ISTM #15: Will Exit VR Become the Netflix of VR?

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.

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ISTM #12: How Two Otter Encounters Inspired Me to Change My New AI Book

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: 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.

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ISTM #11: An AI Coach in Your Pocket

I met in San Francisco last week with the three founders of PocketConfidant, a promising AI startup based in San Francisco and Nice. Two of them are executive coaches and the third is a computational neuroscientist and IT professional who have developed software to augment the services that coaches perform increasingly for business leaders and students all over the world. They are the first company I’ve actually interviewed for Augmenting People, Why AI Should Back Us Up, Not Push Us Out, my new book scheduled for release next year.

The company, formed earlier this year, is a Business Solution Partner of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a self-regulating global organization that awards credentials only to those that it says meet rigorous education and practice requirements. Executive coaching is taught at an increasing number of elite institutions such as Harvard and Yale. ICF has about 55,000 members and is growing at a modest pace, while the demand for them is growing much more rapidly. For me, there is some irony to be covering an area that sees job growth, since most research for my new book finds me looking at appalling predictions of vocational reductions.

The growth is coming in two areas:

*Early-phase companies where scaling is suddenly rapid, and young entrepreneurs find their jobs moving from product development to managing staff and adapting to systematic management; and

*Global Enterprises where coaches are a function of HR, who uses it to fast-track junior employees who demonstrate leadership potential but lack experience.

Coaches are different from mentors in that they never suggest anything: they simply ask questions in the classic Socratic method. Clients use critical thinking to find answers within themselves. (In fact, one of the very first AI end-user applications, Symantec QA, was based on the Socratic method when it was introduced back in 1985.)

In the US, at least the number of certified coaches is growing more slowly than the demand, according to, the pressure on coaches is to be available to more people and have more time than is possible.

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