemy

How to fight this virus that has us locked away, hoarding supplies, turning ourselves into virtual versions of ourselves? 

There are many things to fight. The disease. The infection. The impact on the economy, our lives and society.

The battle against the disease is being waged on the front-lines by many medical professionals. They all have my deepest admiration and thanks. Medical researchers, at institutions academic to big pharma, are labouring to develop new weapons – vaccines, drugs – to throw down the enemy. Awesome.

Many manufacturers have stepped up their processes, or completely retooled them, to produce things we need to fight infection – hand sanitizer, masks, protective shields and more. Governments are wielding their power to suppress the spread, keeping us far enough away from each other so we can’t share the virus. All important efforts in the fight against the COV.

What’s left is the fight against the fallout effects from shutting down and shifting so much human activity – the wake of disease control. We’ve heard about massive unemployment and lost revenue in many industries. The picture hasn’t fully emerged yet of which industries and businesses may benefit from the demand reflected in all those empty store shelves and weeks of backordered home delivery. Some retailers have been hiring, as have delivery companies, but they’ve also incurred extra costs, such as installing protective measures for their employees. And then there all those government aid programs. Definitely needed. But where will these dollars come from ultimately? Taxes. Or the money supply, which ripples into inflation.

Many economic forecasts are grim. That’s what is left in the battle against the COV. Ways to fight economic downturn and unemployment.

All I have is an idea of what one person can do.

Here’s my simplistic understanding of economics: it’s the sum total of individual actions. It’s about the balance that’s created from the actions of millions of people in a country, and millions of other people in another country and other countries and… When there is economic growth, it means more people are buying things, because more people have the ability to buy things, because they have jobs to create more things that people want to buy.1It’s a big circular thing, that can either spiral down or up. 

Recessions happen when demand for stuff falls, as it has due to our enemy the COV. We’ve semi-voluntarily shut down the demand for many things like sporting events, live entertainment and travel. This has put millions of people out of work, so of course these people are buying fewer things. And down we go.

I think there is something some of us can do to shift the balance. Many people are still employed, doing essential things like healthcare, education, food services, maintaining the electrical systems and so much more. These people can support demand for goods and services. Economic recession and economic growth differ by whether there is more or less demand today than yesterday. I think we have some influence over this.

I’m not talking about increased debt burden, or senseless spending sprees. The decision-making process we go through when we make purchases, large or small, is complex and dependent on many factors. Outlook on the future is certainly one of them. There are times in every person’s life, regardless of whether they are acting as a consumer of staples like eggs and milk, or as a sophisticated investor in corporate expansion plans, when they are more or less willing to spend. This is related to the concept of consumer confidence, investor confidence, business confidence.

This is where I am going in my fight against the COV. It’s economic. Some of us have the opportunity to shift our economic stance, either as consumers, investors, or creators of products2. Because the economic situation depends on the number of buyers. More buyers means more room for sellers, and more employment. That’s fundamental theory. It means the action of each individual counts. 

Who am I to fight the COV? One consumer. One business person. That’s what the world is made of.

——–

1This buying can be of many things. It might be household goods, like slippers. Or construction equipment, like cranes. Business services, like cloud computing. Or consumer services, like entertainment streaming. Buying of many things are related. Like cloud computing and communication devices. Construction cranes and dental services (if construction industry employers have good benefit packages).

2 I am suggesting those who can afford to spend should, not that those who already have a debt load increase it.

Please follow and like us:

Non-Routine Work from Home Routines

Like many people, 9 to 5, 8 to 4, or whatever, isn’t me. One of the things I loved about running my own business was that I never knew what I’d be doing next month.

Now, my schedule completely changes every four months. Each day of the week is always different. My natural rhythm, despite decades of trying to conform, has me sleeping until 9:00 am and awake till 1:00 am if at all possible. Plus, I hate sameness.

This makes the idea of maintaining my work routine at home nonsense. Below are my practices for working from home for the free-spirited. Some are the same as many guides to working from home, some directly oppose conventional wisdom.

1. Sleep till whenever1. One of the good things about COVID cloistering is that I get enough sleep. I’m definitely not setting the alarm for earlier than is natural for me to get up. Most people have a time they naturally get up. Go with – it may be your regular time anyway, either that or you weren’t getting enough sleep before. If you are get enough sleep, you will naturally go to bed at the same time each night. Awesome routine.

2. Keep doing enjoyable things in some semblance of B.C. (before Covid). I’m addicted to fitness. B.C. I did strength training classes three times a week. I still do strength training three days a week. I wrote out a routine, much like the instructor delivered, which takes 55 minutes and do it all. Otherwise, it’s tempting to wander off after 3 jumping jacks. I substitute 30 minutes of brisk rowing in the basement for 30 minutes of brisk walking.

3. Eat regularly and normally. That said, take advantage of being at home. I like oatmeal, so I have hot cereal in place of the muffin I had on the train on the way to work. Snacking is hard to avoid at home, but easier to resist if you aren’t hungry. I tell myself that after I eat salad for lunch, I can have chips later. Sometimes I don’t get around to the chips before dinner.

4. Mix work with family life. Sage advice is to get up from your desk at least once an hour. So, stir the stew and add the carrots. Or take one load of laundry out of the washer and put another one in. Enjoy being at home. I work on the couch, because I can be productive there. Ask family for their opinion on what you’re working on. They may have great ideas.

5. Shower etc. when it makes sense, not to begin the day. If I’m going to do a couple hours of work, then work out, following up with a shower makes sense. I make a conscious effort to take advantage of being at home, rather then trying to fool myself into thinking I’m ‘going’ to work.

6. Know what your work goals are. To put all this flex sleeping, exercising, and doing household chores into context, I decide the night before what work I need to get done the next day. As long as that happens, everything is good.

More conventional aspects of routine that makes sense to me:

1. Limit checking the news. I read the news and check the COVID epidemiologically data once a day, in the morning, laying in bed. B.C., I read the news and checked the weather laying in bed in the morning.

2. I reach out when there is a the need. To friends, business colleagues, medical professionals. It’s tough in here, for all of us in our own ways, but also in many common ways.

3. Wear WTF. Seriously, if the world is going to hell in hand-basket, I’m travelling in yoga pants.

4. Count blessings. Working from home relieves the stress of the commute and gives me more time. I am healthy. I have enough to eat, I have a job.

—–

1Sorry, if you have an 8am call, you gotta get up before then. 

Please follow and like us:

Finding Hope in the fight against COV.

First, let me be clear what I mean when I say, I’m convinced the world will never be the same again (previous post).

I’m NOT talking apocalyptic stuff. I mean different. A little more of this, a little less of that.

It’s early days so anything specific is mere conjecture. In addition to the toll from viral infection, many of us are likely to be impacted economically and socially. Many already are.

We can see inklings of change. In our current stasis, there is big demand for fulfilling online orders, creating jobs along the path from merchandise collection from the warehouse to delivery to the customer’s door. Many small scale operations, if they provide a make-at-home product, like beer, may see demand like they’ve never experienced before. Of course, there is a huge need for medical supplies right now, gloves, face masks, ventilators and more, and manufacturers are increasing production and retooling if they can.

I suspect this will be the end of physical money. We were already on our way there, this crisis will push us faster.

Spending so much time at home, working and playing, people are likely to realize they don’t need some of the things they are used to consuming, like maybe mascara or beer in a plastic cup1. On the other hand, there may be new interests developed. I gather there is a surge in interest in home gardening, especially of vegetables2.

And then, there’s the financial markets. Some people will see a decline in their net worth due to the contraction of the stock markets. What will this do to the economy? Assuming those heavily invested are not depending on these investments to buy groceries next week, it could delay retirements, make investors cautious and slow corporate growth, decrease demand for ultra-high end goods. On the other hand, it might create an environment with investors receptive to new share issues if they perceive they are getting a discount rate. Real estate values are bound to be impacted. (Can you hear the dominos clacking into one another, creating a new configuration?)

People with stable employment will suddenly have an excess of spending money because they can’t buy basketball tickets, trips to the Bahamas, or exotic dinners out. Where will the discretionary spending go? One great idea I’ve seen is restaurant bonds. People are paying to dine in the future at restaurants whose doors are currently closed.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the potential ways the COV could change our lives. None of us know exactly where we will end up. The point is, I believe we have choices that can shape our future, and this hope is empowering.

1These suggestions are based on my personal experience. 

2To avoid potential shortages in grocery stores. 

Please follow and like us:

Fighting the COV.

Having been raised by a librarian that married a fightin’ Irish man, I’m prone to turn to books in the first round of battling a new scourge. 

Here are two books I bought recently (online, off course). The titles echo where I’m coming from and where I intend to go.1

I want to fight the COVID-19, coronavirus thing. But it’s sneaky, so the fight needs to be carefully planned. General outbursts of bravado and charging into dangerous situations isn’t going to work.

Here is where I’ll begin, and in the coming days, continue with my thoughts about how to survive, prosper and flourish in our new world. Because I am convinced the world will never be the same again. And we can make that a good thing.

—–

1I haven’t read either yet so I don’t know if they are going the same place I am.

Please follow and like us:

Creative Destruction of Promotion

Is there anything an astute consumer can’t find a coupon, discount code or deal for? A proliferation of apps that comparison shop, website archive, or flyer scrape suggests not. We could be on the verge of creative destruction of promotional offers as we know them.

The many sites with ‘best coupon apps’ lists says it all.1Coupon apps are so abundant, we need a directory of directories to sort through them. Meaning there is nothing special about getting a coupon. Anyone with a phone has access to dozens.

Meaning there is a feeding frenzy going on as one business tries to build another business out of the business of being a lower priced business that the other business. Head spinning? Yes – that’s what I think is going on. It could be a pyramid scheme of promotions. Or a usurpting of the original purpose of the coupon.

But wait. The basic idea behind promotion is an enticement to allow consumers to experience the product and learn all its benefits. To turn lookers into buyers. Product manufacturers should benefit from the coupon apps, as their promotions reach a wider audience. Win – win – win. Apps get downloaded – consumers get deals – manufacturers sell stuff.

Why am I prophetizing the end of such promotions?

Back to the strategic importance of marketing for a moment. Retailers issue coupons to draw potential buyers’ attention (build awareness), to remind buyers of their product (attract repeat customers), or make their price competitive (low cost competition).

Currently, customer rewards, or loyalty programs, are over-running retail like bunnies during a fox-pox. Marketers are amped up on attracting repeat customers through loyalty programs. Ideally, these programs bring mutual benefits to the customer and firm, through ongoing association. Customers make their lives simpler through brand loyalty, knowing a trusted vendor to go to buy their things. Businesses enjoy the financial benefits of repeat customers, as the acquistion costs tend to be lower. Loyalty to a well differentiation brand shouldn’t need incentivation, in my opinion. If customers are really getting value from the brand they will be repeat customers, regardless of the coupon. If the only reason a customer has made a purchase is the coupon, the competitive strategy might need reconsideration.

Back to the coupon app destroying the coupon. It’s their general availability that I wonder about. Some implications:

  • First, there’s the target market. Sure, everyone wants a lower price but who do the coupons target? 1. Coupon clippers. People who enjoy spending time searching for deals, collecting them and getting satisfaction from enjoying the rewards (saving money). The apps must take this away from the market segment. There is no effort required any more. But the saving money part is intact. 2. The price conscious consumers. These apps are appealing, but so would any other low price strategy. 
  • Some coupons are offered for social benefit to people who require them. If the apps open this advantage to everyone, it’s no longer a benefit.2
  • If many retailers adopt the ‘we will price match’ tactic, this could be a route to the equivalent of price fixing. Or bankruptcy if retailers are unable to meet low prices in a way that sustains the business. Ubiquituous coupons force all competitors into an everyday low price strategy, rather than a high-low approach, which may be closer to the original intent of coupons. 

There’s a psychological appeal to the coupon. A limited time offer. A limited offer. This is the enticement. It’s special, for some reason, be it loyalty program, circumstance, timing, or target group. Generally, this would be part of the business’ goal in issuing promotions. If the goal is to compete on price, which is the outcome of making coupons broadly available, then execution through coupons is at best deceptive and at worst uncontrolled, and generally unnecessarily awkward (easier to set the low price). Coupons appeal to customers because if they have one, it makes them special. They appeal to the vendor because it’s a short term tactic, not a permanent situation.

Literally, creative destruction would mean someone got creative and destroyed something, which is what I think could happen with coupon apps run amok. The theoretical creative destruction, wherein new products create a new economic order, isn’t in effect here. The new product establishes itself and makes obsolete the previous approaches, like cars and horse-drawn carriages.

Coupon apps may disrupt the strategies of the companies that issue and honour the coupons, which may adversely effect the apps based on them. All fall down?

1For example: https://www.thebalance.com/best-coupon-apps-4160582;https://www.moneycrashers.com/best-mobile-coupon-apps-smartphone/;https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-7-best-coupon-apps-right-now_n_57d6fa24e4b03d2d459bb3c2 and I could go on.

2This assumes that the offering company was taking a hit to offer the product at a reduced rate to specific customers in need.

Please follow and like us:

Recreated Experiences. Or how I want my vision restored.

About 50 years ago, a company recording music asked ‘It is live, or is it Memorex?’ suggesting their method of replicating sound [memorex] was so authentic, it was impossible to tell the difference between a live singer and the recording.1Now, we all know there is a difference between someone singing in front of us and listening to a mechanical device, even if it may not be audible.

Experiences are huge these days. People will pay lots of money to be treated specially, to have personalized service, to be pleasantly surprised by extra touches that suggest thoughtfulness. Set on a backdrop of automation and self-serve apps, finding value in an experience, as a differentiator, is understandable.

As we careen towards all-knowing artificial intelligence, experiences will simultaneously get easier and harder to, well, experience. Everything we want to do will require less than the blink of an eye (to our invisible sensors, ordering that the lights be turned on, a peppermint tea, or to book a vacation in Jamaica). With every whim attainable, where will we find gratification? – the feeling of accomplishment, the victory of defeating an intractable problem, or the joy of a unique experience.

This train of thought emerged as I wondered which would be better, if I had the choice:

  • having augmented reality correct my ‘vision’ to perceive everything around me in high resolution, or
  • bio-engineering to repair my eyes to perfect function. 

Augmented reality: The technology to have a sensor perceive my visual environment, to capture images of everything around me in real time, from a few centimetres away to hundreds of feet in the distance, and relay the information to my eyes in a way that my current visual acuity understands, providing my brain with a perfect picture of what’s going on around me.

Bio-engineering: The technology to biologically repair the shape, flexibility and functionality of my eyeballs to 20/20 vision without any corrective eyewear.

Based on the current status of various technologies, I project that augmented reality will be available first.

My gut says, I want my eyeballs repaired, not the tech that tells me what’s there, even if I can’t see it. Augmented reality comes from a machine, so it isn’t me. Bioengineering seems more natural, an extension of the body’s inherent repair processes.

If we become transhumans2, augmented reality has the potential to let us ‘see’ better than human perfect sight. What’s not to love?

Autonomy.

I don’t want to rely on an external prop to function if I don’t have to3. Aside from the inconvenience of having to remember to carry and hang on to glasses or some tech4, is there really any difference between augmented reality and bioengineering? Being able to see perfectly is fantastic, does it matter how you get there? 

This is where the Memorex reference comes in.

If the question is ‘is it important if it’s real or an indistinguishable reproduction?’, we could ask an art collector. Or anyone willing to pay a few hundred dollars to attend a concert when they could listen to a higher quality recording at home for $10. We know the value of an experience. Thus, the third strike against augmented reality to correct my vision, after it being an unnatural process, and non-autonomous function, is the inauthentic experience.

Using augmented reality to completely correct or get super-vision would be awesome for a while, but ultimately, not be as satisfying as it could be. The answer to the 50 year old question is: It might sound or look the same, but it isn’t.

——

1For a history of the brand :https://www.brandchannel.com/2016/01/11/memorex-011116/.

2Transhumans are humans with augmented abilities bestowed by technology, perhaps like Robocop.

3Because mechanical things fail. And software-based things fail worse, meaning more irrationally, with less warning, and are more difficult to fix when they do.

4 But then, the external technology can be made easy to wear and almost thoughtless to bring along. Who doesn’t have their phone within reach all the time, without feeling this is a burden, because it’s so important to have?

Please follow and like us:

The GUIey Middle of Artificial Intelligence

The basic premise of artificial intelligence, to use enormous amounts of data to find out new things, is easy to grasp. If any one of us had the time and stamina to study a million photos or stories about a thing, I’m sure we’d come up with insights about it too. 

Business products emerging from current applications of artificial intelligence are also logical and simple to get your head around. Smart thermostats sell because they are convenient and deliver energy savings. Marketing approaches that analyze shopping patterns to suggest items people are likely to buy are winners in retail for their potential to increase sales.

How does AI get from data analysis to creating desirable products? In diagram version, this seems to me:

A few hypothetical1examples:

1. Using AI to improve diagnosis of medical images. Input: One hundred thousand pathology slides of renal cancer and one hundred thousand slides of normal kidney tissue. Outcome: Improved differentiation between normal and malignant kidney biopsies. Doctors win because the accuracy of diagnosis increases, saving healthcare costs by prescribing the right treatment for patients. Patients win because they are either can carry on their lives disease-free or have greater certainty in the treatment they need.

Mysterious GUIey2inside: What is the AI looking at to distinguish between normal and cancerous cells in pathology slides?

2. Using AI to improve traffic flow. Input: Every car in the city communicates its starting point, destination, and real time location to a central database. The goal is to send a uniform volume of traffic via every available route so that none are over-used or under-used. The outcome is a clear win – optimum travel efficiency for everyone, saving time, auto costs and impact to the environment by decreasing energy consumption.

Mysterious inside: What is AI doing to manage all the permutations and combinations to direct even traffic flow?

The two examples are different. In the first one, the criteria AI uses to distinguish between normal and malignant cells are the mystery. Pathologists could list the traits they use to make a decision when looking down a microscope, but is AI using the same ones? In the second, it’s the speed and capacity to deal with volumes of users that’s amazing. It’s not difficult to suggest the best route for your mother to take home, based on knowledge of traffic patterns at the time of day in your home town, but who could do that for 3 million occupants of a city simultaneously?

I’ve read that we are unlikely to be able to extract the GUIey middle3from AI supported processes, due to the iterative nature of the learning. When a person really understands what they are doing, they can explain it. If a chef tells you their sumptuous meal resulted from ‘a little of this, a little of that’, they likely know exactly what went into the dish, but aren’t telling to protect their trade secrets. If my mechanic tells me they are basing the diagnosis of what’s wrong with my car on some data from other cars but doesn’t know which models or what kind of data, I’m looking for another mechanic.

Is not knowing how AI works any different than not knowing the detailed working of automobiles, or any other complex object or process in modern life – elevators, mortgage documents, dental implants? The fundamentals of the car I get – the energy of exploding fossil fuel is converted into angular momentum that torques the axels and moves me, in my steel and plastic carriage, to where I want to go. The business model is also easy – the speed and convenience of reaching destinations in relative comfort with the added efficiency of carting a group of people, sheets of drywall, or my dogs with me. There is someone who can explain ABS brakes, how the muffler is connected to the engine, and all the other components that make a car function. With AI, either by design or trade secret, the explanation is hidden.

We need to know the mysterious processes that AI systems use to derive new knowledge from the volumes of data consumed. Forget proprietary algorithms. This is brave new territory we are entering and transparency is important so we can be sure we are operating safely and ethically.4

History is full of examples of embracing new things without a full understanding of the implications5. From that, a machine would learn that we need to know how things work before we can use them safely.

——

1Both of my examples are likely to be real enterprises but staying hypothetical is better for this discussion.

2This is a pun on GUI type computer interfaces, which use icons, rather than typed commands, to tell computers what to do. GUIs make programming simpler. I’m suggesting by making things simpler with AI, we are making them less transparent, dissectable or amendable to understanding how the parts work together to create the whole. Less concrete. More gooey. Gooey-er. Soft and flowing, changing shape easily.

3I do know that the process AI uses is a very large series of logic functions, of the sort: if X does Y, then A is the outcome. If X, K and J, do B, then L is likely to happen. If X does Y but K does something else, and it’s Tuesday, then Blue is the right answer. Etc. Oh, and the AI may start with a bunch of logic statements but change them on the fly as more data comes in or if in testing a hypothesis, it doesn’t deliver satisfactory answers.

4For many examples, read ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’ by Cathy O’Neil

5A few examples that spring to mind – nuclear weapons, cigarettes, social media, plastic, many types of home insulation, lead paint, breeding of dogs, trans-fats, mortgage backed securities.

Please follow and like us: