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?

Marketing is a Proper Mess. This is Good.

Marketing is a Proper Mess. This is Good.
I’ve spent over 20 years marketing, the past 17 employing the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) hybrid model. For public and private companies around much of the world. Today, marketing as a profession has become much more sophisticated, largely thanks to the internet and technology. Universities are struggling to keep up and many a marketing practitioner has to self-educate post graduation to remain relevant in their skills. It was a blog post by Proposify CEO Kyle Racki that got me to pondering on the state of affairs in marketing.
Measurement: The Deadly Blackhole
About 17 years ago, technology was just creeping into the marketing best practices realm in a serious way. Marketers were developing complex spreadsheets to incorporate CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) with CRC (Customer Retention Cost) along with field sales data, survey results and website data. That was about all you really had. Then along same SEO and SEM. Then social media and the (still) raging battle on measuring “likes” and sentiment.
Now we have a complete sub-sector of marketing called MarTech or marketing automation. Tools that enable you to digitally push your message 24/7 via social media, websites, email and in other digital channels.
Measurement. Every step of the way. This is good. It’s a boon to marketing that struggled, not as badly as public relations, to justify departmental spend. Now we talk about A/B testing, cohort analysis, personas and engagement data etc.
All of which is good, but with many of the CEO’s and CFO’s I speak with when we discuss the marketing component of their corporate digital strategy, they are left more confused than ever. Startup CEO’s live and breathe much of these metrics via new approaches to marketing and fare much better. Right now, however, marketing has become an increasingly complicated practice. Some may say marketing has become less creative just when it needs to be more creative.
Why This is Good
All of this mess, this extreme quantification of a practice that remains largely about human behaviours and psyche that will always be qualitative, is a good thing. Marketers are starting to figure out what works. Leaders like HubSpot and SimplyCast are improving their tools. The application of behavioural economics and ethnography through digital anthropology are starting to bear fruit.
As with most any profession, marketing has gone to the extreme in attempts to quantify almost everything. Now it will begin to pull back, like an elastic and the tools will get better. It is a fascinating time to be a marketer and developing marketing tools. Marketing needed to be shaken up. It has been. Now it’s time to turn this mess into something more comprehensible. But it will be messy for a while yet.

The Dismal Economics of Artificial Intelligence

The Dismal Economics of Artificial Intelligence
Perhaps the single biggest reason Artificial Intelligence won’t reach the ominous scale of the Terminator or the romantic, dulcet tones of Samantha in Her or the childlike wonder of Spielbergs AI is economics. Although AI has made some truly astounding advances, I take a look at the more dismal side…because sometimes we have to.
Artificial Intelligence is a Business Proposition
While it may seem impressive that IBM, Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are dropping hundreds of millions into developing Artificial Intelligence systems, don’t ever forget that there is a business purpose behind these investments. They anticipate a profit. If that profit becomes elusive, AI research at this current scale will fizzle rather fast.
IBM with Watson; the two have almost become synonymous and I’d wager IBM may even change its name to Watson. If AI pays off (and it probably will.) When IBM changes it’s name to Watson, we can be fairly sure they see the economics to do so. IBM is perhaps the one tech company that has placed the biggest bet on Artificial Intelligence. I’ve made extensive use of Watson services in the past two years. It is impressive, as in very, very impressive. If I had to bet on a winner over Google, Facebook or Microsoft, I’d be firmly in IBM’s camp, followed by Microsoft.
The Cost of Thinking Machines
Getting to the Hollywood portrayal of an AI that is truly cognizant and aware is likely economically unfeasible. But then most companies investing in AI don’t actually want to get to the point of a machine that actually thinks like a human (one might argue that a machine could never think like a human simply because it is a machine.) It would take a significant amount of ongoing capital and resources to get there. Yes, progress is significant and there will be some excellent AI tools in time. Today, AI is equivalent to, at best, Windows ’98. Maybe only even MS-DOS.
The Business of Artificial Intelligence
On the one hand it’s easy to slap on the tinfoil hat and suspect governments of developing spooky AI systems for global domination. The reality however, is that is unlikely in the extreme. The economic value isn’t there, so governments will likely buy AI from corporations. So it all falls back on corporations. And economic viability.
The major companies investing in AI development are doing so to unlock the massive profit potential. And it could be massive. The smaller ones and startups working in the AI field are doing so probably with the intent to be acquired by a big player and that’s already happened a few times (i.e. Siri.)
AI – Bear or Bull?
Having helped a few companies determine the potential of leveraging AI for their business strategy, I’m personally bullish on AI. With qualifiers. Companies buying and using AI must have good ethical/governance behind it’s intended use. Secondly, integrating it is no small task and the actual value of productivity gains or cost reductions is not yet proven. Today, most AI tools are singularly focused.
What should also be considered is power systems in industry and government. At this time, there is a big enough challenge for CEO’s to defer decisions to Big Data analysis (many CEO’s are reluctant to give up on “gut decisions”.) Doctors are extremely reluctant to pass on decision making to automated tools as well. It is more likely in the next 15-20 years that as AI advances, it will find it’s place in low-level functions where the cost/benefit/risk scenario makes it more economically viable and poses less threat to senior management (such as highly process driven decision making where intuition is not much needed.) And it is highly likely AI won’t be feasible, for a very long time at least, to take on the human role of the C-suite and finer points of health care, international relations or global trade issues.
Ray Kurzweil, the renowned and brilliant futurist  with a long track record of being right suggests AI will reach the “singularity”, where man and machine become intellectually equal, within the next 15 or so years. I have no track record or brilliance like Kurzweil, but I doubt this will happen so soon. If ever. The economics seem to argue against it.
What do you think? Will AI be a profitable venture for business?
Footnote: I had the opportunity to hang out with Ray Kurzweil for a couple hours a while ago; I learnt quite a bit and gained some key insights. A brilliant man. Taken in Halifax.
Ray Kurzweil & Giles Crouch

Is Iceland The World’s Best Data Centre?

Is Iceland The World’s Best Data Centre?
When most people think of Iceland it like involves glaciers, fisheries and faeries. In the sense of tourism, that’s fairly accurate. But as a data centre? Yes. In fact, Iceland may just be one of the best places in the world for a data centre. And data centres are only growing in importance as we create more and more data every day. So, why a small, remote island in the northern Atlantic Ocean?
The Energy Factor
Most of the world’s aluminium is made in Iceland. Because it takes an enormous amount of electricity to make aluminium. Iceland has the cheapest electricity in the world because it sits on a huge renewable source of energy – geothermal energy. Data centres require a lot of cooling because there’s a lot of processing going on. Electricity is plenty, cheap and environmentally friendly in Iceland.
The Island is Well Connected
There are enough data pipes going into and out of Iceland that latency between North America and Europe; two of the world’s largest creators and users of data, that latency isn’t an issue. There are 4 large submarine fibre network pipes going into Iceland at over 625 Gb/s. The island residents are well connected with FTTH fibre connectivity.
It’s Really Cool
It’s one of the coolest countries I’ve had the pleasure of doing business in. Iceland also has a cool climate (yet a nice climate) and glacier and cold ocean water and the climate stays within a fairly defined range. Data centres need a lot of cooling; which adds significant costs.
Geopolitical Stability
Increasingly, geopolitics play an important role in deciding where data needs to live for Cloud services, backup and processing. Iceland has a strong democracy and is very stable. So another check.
There are already a few data centres cropping up, Verne Global being the largest of them and the Iceland Data Centre. The government too sees the opportunity and is considering lowering corporate tax rates for data centres. Bring all this together and it’s a compelling story. The main challenge may be finding talent to run the data centres, fortunately not a lot of people are needed.
What do you think?

Cutting Through the AI Hype

Cutting Through the AI Hype
For most of us, when the words Artificial Intelligence are in the story headline, news or in a movie, there is the image of some magical silicon brain that performs incredible feats of intellect. Problems solved and it is connected to everything so it can offer all kinds of sage advice. The reality is something quite different. I’ve done over 15 briefings on AI to C-suite executives this year alone. So what is the state of AI today really?
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The Artificial Intelligence Industry is a Hot Mess
The sector of the ICT industry that is focused on AI is really quite a mess. And that’s exactly where it should be right now. There are hundreds of startups and multinationals (i.e. IBM, Google, Microsoft) working on various approaches and solutions. Consumers may see IBM Watson, Siri and Alexa at the forefront, and they are good products for sure, but they are the ones with big marketing budgets behind them too. Investment into AI is across almost every industry from retail and banking to insurance and the energy industries. All with different approaches, viewpoints and technologies.-
AI is Nascent. So Are The Technologies it Relies On
As an industry sector, AI is fairly new, only really popping into the forefront in 2011 when heavy investments and venture capital started to get involved. The technologies that Artificial Intelligence relies on are the Cloud, Big Data, Internet infrastructure and data sciences. All of which are still fairly nascent.
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AI is comprised of a number of sub-disciplines such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), machine learning, data mining, predictive analytics and several others. Most of which are nascent.
There is No One Big AI Brain
Although it makes for great science fiction, there is no one big AI brain tucked away in a dark basement with awesome mood lighting. There are some very big computing rooms with massive air conditioning and energy usage though. But right now, companies like IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google and so on are very proprietary and very secretive for competitive reasons. Very few AI systems connect with other AI systems.
Artificial Intelligence Is Very Single Task Oriented
Just like men, AI is terrible at multi-tasking right now and for the next several years. Siri and Alexa are quite powerful, IBM Watson is amazing (disclosure; I use IBM Watson regularly for text analytics research projects and love it.) But when someone says to you “we have really cool AI in our product” they probably do, but it’s most likely only really good at doing one or two things like ordering a product or completing an information task. That’s it.
So What About The Big Brain?
For the next while, AI is going to be a hot mess. A very fractured industry with a lot of competing ideas. Some of the AI tools out there are really very, very good and they’re doing some truly amazing stuff with AI. Over the next few years, some jobs will be supplanted by AI and some cool products and companies will come along. But it’s going to be a while yet before theres any Big AI Brain out there.
What do you think?

Is Our Lizard Brain Technology’s Biggest Challenge?

Is Our Lizard Brain Technology’s Biggest Challenge?
Is it our basic survival instincts that are impacting our adoption of technology today? In the beginning, for hundreds of thousands of years, the technologies we developed were those of raw survival; tools to hunt for food, tools to prepare foods, clothes and shelter to develop. Language and sociocultural structures to establish rules of survival through cooperation. But this took a very, very long time. Technologies evolved slowly until the last hundred years. Now they’ve ramped up at an incredible pace. A rate we’ve never before witnessed as a species.
Advances in communications technologies such as the internet and the devices that enable the transfer and assembling of data into meaning (smartphones, computers etc.) mean we can share learned knowledge on a scale unlike ever before. Societies evolved because we learned how to communicate. It is this ability that lies at the very base of our social and cultural structures.
Technology Can’t Be Absorbed Fast Enough
Today, we are developing technologies so fast that I believe our species is struggling to integrate them into our social, cultural and economic systems. Perhaps it is our very basic sense of survival that tends to subconsciously reject or hold off on adopting new technologies.
We know in business that implementing new technologies in a company can be disastrous if not done with careful consideration of processes and how people work.
Case In Point: Social Media
Modern communications technologies enabled the rise of social media tools. Now, a decade later many businesses, governments and individuals are still struggling to understand what social media are, if they’re effective and why people even use them. Yet we do. If you’re reading this post, I’d wager that you know someone who thinks social media are a waste of time and useless. There were those that thought that of the printing press a few hundred years ago. And the telephone. And the television…and so on.
So What Does This Mean for Tech Companies, Society and the Economy?
Advances are so rapid that I think many societies, cultures and countries are struggling to find out how they are fitting into our social lives, business and economies. While some technologies like smartphones, laptops and tablets have reached a plateau, others like artificial intelligence and robots are advancing rapidly and they will impact our global economy. Home automation, self-driving cars, these too are going to have an impact.
I believe it is these sociocultural tensions with technology that are the biggest challenges for adoption of new technologies within society and business. Our “lizard brain” doesn’t see a lot of these technologies as crucial to our very survival – yet. Perhaps once we collectively, subconsciously, agree to the benefits, we will adopt them faster. But how to get there? The technology may be evolving rapidly, but are our social structures?
What do you think?

The Real Reason Ad Agencies Are Struggling

The Real Reason Ad Agencies Are Struggling
All marketing is about information creation and management. And this is why agencies are fading away.
Agencies Used to Manage The Talent
Designers, copywriters, ad buyers, art directors, creative directors and so on…they were all under one “roof” for decades. It was the agency management that could corral and manage them and the projects. This business model made sense, at the time. Producing creative was time-consuming and resource intensive.
Along Came Digital
Agencies first started to see fragmentation in the late 90’s as the Internet became popular, as momentum grew and analog channels became less influential, agencies struggled to maintain their model.
Then computing changed. PC’s became more accessible to people. Very little skill was needed to participate by the consumer as software improved. Then came social media, followed by smartphones and tablets. Disintermediation was running rampant. Things got even messier for agencies.
As broadband reached critical mass, so WiFi hit the world. Laptops became ever more powerful and creative software better and cheaper. This impacted all industries. Publications like Fast Company were touting the “Free Agent Nation” and they were right, but that was the early 00’s and we weren’t quite there. Now, we are and this is what is destroying the agency model.
The Rise of The Gig Economy
Around 2012, we started to see the rise of what is being called the Gig Economy, in other words, freelancers, to a degree we hadn’t seen before. The creative/agency sector has witnessed this perhaps more than any other sector.
A Shifting in Marketing Management
Companies were quick to note this as well. While there are still the majority of major brands that use agencies, even that model has shifted. Every year, less and less use AOR arrangements and more hire boutique agencies and increasingly, individuals.
Companies know that when they hire agencies, they are paying for overhead and access to talent. An often frustrating aspect of this relationship for companies is that the senior talent they want is often quickly dropped and a junior slotted in place instead…the agency version of bait and switch.
This bait and switch issue and increased ease of finding strong talent that is freelancing, is the major reason agencies are suffering.
Smaller agencies are thriving because they have project management talent, can work swiftly and bring in senior talent as needed or work well with a freelancer the client company tells them to work with.
Within companies, they are shifting their marketing team roles to more project management and analytics based. This enables a company to more easily manage freelancers and multiple small agencies. They deploy tools like Slack or Trello and can leverage Office365 and GoogleDocs and now Dropbox’s Paper applications.
Most marketing and creative is about information creation and management. This largely negates the management architecture of large agencies.
Companies know how to find and leverage services like 99Designs, The Well, Buildateam.io and many others. Talent can be anywhere. Agencies can’t control that anymore.