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BLOG: Coping in a world where technology is smarter than us

Bernard Golden | Dec. 22, 2011
The dynamic of a new technology arriving, competing against human capabilities, being found wanting (or barely successful), and, in a short period of time, improving far past human capabilities is, perhaps, the story of our time.

Initial reviews of Siri made it seem magical. One person queried the service "will I need an umbrella tonight?" The response: "There's no rain in the forecast." Not too much later, however, the reviews turned to its shortcomings.

Kinect, by contrast, hasn't suffered much from negative reviews. What has been more amazing about it is the way people have hacked it into doing things far beyond what its creators envisioned. What was created to offer a gesture-based way to play video games has been repurposed into a device to control plumbing, perform training, and create a robotized paparazzi.

What both of these represent is a new frontier in what computerized applications can be applied to. Things that heretofore humans had to control can now be accomplished by AI-enhanced computer systems. And, notwithstanding Siri's deficiencies, it's clear that five or 10 years from now our world will look very different.

The rush of computerization into our society--into the very fabric of our lives--is headlong. It is occurring at a pace barely comprehensible. Imagine it's going to take 10 years for self-driving cars to arrive? Think again. Is it going to be a decade before your health is monitored on a real-time basis, with live links to your doctor's office? Not a chance. Do you think it will be10 years before your business gets immediate feedback from the operating characteristics of every one of its products out in the field? No way.

The Cloud and Apps of the Future

The application architecture of the future is an intelligent device communicating with an immensely capable cloud-based application that performs massive processing on behalf of the software on the device, and, by extension, for whatever purpose the device is deployed.

What will this new application type look like? Here are a few examples:

It may be acting as a personal assistant (get a reservation at Per Se for four at 7:30 in my name).

It may be devices tracking container location in port transshipment areas, as is implemented by one former business school colleague's company, ContainerTrac. Its application can set alerts if a container is placed near a perimeter fence when it shouldn't be (i.e., it will set an alert if it seems likely the container is being moved to a location convenient for burglary).

It may be interacting with personal information and entertainment systems, as in this example, an interpretation of how Siri is going to affect the TV business.

There's no doubt that nearly every business is going to be transformed by the digital (the cloud app) meeting the physical (voice activation, motion detection, geographic tracking).

As Mark Andreesen put it in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, "software is eating the world," citing the dislocations in the music, book, telecom, recruiting, automobile, retail, logistics and financial services. This week, even venerable publication Forbes chimed in with an article titled "Now Every Company is a Software Company."


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