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The Anthropomorphication of Siri

November 19, 2011 Leave a comment

For someone who doesn’t even exist, Siri is quite popular. At Steve Jobs’ memorial last month on the Apple campus, not one but two of the speakers- board members Al Gore and Bill Campbell- told anecdotes about the iPhone’s new digital assistant.  She has websites devoted to enshrining her utterances  for posterity. People pour their hearts out to her, and lonely men propose marriage. Others, I assume, have secret emotional affairs with her, to the chagrin of their significant others.

What in the world is behind this mass adulation of a cleverly-crafted string of bits and bytes? The secret of Apple’s genius, that’s what. And this is what Steve Jobs, who was never shy of pouring scorn on his rivals, meant when he decreed that Google and Microsoft ‘just don’t ‘get it’. But what is it exactly, that they don’t get? The answer is what Apple considers its secret sauce- what Jobs described as the unholy matrimony between technology and the humanities. In other words, computer science with a human face.

Or voice. Both Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating systems had voice-recognition functions before Siri came along. But nobody talked about them. Nobody wrote adoring paens to them. Nobody loved them. Why? Because they failed to touch us as humans. When Apple bought the program that became Siri, it developed the program to actually have a personality (thus the charmingly witty, coy and even sarcastic remarks attributed to her).  They gave her a dulcet voice (Microsoft’s version has a stereotypically bland ‘androidy’ voice, and Google’s doesn’t talk). Hell, they gave her a name.

And just as we project human qualities onto our pets and even our cars, we have begun to readily project human qualities onto a pocketable electronic device, just because it talks to us in a mellifluous voice. Are we silly to do so? No doubt the androids at Google and the Bill Gates clones at Microsoft would probably have thought it silly to anthropomorphize their software (especially after Microsoft’s embarrassing debacles with previous digital assistants like Clippy, Bob, and that dog everyone would like to drown). But Apple freely embraces the touchy-feely in its products and marketing.

Where will this lead? No doubt Google and Microsoft are now internally brainstorming what to christen their respective Siri clones. No doubt Artificial Intelligence has crossed the threshold from arcane science to popular cool, and a new wave of conversationally-aware devices is in the product pipelines of many a tech company. No doubt GM, Toyota and Ford realize that Knight Rider’s KITT can be- in fact, must be- brought into the world, to chat with us as we drive to and from our cubicle farms.  And that is all splendid. It is the inevitable flood of robot girlfriends that’s got me worried.

Categories: Technology

What True Innovation Looks Like

March 19, 2010 2 comments

Large companies are obsessed with fostering innovation, and for good reason. Building a better mousetrap gives you, for a time at least, a leg-up on the competition. But the fact that corporations need to formalise a process for innovating suggests an obvious problem: big companies are inherently stifling of innovative thought and activity.

We know the reasons why: a bias for what has worked in the past, incentives to avoid risky initiatives (big companies love to punish failure during that soul-sapping ritual, the annual appraisal), the deadening effects of groupthink, and the inevitable ennui that sees employees just trying to survive till the next payday.

To find real innovation therefore, you have to go outside established businesses: to university design students, for example.

Min-Kyu Choi just won Britain’s most prestigious design prize with the kind of innovation overpaid corporate drones could only wish they had thought of. He solved an ubiquitous and long-standing problem in an elegantly simple way. The video is worth a thousand words:

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Netbooks: Just Enough Computer

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Don't need me no fancy gewgaws.

When Asus first released the Eee netbook PC in 2007 it turned the computing industry on its head. It was sub-spec, dirt-cheap, and a global best-seller. Now, new figures show that in 2009, netbooks were again the fastest-growing category of computers. Why?

The technology industry was caught by surprise because it has always taken an engineering approach to product development: a PC with 50 features it assumes, must be better than one with 30. A laptop with a 200Gb hard drive must be better than one with 40GB. So each year, laptops became more powerful and feature-rich- and remained prohibitively expensive.

The problem was, nobody asked consumers if they really valued the extra features and high specifications. The disruptive innovation paradigm says that when a product category becomes too complex and expensive, someone will come in with a much cheaper, simpler alternative that is just ‘good enough’, and run away with the mass market.

Thus the massive popularity of these cheap, good-enough computers. Lesson for product developers? You can only charge more for more features or performance if they matter to the customer. Once you start offering- and charging for- more than they need, you create a dangerous market gap.

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Cloud Computing Saves our Sanity

November 26, 2009 1 comment
Go Cloud, Madam

Go Cloud, Madam

For Cloud Computing week, we’ve examined how accessing software and information on the Internet rather than local servers and PCs will reduce business cost, improve work-life balance, and even save the planet.

But the adoption of 100% web-based computing will be driven by user benefits, such as convenience: cloud computing means your information is stored and managed for you.

You can reach it anytime, anywhere, just by logging onto the web. Your music is on Grooveshark, documents on Google, contacts on Facebook, movies on Hulu, eBooks with Sony, photos on Flickr and home videos on Youtube.

There’s also security. You never have to worry about your laptop being stolen, because there’s nothing on it but a web browser. And if you live a Cloud life, it’s likely to be a cheap, $200 netbook anyway. Which brings us to the best intangible benefit of Cloud Computing.

Computers are still maddeningly complicated, unstable, costly devices that run slow, hang, crash, and catch viruses- because they’re designed to do so much. Web computing computers are simple, cheap, portable and designed to do one thing: connect to the web with a simple interface like Google’s Chrome OS. Such stressless simplicity is worth having your head in the clouds for. 

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Cloud Computing Saves Working Mums- AND The Planet

November 25, 2009 Leave a comment

cloud-computingWhy exactly do we need to go to work? There’s very little reason to physically congregate at a designated office, work for a few hours in soulless cubicles, then man the cattle cars for our return journey home. And the Cloud Computing paradigm makes the  superfluity of the office more starkly obvious.

Before the Industrial Revolution, everybody worked at home. Blacksmiths blacked smith in their backyards. Lawyers did law downstairs and lived upstairs. It was the invention of the factory that first saw people commuting daily to dark, Satanic mills to toil as a group for the length of their productive years.

Telecommuting crushes souls as we spend endless hours and dollars in cattle cars. The impact on the planet of our daily commute in planes, trains and automobiles is a wicked plague of carbon-belching misery. The need to be present in an office has riven families: working mothers must choose between work or caring for their children.

But now, we can all work from home if our software is in the Cloud. We can collaborate on projects via Basecamp. We can talk and message each other via Skype. We can do accounting with Xero, and spreadsheets on Zoho. We can have virtual meetings. Mums can work from home, the evil commute is ended, office occupancy costs disappear, and we reduce our carbon footprint. Thanks Be to The Cloud.

Cloud Computing Saves The Bottom Line

November 24, 2009 2 comments

netcostThe arrival of the CIO in the C-Suite heralded the ascendance of IT in the enterprise. But like the Devil at dinner, he brought with him a litany of terrible costs, complexities and contracts that would bind business in the tentacles of technological trouble for two decades.

But like a Messiah long-awaited, Cloud Computing can set us free from the terrible bondage that is costly IT infrastructure. In its purest form, a Cloud business’s entire IT infrastructure would comprise cheap netbooks and an Internet connection.

This means no servers, server rooms, or those mysterious trolls that inhabit them, the dreaded Systems Administrators. It means no legion of IT support staff, with their vacant stares, support tickets and surly condescension. It means the end of complex and costly software license contracts, since cloud software is rented by subscription and updated on the Internet.

It means the end of that most evil of corporate scourges, the million-dollar, multi-year ERP installation project. Adopting a new accounting system like Netsuite will involve simply mailing everyone a login ID and password.

Not least, it means no more $1,000 laptops. If all software and data is on the web, computing devices don’t need costly operating systems, storage or processors. Everybody could run their lives on $200 netbooks. The Total Cost of Ownership of IT will plummet. Goodbye, CIO. We won’t miss you.

How Cloud Computing will Save the World

November 23, 2009 1 comment

CloudyThis is Cloud Computing Week on Amusis. We’re examining the most paradigm-shifting change in computing since the Internet killed the girlie magazine: the idea that all our software and data can be accessed over the Internet rather than from our personal computers.

We’re not alone. The Economist just hosted a self-important debate on whether we can trust our information and data to internet websites. More dramatically, Google revealed the details of their Chrome Operating System, a focused kick into Microsoft’s exposed and vulnerable gonads.

The contrast between Chrome OS and Microsoft’s new Windows 7 is an analogy of two paradigms. Windows helps you manage the numerous programs and data stored on your computer. It is complex and expensive, and requires a complex and expensive machine to run.

Chrome OS just takes you to the Internet, where it assumes all your information and data is stored. It is light, cheap and simple, and requires a cheap and simple netbook to run. It’s not so much a challenger to Windows as its successor, based on where Google believes computing is going: from the PC to the Web.

We agree. And over the next four days, we’ll explain why Cloud Computing will salubriously transform the world of work.