Why Voice A.I. Is Taking Off Now

December 20, 2016

What was the best selling Amazon item on Black Friday? It wasn’t holiday bells, Nintendo, UGGs or Fitbits. It was the Echo Dot AI Assistant for $40. They sold so many that they are now back ordered into January. So what’s going on here? After all, we have Siri or ‘OK, Google’ on our phones. What’s the big deal?

echo-dot

Echo Dot

I have an Echo Dot on my kitchen counter and it is tranformative. I think the big difference is that it is hands-free, convenient and often funny. It synchs to your music service, calendar and internet enabled appliances, and has over 5000 ‘skills’ available. Skills are like Apps. So while my hands are sticky with cookie dough, I can just say, ‘Alexa, play Miles Davis’ or ‘What’s the weather forecast?’ or ‘Play NPR’ or ‘Set a Timer for 3 minutes’ and ‘Set a 2nd Timer for 10 minutes’ or ‘CNN, what’s in the news?’ or ‘Turn up the heat to 72 degrees in the living room’ or ‘Buy some more toilet paper’ For fun, I can say ‘Play Jeopardy’ or ‘Tell me a Joke’ or ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ with fun and sometimes surprising results. I don’t have to pull out my phone, key the password, and open the app. It has also been a big boon for the disabled, living alone, to operate appliances, thermostats and other home appliances by voice. For $40 bucks!

So in this article, I’d like to help you see why this is more than a toy, why it may be the next big platform and what its significant implications might be for the near future. If we have time, we might compare competing technology and risks of this evolving technology.

google-home

Google Home

You all may remember Hal from 2001 or the Star Trek Computer. Both interacted conversationally with Dave and Captain Kirk. For example, “Alexa, ask NASA Mars for a Curiosity Rover update.” That’s something Dave or Captain Kirk might say, right? The Echo will answer with the latest update. Right now Echo has the capability to feed back facts and information as well as command devices to perform the functions they were built for. The Hal ability it seems to lack is to think and converse, but that may be coming soon or evolving as we speak.

An interesting early attempt at a natural language interface called ‘Eliza’ was introduced by Joseph Wezenbaum in 1966. Eliza interacts like a psychotherapist, mostly asking seemingly intelligent questions based on your previous responses. People have been known to get hooked and converse with Eliza for for several hours. Think of Scarlett Johannsen playing the AI voice in the movie, ‘Her’ (great movie if you haven’t seen it). Eliza is now on the Echo Dot. If you enable the ‘Therapist’ skill, you can ask things like “Alexa, tell Eliza that I want to talk about my father” and a lengthy conversation with you and Alexa may ensue.

Well it’s not quite there yet, but it is evolving. The ultimate yet-to-be-developed Alexa skill may be ‘Friend’ that engages you and keeps you company. Imagine. 27% of the US population or close to 100 million people live alone in our country- just ask Alexa. Could Alexa become a companion to comfort and engage them?

Meanwhile, what is another smart motive for Amazon to make this device so cheap and compelling? You guessed it. You can order stuff using the Echo. Now at first you might say, why would I do that? I can’t be sure I’d be getting what I want. I’m not looking at a screen. So I can’t be sure. Well Amazon has handled this pretty well and remember when people were reluctant to buy things online having similar concerns? You learn and adapt and boom, there’s an explosion of new business. Alexa could be the next big eCommerce platform. Maybe.

So if you stuck it out and read to this point, what should you do now? First, I’d encourage you to buy one of the Amazon Echo devices (there are 3 versions) or Google Home and try it out. Then think of ways that you or your business might leverage this technology as an opportunity or just to improve your life. Here at Pathfinder we’re exploring ways to create new Alexa skills to help businesses and push the AI envelope. If your intrigued, let’s have a conversation.

I think I’ll save the comparison of Alexa to Siri to Google Home for next time, but here are a few useful links if you want to explore further:
If you want to Buy one.
Alexa Skills Marketplace with over 5000 to chose from.
If you want to build your own skill

Happy holidays and an Intelligent New Year. . .Charlie

 


Protecting Your Credit Card in One Simple Step

May 1, 2016

This may differ from my usual techy posts, but we all have credit cards and know that theft, fraud and abuse are is pervasive. There have been many seminars, articles and social media advice around this topic but all the ones I have seen miss one simple step. This occurred to me in a conversation with my local hardware store owner, Drew, who just attended such a seminar that morning and hadn’t thought about or been told this one easy thing. I apologize in advance if you already do this, but I’m amazed that 90% of the people I’ve spoken to to about it, don’t do it. Do your friends a favor and pass this along.

Protect Your Credit Cards

Protects Your Credit

So here it is. Assuming you have online access to your Credit Card account(and if you don’t, set it up), just go to your account settings and ‘Notifications’ and setup your email and/or cellphone to notify you of new charges. This way you immediately know when a charge has occurred and can make sure it is your legitimate charge. If it’s fraud, you’ll know immediately and can contact your Credit Card provider shutting down the abuse and protecting you from any further potential loss.

Simple. since I was making a purchase from the aforementioned hardware store. I used my credit card and within 5 seconds of completing the purchase. my cell phone chirped a notification. Then I turned around and showed Drew. It showed his store name and amount. He was surprised and delighted.

RFID Wallet

Some added hints. I’d suggest doing the same Notifications setup for you bank accounts and Debit Cards as well. If a fraudulent transaction occurs and you notify your bank right away, you stand a better chance of recovering any lost funds. Debit Cards also have less fraud protection from the banks than Credit Cards, ie you could be on the hook for fraudulent charges.

Finally, I recently purchased a new wallet with RFID protection. Apparently, the new security chips in credit cards and passports can be RFID scanned by a thief passing by with a simple readily available scanner stealing your private account details. These new RFID wallets have a material built-in that blocks the scanners.

So be smart and stay safe!


Pebble Smartwatch – Best Wearable Of The Year

December 28, 2014

I love technology! The day before yesterday, I’m driving down Route 78 and my new Pebble Smartwatch vibrates. I look down and see a text from my friend that the Rutgers Bowl game has just started(I’m not driver distracted as the text is right there on my wrist in front of me). I had meant to DVR the game, but forgot. I punch up the Xfinity app on my phone, click on ESPN and Record and voila, the game is recorded. I watch it when I get home and Rutgers kicks North Carolina’s butt. Great.

Since I wrote in an earlier post about wearable technology, I thought it would be worth an update based on personal experience. I received the Pebble Smartwatch as a holiday gift and I can see why CNET named it the Wearable Product of the Year.
Pebble
It’s designed so well that you’d think Apple made it. It does exactly what this type of device should do and no more or less. First it tells time. Big deal? Well unlike most of the competition, it shows the time all the time. It does not shutoff to save battery because it doesn’t need to. It goes 5 to 7 days between charges. My former, now dead, Sony, needed to be charged everyday. You also have a choice of multiple watch faces.

The Smart part is that it synchs with most IOS and Android devices. The current crop of SWs only synch to their parents’ brand products which makes them unusable with most existing phones. So the watch notifies me of incoming emails, calls, texts, appointments, etc by vibrating and displaying on the face. The vibrate is extra helpful if you get a phone call in a noisy place. You can always feel it on your wrist but not necessarily in your pocket or handbag.

Finally, there is an App Store which is free and includes some fun, funky and useful ones. I loaded on a pedometer fitbit type app and a compass. Both work quite well. I’d highly recommend it. For $99, it’s hard to beat.


Is Wearable Technology Really Here?

August 1, 2014

Dick Tracey update. Well the big talk at the Annual Consumer Electronics Show(CES) this week is Wearable Computing. Smart Watches, Health Monitoring, and Smart Glasses abound. But will any of this new ‘sexy’ technology become mainstream? Will you be wearing a Smart Watch or Google Glass this year?

I think I know the answer to this question, but first a little perspective. I’m an admitted geek and love to test and play with the latest technology. I’m what Regis McKenna would call an “Early Adopter.” If you haven’t read it, you should check out his landmark book, “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers .“

msgwatch-picture

My first wearable “computer’ was a Seiko Message Watch circa 1997. I loved it. People could send me text messages from their computer to my watch. The watch had its own phone number so it also acted as a pager. It knew when you changed time zones and automatically corrected the time. Since it updated regularly to a satellite, the time was always accurate. I was very disappointed when Seiko discontinued the service in 1999. My Smart Watch just became an ordinary watch. The problem: great technology, but a feeble marketing effort meant no sales.

Two years ago, 2011, I bought a Sony Smartwatch. Pretty cool. Did everything the new crop of Smartwatches do. It syncs with an Android Phone, displays text messages, weather, tweets, and even displays traffic cams. Fashionable – no. Was a great toy and conversation starter with potential clients, but not a winner. Three months after I got it, it just mysteriously died. RIP.

Pebble-2259_610x435

Flashback to 2003 and I’m attending what was a big annual Internet Tradeshow at the Javits in NYC. There was a Wearable Tech Fashion Show where sleekly clad fashion models pranced down a runway wearing all forms of electronics on their body, head and other orifices. That was 10 years ago and still no killer product.

So I think you know where this is leading, but hold up a minute. Remember the Apple Newton? It was one of the first tablet computers and a big failure. So why is the tablet from Apple and others, the hottest selling device category now? I think the answer is that all technology evolves. Inventors and tech companies alike try to develop the ‘next big thing.’ They design, do focus groups, and market new tech all the time. Most of it works but fails to capture the imagination of the mass market like the iPad does. However, these failures and small successes are necessary stepping stones to developing the winners.

The developers, engineers and thousands of other people involved in developing new products are to be praised and supported for their efforts. Without them and their many failures, we wouldn’t have the tremendously enabling tech we have today.

Ok, so let’s answer the question posed in the title of this post: Is Wearable Technology Really Here? I think the answer is No, Maybe and Yes in that order.

The ‘No’ is recognizing that 90%+ of what you see at tradeshows either never makes it to market or fails. That’s always true and especially true here.

The ‘Maybe’ is that if a company develops a device that is the right combination of features, usability, price and captures the imagination of the mass market, it could happen. Just like the Newton ultimately led to the iPad, it could and will happen again. The ‘When’ is just unclear.

fitbit-force-2-970x0

The ‘Yes’ is that some successes are already happening. The Fitbit tracker for your exercise and sleep is a winner. It’s really just a pedometer with an Internet connection, but it has the right combination of usability, cool-factor, and price and it’s working. It’s early yet, but I believe Google Glass and/or some iterations of it, will ultimately happen. There still are fashion and privacy issues to be solved there, but those are not really big hurdles.

Whatever happens, it will be fun trying it out.


Case Study: Handling High Web Volume & Healthcare.gov’s Failure

October 3, 2013

The new Heathcare.gov provides an interesting case study in doing successful(or not) high volume web sites. I happen to support the law, but the launch of the online exchanges is unfortunately a dismal failure. My company builds high volume sites, eg we got a call from a client that their products were to be featured on Oprahs Favorite Things and they expected 250,000 simultaneous users. We ramped it up in less than a week to handle over a million and had hardly a hiccup.
Healthcare4
So I was interested to see how Healthcare.gov would handle the inevitable rush on Tuesday. I tried getting in several times the first day and got the friendly ‘Wait’ screen. That’s Ok but the wait may be interminable. I finally got in later on Day 1, filled in my info on 2 screens and got an Error Screen(shown) and Try Again. Tried again – same error.

Heathcare2

Now it’s 2 Days later and I still can’t get in. I’ve heard claims that they had anywhere between 2 million and 10 million visitors on Day 1. So what? How many visitors do you think Amazon or Google get in a day?
Healtcare-gov
So it’s ashame because the people who really need the program or may visit one of the thousands of Govt ‘Navigators’ will get frustrated. This is more of a PR Nightmare than the Media is reporting so far. If they don’t fix it soon, it may undermine a great program permanently.

If you or someone you know needs help with high-volume Ecommerce, let me know. We know how to make it work.


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