Baxter, Sawyer, Tina, SIRI. Is this our future?

Baxter and Sawyer are brothers in arms, so to speak. They are collaborative, follow instructions, and adaptable to their surroundings.

They also happen to be robots. I find it interesting that they have human names, although they are industrial bots. No mistake they are meant for the factory floor, and not cute or friendly robots that are also coming of age elsewhere. Rethink Robotics, which manufactured them says they are “trained not programmed.” It quotes a professor who says his “long range aim is to try to achieve human level artificial intelligence. So the Baxter would be like a person, maybe not a full-fledged adult.”

  • Baxter is a 2-armed bot, and is described as “the safe, flexible, affordable alternative to outsourced labor and fixed automation.”  It weighs 165 pounds.
  • Sawyer is a one-armed fellow, and is called a “collaborative robot designed to execute machine tending, circuit board testing and other precise tasks.” It weighs just 42 pounds

Why I find this interesting is that we have begun to look at robots in humanistic terms, and this paves the way for them to be ‘invited’ into our homes some day soon. If you don’t believe me ask those who love their Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner.

How long will it be before we have a Homework robot, and an automated, (two-armed, hopefully) Personal Assistant? Low maintenance, too –no need for company benefits. Some people who use SIRI may say they already have one of those! Chat bots are also in the news now – like the Iranian bot, endearingly known as Tina.

Humanoid devices are also the stuff I have begun writing about elsewhere.

Little known fact: Shel Silverstein penned Dr. Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother”

I know of many parents who have a copy of Shel Silverstein stashed away somewhere. He was a prolific writer of books such as The Giving Tree, and tomes of books of wacky, insightful poetry such as “Where the sidewalk ends.”

I was looking up the man, and discovered that one of the anthems of the early seventies, “Sylvia’s Mother” was actually a vignette from his life. he knew the original Sylvia, and if you the words of the song resonate in your brain, you’ll know he was trying to get the ‘operator’ reminding him it would cost him “40 cents more” to stay on the line.

When was the last time you had an “operator” intervene between you and the person you were calling?

Footnote: The Giving Tree has been ranked one of the top 100 books for children, beating several by Dr, Seuss, and even Lois Lowr (The Giver) and Roald Dahl’s books.

‘BYOD’ in schools, free ‘Candy Crush’ tablets for MPs – Maybe it’s a good thing

The BYOD – or ‘Bring Your Own Device’ – movement has been gathering steam in schools. If you want to know my position on this, I put it this way: It could quickly turn into Bring Your Own Distraction’ unless we make sure young students understand what screens are good for, and what they are lousy at. Unless we teach young people how to engage with others, and the value of being able to dive deep into issues beyond simple search and scan, we will end up with a distracted workforce, and distracted leaders.

Speaking of whom, consider this: 650 British MPs will be issued iPads after the British elections in May. But apparently the Brits are concerned about distraction. (Just read the headline of this Forbes article, and you’ll know what I mean.) But skepticism aside, it’s about time elected officials are provided with technology that denies them the excuse for not staying in touch with the rest of us.

In my book, Chat Republic, I featured a prescient idea by a Sri Lankan journalist who said that we ought to make democracy more digital. In a nutshell, what Indi Samarajiva said was that the average citizen has a right to know how an elected acts on our behalf, in real-time! Here is Indi expounding on part of that idea.

Last December (21014) Accenture published a paper on ‘Government as a Digital Disruptor. It spoke of the need for an eco-system for open, collaborative, creative engagement. Read the paper here.

“Time Bombs of the Mind” – A journalist’s take on science, technology, and a media-saturated world

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Nalaka Gunawardena is how grounded he is. Someone introduced him as a citizen journalist, but he’s larger than that, with his antennae in many places, covering science, and pop culture, information technology and social media.

Meeting this new generation of media-savvy writers (he’s a blogger and journalist) who are comfortable in both mainstream and new media, makes me optimistic that in a media-saturated environment where one-liners and tweets pass off as news, there is serious journalism underfoot. Nalaka covers such topics as climate change, space science, and road safety, among other areas.

Nalaka’s just published book is, Wanted: Time Bombs of the Mind

 

Full disclosure: I met Nalaka last year in Sri Lanka –we were on a panel discussion related to my book, Chat Republic.

What Computers enable in our second ‘Machine Age’

I just ordered “The Second Machine Age” not because authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee seem optimistic about the ‘digital engines’ that were able to diagnose diseases, talk back, drive cars, and write quality prose. But because they seem to acknowledge the thorny challenges we face as these new machines run our lives.

Think about the recent challenges: We are still surprised by catastrophic weather events, despite the satellites and other climate science tools we have. Our marvelous machines may help us locate a lost phone, but often miss the big things. Just consider what GM’s ‘system’ ignored or considered unimportant in their cars. Then there’s the lost 747. A friend recently commented how, despite all our tools, there’s something humbling about how we don’t have smart enough technology to locate something as big as an airplane.

The book is based on the work at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, at which Brynjolfsson is the prof of management at the Sloan School. I like his description (In a Ted Talk) of what he calls  ‘general purpose technology’ that changes the game.

It’s funny, but this seems to be yet another ‘MIT book’ that has crossed my path that delves deeper into the subject of technology compared to the usual blather about how good things are. Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together was a classic discussion in a narrower field of communication tools and robotics.

How medium size ‘decoys’ mess with your head – ‘Absolute Value’ explained

As I mentioned, I am reading ‘Absolute Value, a book that will certainly rock the world of marketers who have sat on their bottoms with the idea of branding. The idea that the ‘brand’ equity they create, can determine people’s choices.

This explanation by Itamar Simonson on NBC, explains the concept of why manufacturers ‘frame’ the price to provide an imperfect set of choices.

Simonson is a really good interviewee –he firmly, and politely disagrees with the host of the show and others at the table) to make his point and clarify the thesis of the book.

Two things, he says, worth noting:

  • Marketing as we know it is no ‘trick’ – just an outdated way of providing consumer choices, so they make an irrational compromise.
  • Brands are not the same ‘filters’ as say Facebook is. They were proxies for value that do no work as well now. The best filters live outside of the control of brands.

http://www.viddler.com/v/bceefb4a

Chat Republic backgrounder – IABC/Phoenix

In three weeks I will be speaking at a meeting of IABC-Phoenix, and to that end, this interview by Peggy Bieniek has  just been published.

It’s a bit of a long read, so if you’ve gotten used to 140-character summaries (and that’s one of the points I raise in Chat Republic), this is certainly not for you.

It is one of the most thorough backgrounders to the book, and my take on social media.

Interview with IABC-Phoenix

Upcoming Event with IABC – Making Social Media More Human

With so much wrap-around social media in our lives (in cars, at work, while dining, and every space in-between) I often wonder if what we are doing is really “communicating.”

You tell me!

Between the ‘Likes’ (yes, the controversy seems to have grown bigger) re-tweets, text chats, instant messages, video responses and check-ins, are we adding more noise than knowledge?

In February, I will be speaking to members of IABC-Phoenix, at their monthly lunch meeting. Specifically about some issues featured in my book, Chat Republic:

  • How do we deal with this new Web 2.0 world in our organizations? How do we accept the loss of control of our messaging, even as we have more channels through which to transmit and manage them?
  •  How might one put this thing we call social media into perspective –looking at history, including those quaint exchanges we once called ‘chats,’ at diplomacy and even street activism, at patient communities and some forms of asymmetric communication?
  • Why we need more antennas than amplifiers in this noisy world
  • What curation, podcasting, crowd sourcing, “media snacking” and civic journalism are all about, and where they might be headed
  • How to be Human 1.0 in a Web 2.0 world and why there’s a need for a new breed of storytellers, content curators and community managers

When: Feb 20th, 2014
Time: 11:30 am
Where: University Club of Phoenix, 39 E. Monte Vista, Phoenix, AZ 85004

Registration details here.

“Absolute Value” confronts traditional marketing theories

We’ve all been influenced by customer reviews, right?

Whether it’s a low-ticket item (ordering food online) or not we use the “knowledge” gleaned from other users as a habit before we make up our minds.

Is this  new? Not exactly, because in the pre-Internet era, we bumped into this information in a haphazard way — chance conversations  during our commute, by trading opinions over our fence etc.

But it’s less haphazard now. It’s ingrained in our purchasing behavior.

In the just about to be released book, Absolute Value, by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen,  we see how this stream of information is what marketers must now lose sleep over.

I just received an advanced digital version of the book from Rosen, and I have to say it is a compelling idea –the idea of how “nearly perfect information” could disrupt the pillars of marketing we know of as segmentation, positioning, promotion etc. And if course the whole basis of branding and brand value would be in question, if their thesis is true.

The New York Times described it as a book that deals with the power of online reviews, based on Dr. Itamar’s decades-long research at Stanford, prior to this.

Here’s how they summarize how the power of information from ‘other people’ tilt the balance.

Customers’ purchase decisions are typically affected by a combination of three things: Their prior preferences, beliefs, and experiences (which we refer to as P), information from marketers (M), and input from other people and from information services (O). …

…If the impact of O on a purchase decision about a food processor goes up, the influence of M or P, or both, goes down.

For those whose business is all about the M — the marketing push and the brand strategy, you better start paying attention to how the hoi polloi, those “other people” might matter, after all.

“Are We Talking Too Much?” – Theme of Tempe launch of book

Thank you everyone who attended the second launch event for my book, Chat Republic.

The topics around the book are many, but we seemed to center on the big question as to whether social media has made us too…chatty. How real are the conversations we have, when few appear to be paying attention?

Thank you to may eminent panel who weighed in on the topic.

  • Gary Campbell, editor of ASU’s web site
  • Prabha Kumarakulasinghe – Microchip
  • Don Wilde – Intel

.Some of the topics that came up: 

  • Gold bar espresso, Tempe - Chat RepublicFace Time, Real Time. What is happening to face-time, with people busily checking their phones for possible interactions with the ‘other’? (If you haven’t seen “I forgot my phone, watch this: a statement of our times.)
  • Do we really need smart phones? Or wouldn’t ‘dumb-‘ (um, feature-) phones be adequate most of the time?
  • Transparency Vs Over-sharing. Is our ability to know so much a blessing? Yes, we want to know minutiae about public officials, but many are pulling back because of surveillance. Gary cited the example of how smart phones could help people do dumb/smart things, as in the case of the NFL Player, Brian Holloway, who tracked down the kids who trashed his home. (This story is still being played out, by the way)
  • Smart devices in the class. I enjoyed this one, for obvious reasons. There were several teachers (one principal) in the room, who face this challenge: Are mobile devices in students’ pockets going to help or hurt them?

A big thank you to Dennis and Karen Miller, owners of Gold Bar Espresso, for letting me use their wonderful coffeehouse for this event. These are the spaces –-the Kaffeehaus culture –where deep conversations have taken place for centuries!