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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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A New Look for The Spiders Edge

It’s summer. Time to catch my breath, preferably in a lounge chair under a canopy of trees while a gentle breeze cools my dewy skin. Birds churp, vegetables grow, thoughts turn philosphical. 

This year, I’m contemplating the ethics of artificial intelligence and why toilet paper isn’t a better business to be in. Not that those two things are related. I don’t think. But I’m not done researching yet.

Also on the list: an update to my website and the logo for my business, The Spiders Edge. This isn’t related to toilet paper or artificial intelligence. I don’t think. It’s summer, thoughts wander. And wonder.

Perrenially, I wrestle with how to reconcil all my professional interests. Disconcertingly1, it suddenly seems simple. The underlying interests are the same, the implementation has two sides: practical and philosophical.

There was a time when I wrote science fiction. Science fiction was a conduit for me to bring science to people. To increase their understanding of scientific practices, to bring comfort with technological advances, to make them ask questions about the implications of emerging capabilities. This segued into a passion for business ethics. Science and technology are evolving so fast, writing science fiction to contemplate how it will effect humans and the planet is too slow. Science fiction happens in real time. So I write about business ethics now. These interest are philosophical.

The practical. I can’t sit still without envisioning how a scientific developments can be deployed to solve problems, fulfill a needs or generally make themselves useful. This has fired many professional roles (investment banking, technology transfer, research management) and now inspires my teaching interests in business and entrepreneurial strategy. It’s why I like being around entrepreneurs, helping and mentoring them to start their own businesses.

The Spiders Edge is part of my practical side, working with entrepreneurs and the organizations that support them. Why the update to the logo and site? Five years ago, the original logo 5 years came from digging through old files (paper ones!) to find something that resonated with the value I deliver to people I work with.

The old chromatograph depicts purifying a protein, symbolic of hitting on the one, right thing.

That’s what I deliver – the way forward, a rationally-derived focus. And the graph paper resembles a spiderweb, which reflects my network, linking entrepreneurs to the connections they need. Marvel Comics inspired the name with the concept of spidey senses. My spidey senses allow me to know how to communicate about a new business idea. Articular what investors, government, angels, investment bankers, need to hear about a new venture. And what the entrepreneur needs to know too. What’s important for the best chance of success.

These themes carry on in the new logo. Striking the right cord, the spidey network and the colours. Red and black and white. Fire and energy, with clear direction and message. The update is professionally drawn, modern, crisp and clean. Of sufficient resolution to say I mean business.

My message hasn’t changed. I help people find their way to making a difference by translating their invention, concept or startup into a focused business model that investors, customers and suppliers understand and appreciate. The Spiders tagline has changed, from ‘Business Savvy for Technology Commercialization’ to ‘Business Savvy for Innovators’. Modern entrepreneurship includes doing all sorts of creative things with technology and business models, including bringing inventions to market, finding applications for emerging technology, and leveraging technology to satisfy needs in a new way.2

The new logo and updated message reflect dedication to this mission of making entrepreneurs more successful. Updating reaffirms rather than changes. The vision remains: to help innovators/inventors/entrepreneurs achieve their goals of making other people’s lives better/easier/happier.3

———-

1Generally, amateurs writers use too many adverbs. They too are flowing for me this summer. Swimmingly.

2I’ve written about this before. The technology is often no longer limiting. Fulfilling a need is the key.

3If this sounds too socialist for you, bear in mind my philosophy about business is that if a product or service is appreciated by the customer, if there is value, money will flow to the entrepreneur. There’s a bunch of math behind this to explain how much money, but that’s the basics. If you build something people find useful, the money will come. However, this is predicticated on finding the right target market , a viable value propostion, a competitive advantage and a bunch of other fundamental business concepts.

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Destructive Creative Destruction


You know the list. The technologies, labelled creative destruction, that changed life as we humans knew it: Fire. Pasteurization. The assembly line. Washing machines. Email. Mobile Phones. 

Each of these had a dramatic impact on society, generally decreasing the effort required to do a vital human activity and allowing us to do other, more interesting things1.

Should plastic be added to the list?2 When introduced, it was a major new technology and found broad applications3. The ability to engineer polymers so they are flexible, solid, durable, the right colour and shape, mass-producible, light-weight and low cost lead to the introduction of many new products. Products like plastic bags, straws, packaging. The coating on electrical wires. Cheaper just about anything: shoes, suitcases, light fixtures, flooring, automobile components, toys, machine parts, human body part implants. The list goes on forever.

What has been disrupted by plastic?

Most things plastic are affordable, leading to increased consumption of each item. They tend to be single use, by which I mean two things: disposable or non-repairable. Disposable comes from the low cost – “I’m tossing this out because I can get another one for 3 cents”. Non-repairable because of the process used to create plastic widgets. Stuff made out of other substances known to humans can be engineered and modified. Wood, metal, cement, kryptonite4, plaster can all be fiddled with and/or repaired. Plastic, not so much. To be fair, this is what makes plastic appealing – the ability to spin or mold or extrude it into different shapes. The consequence is that it can’t be fixed because it’s all one piece.

Back to disruption. Here’s some of the ways plastic has changed in our lives:

  • Eating on the run. Plastic containers, plates and utensils made it possible to grab a meal from the takeout window or mall kiosk and eat it anywhere, rather than tethering dining to a venue that could manage ceramic plates and metal forks. 
  • Because plastic changed packaging, it facilitated transportation of goods to distant locations. Thus, more competition in many markets. Lower prices. More choice for consumers.
  • Plastics made many things affordable to more people. Furniture. Cars. Etc. A new social order of ownership emerged.
  • Not coincidentally, with the rise of plastic goods came the era of consumption. Affordable stuff enabled (and required – see above about repairing plastic items) frequent replacement of the items.

Many substitutes, such as plastic bags for paper bags, plastic bumpers on cars, plasticized paper cartons for milk rather than glass bottles, may seem disruptive, especially to the producers of paper bags, metal bumpers and glass milk bottles, but don’t actually result in a new social order.

From my list, plastic has disrupted: sit-down meals, local sourcing of goods, possessions as symbols of wealth, and the need for expertise in repairing many things. Based on fundamental values of community and social connectedness, as well as environmental stewardship, I’d say three of the four of these aren’t good. It could be argued that disrupting possessions as symbols of wealth, is social advancement. Otherwise, plastic disruption has not been good to us, even thought there are plenty of benefits to the use of plastic.

This disruptive technology (generally considered a good thing as it ushers in a new approach to old problems, makes life easier and richer) had negative consequences.

The earth has a problem with plastic. It doesn’t decay, ever. Even kryptonite decays. Plastic was celebrated for its disposableness, while ironically its permanence has clogging up the landfill, oceans, and microcirculation of the earth’s creatures. Oops, we created a monster. Vacuous consumerism snowballs the problem of overflowing landfill, making the monster multi-headed, with enormous tentacles and an awful smell.

Sometimes, what seems like a good idea at the time isn’t. Plastic isn’t the first time the true impact of a novel product wasn’t realized until time and mass consumption had gone by. Cigarette smoking. Fossil fuel emissions. Drugs with fatal side effects in one-in-a-million patients.

Fortunately, the plastic pollution crisis presents all kinds of opportunities for new creative destruction. Constructive creative destruction, please.

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1Fire allowed us to cook food and stay warm, increasing survival. Pasteurization was a process that made milk and other foods safer and allowed them to be transported further, increasing both the availability of food and the livelihood of producer. After the invention of the assembly line, cars became more accessible to different socio-economic groups and then expanded their horizons. Washing machines and other appliances are credited with allowing women the ability to lead a life outside the house, as it became possible to spend less than all of their time doing household chores. I don’t have to explain how email and mobile phones have changed the way we communicate, but future generations will need to be told.

2It piqued my interest when I saw it on a list of disruptive technologies in ‘Prediction Machines. The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence’ by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb, so thanks to them for making me think.

3For a great summary of the history of plastic, I recommend this https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics

4Kidding, kryptonite isn’t on the list, it isn’t real.

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Ask What AI Could Do for You

Embrace new technology. Change life.

Who wouldn’t want that? Me, sometimes.

AI is the next big thing in disruptive creation. Errr, creative destruction. It’s not so new. Forms of AI have been embedded in commonly used products for decades: auto-correct typing, suggested products you may like, search results. Now, it’s becoming ubiquitous. The projected capacity of AI to make life easier is celebrated in investor conference calls, with services such as arranging for transportation to the airport when the AI knows you’ve bought a plane ticket, or ordering another box of laundry detergent when the one you have is about to run out. 

This makes me ask (and you can too), what would I love AI to do for me? Would it be great if AI ordered all my household consumables? Not really. I’m proud of my system for keeping a sufficient supply of life’s necessities (food, drugs, cleaning and pet supplies) on hand. It isn’t a big deal. If it is for you, or you just hate doing it, ok, I’d invest in that AI, if there were enough of a market to justify it.

Great new business models remove the pain of a current task, solve an existing problem. What do I see as really annoying, inefficient situations I would pay handsomely to change?

Here’s a starting1list:

  • the awkwardness of software updates – stop making me have to stop and think about something I’ve learned to do intuitively, like find the weather app on my phone screen.
  • the uncertainty of hiring competent contractors, plumbers, landscapers, auto mechanics. 
  • knowing when something I do regularly is going to change and how my life should adapt. When the bus schedule changes, I want to know if I need to get out of bed earlier, not just that the schedule has changed.
  • gardening solutions. Random bugs eat my leaves and buds. Critters steal my veg. Anticipating this, as preventative measures are likely the most effective, would be awesome.
  • interpreting what my cat says, translating to english. Seriously, why don’t we really know what ‘meow’ means, after domesticating cats thousands of years ago?

I happened on an application for AI that I didn’t know I needed until I needed it in a hurry. It required getting information from a series of government and corporate entities, late on a Friday afternoon, before a long weekend. And I got it. Because it was information that each entity stored electronically. So emails were generated to use the info to answer my questions. In 10 minutes! Huzzah!

There are probably many more services I consume irregularly that AI could speed up. From what I’ve read, the sorts of process AI is expected to be used in first are industrial/business applications. This means that many of the best uses of AI won’t be noticable to us consumers except in declining prices, faster delivery or a better selection of options.

Why my cautious approach to AI? There are many AI applications that I imagine would take the fun out of life. Anything that requires creativity. Or some combination of serendipity and knowledge. Interior decorating. Discovering new restaurants, clothing lines, bands, books to read. The whole point to discovery is that it’s random. If something tells you where to find it, that’s ok if all you wanted was to get the thingy asap. Roofing shingles, a new muffler, parts for your appliances, or shoe laces for your winter boots are like that. For other items, there’s the thrill of the hunt, randomly happening on the perfect wastebasket for the downstairs bathroom, shoes to go with your suit, or a gift for your three year old.

I strive to challenging myself to achieve more, learn more, do more, in physical, intellectual, and economic realms. If AI made it all easier, I’d cease to grow, learn or improve. Proponents of AI might say the technology would allow me to stop wasting my time on parts of life that don’t challenge, so focus is on improving in important areas. AI might even lead me to the next, more enriching challenge.

What do I wish AI would do for me? Take care of the annoying things and leave me the interesting ones. Bearing in mind that what I find annoying, you may find interesting, the key is to make everything more efficient but make the high efficiency version elective. A mundane example of this is that grocery stores sell loaves of bread, but also all the ingredients to make bread from scratch.

That’s real intelligence, delivering what each customer wants.

——

1I’m writing as an individual consumer. I may be in a demographic of one, which doesn’t make for a good business model, unless the product costs millions of dollars, which I don’t have, so forget that. However, more than likely I am in a demographic of significantly more than one, as most of us are.

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An Annual Celebration of Innovation.

Is the concept of an annual celebration of innovation a contradiction? If a thing happens regularly – like the OCE Discoveryconference, can it do justice to the new, the creative, the evolving?

This was my ninth Discovery conference – a wonderful event held each year in Toronto where all things new in technology and business are showcased. A few thousand people attend, from academic researchers, startup and established businesses, to government representatives and other investors that support them. And they bring exhibits of their new technologies. There are talks, speed networking sessions, pitch competitions and plenty of catching up with new and old colleagues.

My first impression of this year was that it wasn’t as exciting as previous years. On reflection, I decided that was the point. And that’s exciting. Disruption isn’t coming from the introduction of a new thing, like mobile phones in 2009 to shift how we talk to each other, or affordable cars in 1913 to allow every person the mobility of owning an automobile. Disruption was coming into everything. Every business. Every industry. Every aspect of life.

Evolving areas of technology represented at the conference included:

  • artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data utilization, 
  • 5G connectivity and synchronous internet connectivity for enhanced user experience, 
  • sustainability and cutting down greenhouse gases, 
  • autonomous vehicles, 
  • internet of things. 

None of these come as a big surprise. The startling part was the myriad applications for these technologies. Here’s a sampling of what I saw:

Innovation in operations in stable, mature industries with sustained product demand:

  • Beer and steel manufacturers optimizing input resource utilization
  • Enhanced sustainability in agriculture production

Industries offering the next version product:

  • Established players in telecommunications getting ready to deliver 5G
  • The introduction of autonomous vehicles marching forward, with an emphasis on testing.

Advances in capabilities of established industries:

  • Applications for monitoring and processing data, especially in healthcare
  • Augmented reality to facilitate retail or business collaboration
  • Artificial intelligence in accounting

All examples of existing businesses and industries incorporating new technologies, primarily to provide the same products to the same customers, only better. For the most part, this is what we call component innovation, rather than architectural innovation which destroys the entire industry. Enhancement rather than destruction.

In the category of new industries, there was crickets as a source of protein, but even this was discussed as a growth business with scale and distribution challenges, rather than an emerging one seeking market acceptance.

And cannabis. Another industry out of its early stage and into a growth phase.

And Space. This surprised me a little, except that space exploration is of interest both as a potential solution to the stretched resources of the Earth and as a new aspect of tourism.

The most startling, clever idea that was perfectly obvious after I saw it but never crossed my mind before that, was the establishment of hazelnut farms in Ontario. Big demand for the product. Uses existing resources (Ontario climate and agricultural history) with a few enabling tweaks (climate change, new cultivars). Incremental technology innovation.

Another great year of discovery at Discovery. Everything old is new again. Now that’s innovation.

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Social Media 2.0

I’d like a new social media site/app.

Not an original idea? Entrepreneurs aren’t deterred by apparent competition or from looking for solutions to difficult problems. As long as existing products aren’t serving needs and there’s a way to provide a better solution, there is a good opportunity.

The Problem with Social Media1: (if you are already nodding your head, I’m playing the right tune, because good opportunities include easily recognized problems) 

Part 1: Shiny happy people2masquerading as your friends in everyday life. Not the first one to point this out, but broadband social media is depressingly deceptive.

Many personal posts are the high points of people’s lives. You’ve seen it: here’s [someone you know] looking good, graduating from astrophysics, running a marathon, winning the award for best strawberry jam ever, getting a Nobel Prize etc. Fabulous when these things happen and everyone should feel good about them. But there is more to life.

There are the tragedies too. I don’t begrudge anyone sharing these, because this is when support is needed and everyone should be able to reach out for it. Thankfully, this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.

What’s left? The rest of life. Because the drama dial on social media is set to 11 – really great or awfully bad – the tendency is to make posts fit into one of these categories. So we end up with a lopsided view of everyone else’s life. And wonder why ours doesn’t measure up3.

Part 2: The death of depth. ’cause really, once you’ve seen 129 idyllic photos of your friend’s kid’s wedding, asking how the wedding was seems redundant. However, there is no photo of the tension with her mother-in-law over the venue or the unresolved issues the son has with his father. A person could post every hour of every day without revealing how they are really doing.

Part 3: Hardwired to Self Destruct. Metallica gets it. We’re trapped. Social media is our venue to communicate with everyone now. Regardless if they are friends, family, people we met once or businesses we frequent, they’re all on social media, somewhat indistinguishable from each other. Friend, commerce or romantic wannabe? 

Social media (1) isn’t genuine, (2) has no depth, and (3) is essential.

Therefore, a need exists for a platform that causes people to communicate with the people who are important to them in a genuine, deep way. A platform that simulates seeing and talking to close friends and family on a regular basis about things that are mundane but matter.

Ah, it’s all in the choice of the right platform, you say. I love this depiction of various social media apps, drawing parallels to the seven deadly sins. Platforms evolve to serve different purposes4, suggesting that different design elements tailor to different needs. I think that means there is hope for introducing a new platform. 

Throwing out a few ideas for my ideal site:

1. Emphasize small groups, of say 5 to 10. Do not allow them to get bigger.

2. Keep content personal – de-emphasize reposts of news stories, etc. maybe even get rid of shares. Focus on the individual’s thoughts about their lives.

3. Get away from constant updating. Hang onto the beginning of the thread so anyone in the group can see where the conversation began regardless of when they get there.

4. Change the business model – get targeted ads out of the equation. Paying for something that meets a specific need isn’t so bad and removes the need for distracting, extraneous content (i.e. suggested content, ads, sponsored stuff, prioritization that isn’t related to the user’s priorities).

I’ve argued myself into wanting to pay for social media. I’d come up with a subscription fee if it has all the features I want and none that I don’t. As long as everyone I want to connect with feels the same way, it will work. Hummm…. maybe someone has thought of this before, but now that we are all indoctrinated into social media, this could be the perfect time for Social Media V2.0.

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1Sometimes, songs come to my mind that illustrate concepts really well, so I’ve included links to a few tunes.

2To me the song captures the duality of wanting to be happy and smiling and all loving, but the reality that life isn’t all fun and dancing, sometimes it’s hard work.

3Reminds me of a Fefe Dobson’s Stupid little Love Song

4How this happened is interesting, but another topic. Was it the original master plan, form defining function, or an outcome of the market segment that first populated the platform?

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