Smarthomes: The Big Challenges

Smarthomes: The Big Challenges
The smarthome market, meaning the home where your fridge, stove, microwave, lights, furnace and perhaps soon your toilet, are all connected via WiFi and managed through your smartphone, is set to reach $137 Billion by 2023. This according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. The first major entrant into this space was thermostat company, Nest. Google bought Nest a few years ago. The smarthome market is part of what is termed the Internet-of-Things (IoT), which includes just about anything you can stuff a sensor and WiFi connection into. This market is growing, there is little doubt. Yet it is facing some tough problems. In order for the smarthome market to truly take off however, these problems will need solving.
Interoperability
A major issue is getting these various devices, such as thermostats, smoke detectors, light controls, TV’s and sound systems, to all play nicely together.  It doesn’t help when you have to access several apps to do different things. Consumers are lazy, so IoT devices need to think from the perspective of laziness. Most don’t. There are some “home hubs” on the market that can do this, sort of, most of the time. Amazon’s Alexia is going down this path and of course, Apple has HomeKit and their new speaker called HomeHub coming this fall. Which brings us to the next issue; complexity.
Complexity
The Nest and Phillips HUE are fairly easy to set up as are others. While most may be easy to set up on their own, having several of them brings complexity to the whole thing. This is a huge barrier to adoption for consumers, even more so than interoperability. This usually results in the geek of the house setting them up and managing them. Then other family members have to download the apps and get everything working. Another barrier.
Uptime and Downtime
All of these devices rely on consistent WiFi in the home. While it’s getting better, even broadband can be spotty at the best of times. Not very helpful on a cold evening when you want to turn the heat up as you pick up groceries on the way home. A secondary issue is demand placed on the router and data collisions as devices compete for bandwidth. Too many devices can wreak havoc on a WiFi router.
Security
This is the 800 Lb gorilla in the room. And it’s a nasty one. There have been a number of issues with smarthome devices being hacked, either within the home or the company’s data centre. IoT device makers have been notoriously lax in their security, mostly in rush to get products to market and make them easy to use.
Value Proposition
Then there’s the value proposition. People adopt technologies that reduce or eliminate work or improve their lifestyle in some other unique way. The most successful of the smarthome devices to date have been thermostats. Light bulbs that change colour are cool, but a luxury at best.
These are the major issues smarthome devices face today and will have to address in the near future. It is likely that companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft will create the “hubs” that make interoperability work. To a large degree this makes sense. But no doubt the likes of Amazon and Apple will find a way to make it a pay-to-play deal for device makers.
What issues do you see? If you have a smarthome device, how has your experience been?

Algorithms Explained in Plain English

Algorithms Explained in Plain English
All too often we hear startups pitching their product as having “algorithms” and therefore Artificial Intelligence or AI. The term AI and algorithms are tossed about like popcorn in a movie theatre. And algorithms are simply the butter you lavishly heap on your popcorn; makes it taste better, but it’s not AI. So what are algorithms and how do they apply to AI? You can’t have AI without algorithms, but they aren’t AI in and of itself.
An Algorithm Explained
Quite simply, an algorithm is nothing more than a recipe. It’s not the ingredients that go into the recipe, it’s the process, the steps in a recipe. An algorithm would tell you the process to make a stew through each step; cook stew meat, finely chop vegetables, add beef broth, add in broth and vegetables to meat, heat until ready. You can use the same algorithm every time you make the stew, except you may add different spices or vegetables, which is the “data” or ingredients. Humans have been using algorithms for thousands of years.
Getting to Artificial Intelligence
Algorithms are at the core of AI. Laid over top of algorithms are probability calculations. These calculations use data and today, often massive amounts of data, what we now call Big Data. Then there’s machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks, cognitive computing, pattern recognition and so on. AI can consist of these various elements mixed together in different ways. Algorithms are the processes of bringing all these ingredients together and telling them what to do.
This is a highly simplified explanation of what makes up AI and the role of the algorithm. But an algorithm alone is not AI.
The Rise of the Algorithm
As our physical world has become fused with the digital world (phygital if you will), algorithms play an ever more important role. It is algorithms that are the secret sauce for Google for their search engine. For IBM Watson and other advanced computing platforms. Their importance can’t be overstated. Creating really good algorithms is an exceptional skill that pays very well if you are good at it.
To a large degree, the word “algorithm” has been latched upon by marketers (I’m guilty of this) as well as startups and news media to the point it’s almost become a sort of meme. If you understand the place and role of an algorithm however, you can better understand how emerging technologies are being pitched and packaged.

The Benefits of 3D Mapping Our World

The Benefits of 3D Mapping Our World
Most of us have used Google Maps at some point and some of us just about every day. Then there’s Apple’s Maps (which are slowly getting better.) A new company called Carmera is paving the road to 3D mapping not just for autonomous vehicles, but for architects and city planners. And it’s autonomous vehicles that most will think of for using 3D mapping. But it plays a bigger role in our society as we increasingly fuse the digital and physical worlds we occupy.
Beyond Vehicles and City Planning
As embed more and more sensors into devices from lamp posts to cars, buildings and windows, we’re going to be able to “map” our physical world in incredible ways. Here are some of the uses and advantages of 3D mapping our world;
Firefighting & Policing: Fire departments will have continuously updated information on cities and the buildings. Both police and fire can use VR and AR tools with 3D maps for training simulations. It can also provide criminal intelligence and help reduce risk for raids. Firefighters can constantly update plans and strategies for fire fighting.
Infestation Management: Rats, always the rats. And increasingly those urban pandas…raccoons. Using 3D mapping cities and pest control services can map infestation movements and develop countermeasures.
Insurance & Actuaries: Two groups that are hungry for data. They can use 3D maps of urban areas to help with risk analysis and predictive analytics for building insurance.
Healthcare: Hospitals can use 3D maps to plan ambulance routes and perhaps as part of epidemiology studies and preparations.
Logistics: Companies like FedEx and UPS or DHL could use 3D maps for planning delivery routes and drone delivery.
As always, technological advances find entirely new ways of being used that we can’t quite predict. Such as Twitter being developed as an ambulance dispatch tool; look how that turned out.
What interesting ways do you see 3D mapping being used in the near future?

Virtual Reality Has a Social Problem

Virtual Reality Has a Social Problem
To listen to the pundits, by Christmas 2017 we’ll all be diving under the tree for Virtual Reality goggles, from junior to senior, maybe even grandma too. Except, we won’t be. Microsoft just launched it’s tongue-twister flagship gaming console the Xbox One X (don’t say it too fast.) And it has no real support for VR. Nor does Sony’s PlayStation or Nintendo’s latest Switch.
Virtual Reality Has A Social Problem
For the most part, in the few games I’ve tried, VR is a rather solitary experience. Most VR games and approaches in development have been single-person focused. This largely makes sense since it is easier to develop technologies like this in the single person.
But console video games over the past decade have evolved very differently. Franchises like Call of Duty, Halo and Medal of Honour and sports games, thrived by being multiplayer in their very nature. The initial instalments of games like Halo and even sports games were 1-2 players and some online multiplayer. As broadband became less costly and more ubiquitous the game companies invested less and less in the story line, going for MRR (monthly recurring revenue) business models. Good for the gaming companies, but bad for the solitary nature of VR right now.
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Augmented Reality is the Transitional Technology
Pokemon. Enough said. Even Apple realizes the mid-term strategy is Augmented Reality (AR.) Consumers are far more comfortable to adapting to AR right now because they already have a smartphone that they’ve adapted into their way of living. Are you really going to slap on a pair of VR goggles in Walmart to go shopping? Exactly. But you’ll hold up your phone to see layered information on a product.
The Problem is the Hardware and the Socialization
VR goggles, even the simpler version you can slide a Samsung Galaxy into, are still a difficult technology for most people. You have to stop and put them on. And be vulnerable. Not something most people want to do in public. People aren’t comfortable blocking their senses in public. This is easier with AR, since you don’t block out your situational awareness. The lizard brain is still a strong factor.
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The secondary issue is the social factor of VR. It just isn’t very social. There just aren’t that many other people connected at the same time and few tools encourage or have socialization features. This is a problem in a world still trying to figure out social media a decade later. Are all your friends rushing out to by VR goggles?
The Short Term Prognosis for VR
For at least the next decade, VR will be a very specialized area. There is tons of economic opportunity for VR, don’t get me wrong. It’s a brilliant tool for trade skills, military, medical and technical training. The VR companies that understand this and focus in this way, will make money. They will also be ready for when mass consumer adoption is ready. But as a mass consumer technology? Not for a decade at least, if not longer.
In the meantime, look for advances in AR tools and those ever awkward eyeglasses.
What do you think?

How Your Job Will Get Better With Artificial Intelligence

How Your Job Will Get Better With Artificial Intelligence
There’s a lot of hype around Artificial Intelligence (AI) knocking out great swathes of jobs, from low-level administration all the way over to lawyers and doctors. Yes, to some degree. But that will be a while before it has a truly significant impact on the economy. Based on my work with clients across a number of industries and the role of AI, it’s more likely your job will be made better by AI, not worse. Let’s take a quick look.
The Mundane Stuff Goes Away
Almost every job role has mundane tasks, they may be quick but boring, or tedious. But they are almost always processes that involve the management of information; whether that be numerical or textual, it is all about information management. Today, AI does exceptionally well at repetitive, mundane, process driven tasks. Just because an AI system can do those tasks, doesn’t mean job loss for you. It means being able to spend more time doing what challenges you and benefits the company. Monday’s may not be so bad again…
Create More Career Opportunities
As AI takes on the mundane, this may give you more opportunities. Wise companies will deploy skills and job improvement educational programs via eLearning platforms. You’ll have opportunities to grow. How many certifications can you hang on your wall?
Relieve Some Stress
Taking on the boring stuff that can be stressful, will enable you to exercise the brain a bit more and take away some of that stress. This gives us a better chance at the elusive work/life balance challenge.
Enable Greater Cross-Team Functionality
As AI will help manage information flows and execute certain process driven tasks, this will enable, with those added skills you’ll get, greater cross-functional team projects. Companies will do better and so will employees.
More Interesting Jobs Will be Created
When ATM’s were introduced into banking, the assumption was no more human bank teller jobs. In fact the opposite happened. There are now more human tellers than ever. Because now tellers do more, have more responsibility and have increased their skills. It’s hard to imagine what jobs will be created, but they will be. That’s human nature.
So what do you think? Are there other ways your job might improve?

Technology & Society’s Big Questions

Technology & Society’s Big Questions
The hype around emerging technologies like blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI), self-driving cars, Big Data, home automation, drones and so on, is loud. The hopes of Alphabet, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Amazon and others all rest on these technologies taking off. They all offer great opportunities to advance commerce, create and destroy jobs and make our world a better place. There are downsides to each as well, as it is with all technologies. The printing press enabled the exchange of knowledge, but also lead to a lot of arguing between academics…but there are some serious questions we’re going to have to deal with in the next few years. Here I take a look at some of them and maybe you’ll have one or two to add.
Free Will & Human Agency: While privacy has and continues to be a concern, the issues of free will and human agency could be even bigger. No more so than with predictive analytics. Imagine that you apply to university for a commerce undergrad and you’re rejected. Why? Because the university’s predictive analytics program saw that neither of your parents had a college degree and worked blue collar jobs, so no advanced education for you. Or you’re rejected for car insurance based on an AI algorithm. Does this take away your free will?
The Jobs Gap: It is likely that whole new jobs will be created from all these technologies. But they won’t happen overnight. If mass unemployment happens, that will mean no money to consume goods. Robots might be efficient, but if there’s no one to buy the goods they produce, they’re not much use. This will have to be addressed through government or corporate programs. Will Basic Income be a solution?
Who Owns Your Biologicals: There have already been legal battles over who owns their genome. This could get worse as we introduce 3D printing of human organs and perhaps even brain tissues.
The Underground Economy: Hundreds of millions of people around the world rely on “cash under the table” to survive. If we eliminate cash with technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies, tracking to taxation becomes easier and sliding money under the table not so easy. Is this okay?
There are many more big questions around these emerging technologies. In some cases these technologies may end up taking several decades to be truly integrated into our societies. Some may be stopped altogether or radically changed. Just how much should government regulate? Can corporations self-regulate?

IoT Technologies Need to Become Invisible

IoT Technologies Need to Become Invisible
We’ve seen what happened when Google launched Google Glass; anyone wearing them became a social pariah and was called a “glasshole”. Snap has been clever to make their version very visible and over-the-top. But the market is niche, just like Google Glasses. Then there’s all the devices you can connect in your home; thermostats, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, lightbulbs, door locks, cameras and so on…it’s a lot of “things” and it’s all very much in the way.
Technologies That Become Invisible Are Interesting
The telephone is what you might call invisible. We carry them with us on our portable computers (smartphone.) We know instinctively how to use them from a very early age. A fridge and a stove are invisible. The printing press is not something we think about, but almost every day we come into contact with a book, magazine, brochure, newspaper.
Are There Too Many Things Right Now?
I’m a big fan of IoT devices myself, but then my work and passion is studying the intersection of people with technology. So I have a Nest, a couple of Phillip’s Hue lightbulbs and some sort of Sonos magic. But they are all highly visible, not in the visual sense, but in that they need paying attention to. Individually, via my iPhone or iPad or manually. And this is the thing…the things need a fair degree of intervention.
It Takes Time to Integrate Technology In Our Home
The first radios and TV’s were quite large. We needed to change lifestyles and routines to figure where they would go. Then along came the PC, they were quite large and furniture makers did quite well making new desks and chairs. Families had to sort out where to put a PC. Now we have smartphones and tablets and laptops/netbooks. These devices are becoming invisible and no longer require a specific place and that is important to what’s coming next.
An interesting new product is from a startup called Lightform, that can turn your entire room into a screen with a device that doesn’t even look like a computer. You can interact with other connected devices in the home. Microsoft is doing some work in this area as well.
When these devices connect easier and can disappear into the background, they’ll be adopted much faster. One challenge for now is that it’s incredibly easy and low cost to make an IoT device.
What are your thoughts?