Tag Archives: amazon

🤖Smart assistants enter the workplace and Google restructuring.🏢

This week sees Amazon take Alexa into the workplace. There may be opportunity but is it the right time? I also look at Google and how its responding.

Home is where the tech is.

How we interact with technology is also changing. For just over a decade now, the mainstream audience has been interfacing with technology beyond their fingertips thanks to the launch of the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect.

In the past these technologies would have built its foundations in the workplace before moving to the home. But today, the home is often where more advanced technology lives rather than the workplace. This, in turn, has led to a rise in people using your own devices in the workplace.

Smart assistants have also started from the home but Alexa, Amazon’s smart assistant is not exactly portable and whilst it has taken off in the home in a relatively short period of time, usage in the workplace has been limited.

There is no doubt all the major players competing in this space see its potential to completely change again how we interface with technology. Alexa stops you being glued to a screen and instead has you asking a question out loud.

It feels more natural.

All this competition stokes innovation and Amazon clearly sees an opportunity to stake its claim on the workplace, this week announcing Alexa for Business.

They have announced connections into email (Exchange/Outlook), CRM (Salesforce) and HR (Concur).

This is the first baby steps and they need to figure out how to deal better with much more ambient noise in today’s open plan offices.

Even at home, Alexa struggles to hear when there are other noises present.

The bigger issue is the device itself. With powerful computers already present, what is the need for an Alexa box on every desk?

Amazon need to release PC and Mac versions to really make headway otherwise I can see it being limited to meeting rooms, where you can ask it to contact somebody, turn on/off the lights, project a laptop screen or possibly save a note.

With the exception of projecting a laptop screen, which is still more fiddly than it should be, the rest is hardly compelling. Oh and Alexa can’t actually do that just yet anyhow.

More useful, would be to be able to answer questions about projects underway in meetings, which will come as more integrations are built.

But I think the real power will be at your desk to analyse data or get small tasks done quickly. Assuming, the ambient noise issue can be resolved.

I guess Amazon needs to release some airpods ?.

African elephant (Loxodonta africana), silhouetted, Zambezi River area, Zambia.

On the desktop, Siri and Cortana should really be ahead. But apart from having a huge existing user base due to being pre-installed on Windows and MacOS, in reality their capabilities are poor today. Under investment and poor usability so far and little noise to suggest that is going to change anytime soon.

The elephant in the room is Google. If they integrated Google Assistant into the browser, that would make quick headway into the workplace. They have lagged behind Amazon when it comes to partnerships, which is going to be critical to success.

First they are getting their house in order. Google is restructuring its hardware back under one roof.

A few years ago it decided to keep Nest, which makes smart home devices as a separate business but has now changed its mind.

Given the overlap between the two divisions this is hardly surprising. In addition to creating efficiencies it should also allow it to better compete with Alexa.

I’d expect to see Nest devices with built in Google Assistant at some point soon, giving them another way into the home. Nest has been slow in updating its hardware in recent years so soon may be a little longer than they would hope.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, the competition is not sitting still.

👓Who to watch in 2018 and is the web dying? 💀

The latest and greatest companies to watch out for in the next twelve months. Tech not yet the holy grail in education and a look at the future of the web. Are we already seeing its death played out in slow motion?

Lists ahoy

This week saw the first of the companies to watch lists with Bloomberg listing its top 50 companies to watch in 2018 and Linkedin listing its top 25 disruptive companies in the UK – though there are some US companies in there as well because they are hiring a lot in the UK and how can Uber and airbnb not be mentioned?!

Whilst the LinkedIn list seems to propagate the view that big raises means success and fails to really give any further insight on what actually makes the companies interesting, the Bloomberg listing looks at why each of the companies listed are going to have an eventful (both positively and negatively) 2018. Worth a read.

Reinventing schools

Silicon Valley has been very anti the current education services offered in the US – given the overall poor results compared to the rest of the world, there is probably something to those complaints.

Throwing money and tech at the problem does not seem to have worked though. AltSchool, which raised $175m is pivoting away from building schools to deliver tech to existing schools instead.

Not that their tech seems to be anything noteworthy right now. Parents at the school praised not the tech but the attention of teachers and small class sizes – an age old way to deliver high quality educational services. If only this approach wasn’t losing them a lot of money. More here.

Future gazing the web

Andre Staltz has written an excellent article looking at the dominance of Google and Facebook on the web, how the web has changed and looking forward to how the web evolves into a Trinet of Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Thought provoking stuff and one that suggests we regress back to the world of AOL-like walled gardens. Anything is possible but I just don’t see this happening. Whilst the article triggers a healthy debate I feel it is a massive oversimplification.

All ecommerce will not end up going through Amazon – Alibaba for one is a huge future competitor. I suspect governments would step in and regulate if Amazon started to become the conduit of all ecommerce.

Ignoring this even, history suggests that innovation will happen outside the major ecommerce platforms. Shopify, BigCommerce etc. which provide engines to thousands of ecommerce vendors backed by open Internet standards will out-innovate Amazon etc. in specific niches.

Businesses using Facebook have already seen the control it has on their ability to communicate resulting in greater importance being given to email, push notifications and mobile apps.

The web as we know it is of course going to evolve. The rise of mobile has been the major reason for Facebook’s increased dominance and the reduction in Google’s own power.

One thing is already certain. New interfaces are coming, whether it is voice , virtual reality or something else. With it is likely to come the next Facebook (or Google, or Microsoft, or IBM).

One dangerous outcome of the Internet becoming controlled by an oligopoly of corporations is the likely increase in an underground Internet or the dark net as has been popularised in recent years. Last week saw the new release of the next generation Tor network, which has powered the dark net. Four years in the making, it offers better encryption and makes it easier for services to hide themselves more easily. I suspect the various government bodies are actively looking at it and countering already. More here.

🤖AI and retail. 🌎Tech looking outwards. 🤝Positive Social Media

This week we look at tech moving beyond its bubble and also talking to at their first G7 summit. Tech looking outwards can only be a good thing. Then a look at AI and its potential impacts in retail before ending on some positivity in social media for once.

It isn’t a tech thing.

The mammoth tech companies are joining forces to form The Coalition for the American Dream. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Intel, Uber, IBM, Marriott International and other top U.S. companies are listed as members with an aim to pass legislation allowing young people who were brought to the United States as children illegally to become citizens.

A noble cause indeed. A side note to this is the breadth of membership – it is good to see tech companies banding together with companies outside their normal bubble. Less tech vs the government. For more on the coalition go here.

The first step..

The major tech companies have been under fire for a while now when it comes to spreading hate material and fake news. They have not been able to keep up with even current targets for removing this content.

Their first appearance at the G7 summit has resulted in agreement to even more stringent targets to remove extremist content. Everyone was positive with the meeting but it will be interesting to see if tech firms can actually deliver quickly enough here. More on the meeting here.

Twitter meanwhile has already released new rules around hate symbols, sexual advances and violent groups. Twitter has a long way to go here though as it is still reliant on people reporting hate crime.

The targets outlined by the G7 group effectively mean only automated systems can deliver in time. This of course means we are reliant on AI censoring our content. We already know that AI can be biased so I wonder who will be monitoring the AI.

In fact Google AI lead, John Giannandrea is just as worried about it. There is a good look at his views here.

AI thoughts

Harvard Business Review did a thought experiment on AI suggesting that AI could eventually predict exactly what we need and so deliver whatever we need just in time. It states the benefit to Amazon is that people would end up shopping at Amazon more. I couldn’t disagree more with this. For most people price and brand does play a factor in decision making.

For me the end result of this thought experiment is that should AI prediction get to a level of knowledge about us where it can predict what we want before we do, the pessimist would say we have bigger problems. The optimist in me says that in that scenario the AI should be under an individual’s control not a corporate. Of course after that we then get into debating the rights of the AI. This is the problem with thought experiments..

Whilst we are on the topic though, this is similar to the movement that says voice ordering through Alexa will allow Amazon own brands to win out.

I think voice ordering integrated with a screen will transform grocery shopping online. Browsing through countless items on a store website is numbing. But the ability to say show me all the juices with orange in them etc is going to make things much faster. There are some items where price and brand do not come into this but supermarkets have known that for generations and price their product ranges accordingly. Amazon may well execute better than the competition on this, but it will not mean the end of the brand.

Awwwww

Meanwhile ending on a positive thought, Facebook bought tbh last week – an app that spreads positivity across its network. It was only available on iOS and in the US and let people anonymously answer nice multiple-choice questions about friends who then received the poll results as compliments.