Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Apple Pays, GDP Strays

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The World Economic Forum has kicked off in Davos, and today the Dow is down some 300 points.

IMF Chair Christine Lagarde cut the global growth forecast for 2019 from 3.7 to 3.5 percent, saying the move was “due to the high level of economic risks that are accelerating around the globe.”

She cited the U.S.-China trade war, Brexit, and China’s slowing economy as factors in the down estimate.

But there are companies out there doing their part to ensure that everybody gets paid. 

For instance, Apple announced that 74 of the top 100 U.S. merchants now accept Apple Pay, including Target and Taco Bell. 

Finally, a reason to really use my Apple Watch for something besides a timer for Trader Joe heat ups!

And speaking of fast food, sorry, but Traders Joe may be the order of the day, as Munchery has announced it is going to end operations effective immediately and will refund any outstanding orders.

Munchery had raised some $125.4 million in venture capital and, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, its kitchens had reportedly produced many more orders than they sold.

A recipe for ______.

Written by turbotodd

January 22, 2019 at 11:19 am

Birdbrained Bird Boxers

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Back in the early-to-mid aughts, before we called everything “social media” (back when I had to walk five miles through the snow to get to the office), we often referred to something that came to be known as the “wisdom of the crowd.”

The New Yorker writer James Surowiecki wrote a book on the phenomenon, “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations.”

The central thesis of the book was the idea that the aggregation of information in groups resulted in decisions are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. 

As an example, in his opening anecdote for the book, he relayed the surprise that a crowd had when their individual guesses of an ox’s weight were accurate when they were all averaged together.

It was a really cool idea, and it seemed to stick around for awhile.

And then, as if out of nowhere, the wisdom of the crowd seems to have gone the way of the do do bird.

Or, should I say, the way of the “Bird Box.”

Some background: Bird Box is a movie (spoiler alert!) recently released by Netflix starring Sandra Bullock in which the basic premise is that everybody must run around blindfolded lest they see the post-apocalyptic zombies running around which, if seen by the human eye, will turn them into zombies as well.

As Netflix movies go, it was pretty bad, but like an inverse of Surowiecki’s theorem, everybody had to see it because it got so much exposure via social media.  

Call it the “constipation” of the crowd.

Unfortunately, the viral meme of seeing the movie didn’t stop there.

No, lacking the wisdom of crowds from even 13 or 14 years ago, instead the “Bird Box Challenge” was born.

The challenge is simple: People inspired by the film are recreating the basic premise of the movie by going about their daily lives blindfolded.

It’s as silly as that, or even as silly as the Tide Pod challenge (another key piece of evidence of the constipation of the crowd) from last year, where people filmed themselves on YouTube eating Tide Pod laundry detergent pellets. Hey, whatever spins your cycle!

Only the Bird box Challenge has taken the constipation of the crowd to new heights, because, well, you’re blindfolded, which, you know, isn’t exactly conducive to things like driving a car or floating through rapids on a river.

It got so bad that Netflix had to issue a Tweet telling us how dangerous the Bird Box Challenge could be: “Can’t believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE.”

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, we encouraged this kind of outlier behavior…It helps thin out the herd.

But we didn’t have a bunch of bird brains doing the Bird Box Challenge. 

We just called such phenomena “Darwin Awards.”

Go ahead, Google it.  

Just make sure you step away from the ledge.

Or not.

Written by turbotodd

January 17, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Posted in 2018, social media

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The Razr’s Edge

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2004 just called, and it wants its Motorola Razr phone back.

Yes, everything old is new again, and The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Motorola Razr will be attempting a comeback.

Only this time around, the Razr will apparently be a smartphone with a foldable screen and a…gasp…$1,500 price tag.

This time around, Lenovo Group will be leading the way, and partnering with Verizon on an exclusive deal to start selling the new Razrs “as soon as February.” 

The backstory: Lenovo bought the Motorola Mobility handset business from Google in 2014.

The Journal story reminds us the Razr V3 flip phone was first released in 2004, but its market success was rapidly snuffed out by the introduction of the Apple iPhone.

Samsung is also reported to be working on a foldable smartphone.

I had a Razr back in the day, and it was a cool device for its time…then again, so was the late 1990s Motorola StarTAC. Eventually, I dropped mine in a river down in Gruene, Texas, and I don’t think any amount of white race ever brought it back to life.

And on the subject of iPhones and apps, App Annie’s 2019 State of Mobile report is out, and coverage via ZDNet has a few headlines.

First, App Annie expects consumers to spend $120 billion on app stores in 2019, a spending clip that is “5X the growth rate of the global economy.”

Next, global app downloads topped 194 billion in 2018. up 35 percent from 2016 — and it was emerging markets that led the growth. And lest you think everyone is playing Fortnite all day and all night, about 65 percent of total global downloads are non-game apps.

Social and communications apps account for 50 percent of time spent in apps, a number that grew 45 percent from 2016 to 2018.

And for those concerned about mobile commerce, global time spent in shopping apps was up 60 percent last year, reaching some 18 billion hours.

18 billion hours…shopping in mobile apps…last year…

Put that in your virtual shopping cart and let that just sit there until…well, until you get your new Motorola Razr (or, you could find an original for as little as $17.99 U.S. on eBay!)

Written by turbotodd

January 16, 2019 at 3:43 pm

Posted in 2019, smartphone

Tagged with ,

Two Cool Cats

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Apple replaced a lot of batteries in iPhones last year. Some 11M of them, according to Daring Fireball and Jean-Louis Gassee.  That’s up from 1-2M.

Yet even if you some basic math, at $29 per replacement, that doesn’t add up to a $500M revenue miss, which is what Apple cited in its earnings announcement. Never mind the fact that the Apple XR and XS models weren’t even available for most of that time.

Simple financial deconstruction, and more to come, I’m sure.

Speaking of more to come, Netflix is raising their rates.

The AP is reporting that Netflix is raising its U.S. prices by 13 to 18 percent, its “biggest increase since the company launched its video streaming service 12 years ago.”

The company’s most popular plan will jump from $11 to $13 per month, an option that offers high-definition streaming on up to two different internet-connected devices simultaneously. 

The AP points out that, though, that even at the higher price, the $13/month plan is cheaper than HBO (whose streaming services charge $15).

That is true, although I must say say, I’m so deep into the Netflix library that much of what I’ve watched of late has subtitles.

I guess those $2 more per month can help produce more original content that don’t require subtitles?

But enough about Netflix.  You want to talk inflation? How about those two cats that live alone in a $1,500 studio apartment out in San Jose???

Does Uber Eats deliver cat food??!

Written by turbotodd

January 15, 2019 at 1:50 pm

Posted in 2019, apple, netflix, silicon valley

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AI Survey: More Harm Than Good?

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Happy Friday.

So yesterday I wrote about the beginnings of an AI backlash vis a vis some of the tests Waymo has been doing on Arizona. 

Then today this AI study hits my in-box, featured on the MIT Technology Review and conducted by the Center for the Governance of AI and Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute.

The headline is that of Americans surveyed in the study, a higher percentage of respondents support than oppose AI development, while more respondents than not also believe high-level machine intelligence would do more harm than good for humanity.

The report goes on to ask respondents to rank their specific concerns, and they list a weakening of data privacy and the increased sophistication of cyber-attacks as issues of most concern and those most likely to affect many Americans within the next 10 years.

They’re also concerned about other key issues, including autonomous weapons, hiring bias, surveillance, digital manipulation, and, interestingly further down the list, technological unemployment.

So, more than 8 in 10 believe that AI and robotics should be “managed carefully.”

But as MIT observes in its article, that’s easier said than done “because they also don’t trust any one entity to pick up that mantle.”

I’m assuming that also means no one wants to leave it up to the Director from “Travelers” (you’ll have to go watch the show on Netflix to understand the reference…I don’t want to give any plot points away).

Where do they put the most trust in building AI?  University researchers, the US military, and tech companies, in that order.

Allan Dafoe, director of the center and coauthor of the report, says the following about the findings:

“There isn’t currently a consensus in favor of developing advanced AI, or that it’s going to be good for humanity,” he says. “That kind of perception could lead to the development of AI being perceived as illegitimate or cause political backlashes against the development of AI.”

“I believe AI could be a tremendous benefit,” Dafoe says. But the report shows a main obstacle in the way of getting there: “You have to make sure that you have a broad legitimate consensus around what society is going to undertake.”

Like any life-changing technology, it all comes down to trust…or the lack thereof.

Written by turbotodd

January 11, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Rage Against the Machines

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Happy Thursday.  

CES 2019 is heading into its last couple of days, and I suspect the big bang announcements are already over.

The one story that struck me most coming out of Vegas also apparently struck a robot.

I’m talking, of course, about the autonomous robot that was struck and “killed” by a self-driving Tesla Model S.

Apparently the poor robot, a Promobot, is manufactured by a Russian tech company and was just standing on the side of the road when the Tesla cruised by and edged Promobot off his feet…err, wheels!

Whether this was a real story or a great publicity stunt is really beside the point.

It could be a harbinger of things to come. Some would argue the Luddite blowback against AI and robots has already begun.

In Phoenix, where Waymo has been testing its self-driving cars for going on two years now, armed citizens have started taking to the streets.

A report from the Arizona Republic described “a multitude of incidents where citizens, apparently enraged by the sight of the Waymo vans, decided to threaten and attack their autonomous invaders.”

Specifically, they cited a man emerging from his home to “point a .22-calibre revolved at the van and its human safety driver.” 

The man, Roy Leonard Haselton, apparently had become obsessed with the vans after the March collision in Tempe, Arizona between an Uber Technologies Volvo and the pedestrian it killed, Elaine Herzberg.

But the threatening .22 was just one of 20-something incidents that have occurred in the past couple of years.

There have been incidences of rock throwing at Waymo vans, and games of chicken, one where a black Jeep engaged six Waymo vans, pulling into the oncoming lane in an attempt to cause the Waymo to swerve out of the way.

In short, the anti-AI/autonomous/bot Luddites are emerging from the shadows and they are p—ssed!

And the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, sits in his cell at the US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, twenty-some-odd years into this sentence and just shakes his head exclaiming “I told you so!”

Written by turbotodd

January 10, 2019 at 10:59 am

Google’s Assistant is Building An Ecosystem

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I’m not at CES.

Never have been, never will be.

But I did sleep at a Holiday Inn last night.

Actually, I didn’t.

What I meant to say is I still read news coverage of CES to find out all about the great technology stuff I’m missing.

Yesterday’s blog theme was VR, so it only stands to reason today should focus on smart assistant(ce).

I’m bullish on AI for smart assistants, even if it’s just to do the simple stuff like setting timers and reminders.

I bought an Amazon Tap a couple of years ago, and I use it primarily for those reasons, and to listen to Bloomberg Radio or to play my Flash Brief.

Over the holidays, I bought my parents and sister a Google Home.  My parents use it primarily to have it make animal noises that amuse their pet schnauzer.

I tried to teach them how to use it to turn on Netflix with their voice, but that was a bridge too far. They just wanted to see what was on Netflix, and apparently that was too complicated a task for Google Home.

Which gets me to my point: Smart assistants(ce) should be easy to use, as obvious as possible, and not require a CS degree to program. How do you take a device that nobody knows how to use and for which there are no instructions, and teach them to use it.

One task at a time.

That means better tutorials, better help, and most of all, more intuitive asks of the device.

That’s why I think that Google Assistant is currently winning this race. I’ve not used Cortana much because it’s from Microsoft, and I’m not a big MS fan.

I’ve tried to use Siri, but it’s mostly frustrating.

I’ve successfully used Alexa and Google Assistant, and of them all, I’m still most bullish on Google Assistant. 

Google started harvesting voice phonemes via Grand Central and, later, Google Voice, long before most of us knew what the grand plan was.

But the grand plan seems evident to me, which was to create a clear and concise pathway between human voice requests and the AI backend required for successful task accomplishment.

They’ve mostly succeeded, although GA is still eager and still learning.

But the wide swath of announcements Google is making for Assistant at CES this week, I believe, demonstrates that GA was able to move from a far second or third very much into first place in the smart assistant race.

As one example, they’re announcing Google Assistant Connect, which allows third-party developers and manufacturers to finally join the GA party the way Alexa developers have been able to do for some time now:

Today we’re introducing a preview of Google Assistant Connect, a platform for device manufacturers to bring the Google Assistant into their products in an affordable and easy-to-implement way. Connect uses our existing smart home platform to expand to new device types while making device setup and discovery simple for people.

Assistant Connect creates opportunities to bring different types of smart devices to the market. For example, a partner could create a simple and inexpensive e-ink display that continually projects the weather or your calendar, while using Assistant Connect to deliver content from your linked smart speaker. The Google Assistant handles the higher-order computing—knowing what’s on the calendar, checking for updates, and so on. We’ll have more to share about Assistant Connect and how device makers can gain access to the technology later this year. For device manufacturers who want to learn more about how to integrate Assistant Connect, fill out this form.

This new SDK should let the genius of GA move far beyond the confines of Mountain View and into the hands of developers and device makers around the world.

But hey, you can still do the golden oldies: “Hey Google, what kind of sound does a cow make?”

If it doesn’t respond by saying “Moo,” you might just want to RTFM…if they had one!

Written by turbotodd

January 9, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Posted in 2019

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