Friday, 11 July 2014

What I've been reading this week

A few stories I've been reading this week (due to a Blogger fail, I lost rather a lot of others :(. )

Digital world

It's fashionable to suggest that Android Wear has rendered Google Glass obsolete. I'm not so sure. If you believe in a Design Thinking approach, then this is the difference between the iteration of a known, successful category and the beginning of a new one. The miracle here is actually that Glass is as good as it is, not that Wear is functionally superior in many respects. It's sort of like comparing the self-driving Google car with a similarly priced conventional vehicle. Allowing for development costs, that's something like a Bentley Continental. One is an ultimate expression of something that we've known how to do for years. The other is disruptive innovation. Move the development forward ten years and their ancestors will be radically differently positioned relative to each other.

One of the commonly talked about use cases for wearables is to collect data on people's wellness in order to reduce hospital visits and insurance premiums. Here's a case study from a US consulting company that's using Fitbit to do just that - it's saved $300,000 a year. Impressive!

One of the issues with home automation is that most people in the developed world already have a full set of unconnected gadgets that they're unlikely to do away with. But where there's a will, there's a way. In this case by using an add-on device to connect air conditioning units to wifi via their infrared remote control units. Simple genius... also interesting to see the way in which other technologies have enabled them to get to this point. The original was based on a Raspberry Pi.

Digital strategy

Facebook buys LiveRail to extend its portfolio of ad-serving options and apply pressure to Google, Microsoft et al in the battle for internet ad dollars. I don't pretend to understand the subtle differences between these platforms, but the continued aggressiveness companies like Facebook display in the acquisition market suggests that there's to be no let-up in the multi-dimensional competition between the superpowers.

A little bit odd, but here the Chief Experience Officer of sprinklr explains why he buys the toilet paper. I totally agree with his point that in the social age every single part of the customer experience matters. Everything has to embody your brand. My favourite piece of branded user experience is the intermittent wiper speed dial on my 1995 Porsche. It's a totally insignificant function on the car and hidden away, yet it has a feel that must have taken ages to get right and money to fit. That's the sort of attention to detail you need nowadays...

Digital future

Artificial intelligence has been 'tantalisingly close' for a generation now and yet we still can't make a machine that passes the Turing Test, long seen as the defining point at which machines will have become our intellectual equals. But does it really matter? Here, Singularity Hub presents the case that the test itself is irrelevant and that: we can’t prove “a machine thinks” any more than we can prove the person next to us thinks. But when one is indistinguishable from the other, then we are allowed to question whether a machine can think only as much as we are allowed to question whether a human can think—and beyond that point, the question can be resolved no further. I found it an interesting argument.

3D printing is one of the key technologies of the Second Machine Age because it enables the fruits of our intellectual labours to be rendered in the physical world without the need for learning craft and manufacturing skills. The sophistication of 3D printers advances at the rate of Moore's Law meaning that we'll see a lot more stories like this one about the printing of artificial human organs in the coming years. Replacing body parts will extend our individual longevity, leading to ever-more different life expectations and thus further economic change. Hopefully.

One of the principles of the new economy is the use of machines to extend our intellectual limits. Often this is about replacing basic intellectual tasks with the output of AIs or semi-sentient systems, but there are other ways. In a series of experiments US Military scientists have been using (gentle) electrical stimulation of the brain to enhance the speed at which people can learn new skills and make their reactions to situations more automatic. This is a fascinating article and although slightly disturbing, the technology could be of huge benefit to people adapting to new ways of working - in my experience, most traditional training is fairly useless!

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