For more than 60 years, proponents of Artificial Intelligence have been divided—often acrimoniously—into two camps: Autonomy vs. Augmentation. Autonomy proponents…
ItSeemstoMe is my personal blog and newsletter. It is for business decision makers and is about disruptive technologies. I mostly cover Immersive Technologies such as AR and non-gaming VR as well as AI-powered products such as autonomous cars, robots, chatbots, drones and wearable tech. I am always looking for a good story and if you have one, we should talk.
I met Exit VR co-founder Ilya Druzhnikov on an extremely rainy night at a tech event in Pacifica. We were two of only three people who showed up, so it gave us time to talk. I learned that he and Yoni Koenig, his business partner, had devised a rare business model that promises to be lucrative and sustainable.
In 2016, at a time when both the tech and entertainment communities were going bonkers over the near-term promise of VR and AR, Ilya and Yoni decided to run a field test. They took a battered old van and converted it into a mobile VR lab. Equipped with state-of-the-industry VR gear, they would park it where people gathered in the many diverse neighborhoods of San Francisco. They would vary the price for viewing as well as the time per visit and the apps that were shown.Continue Reading →
Many years ago, when I first stepped away from employment to go my own way, I developed a mantra: Work hard.…
So much is being said about the dangers of AI. I share many concerns related to autonomous cars, massive unemployment…
Last week, I interviewed an AI startup named AISense whose single product, Otter Voice Notes, a cloud-based platform, seems to me to have as many uses as Word does. It records conversations of almost any length between multiple people with uncanny accuracy and speed.
Start with the billion-dollar transcription industry that serves medical procedures, legal testimony and depositions, then move into all forms of education and training, and there’s the foundation for a big business opportunity. Add to that all your business meetings and Zoom video conversations. Take all the time required to turn talk into text, correct the invariable typos and homonyms, delete “um’s” and so on. Eliminate the time and expense of turning spoken words into accurate text, and I think you will see how such technology can change your life.
It turns out there are already 13 AI Speech startups: almost all have technologies in the market and such competitive markets invariably accelerate innovations while keeping prices low. AISense is the apparent leader right now and seems to be well-positioned to maintain that lead. Whether or not it does, users still win because this level of competition usually leads to rapid innovation and refinement. Otter provides users 600 free minutes a month and the platform allows users much longer recording periods, so that you can automatically record 10 hours of conference presentations if you wish.
For me, there was another revelation: Otter.ai changed the actual dynamics of my meeting with its founders. Because I trusted their tech to take notes, I could enjoy a more immersive and authentic face-to-face interaction with co-founders Sam Liang and Yun Fu and JD Lasica, my friend and fellow author, who was also present.
Otter produced an entirely more comprehensive transcript than I ever could have otherwise accomplished, and the tags produced let me find what I needed afterward with great speed. This is AI Augmentation at its best: the humans get to do humanly interactive things, while Otter tirelessly takes notes.
Liang and Fu explained how Otter’s AI can extract conversation summaries with bulleted key points and action items. It will use social graphs to see the relationships between conversation participants and can detect emotions. My talks with the Otter guys have excited me for other, more personal, reasons. They have to do with Augmenting People: Why AI Should Back Us Up, Not Push Us Out.
Elon Musk often reminds me of a quote from TS Eliot, my favorite poet: “Only those who go too far, can possibly find out how far one can go.”
Events of the recent past demonstrate that he often goes too far. But in terms of cars, spaceships, solar panels and Hyperloos, he is likely to be the one who demonstrates how far one can go.
Three cases in point:
1. Robotic Manufacturing. In May 2017, he boasted that the Tesla Model 3 factory would be the most automated in the world with an output of 75,000 vehicles per quarter because of the superior productivity of robots. But at the end of Q1 2018, the factory produced a comparatively limp output of 10,000. The reason, he discovered and declared in an interview was that “humans are underrated.”
Admitting that the miscalculation was his mistake and that people just do some things better than robots, he had Tesla pulled out a major chunk of the automation and replace it with sentient beings. In short, Musk went too far. His company and his reputation are paying a significant price for it, but at the end of the day, the Tesla is probably the most significant improvement in ground transportation since the Model T Ford.
2. SpaceX Rockets. Musk has looked to the future, done some deep thinking about it and it scares the hell out of him. But instead of walking around carrying a sign warning “The End is Near,” he has created an economic opportunity. There may come a time–not as far into the future as any of us would want, that Earth becomes uninhabitable. With that in mind, he created SpaceX which has proven that Silicon Valley technology can expedite space travel faster, better and far more cheaply, with private financing than NASA can do with government backing and traditional contractors. His goal is to build a human colony on Mars, where humans might create an inhabitable environment after destroying the one we have here.
On Sept. 19, he announced one giant leap for humankind when he announced that Yusaku Maezawa has chartered a ride on the SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket. The Japanese billionaire will bring along six-to-eight artists as guests. The flight is scheduled for 2023, but Musk schedules have been known to slip. To me, that is of little matter so much as that Musk, more than any other individual I can think of, is exploring how far we may need to go.
Johann Gutenberg had a clear winner when he invented Movable Type. His technology replaced monks with quills, enormously expanded the distribution of news and information and motivated everyday people to learn to read. It endured for well over 400 years until Ottmar Mergenthaler invented a faster, better and cheaper way to set an entire line of type, rather than just one letter at a time, as Gutenberg’s press required. Appropriately, he called it the “line-o-type.”
They still had Linotype machines in the 1970s when I got my first job for a newspaper, the Boston Herald-Traveler. But as I started my career, the Linotype machine operators were ending theirs.
This would be a trivial piece of personal information, except that now, I am researching Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work for a new book and Linotype operators and Kurt Vonnegut keep flashing back to me from inside my analog memory bank. I’ll tell you about Vonnegut, in a few paragraphs.
It’s important to mention that the Linotype Operators had their own union at a time when unions were still strong enough to protect tradespeople. And the unions collaborated, so if they went on strike, as a member of the American News Guild, I would be obliged to go on strike, as would the Teamsters who drove delivery trucks. If the strike got long and nasty, the Teamsters could shut down the entire country.
By the time I arrived at the old Herald, Linotype machines would be destined for trash heaps, museum exhibits and little else. Personal Computers had come along and so did a new way of printing four entire pages of news at once.
Yet, as I started my career, the Herald had an entire floor dedicated to Linotype Operators sitting at or near their machines. I passed them several times daily as I took news copy from the third floor down to the first floor where the presses printed and bundle newspapers that were then loaded onto trucks for distribution and delivery.
As I passed through the Linotype section, I’d see these guys reading books, playing checkers, or cards. While not quite hostile, I found them to be generally unfriendly.
I would eventually learn what had happened and why. A few years earlier, when word processing and cold type eliminated the need for the linotype and its operators, the unions cut a deal that avoided a strike: Every linotype operator could remain employed until retirement age. Some chose to leave but others stayed, and perhaps, would remain for decades.
It was a scenario, it seemed to me where everyone lost. Perhaps the operators who stayed lost the most: while they kept getting paid, it seemed to me they lost their pride and for that their families would suffer perhaps more than if they had lost compensation.
Being the Herald Copy Boy was my night job. By day I was an English Journalism major at Northeastern University, where I too was learning the skills of a job whose market value would diminish as digital innovations advanced. At about this time, I was assigned to read Player Piano, written in the 1950s by Kurt Vonnegut. It is a futuristic novel taking place after some horrific war that reduces world population. To fight it, most working class job holders went off to fight and die in huge numbers. Left behind were managers who kept things running with engineers who automated the jobs formerly performed by working class people. The machines proved far more efficient than the humans had been; so the managers kept managing things that engineers kept refining and no one else was really needed to produce goods and services.
I first read John Markoff‘s Machines of Loving Grace in 2015 as I started to write The Fourth Transformation, a book about AR and AI in which I predicted that today’s smartphones would be replaced by smart glasses. Markoff’s book gave me reason to pause. Markoff’s book convinced me that the most transformative technology of this new century would be AI and not AR. It is by no coincidence, that as I start researching Augmenting People: Why AI Should Back Us Up, Not Push Us Out, that I reread Markoff’s extremely well-researched book again.