Alexa, go buy me some milk.

In the shadow of Amazon’s offices in downtown Seattle, people enter a tiny grocery store, take whatever they want, and then walk out. And nobody runs after them screaming. This is what it’s like to shop at Amazon Go, the online retail giant’s vision for the future of brick-and-mortar stores. There are no checkout clerks, or even checkout stands. Instead, a smartphone app, hundreds of regular and infrared cameras on the ceiling (black on black, so they blend in), computer-vision algorithms, and machine learning work together to figure out what you’re picking up and charge you for it on a credit card connected to your Amazon account.

Source: Amazon’s Checkout-Free Grocery Store Is Opening to the Public – MIT Technology Review

Voice Isn’t the Next Big Platform

This piece is originally from Dec 19, 2016, but interesting to revisit as we enter the home stretch of 2017 (and what a year it has been):

In 2017, we will start to see that change. After years of false starts, voice interface will finally creep into the mainstream as more people purchase voice-enabled speakers and other gadgets, and as the tech that powers voice starts to improve. By the following year, Gartner predicts that 30 percent of our interactions with technology will happen through conversations with smart machines.

via Voice Is the Next Big Platform, and Alexa Will Own It | WIRED

I have no doubt that we’ll all be using voice-driven computing on an ever increasing basis in the coming years. In our home, we have an Amazon Alexa, 4 Amazon Dots, and most rooms have Hue Smart Bulbs in the light fixtures (oh, and we have the Amazon Dash Wand in case we want to carry Alexa around with us…). I haven’t physically turned on a light in any of our rooms in months. That’s weird. It happened with the stealth of a technology that slowly but surely creeps into your life and rewires your brain the same way the first iPhone changed how I interact with the people I love. We even renamed all of our Alexa devices as “Computer” so that I can finally pretend I’m living on the Starship Enterprise. Once I have a holodeck, I’m never leaving the house.

And perhaps that’s the real trick to seeing this stealth revolution happen in front of our eyes and via our vocal cords… it’s not just voice-driving computing that is going to be the platform of the near future. In other words, voice won’t be the next big platform. There will be a combination of voice AND augmented reality AND artificial intelligence that will power how we communicate with ourselves, our homes, our environments, and the people we love (and perhaps don’t love). In twenty years, will my young son be typing onto a keyboard in the same way I’m doing to compose this post? In ten years, will my 10-year-old daughter be typing onto a keyboard to do her job or express herself?

I highly doubt both. Those computing processes will be driven by a relationship to a device representing an intelligence. Given that, as a species, we adapted to have relational interact with physical cues and vocal exchanges over the last 70 million years, I can’t imagine that a few decades of “typing” radically altered the way we prefer to communicate and exchange information. It’s the reason I’m not an advocate of teaching kids how to type (and I’m a ~90 wpm touch typist).

Voice combined with AI and AR (or whatever we end up calling it… “mixed reality” perhaps?) is the next big platform because these three will fuse into something the same way the web (as an experience) fused with personal computing to fuel the last big platform revolution.

I’m not sure Amazon will be the ultimate winner in the “next platform” wars that it is waging with Google (Google Assistant), Apple (Siri), Facebook (Messenger), and any number of messaging apps and startups that we haven’t heard of yet. However, our future platforms of choice will be very “human” in the same way we lovingly interact with the slab of metal and glass that we all carry around and do the majority of our computing on these days. It’s hard to imagine a world where computers are shrunk to the size of fibers in our clothing and become transparent characters that we interact with to perform whatever we’ll be performing, but the future does not involve a keyboard, a mouse, and a screen of light emitting diodes for most people (I hear you, gamers) and we’ll all see reality in even more differing ways than is currently possible as augmented reality quickly becomes mainstream in the same way that true mobile devices did after the iPhone.

Maybe I just watched too much Star Trek Next Generation.

Echo Chamber

A friend asked recently what I thought of the Amazon Echo and whether or not I was concerned by privacy issues surrounding the platform. The friend knows we have a number of the devices in our home.

The issue goes along the lines of the the Echo being able to “hear” at all times since it is listening for the wake word (ours is currently set to “Computer” since I’m a Star Trek nerd). As a result, it’s clear that Amazon is taping every sound that is made in our homes and sending directly to law enforcement / the NSA / the CIA / insurance companies / pick your poison.

Obviously, that’s not the case but the line of thinking is definitely circulated regularly on social media and in conversations with people with just enough exposure or information about a product or service to make an uneducated and biased claim.

Sort of like politics, I guess.

The internet promised us democratization of knowledge. It has definitely delivered that. It exposes us to new ideas, thought patterns, technologies, tools, services, images, videos, and music we’d never experience otherwise. I remember relishing my set of World Books as a 12-year-old because they gave me the knowledge and escape.

What the internet hasn’t done is given us a sense of perspective or inquisitiveness. Our limbic system is predicated on our survival, and we often listen to our lizard brain when a new thought technology threatens how we thought we understand this strange concept we call existence.

We need other mechanisms for that perspective and inquisitiveness. Otherwise, the internet can be a powerful sounding board to provide reaffirmation of what we already thought we knew or believed.

Having access to information (textual, visual, video, or audio) does not make one an expert.

Sort of like politics, I guess.

As we transition from fingers to voice as the primary input mechanism for computing it will become even more important to recognize the need for deeper human learning just as we push the boundaries of what deeper machine learning means. Our democracies on the web and in politics depend on it.

We have an Amazon Echo or Amazon Dot in most every room of our house. It’s fantastic technology, and I enjoy the ability to perform both simple and complex computing tasks by using our collection of assistants.

“But Sam,” my friend might say, “sure it’s great that you can turn on your lights or play Bowie or add things to your calendar by just speaking into the void in your den, but what about your privacy?”.

To quote Dylan, “play it loud.

Amazon Kills Shelfari

Live by the Amazon sword, die by the Amazon sword…

The worst thing about the whole “merger” is that Amazon is giving Shelfari members just two months to move all their data over to Goodreads. I actively participate in two Shelfari groups that have been operating since 2008/2009 and have thousands of discussion threads, challenges, and games. The move will likely kill one of those groups completely and severely impact the other. So two months just doesn’t cut it – it is rude and sends a message that Amazon doesn’t truly care about some of its best customers.

Source: Amazon Kills Shelfari

Meanwhile, I’m updating my LibraryThing profile (which is 40% owned by Abebooks, which is owned by … Amazon), where I’ve been since 2005.

Are Affiliate eBooks Easy?

Realistic look at eBook creation and publication with lots of detail from a particular detail (don’t agree with him about Amazon though):

E-books Are Not That Easy: “E-book publishing is not as easy as writing a MS Word document and pushing a button, no matter what the bloggers say. Even if you spend a couple of thousand dollars (I know somebody, not me, who spent over $4K on his e-book) it doesn’t guarantee much of anything.”

I’m on the fence here. I’ve not written an eBook (have gone through the laborious process of writing a treeware book for a large publisher though) but I’ve always been tempted. Maybe 2012 is the time for that to finally happen.

I look at what folks like Jim Kukral or Shawn Collins have done and wonder if the publishing process is as hard as the author above makes it sound or if there is some basic tools that simplify things.

Interesting debate.

Regardless, I expect 2012 will be the year when eBooks find complete mainstream adoption and when eBooks transition from a layman’s practice into something more polished and “professional” much like what happened to blogging in the last decade. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing at all.