Deciding to Go Mobile

Companies with an established web presence must consider a mobile presence; this means having mobile apps that interact with its’ primary services. All major social media services have invested significantly to boost mobile accessibility. It was forced on them. Their monthly active users already consume services on mobile devices on par with computers; in the future, mobile usage dwarfs computer usage. Just consider, IBM recently made a whopping four billion dollar investment in cloud and mobile computing.

Going Mobile
Going Mobile

The question in balancing a web presence and mobile presence should be based on processes. Breakdown how consumers use your services in tasks, then answer the following questions:

  • How much time does it take to complete the task? Does it require focused attention? With Twitter, it is easier to view Tweets and respond to others from the app; in fact, for many, it is a requirement to be active on Twitter all day long. When you are running campaigns and researching what you are going to broadcast on a given day, it is easier to use web services.
  • Who is consuming the service? Are they likely using a mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or computer? When are they accessing the content – before, during, or after work? Where are they – in the car, at their desk, or at home? Facebook – popularized by the younger generation – is an important communication platform. For the older generation, it is a source of recent news. Users access Facebook via their smartphone whenever there is a break in the day.
  • What content is used? Is it memory intensive? Does it require a lot of processing? What is the optimal screen size to view the content? LinkedIn comes to mind. Conducting advanced searches and reviewing many profiles in a sitting is easier to accomplish through its web service, but it is easier to send quick messages, make connections, and check updates on its app.

There are three strategies to establish a mobile presence. First, create your own set of apps that run on the three main platforms – Mac IOS, Windows 8, and Google Android. Second, provide API access, so third-party developers create mobile apps based on your service. Third, make your website mobile friendly – having it responsive or delivering content in a different way; all mobile devices have browsers.

There is always a place for a standard computer. Much of the content we consume requires a larger screen, better processing power, and faster memory access. There are tasks like programming, writing, editing videos or graphics, playing graphic intensive games, and analyzing or modeling statistics that you do predominately on a computer.

An advantage with using a browser as opposed to an app is it has a standard protocol: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. With HTML, the structure, tagging, and functioning of websites are supported universally by a worldwide consortium. This ensures there is a security apparatus in place. It is easy to learn HTML, CSS and JavaScript quickly, (to see the underlying code of any website, simply view the source code from within any browser). It is also easier to develop websites. You can code a website in a text editor then upload it to a server, altogether taking you five minutes. With apps on mobile devices, there are far less rules and it is more challenging to learn all of the intricacies. For example, with Android, you download an editor, install Java, and use an emulator (of how an app works on various devices); moreover, there is a clear learning curve with programming in Java.

Apps are becoming a staple of future generations. (People label Generation Y as digital natives, I label Generation Z as mobile natives.) Apps probably become more prevalent than websites in many things, though websites will always have its place. In going mobile, companies need to breakdown things down into tasking – when, where, and how content is consumed.

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Improve Your ‘Collective Intelligence’

I recently talked about humans using machines to improve a ‘collective intelligence’, but another way to improve ‘collective intelligence’ is through teams or networks; so the two terms together:

INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS + NETWORK/TEAM (YOU AS A MEMBER) = COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE

Collective Intelligence
Collective Intelligence

With social media, you engage with a network and build concepts collectively. Someone has an initial inspiration such as a blog or article post and then a network responds through commentary. That initial concept usually evolves into something deeper and richer. This exchange is especially effective in LinkedIn, perhaps because professionals’ reputations are at stake. In A World Gone Social, the authors summarize it:

By sharing knowledge and best practices, the community grows, collectively.[i]

Professionals are able to claim a concept (something they are researching or thinking about) and attract interested parties through a network. The best ways to distinguish the concept is to create a hashtag, something all of the social media platforms use for conversations. Of course, a traditional search in social media or Google on the concept also works. Once there is a following, you have effectively created a feedback loop – an effective way to collectively build a concept.

Your network also feeds you relevant content, stuff they have created or curated. Intelligent systems also feed you content through algorithms. Because of the massive amount of content produced on a single day, you cannot read everything. Much of your ‘daily knowledge gain’ is based on what content is fed to you. Many of us get our daily news from Twitter and Facebook.

But probably the biggest gains in ‘collective intelligence’ comes from groups working together and using technologies to solve problems. A well-cited article Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups has two strong conclusions. First and foremost, it is possible to measure and sometimes predict a group’s collective intelligence. Second, it is strongly correlated with “the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and proportions of females in the group” – not strongly correlated with the individual intelligence of its members. To the ballyhoo of those trying to improve team dynamics, it turns out motivation and cohesion are also not good predictors. [ii]

The takeaway is leaders should improve the ‘collective intelligence’ of their teams. Introducing new technologies and applications could be an effective way to improve this ‘collective intelligence’. Moreover, they should create a structured environment where all team members have equal time to share their ideas. Perhaps flatter companies where team members have an equal voice and status is the optimal structure; this is something the authors harp on in A World Gone Social. Social networks and technology make it possible to do all of this virtually. In the future, ‘collective intelligence’ will be more commonly referenced than ‘individual intelligence’.

Intelligence in all its forms relates to personal branding. Think about it. In an evaluation of a person’s reputation (personal branding is synonymous with reputation management in many ways), two things always come up: that person’s smartness and how well he or she works with others. Your maximum level of expertise with a skill set is largely determined by your individual intelligence (and to some extent your collective intelligence). Your identity and connectedness defines what networks you can tap into to maximize your collective intelligence.

[i] Ted Coine and Mark Babbitt (2014). A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt To Survive. New York: AMACOM.

[ii] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6004/686.full

Intelligent Systems Make Us Smarter

Is it possible to support advancements in intelligent systems from a compassionate point of view? Perhaps by leveling the playing field with intelligence, we might tackle one of the most bitterly contested characteristics of man. We face ‘intelligence battles’ on a daily basis – in classrooms, social settings, and in the office. Much of our status in society is based upon intelligence.

Intelligence
Intelligence

What if everyone had a memory booster, something like a personal hard drive? Many of today’s geniuses have impeccable memories. What if everyone accesses the same reservoir of ‘facts and information’ from intelligent systems? (Currently access to primary sources of knowledge is costly, which creates an advantage for those who can afford it.) Could there be a baseline IQ because of boosts in cognitive thinking?

There are still geniuses, naturally brilliant people who are thought leaders and influencers; use of intelligent systems simply allows for them to solve ever increasingly complex problems. Quora recently posed the question: What would an IQ of 500 or 1000 look like? It elicited over 200,000 views and 200 followers. One respondent suggested a person at this level of intelligence might learn a language in a day, read a book in an hour, or solve our current unsolved problems.[i]

There are smart people. With universal access to AI, smart people represent a larger segment of the population. The bell curve for IQ becomes taller and standard deviations smaller. More smart people follow their passions and interests, rather than being excluded because of their natural intelligence. In addition, smart people without access to a proper education use AI to catch up.

Finally, there are people who have less natural intelligence but have a more satisfying life because of AI.

Soft skills, character and personality become paramount in employment decisions. We are starting to see this now. Many of the leadership coaches say emotional intelligence (EQ) often has more value than cognitive intelligence (IQ).

It will be interesting to see if those who have access to intelligent systems share them with the general public. Naturally intelligent people lose an advantage – something that gives them power. Having a high IQ, SAT, GMAT, GRE, or LSAT – all tests largely driven by raw intelligence – practically guarantees access to a top college and future employment.

Barring geniuses, intelligence in the future will be measured by adaptive, conceptual and novel thinking skills. Now we come up with a relevant question and it is something to ponder over a period of time; but in the future, we get an immediate response from an intelligent system. So we ask a series of questions, modifying each question based on previous responses. In addition to being responsive, creative ‘out of the box’ thinking becomes a highly sought after skill.

An intelligent system:

  • Pulls together content from a multitude of sources and puts into a ranked list based on relevancy. Intelligent systems tap into a vast amount of online information.
  • Cross-disciplines and subject areas to solve increasingly complex problems. An intelligent system synthesizes information from many disciplines.
  • Processes all types of content: website, documents, narratives, graphics, and videos. Intelligent systems already have image and video recognition; it only gets more advanced.
  • Allows intuition to be validated by sources immediately. Smart people come up with ideas without doing the necessary research, an intelligent system does it for them.
  • Taps into the Internet of Things. Intelligent systems access into the growing number of sensors to understand behaviors, and add context to experiences.

Yesterday, IBM unveiled the enterprise email system Verse to the world. What separates Verse from its predecessors, according to a press release, is how it learns employees’ preferences and then provides “instant context about a given project as well as the people and teams collaborating on it”. And an intriguing ‘future option’ allows users to “query Watson on a given topic and receive a direct reply with answers ranked by degree of confidence.”[ii] If your company invests in Verse, you might have access to the smartest supercomputer on the planet.

I thought of an example where I could have used an advanced intelligent system to save weeks of painstaking work. Earlier in my career, as an economist, I had the task of collecting data for business valuations. One step is to get financial ratios of comparable companies. I could see myself asking an intelligent system: “Hey there, could you give me the financial ratios of the top ten comparable companies to…?”

Current Technology/Human Interaction Intelligent System
Identify companies based on financials.
  • Create a complex query string in Moodys.
  • Transfer the results into Excel.
  • Complete multiple iterations of this process to get a final list of companies.
  • Hears criteria through a verbal command.
  • Works across platforms and understands idiosyncrasies between iterations.
  • Outputs results in Excel in minutes.
Read companies 10Ks, profiles
  • Read each document individually.
  • Sort them based on relevancy (a time-consuming process).
  • Reads and processes the documents, then makes recommendations (in minutes).
Calculate financial ratios
  • Input comparable companies’ financial numbers into Excel, calculate ratios.
  • Calculates ratios instantaneously.
Each time the intelligent system goes through the process it gets better. It does it faster. It understands and remembers why you make decisions to keep or drop comparable companies. Eventually, the intelligent system does everything based on the initial criteria and produces results in minutes.

[i] https://www.quora.com/What-would-an-IQ-of-500-or-1000-look-like

[ii] http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/45402.wss

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Algorithms That Feed Us Content

As online applications become increasingly sophisticated they depend on algorithms to process metrics about us and who we interact with to deliver personalized content. Algorithms are usually the ‘secret sauce’ of a service, so architects only share generalities and when confronted with an issue. Like with the Facebook News Feed, an algorithm we became concerned about only after a study revealed Facebook manipulated feeds of a sample (680,000 randomly selected users) to see how they reacted to positive and negative updates. Interestingly, the results indicate when friends’ positive news feeds were weeded out to varying extents, people wrote fewer positive posts and more negative posts.[i] Clearly, as the results show, there are implications regarding how we consume our news.

Algorithms
Algorithms

Facebook has masterly positioned its social media platform as a quick, convenient one stop shop for everything – friend updates, pictures, videos, and news; have a fifteen minute break, visit Facebook from your mobile or computer to get caught up on things. Thirty percent of Americans get their news from Facebook.[ii] As we are all starting to become familiar with, Facebook has an algorithm that predicts what content to feed and serves it on our news feed. It is based on “’thousands and thousands’ of metrics, including what device a user is on, how many comments or likes a story has received and how long readers spend on an article.” Your friends’ behaviors (liking, commenting, and sharing) and pages you follow also significantly affects what appears on your News Feed. Facebook has just released News Feed settings and tools that let users “more easily tell Facebook what they don’t want to see”.[iii] Still there are some issues to consider:

  • Should you depend on an algorithm in social media to curate your news feeds? It depends; there is evidence for the algorithm’s value by increasing user engagement. If you have the right friends and follow relevant pages, it acts as a news filter by recommending only the top articles; this might be enough. However, if you want to take on a thought role, you should canvas digital newspapers and magazines directly.
  • Do you want to be confined to reading news based on the online behaviors and interests of you and your friends? In order to develop a passion, you need to be exposed to it. The danger in being fed content based on one phase of your life is you never develop intrigue in other subjects. One thing I love about the front section of the Wall Street Journal is the guaranteed ‘odd-ball’ article.

Netflix offers a stream of recommended videos. Recently they tweaked the underlying algorithm from being a rating system to something more complex; something based on behaviors – how long you watch a movie, what selections you click on, what you scroll over, etc. Netflix estimates seventy-five percent of viewer activity is driven by recommendations.[iv] This algorithm has significant influence on how we consume entertainment. (Interestingly, Netflix had a contest open to the public to build the algorithm and gave a million dollar prize to the winning team; this is a smart, cost-effective way to innovate.)

Google has a complex algorithm that ranks pages based on keywords and produces a search engine results page (“SERP”). It gets personal when you are logged into Google via Google+, Gmail, or one of their other applications. When you are logged-in, you get not only a slightly different SERP, but also some personalized content based on context from other applications; Google knows who you are. The other implication in being logged into Google (Facebook, Twitter, and other apps) is your movements during an Internet session are tracked directly to you by the app in a personal way (not just your IP address).

Some other popular ‘content feeding’ algorithms include: LinkedIn’s People You May Know, Pinterest’s Suggested Pins, Amazon’s Product Recommendations, and Pandora’s Music Streams.

We need algorithms because of the vastness of content available to us and how we consume it – often in quick spurts on mobile devices. Conducting effective searches takes time and some inspiration, so we like prompting or nudging to guide us in the right direction. Personally, I am more concerned with how I consume news (knowledge) versus entertainment and therefore get most of my news directly from its source (when I can). Nevertheless, it is worth understanding the basic mechanics of algorithms so you have more awareness – perhaps even play around with your news feed and see what happens as you ‘like’ things.

We deserve to understand the power that algorithms hold over us, for better or worse.[v]

Future algorithms will have a heavy dose of artificial intelligence. Much more context will be fed into the algorithm, allowing for it to deliver a deeper, personalized experience. Moreover, the artificial intelligence gets smarter and better through time. According to a study, AI has attracted more than $17 billion in investments since 2009; some of the investors include Facebook, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Twitter.[vi]

[i] https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/scicurious/main-result-facebook-emotion-study-less-trust-facebook

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/business/media/how-facebook-is-changing-the-way-its-users-consume-journalism.html

[iii] http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/07/facebook-makes-its-news-feed-a-little-less-frustrating

[iv] http://www.wired.com/2013/08/qq_netflix-algorithm/

[v] Karrie Karahalios. Algorithm Awareness. (MIT Technology Review, November 2014).

[vi] Kevin Kelly. Brain Power. (Wired, November 2014).

New Social Contract With Intelligent Systems

Advancements in intelligent systems (AI, robotics, etc.) require us to make important decisions now for our future. The technology is currently on the doorstep. We are accustomed to talking to a voice on our cellphone (Siri) and barking orders to a system in our car. Though, it is a commonly accepted notion that AI becomes pervasive in just about everything we do.

Intelligent Systems
Intelligent Systems

One perspective of futuristic AI is captured in the film Her about a lonely writer who reaches out to an operating system to satisfy his companionship needs. The AI is intelligently responsive, attentive, curious, and seemingly emotional. (Of course, having Scarlet Johannsson’s husky, luring voice and a picture of her in your mind further sells the idea; this is why you know she is doing the voice over before you watch the film.)

As we race to adopt advanced technologies, some of the issues include: educating future generations on how and when to use them, providing universal access, establishing social norms – boundaries when it is appropriate, and mitigating excessive security controls.

It is still hard to predict the best ways to educate children with using intelligent systems. What is the criteria in deciding what facts and information has to be memorized versus being retrieved from an intelligent system? (As I have said in a previous blog on knowledge, building skills will have more value than memorizing facts and information.) Should there be limitations on the frequency or duration of ‘nudges’? Is it ethical to receive deep emotional encouragement from AI?

There was an article in the NYT about an autistic child who found personal satisfaction in communicating with Siri through his IPhone. It is an uplifting story because, as his mom acknowledges, he receives attention and comfort he probably does not get in other ways.[i] As AI becomes more advanced, this situation – having relationships with AI – plays out with a broader segment of the population.

Using AI frequently requires multitasking. A highly contested issue is whether multitasking has a positive or negative influence on a person’s cognitive abilities. There was a study that says “yes”, multitasking is an acquired skill.[ii] In another article, the results were negative: multitaskers had less grey matter density in their brain and had a more difficult time concentrating when they need to.[iii]

According to Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT: “technology is the main driver of the recent increases in inequalities”.[iv] Futurists predict a bifurcation of the classes, where the middle class splits into the upper and lower classes. Highly skilled professionals with access to new technologies find jobs, the rest will be under- or un- employed. As a society, we must make the latest technologies accessible to all in K-12 and higher education; this might be a simplistic argument, but what about the commitment to follow through on it. Currently there is support in providing internet access to all; in the future, there needs to be similar support in providing advance technologies (like AI) to all.

One of the most prominent transhumanists is the inventor and philosopher Ray Kurzweil, currently director of engineering at Google, and popularizer of the concept of the technological “singularity” – a point he puts at around 2045, when artificial intelligence will outstrip human intelligence for the first time.[v]

Some people embrace AI, some people abhor AI. Regardless, advancements in AI will continue to move forward because people want to feel happier, increase productivity and become more intelligent. There will be a new social contract laying out how humans interact with AI.

In the latest Wired, there was an article about the dangers in giving an authority control over newer technologies – especially those engrained to us in a personal way. Currently authorities can use a ‘kill switch’ on a cell phone, eavesdrop on our communications, and take control of our computer or devices. What about implanted devices? Should you be concerned in interacting with an intelligent system in a personal way, letting it know all your behaviors and what you are thinking?

What the net is, is the nervous system of the 21st Century. It’s time we started acting like it.[vi]

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/fashion/how-apples-siri-became-one-autistic-boys-bff.html

[ii] http://online.wsj.com/articles/teen-researchers-defend-media-multitasking-1413220118

[iii] http://www.talentsmart.com/articles/Multitasking-Damages-Your-Brain-and-Your-Career-2102500909-p-1.html

[iv] David Rotman. Technology and Inequality. (MIT Technology Review, November 2014).

[v] http://s.telegraph.co.uk/graphics/projects/the-future-is-android/index.html

[vi] Cory Doctorow. Keep Out Don’t Let Uncle Sam Invade Your Devices. (Wired, November 2014 Issue).

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