Turbotodd

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

Posts Tagged ‘2019

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

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

Tagged with , ,

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

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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It’s Been Awhile…Happy VR New Year!

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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted…enjoyed a much needed holiday respite away from technology.

Well, not ALL technology. While I was away, I dusted off my Oculus Go and really went to town with the thing, in a way that I hadn’t the prior 7 months.

My follow-up verdict: I’m more bullish on VR now that I’ve spent more time with the thing.

Mostly, I’ve been playing games (“End Space,” “Rush,” “Void Race,” and “Gunjack” are some standouts).  I also bought a Bluetooth gamepad so that I move beyond depending just on the OG controller that comes with and use something a little more user friendly.

The game pad made a big difference in gmaes like “Gunjack” where one is shooting alien spacecraft and needs great agility (and, yet, subtlety, at the same time). 

I’ve also used OG for more mundane tasks like watching “Netflix,” which appears as a big movie screen in front of one’s eyes.

Despite the heavy lift of getting someone to put these VR goggles on, the opportunity for transcendent experiences, I believe, is quite palpable.

And the use cases beyond games seem endless…military training…pilot training…high end commercial and residential real estate…real-time collaboration and working..I could go on and on.

And apparently I’m not alone. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen recently said the following in an episode of the a a16z podcast: 

I think AR has tons of potential applications, both at work and at home. [But] I think VR is going to be about 1,000 times bigger. In the Valley right now, this is a very contrarian view. The general theme that you hear is that AR will be bigger than VR, and obviously it should be. If you can do things overlaid over the real world, that should be inherently more interesting than having to construct a synthetic world.

I just think that’s only true for people who live in a really interesting place in the real world. But only something like .1 percent and 1 percent of people on Earth live in a place where they wake up every morning and think, Wow, there are so many interesting things to see. So for everyone who doesn’t already live on a college campus or in Silicon Valley or in a major other city, the new environments we’re going to be able to create in VR will inherently be much more interesting. And there will be a lot more of them.

Using the “Gala360” app, I was able to do just that, see something new (to me).

For a mere $3.99, I bought and downloaded the app and the next thing I know I was walking around and checking out the Taj Mahal in 3D, a place I’d never visited but had always wanted to see.

VR replaces long distance: It’s the next best thing to (really) being there. 

Whether it becomes 1,000 times bigger than augmented reality, I’ll leave that to others to argue.

But at a time when the tech industry and key players like Apple are struggling — in terms of both perception and innovation, there are much worse investments one could make than alternate realities, virtual or otherwise.

Written by turbotodd

January 8, 2019 at 10:36 am

Posted in 2019, virtual reality, VR

Tagged with ,

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