Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most overhyped technologies today. From narrow AI technologies such as Apple’s Siri to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) examples in films such as Ex-Machina or Her.
An interesting pattern can be recognised every time a new technology becomes hot and sexy. The so-called expert. We’ve all been in that situation before. Sitting in the same room and listening to the wrong terminology just to unveil the true self. Actually, this is quite helpful as we can better evaluate what’s being said for what is worth. #AlwaysThinkPositive
Here some examples:
- A few years ago, in the AdTech world… Real Time Bidding (RTB) ≠ Programmatic
- More recently… Blockchain ≠ Bitcoin (Link to my previous post)
- Artificial Intelligence ≠ Machine Learning
Talking about ML as ‘AI’ misleads you. It’s a computer science technique that works its way into all sorts of places. V similar to databases
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) June 9, 2017
AI is basically the intelligence – how we make machines intelligent, while machine learning is the implementation of the compute methods that support it. The way I think of it is: AI is the science and machine learning is the algorithms that make the machines smarter. …So the enabler for AI is machine learning. Nidhi Cappell, Head of machine learning at Intel
Regardless of all the hype, some great movies and famous Skynet-like worries, the truth is, we are still in 2017 and what is proving to be most practical today is the combination of Artificial Intelligence and Human Intelligence. This is how IBM’s Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov a decade ago and, more recently, how Google’s AlphaGo became the best ever Go player.
This approach makes a lot of sense when you realise that we still don’t really understand how human intelligence and creativity actually work and therefore is practically impossible to train a machine to achieve that result. Narrow AIs are of great help with mundane tasks and they excel humans on those narrow scenarios:
- Your good old pocket calculator
- Your chess app today is more powerful than Deep Blue ever was. Yes
- Self-driving cars
- etc, etc
Experts like Kevin Kelly and Sam Harris agree on this so… the dystopian sci-fi future that some fear is probably decades away. Examples of Human-assisted Artificial Intelligence are:
- Machines beating humans at calculus-based games, as mentioned above
- Image recognition for medical diagnosis – link
- Customer service chatbots – link
People don’t like change and embracing the 4th Industrial revolution will be a slow process. Our jobs are not going away anytime soon… unless they require little intelligence 🤓
As one of my idols put it many years ago:
‘Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.’ – Pablo Picasso
Check the links below if you are interested in this topic, they are real experts 🙃
- Deep thinking: Where machine intelligence ends and human creativity begins, Garry Kasparov, 2017 – Link
- The Singularity is near, Raymond Kurzweil, 2006 – Link
- Waking up podcast by Sam Harris – Landscapes of mind with Kevin Kelly, 2017 – Link
- Conversations with Tyler – Garry Kasparov on AI, Chess, and the future of creativity – Link
- Andrew Ng: Artificial Intelligence is the new electricity, Stanford MSx Future Forum, 2017
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While Blockchain technology is relatively new, it’s also a continuation of a very human story. As humans, we find ways to lower uncertainty about one another so that we can exchange value. Bettina Warburg, TED Conference 2016
In 2008, an individual or a group, by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto invented Bitcoin and the Blockchain. For the first time in history, this invention made it possible to send money around the world without banks, governments or any other money intermediary, and this is where the punk rock 🤘 analogy comes from. A system that is totally radical.
Blockchain ≠ Bitcoin
[Blockchain] is to Bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one. Sally Davies, FT Technology Reporter
Many experts are debating about future applications of Blockchain technology and the general consensus today is that we still don’t know what the true potential is. We can think about the early days of the World Wide Web, a system with a handful of computers in different locations capable of exchanging information amongst a few universities and researchers… Did Tim Berners Lee foresee our fixation with cat pictures? 🐱 Oh, humans…
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain technology is a decentralised database that stores a ledger of assets and transactions across a peer-to-peer network. It’s basically a public registry of who owns what and who transacts what. The transactions are secured through cryptography and over time, that transaction history gets locked in blocks of data that are cryptographically linked together and secured. Hence the name of a blockchain. This creates an immutable and unforgeable record of all of the transactions across this network. This record is replicated on every computer that is connected to the network.
It’s not an app, it’s not a company, it’s more like… Wikipedia. The Blockchain is open source, it stores information and all changes are registered and they are visible to anyone. You can think of the Blockchain as an open infrastructure that stores many kinds of assets. It stores the history of custodianship, ownership and location for assets like the digital currency Bitcoin or other digital assets such as a title of ownership of IP, certificates, contracts, real world objects or even personal identifiable information.
And that’s The Blockchain in a nutshell. A public registry that stores transactions in a network and is replicated so it’s very secure and hard to tamper with. This is why the Blockchain can help us lower uncertainty and help us transform our economic systems in radical ways.
The Blockchain as a technology has two main ingredients:
- Cryptography (asymmetric cryptography)
- Distributed systems
Blockchains are networks, some interesting examples of networks that we see today are Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba, etc which are centralised networks. The Blockchain is decentralised, it works as a cooperative and at this early stage, the discussion amongst experts is more about the technology itself than how these networks will be deployed.
Something to highlight is the grassroots origin of the blockchain. As far as we know, it wasn’t invented by an established business to provide a new USP or competitive advantage. This was a bottom-up movement driven by geeks ➡️ punk-rock.
Paradigm shifts and Blockchain
It is easy to look at technologies in hindsight and point out the paradigm shifts that were created. Today, we can all see the disruptions created by the printing press, the steam engine or the Internet. On the other hand, foresight is really difficult and many experts are still trying to figure this out with Blockchain and its potential use cases. Only time will tell.
One way to look at paradigm shifts is by looking at the gaps each of these technologies filled for everyone. The printing press filled the Knowledge gap, the steam engine provided us with Power, The Internet made the world a much smaller place.
The gap that The Blockchain could fill is TRUST. Not just how we trust each other, but how we trust in business. Trust, is the fundamental currency of Commerce.
Today, we use ledgers that are temperable and this is why we use many intermediaries in every transaction. Banks, credit reporting agencies, insurance companies, etc help to partially fill the trust gap between parties. The remaining gap gets filled with… gut feeling.
The blockchain ledger, as explained earlier, is an epic upgrade on the ledgers that we use today.
Also, Blockchain could help with:
- Identity theft – more than 15 million cases a year in the US alone
- Digital devices coming online – (IoT) Internet of Things – According to IHS, 75 Billion devices will be online by 2025
The Blockchain and financial inclusion
According to the World Bank, 74% of the world’s population doesn’t have access to basic financial services. In the US, 50% of the population does not have access to basic financial services including bank accounts. There is a huge amount of people around the world that don’t get to experience and be a part of the global economy because they don’t have access to the financial system for a variety of reasons. The technology could lift many people out of poverty and it could also be seen as an inclusive technology that allows more people to engage in global commerce.
Network experts Ericsson predict that there will be more than 6 Billion smartphones in use by 2020. Nearly every person living in poverty will have access to a smartphone and will be connected to a network and that is… game-changing. When you have digital wallets on these phones and when you have the ability to trade assets, we will finally face the question of… What happens when everybody has money? As we all know, on this side of the world, capitalism has thrived in some areas by the natural exclusion of others from markets. It uses that scarcity principle as its driving basis.
Undoubtedly, as with previous paradigm shifts, affected companies will try to slow down the implementation of a new and more efficient technology. Cars were not allowed in cities because they were too dangerous, fax-machine companies were offering you a ‘better’ deal than the Internet, etc, etc.
When the technology that has the potential for revolutionizing an industry emerges, established companies typically see it as unattractive: it’s not something their mainstream customers want, and its projected profit margins aren’t sufficient to cover big-company cost structure. As a result, the new technology tends to get ignored in favor of what’s currently popular with the best customers. But then another company steps in to bring the innovation to a new market. Once the disruptive technology becomes established there, smaller-scale innovation rapidly raise the technology’s performance on attributes that mainstream customers’ value. Joseph Bower
Technologies, especially at early stages, can feel foreign, complex and abstract to many people. The reality is, the average consumer doesn’t need to understand how a GPS device works in order to get from A to B. We all use technologies that we don’t fully understand but help us to get the job done. There is a quote I always use in my 9 to 5 life as a marketer and it feels right to end this post with it.
People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole. Theodore Levitt
- Bettina Warburg, TED Conference 2016
- Manuel Stagars, The Blockchain and Us, 2017
- Richie Etwaru, TEDx Morristown 2017
- Andreas Antonopoulos, The Internet of Money, 2016
- Shai Rubin, CTO of Citi Innovation Lab, What is Blockchain
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Every year at the Code Conference, Mary Meeker delivers the best presentation in the industry bar none. Her confidence is so high that the deck itself looks plain and ruthless to the naked eye:
- The presentation template and slide layouts look terrible… it doesn’t matter
- There are 355 slides in this document… it doesn’t matter
This is ‘substance over style’ at its best.
You can see the slides below:
Mary Meeker always highlights that this document is not meant to be ‘presented’ but to be read, which explains my previous criticism. The deck and video (below), are intended for a well-educated audience on these topics, otherwise, you’ll think this is madness. Feel free to lower the speed in your Youtube if needed.
This deck is often so dense that most people that I know in the technology sector only pay attention to the slides that concern them, those little niches… I call that ‘tunnel vision’.
Video from Code Conference 2017:
- Smartphone growth is slowing down
- Voice queries on mobile now account for 20% of total queries and accuracy is about 95%. Check my previous post on Virtual Assistants if you are interested in this topic
- Mobile advertising still has room for growth – Time spent Vs. Ad spent
- TV viewership continues to decline while Netflix takes 30% of revenues in the US market
- Big focus on gaming and how it’s becoming mainstream. Also, a few interesting points on how gaming tech eg: GPUs are now being used for other purposes such as AI
- China and India are two markets to watch in terms of innovation and growth
The Recode website has an extensive analysis of Mary Meeker’s presentation.
We just need to wait another year to get the one and only deck that rules them all.
PS: Walt Mossberg, tech journalist and co-founder of the Code Conference, will be retiring this month. Thank you for all the great work!
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Q: Alexa, what is the meaning of life?
A: Depends on the life in question. 42 is a good approximation.
…And 42 is a great answer if you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
There is a race amongst GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) to conquer the virtual assistant market. Still early days and at the moment it is all about generating interest to create future demand. Virtual assistants can become ubiquitous platforms soon – think home automation – hence positioning and locking-consumers-in early is paramount for GAFA today.
At the moment, the Amazon Echo grabs most of the headlines and Google Home is gaining traction in the ‘new housemate’ category. Apple just announced the new HomePod which will be available at the end of the year at a premium price… no surprises there. The fourth contender is Microsoft’s Cortana who at the moment is still in the ‘clouds’ and hasn’t found a ‘material’ body to live in… yet.
Advertising, monetising, this is not clear yet.
Let’s start with Apple, they normally provide services at no extra cost for the user. You buy their premium products and you get a lot of services for ‘free’ eg: Mac OS upgrades, Garage Band, Pages, etc. The services are even advertising-free which keeps the clean and simple user experience that everybody loves. The money is made with the premium hardware and a growing number of paid services such as iCloud, Apple Music, etc. There’s no reason to believe that ads will be screamed at you by Siri, and that’s very Applesque.
Amazon, against many odds, got a head start in this race and there are some obvious use cases on how Alexa could become a very profitable Amazon employee. You ask her questions, request music, set up a timer and… order stuff! Amazon knows a lot about your buying habits and from an advertising perspective, this is where the money is. Google, Facebook and Amazon are, in my modest opinion, the only Serious players in the AdTech space right now.
For Google is not that clear yet, nobody wants to ask a question to a personal assistant and get an audio ad in return. That would be awful. We expect much more from Google, they changed the advertising game 15 years ago by inventing the best advertising model ever known to mankind. They have become the largest advertising player in the world and for this, we can only expect (and demand) the best of the executions every time. My guess is that there will be no ads coming from this particular device and all the queries will help Google to know you better and serve you more relevant ads in other properties eg: watching a Youtube video, navigating webpages connected to AdSense, etc.
Now, What about the real use cases?
As per today, the devices are fun in the office or during a house party, they are the new toys! They can even talk to each other – the example below is quite funny.
Personally, I find it hard to justify their presence in a home environment although I could be biased:
1 – I am curious, I am savvy and when I ask questions I like to get to the end of the matter. If I ask a virtual assistant about how blockchain works or who directed that film, I will get a short answer that will leave me hungry for more. In fact, after so many years typing questions on my keyboard, you start diversifying your sources for answers ie: Wikipedia for general knowledge, IMDB for films, Glassdoor for company reviews, Quora, Tripadvisor etc, etc.
2 – I’m living on my own which means I don’t really get to talk much around the house – the contrary would be an issue. Here some exceptions to the rule:
- FaceTime with ‘la mama’ or a phone call from work. Every other form of communication with the outside world is dealt with via instant messaging. Phone calls are a thing of the past and I find them very intrusive
- A delivery arrives
- Stepping on a Lego
I have no interest in using voice commands around the house. I don’t really use Siri and I find it peaceful but virtual assistants will evolve and Machine Learning & AI will be with us in many of our daily routines. Big investments have been happening in the last few years and they are one of the main bets in technology right now.
If you are curious and want to chat with a Bot you can try Cleverbot. It’s fun!
Q: Alexa, how do I finish this blogpost?