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Archive for the category “business”

Give thanks for your automated chauffeur

Good old Edith. Literally old, she’s a character that appeared in my 2013 post about medical advances. But Edith had to get to the doctor’s office in 2023:

So in May 2023, when Edith was 95 years old, she still scheduled her doctor appointment for the first Tuesday in May, and she still took a cab to the doctor’s office….An hour before the appointment, Gacepple Calendar reminded Edith of her appointment, and five minutes later the Toyota in the street let her know that it had arrived. No, not the driver – there was no driver – but the Toyota itself.

Edith was the expert on driverless cars. Outside of the techie circles, most individuals didn’t own driverless cars. But the cab companies that Edith used sure did. While some cabdrivers protested over their job losses, many of them got jobs with churches, nursing homes, and other groups that didn’t have the money – yet – to afford a driverless car. Edith was secretly pleased with the elimination of cab drivers – all of the cab drivers in the past had listened to that horrid country music, and Edith liked the freedom to choose her own music on the way to the doctor’s office. Edith, of course, usually listened to oldies music – early Katy Perry was her current favorite.

Well, we have a little over six years to go to see if my prediction will come true, but we’re moving a little closer. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who may be unemployed in a couple of months, is still working at his job.

Today I am announcing the launch of a new Automation Proving Ground Pilot Program. Through this program, the Department will designate facilities as qualified proving grounds for the safe testing, demonstration and deployment of automated vehicle technology. We believe that by designating facilities as part of a Community of Practice, we can foster a safe environment for these entities to share best practices related to testing and developing this technology.

As everyone in the United States is well aware, both state and federal governments are essential when revising regulations for technology advances. Certain states have done their part to advance driverless testing, and the U.S. Department of Transportation is doing its part also.

My “Edith” character from 2013, and Vinod Khosla (again)

Yes, I am Ann Landers. I re-use old posts whenever I can. But in this case I have a reason for doing so, because a fiction story that I wrote in 2013 has the potential to become less fictional.

The story was called “You will still take a cab to the doctor’s office. For a while.” It described a 95 year old woman named Edith and her May 2023 visit to the doctor’s office. She took a cab there:

Edith had booked and paid for the cab a month before the appointment, using the online Gacepple Calendar service. (Gacepple, of course, was the company that resulted from the merger of Google, Facebook, and Apple – the important merger that saved the tech industry in the United States from extinction. But I digress.) An hour before the appointment, Gacepple Calendar reminded Edith of her appointment, and five minutes later the Toyota in the street let her know that it had arrived. No, not the driver – there was no driver – but the Toyota itself.

Anyway, she gets to the doctor’s office. No doctor or nurse is present, but a voice guides her through the quick and painless examination.

!!!SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT!!!

After everything is done, Edith has a question.

“You’ve been very helpful. But I’ve always wondered exactly WHERE you were. If you were in Los Angeles, or in Mississippi, or perhaps in India or China, or perhaps even in one of the low-cost places such as Chad. If you don’t mind my asking, exactly where ARE you?”

“I don’t mind answering the question,” replied the friendly voice, “and I hope you don’t take my response the wrong way, but I’m not really a person as you understand the term. I’m actually an application within the software package that runs the medical center. But my programmers want me to tell you that they’re really happy to serve you, and that Stanford sucks.” The voice paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Edith. You have to forgive the programmers – they’re Berkeley grads.”

As time goes by, this scenario is becoming more and more realistic. We are already working on robot doctors that can navigate down the hall to a patient to take readings.

Meanwhile, Vinod Khosla is working on the other part of the scenario – the part where a software package, rather than a human, does the diagnostic work. I’ve mentioned Khosla before – once in regard to “meat”, and once in regard to medicine. Now, prompted by a Scott Nelson share, it’s time to look at a more recent article about Khosla.

When Khosla looks 10 or 15 years into healthcare’s future, he sees a medical landscape seething with data-hungry, intelligent algorithms like Google’s AlphaGo instead of doctors as we know them today.

“Medicine has improved a lot as a practice,” Khosla said. “But I think it’s time to take this practice of medicine and turn it into the science of medicine.”

To make that happen, Khosla thinks we have to hand medical expertise over to the machines.

Specifically, Khosla wants big data and big databases to do the heavy lifting that no single human could do.

Khosla said you can diagnose disease with a single biomarker—the chemical signature of sickness—or you can diagnose disease by looking at 300 biomarkers. You can look at the patient in front of you and compare them to the last few you’ve seen, or you can scan a database of 100 million patients for the last hundred or thousand with the same condition….

According to Khosla, Medicare patients have seven major conditions on average. Wouldn’t it be better to have AI look at those conditions comprehensively—and one doctor, not seven, talk the results over with the patient?

Note that in Khosla’s case, we would still have doctors around, but they would be hired for their empathy skills, and not necessarily for their ability to read every medical journal.

However, I still think that my model, in which there is no doctor at all, is the more accurate one.

Why?

Because of how business works.

The average American publicly-traded company, when forced to choose between a 100% computerized system with no doctor and a 100% computerizied system with a doctor, will choose the lower cost option.

After all, if you don’t have any employees, then you don’t have to pay for healthcare.

Have you heard about these new cameras that print physical pictures?

Because of my involvement in marketing, I’m subscribed to various services that talk about sales. From reading these, it appears that one of the main issues affecting sales today is the ability to give gifts to your salespeople to encourage them to sell more stuff.

So I’m reading one of these publications, and it talks about a special gift; the “instax” from Fujifilm. The name “instax” refers to a group of products with one thing in common.

Stay with me, because this is pretty weird.

As all of my readers know, a camera is a device which captures images through a lens and stores them on the camera itself. From there, you can transfer the images to other devices so that you can upload them to your website or whatever. Here’s an example of a very important image taken with a camera.

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(This was taken at Keno’s Restaurant in Anaheim, California. I didn’t take a picture of the lunch itself because I ate it.)

Even if you only have a camera with 16 GB of storage, you can capture plenty of riveting pictures like this one.

But if you’re a quota-beating salesperson and receive an instax camera, you get something amazing and miraculous. Once you take the picture, THE PICTURE PRINTS OUT ON A PIECE OF PAPER. Imagine that!

Now how can a camera just magically print stuff? Well, the instax camera requires you to load something special into the camera, called “film.” And for this particular type of film, the image that you capture is printed on the film, ejects from the camera, and then you have your physical image.

Now of course, film can’t continue to print images forever. The film itself can only print ten images. But – and here’s the magic part here – YOU CAN BUY MORE FILM!

Can’t you just see millennial salespeople going gaga when they earn this gift item?

However, some older salespeople seem to be grousing that this is just like some “roid” thing that used to exist a long time ago. Maybe they’re talking about this company, which is still around (although it went bankrupt twice along the way).

The cutback gamble at the New York Times

It’s no secret that these are tough times for firms that process wood, throw ink on it, and send the processed wood to readers. Even the big boys, such as the New York Times, are not immune to economic pressures. So even as papers move their operations online, they also make decisions about where to focus their activities.

If you are a Times subscriber who lives outside of the five boroughs, this will affect you.

The New York Times this week quietly ended its coverage of restaurants, art galleries, theaters and other commercial and nonprofit businesses in the tri-state region, laying off dozens of longtime contributors and prompting protests from many of the institutions that will be affected. They foresee an impact not only on patronage but, in the case of the nonprofits, on their ability to raise funds to survive.

In short, the restaurateurs who have just opened a tony new restaurant on Long Island – one that would be attractive to the average Times reader – can’t count on the Times to enhance their marketing any more.

When I originally saw this article shared by my friends on Facebook, they felt that the Times was shooting themselves in the foot. If the suburbanities can’t get local information from the paper…they’d just go find another paper.

On the other hand, if the Times is concentrating on being a world paper of record, it knows that its readers in Moscow or Beijing aren’t going to care about yet another restaurant in Long Island.

And there are opportunities for others. The article quotes a reviewer from Eater New York, who praised the Times’ local restaurant critic Joanne Starkey. But what wasn’t said – now a lot more people will be visiting Eater New York.

Changes in donation collections

The types of folks who read Jim Ulvog’s Nonprofit Update have had to deal with some changes over the years.

Back when Jim (and I) were growing up, nonprofit organizations of all types could depend upon receiving funds from something called “spare change.” Kids would carry UNICEF boxes around. The Girl Scouts could count on you having a little bit of money to buy a box of cookies. And the offering plate could take a coin or a bill or two.

But even back in those days, we had to deal with Karl Malden urging us, “Don’t carry cash!”

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Now the specific product that he was hawking – American Express Travelers Cheques – has (almost) gone the way of the dodo bird, but more and more of us are using the fantastic plastic (or the smartphone) to fund our purchases, and therefore might not have the spare change to give to the Girl Scouts or whoever.

PYMNTS recently talked about a company called DipJar that provides a solution to this. DipJar has been around for a while, though – TechCrunch wrote about it in 2014. While the idea originated as a way to pay tips to workers by deducting a predetermined amount from a credit card, the idea has extended to the nonprofit realm. PYMNTS:

[T]he payment solution has enabled many charities to accept credit cards, including the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, which uses DipJar in both a retail setting to collect money for themselves and to collect money at events, and the Salvation Army, which uses branded DipJars for various campaigns.

The reliance on a single donation amount contributes to ease of use. And while there are other solutions (such as SMS-based solutions) that allow the same thing, some people probably feel more comfortable using a physical card to make the donation.

Betamax and VHS: 1975-?

I have not had occasion to mention Betamax or VHS in tymshft.

Well, actually I have.

In 2012, while writing about the narrowing of generation gaps, I wrote the following:

The much-talked-about blog When Parents Text recently published a post entitled Collectables. In the series of texts, a father offering something for an auction that his son/daughter was holding. The reaction: “Who would buy those?”

No, the father didn’t offer a John Denver 8-track tape.

And no, he didn’t offer a Betamax tape of The Breakfast Club.

And a 2013 post quoted from my Facebook rant (a “get off my wedding lawn, you Glasshole” rant):

When I was married, my big innovation was to ask the organist to play “Now the Green Blade Riseth.” I didn’t ask my bride to be to parade down the aisle accompanied by a Macintosh Plus, or with a VHS camera.

Some of the readers of those posts may not have been aware of what I was referring to in those posts. For those readers, I’ll catch you up – although as you can see, it’s too late. (Almost.)

I was oblivious to Betamax and VHS when they first appeared (I wouldn’t experience them until almost a decade later), so I’ll turn to Andrew Liszewski (NOT to be confused with A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz) to explain the beginning of Betamax and VHS:

[T]he first home video recorder to hit the market back in 1975 was from Sony, and used the company’s Betamax format. Soon after that, JVC released a competing home video recorder that was lighter, cheaper, and used VHS format tapes that could hold a two-hour movie instead of Betamax’s one-hour limit—and that was the key.

The idea of home video recording and playing was revolutionary at the time. Why? Because back in those days, if I wanted to see a movie, I had to walk five miles through the snow in my bare feet to get to a movie theater. Cable movie channels hadn’t really emerged yet, and it was rare when one of the three networks would show a theatrical movie. (You literally had to wait an entire year to see “The Wizard of Oz.”) So the whole idea of having a movie that you could take home and watch whenever you want was revolutionary. (Of course, the idea of just taping shows off the TV was also revolutionary, as the industry would soon discover.)

Betamax did not immediately go away, because it claimed technical superiority to the VHS format. In fact, when I started working at Logic eXtension Resources in 1983, all of the other employees had Betamax players. If I had bought a player at the time, it would have made sense to go Betamax. But I didn’t, and by the time I did, VHS had won the war.

Or the battle. Because eventually DVDs began to emerge, followed by streaming media.

So naturally, Betamax died due to all of the competition.

When? This year. While Sony quit making recorders in 2002, it was still making tapes in 2015, but planned to stop manufacturing tapes in March 2016.

Which leaves VHS.

Um…

Funai, the last remaining manufacturer of the VCR, will cease production of the players by the end of the month, according to Japanese newspaper The Nikkei (via Anime News Network). The company is citing a declining market and increasing difficulty in sourcing parts as the reasons behind the decision.

While Funai might not be a household name in the West, it did sell VCRs in North America, under the Sanyo brand name. With the rise in popularity of streaming services like Netflix, the declining market for VCRs might not come as a surprise, but something else might: how well they were still selling. Funai reportedly sold 750,000 VCRs in 2015.

Interestingly enough, this doesn’t mean that VHS itself is dead. After all, Betamax tapes were manufactured for over a decade after recorder manufacturing ceased.

So it’s quite possible that in 2026 you might walk into a store (a physical place where you can buy stuff) and see VHS tapes for sale.

But when the VHS tapes finally go away, the last free bastion of owning media will have disappeared.

Granted, you couldn’t completely own the prerecorded content on a VHS tape; you couldn’t edit it to your liking, for example. But at least you knew that if you bought a VHS tape in Rancho Cucamonga, California in 1983, it would still play in a player in Sydney, Australia in 2026 (accounting for TV format variations). Starting with DVDs, geographic encoding became the norm, so a DVD purchased in North America may not play in Europe. And of course with streaming media, sometimes the stream is shut off and you can’t enjoy it any more.

Kinda like seeing “The Wizard of Oz” only once a year.

Are bike-share stations the future…or the past?

If you’ve been in urban areas throughout the world, you might have noticed a bicycle rack with a bunch of bikes, and a credit card reader. These “bike-share” points allow passersby to use a bike for a few hours, and then return the bike to that station – or perhaps to another station managed by the same organization.

While I first noticed this in the French suburban town of Cergy, you can also find them in the United States, as the U.S. Department of Transportation notes:

Last year, the National Association of City Transportation Officials released a study revealing that since 2010, bike-share systems have been introduced in over 30 U.S. cities and riders have taken over 36 million bike share trips. These bike-share stations are a critical link for commuters. Some 2,291 stations are located within one block of a scheduled public transportation mode such as intercity bus stations, ferry terminals and passenger rail stations. This means that these stations are providing connections that extend the reach of our nation’s transportation network and simultaneously making scheduled public transit much easier to access.

The Department says that this is “previewing the future of transportation.”

Or is it?

While the bike-share stations are, at times, run by entities separate from the mass transit organizations mentioned by the Department of Transportation, they presently require coordination with the mass transit agencies. If you are in Anytown, USA and want to set up a bike-share station, you and/or the owner of the land on which the station will reside have to go to the Anytown Planning Commission, request a permit, assess the impact of the report, and coordinate with all affected entities. It can get involved:

The process for selecting a Capital Bikeshare station location is comprehensive and can take a couple of months to a couple of years, depending upon community support, property ownership, and whether constructing a concrete pad is needed. Arlington’s approval process includes:

•Identifying funding for the proposed station’s capital and operating expenses.
•Selecting a location which meets a list of siting criteria, as well as staff review and public input.
•Developing a station plan.
•Researching property ownership and obtaining a permit if on private property. The site could be owned by Arlington County, the State of Virginia, or a private entity. Each scenario requires a different permitting process.
•Fabrication and delivery of bikes and stations. Equipment is typically delivered within 4 months after ordering.
•Installation of stations and bikes.

But wait – there’s more:

Criteria for station locations include:
•4+ hours of direct sunlight daily;
•at least 11’ x 42’ of space;
•between 2 – 5 blocks (500′ – 1,250′) from the nearest station;
•if on a sidewalk, minimum pedestrian clearance of 6’ is needed;
•if on-street, preference for being adjacent or near a bike lane;
•would not block utility access, such as a manhole cover; and
•would not create a dangerous situation for street users.

Now try telling this to some of the denizens of Silicon Valley. You know, the kind that believed that government shutdowns are good things because government is an unnecessary evil and we can just let Amazon and Apple and Google and Microsoft run things and everyone will be happy.

These types are presumably applauding those people who don’t want for the guvmint.

In 2013 it seemed like a citywide bike share was moving forward. Then, somehow, it fell apart. Now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking to create a countywide bike share. The plan calls for finding an operator and starting with a pilot program centered in Downtown Los Angeles in 2016, and for the Central City to get 65 stations and 1,000 shared bikes. We’ll remain hopeful that things roll forward.

Fortunately, some in the private sector are doing more than hoping and waiting. They are digging into their pockets, buying bicycles, helmets and locks, and creating private bike sharing systems for their residential or office tenants. So far the operators of at least two housing complexes and one office building in Downtown have taken the step. Ideally, others will recognize the worth of such an effort and follow suit.

The idea is attractive. If a building owner wants to share bikes, but only has 10′ x 41′ of space rather than 11′ x 42′ of space – the business owner can share bikes anyway. And the world will not fall apart.

Why is Narrative Science SPEAKING at a conference?

I was reading an article recently, and something struck me as a bit odd. See if you can spot it.

Honeywell International Inc. boosted its position in shares of TE Connectivity Ltd (NYSE:TEL) by 0.0% during the fourth quarter, according to its most recent disclosure with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The fund owned 278,900 shares of the company’s stock after buying an additional 100 shares during the period.

What journalist would go through the trouble of explicitly writing that an investor increased his or her stake by precisely 0.0%?

An automated one.

Now I have no idea whether American Banking and Market News is using Narrative Science, but it’s obviously possible. And despite the little oddity that I mentioned, the article is informative and mostly well written. Probably better than I could write. Strike that – definitely better than I could write. (Yes, James Macpherson, you were correct.)

This reminded me that I hadn’t peeked at Narrative Science in a while, not since the CIA’s investment arm increased its stake in Narrative Science by an amount greater than 0.0%. So I looked for the latest news on the company – and found this.

Narrative Science, the leader in advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise, today announced two speaking presentations at the Gartner Business Intelligence & Analytics Summit 2016 taking place on March 13th – 16th, 2016 in Grapevine, TX.

This news excited me, because if any industry could use automation, it’s the public speaking industry. Heck, if you could automate Larry Ellison’s “Next slide, please” statements, you could make a fortune. In my mind, I could picture Narrative Science’s informative, yet computer generated, keynote:

Hello, this is Narrative Science speaking through voice automation. Narrative Science would like to thank Gartner for the invitation to speak, and I would like to extend my greetings to the 2,127 registered attendees at this Summit, and especially to the 1,306 people who are in the room at this very moment. Based upon the survey results that Gartner has already received, I will tailor my speech to the needs of the audience. So at this point I would like to address the hotel staff – the rooms are too cold! I will pause for audience laughter now.

Imaging the possibilities after the data is mined and interpreted, and the “speaker” tailors a presentation for the specific needs of the audience.

Sadly, we are not there yet. As I continued to read the press release, I found this.

During this interactive session, Narrative Science COO Nick Beil will demonstrate Narratives for Qlik to show how the extension accelerates time to understanding and drives intelligence by delivering dynamic narratives that explain the insights within a visualization. Josh Parenteau, Gartner Research Director of Business Intelligence, will lead the discussion and host Q&A at the end of the session.

It appears that Narrative Science will use real people to fill the speaking slots.

How inefficient!

I will be wrong (I think), but no one will notice

I derive a perverse glee from identifying instances in which I was wrong – for example, my prediction at the beginning of the football season that if any team in the NFC East did well, it would be the New York Giants. As it turns out, my Washington (team name that cannot be mentioned in polite company redacted) came out on top in the NFC East…for what that’s worth.

Over the last few years, I have felt that as jobs disappear during the current technological change, new jobs will appear. As I noted in a recent post, not everyone shares this view.

If I am wrong and Tad Donaghe is right, future generations will work less and will therefore have more idle time…

Well, Donaghe isn’t the only one that believes that many jobs will be lost. In fact, Rob Atkinson paints a rather dire future for those who want to work:

In fact, these new technologies are so awesome and amazing that they won’t replace most jobs; they will replace all jobs, save one. That job will be held by Zhang Wei, who is now a 15-year-old boy studying computer science at his local high school in Nanjing, China. He will invent the best artificial intelligence system ever and then run the company that puts all other companies out of business.

However, not all will go well for Zhang Wei:

“Well, on the one hand, it will be really cool having an annual income of 150 quadrillion yuan, but it will really suck that I will have to be the one person on the planet who is working when all my friends are out drinking.”

But after that…well, you have to read Atkinson’s article. And yes, it’s satirical. I think.

Incidentally, regarding that prior post of mine in which I talked about essentials not changing, Jim Ulvog has contributed another example: “Compare a successful siege by the Roman Empire to a nuclear war.”

Do the essentials change?

As I write this, I am in the process of listening to a Kim Komando podcast that asks what life will be like in 2050 – about 35 years from now. She started the podcast by asking what life was like about 35 years ago, or approximately 1980-1982. Inasmuch as Komando talks about tech, she concentrates on the tech things – for example, comparing the processing power of today’s smartphone to the processing power of the first IBM Personal Computer.

If you look at the business world, you can see all sorts of evidence of change also. The large companies of the Ronald Reagan area all sold things that you could touch. Today, while many businesses still sell physical things, there are large profitable businesses and business segments devoted to things that you can’t touch – not only virtual websites such as Facebook or virtual products such as today’s music, but the ever-growing services sector.

Or perhaps you can look at society itself. Maybe Ronald and Nancy Reagan were friends with Rock Hudson, but they wouldn’t publicly discuss his deep dark secret. And if you didn’t know what the popular song “In The Navy” was really about, you wouldn’t ask; and if you did know, you wouldn’t tell.

Futurists often concentrate on this kind of stuff.

But what about the essentials?

Compare the lives of a soldier under Obama, a soldier under Reagan, and a soldier under Julius Caesar. They all had to wake up in the morning. They all had to put clothes on. They all had to eat something. And they all had to face situations in which they might die. Death by a stealth bomber or a spear? As a former Secretary of State once said, it doesn’t matter.

Similarly, take the Komando comparison of a smartphone and an IBM PC – or Roman parchment. Now I will grant that my smartphone provides me with access to all sorts of information, and my computer keyboard is probably a faster input device than a quill, but the quality of my thought is not exponentially better than the thought of an educated Roman.

Now some advances over time DO have a significant impact on our lives. Improved health and the resulting longevity will certainly change the quality of my golden (diamond?) years to some extent. If I am wrong and Tad Donaghe is right, future generations will work less and will therefore have more idle time – and even now, I have more idle time than a coalworker of the 19th century or a farmer of the 17th century. And perhaps an argument can be made that our trajectory from printed books to Vine videos has served to shorten our attention spans.

But the speed of the processing chip in my smartphone is relatively meaningless.

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