New Year Greetings from TechtoExpress

Happy New Year 2016!  Thank you for following my blog this past year.  I will post my next blog on Monday, January 4th.  Enjoy the rest of the holiday season with family and friends.

Ray Myers

Driverless Cars Need to be More Human (Aggressive?)

These cars are just too polite.  Engineered for driving safely on America’s highways and bi-ways in the twenty-first century, Google has clearly produced one of the safest vehicles on the road today.  Since 2009 these cars have been involved in only sixteen crashes and, in each case, a human driver has been at fault (company data).  At the same time, the Google car has been pulled over once by the police for driving too slowly!

In the final analysis these driverless automobiles really do obey the “rules of the road” when their human-driven counterparts apparently always do not.  Take the four-way stop scenario: the Google car always seems to politely wait for its turn.  Not unsurprisingly in the human-driver world, this rule does not always seem to apply.  He who hesitates may be lost as the saying goes, but if you are in New Jersey you always have jughandles at stop lights (you may have to do some research on this, sorry).

So it seems that the lesson to be learned for the new driverless cars is tha they have to be aggressive in the right amount.  And that right amount depends on the culture, and there are lot of road ways between Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, and the New Jersey Turnpike.

Ray Myers

Facebook in India?

Over a billion people connected to each other in India (and beyond?) on Facebook.  All I can say is good luck, Mark Zuckerberg!  Or maybe not!  Let’s face it, is this really going to help the vast majority of Indians living in rural villages with minimal access to reliable human and social service infrastructures.  Maybe that is why this Facebook project is targeted to the larger numbers of mobile phone users in more urban settings.  Mobile phone ownership and usage in India remains a privilege for the more economically empowered.

I think the reality of Indian history and the persisting disparity of resources between the “haves and have nots” presents a daunting challenge to anyone trying to use social media for real social and political change in such an ancient culture and economy.  Perhaps I should be more optimistic as we approach a new year, and I stand ready to admit the error of my pessimism if things turn out the other way.   Please believe me that I will gladly welcome any impact that results in new opportunities for upward mobility for those who have historically been told there is no upward path.

Gandhi led a peaceful revolution against foreign domination and freed his countrymen in the last century.  I believe that the economic and social challenges ahead for India in this century and beyond can not be overcome by social media alone.  True political leadership must seek to empower all Indians, regardless of their economic or social status.

Ray Myers

Apps’ Voices and Stereotypes

Call me Julie, Amanda, Sarah, Emily, etc., but don’t call me Ray.  I guess a male voice could be an option for apps to use, but it seems that app developers have done their homework and the female voice sounds like the winner.  I am not sure that all of this analysis is scientifically-based, but there appears to be good body of anecdotal information to support it.  If you have been keeping up with your media studies, most of this may already be very apparent.

Technologies speak with recorded feminine voices because “women weren’t normally there to be heard.”  A woman’s voice stands out.  For example, an automated recording of a woman’s voice used in cockpit navigation becomes a beacon,  a voice in stark contrast with that of very one else, when all the pilots on board are men.  There’s a maternal edge to all of it.  It is personal guidance rather than definite directions?

After all is said and done, as an individual app user you can probably still pick the gender of the voice you would like to hear.  I am not even going to discuss which one I personally prefer.  I guess you will have to ask my wife or daughter.  Merry Christmas everyone!  Enjoy this time with family and friends.

I’ll be back next Monday, the 28th.

Ray Myers

Digitally Yours

Too busy this holiday season or any other time of the year to write handwritten notes, no problem!  You now have Bond, not James, who can take care of all that for you.  In this case, technology will reproduce your own handwriting, or any other if you prefer, and dispatch all of these carefully crafted personalized missives for you.  Now, of course, there is a price for this convenience, but who has the time any more to send all these “thank-yous,” and all I can tell you is that Bond’s business is booming, at least in the New York area.

Good manners and good business sense all wrapped into one thanks to robotics.  These robots, however, can be programmed to write in your own handwritten script or any other you may prefer.  There are currently 200 robotic writing machines in Bond’s  Manhattan facilities.  An invitation only service costs $1,200 a year and provides clients with a personalized mobile app to send notes in their own handwriting on custom stationary.  Other personalized messaging services range from $3.50 to $2.50 per card (corporate accounts with large orders).

Most customers like the fact that it is more than a text message, and is perceived as a more thoughtful sentiment.  No one will ever have to know it came from a robot!  And it comes in an envelope with a wax seal, a very thoughtful, personal touch, from anybody or a machine.

Ray Myers

Making Artificial Intelligence Harmless?

How little we really know or maybe it’s just me.  Last week I blogged about the wonders of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it could have done miraculous things for characters like the Strawman in the Wizard of Oz.  Little did I know that prominent leaders in the scientific community are concerned that this technological power could also be used in ways that can potentially do more harm than good. 

To combat the imminent abuse of this powerful scientific resource for destructive purposes such as killer robots (e.g., terminators), leading tech entrepreneurs and companies have joined forces.  A new non-profit group has been formed called Open AI with a mega-fund of one billion dollars dedicated to finding and funding positive uses for AI.  Their intended mission is to do everything they can to ensure that the same tech that could support “killing machines” gets used for good instead.

Some say one billion dollars will not be enough.  A future where terminators could exist is basically inevitable.   Bill Gates has also expressed the urgency of this issue, stating that he does not “understand why some people are not concerned” about the possibility of a rogue, self-aware robot.  Artificial intelligence may help us address an array of human challenges but it is still man who decides how to use it best.

Ray Myers

Warning – iPhones May  be Hazardous to Your Posture and Mood!

 I am not talking here about what you might be doing with your iPhones, but more about how you are using them physically.  The two biggest areas of impact seem to be in your basic posture and your mood.  Let’s talk about posture first because it apparently relates to a number of unintended consequences that your mother always warned you about.  Remember “stand up straight and stop slouching.”  Well it turns out she may have been right after all, and when I was young (don’t ask how long ago) it had nothing to do with using an iPhone.  

So today’s warning about not slouching when looking at your iPhones comes with an additional advisory: it’s bad for your self-esteem.  Now how could that be?  Experts tell us that there are some collateral areas that may be effected in ways that you may have never considered.  Slouching may also result in poorer memories when compared with those individuals who sit upright.  Slouches may also be less assertive, not “standing up for ourselves.”  We may even become less productive because of all the time we spend interacting with these small mobile devices in place of engaging in real-time experiences around us.

Something to think about over the holiday season when we all gather with friends and family.  Hopefully they will all be sitting up straight and looking at each other and not at their iPhones when gathered around for holiday celebrations.

Ray Myers

If I Only Had a Brain!

Well don’t worry any more, Mr. Scarecrow.  There’s always artificial intelligence.  And as long as you have the necessary visual acuity you will now be able to recognize all the hand written characters from as many as fifty different languages!  I guess the hard part may be carrying around the lap top (mobile device?) that contains the software or other assistive programs you may need, but there are many mobility experts that can help today.  I do not know how many languages they may speak or write in Oz, but you will surely be in better shape than you were before.

Mr. Scarecrow may find that all these advances will make him a little nostalgic for the good old days when he would ramble down that yellow brick road with Dorothy and the gang, but I know that he will enjoy the independence this new technology brings.  It will change his life just as technology has changed all of our personal and professional lives in the twenty-first century.

Experts note that such advances in artificial intelligence and robotics reflect an intensifying focus in Silicon Valley.   I think that this focus will be of great future benefit to all people in every corner of the globe.

Ray Myers

Advertising Digitally – Less TV Ads?

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  It actually may be all good or all bad depending on your perspective, but here’s how things seem to be going.   Business advertisers in all fields realize that reaching their potential customer base may involve more investment in more digital outreach.  If you would like fewer commercials on TV, this will be the good news.  But if you would not like receiving more digital advertising on your computers and laptops, this will be the bad news.

Advertising experts expect this all to happen over the next couple years.  And if you think having a mobile device will exempt you from this advertising tidal wave, I am sorry to inform you that it is only a matter of time (unless you really like getting all these ads).  By 2018 mobile ads will account for 50.2 percent of Internet advertising, surpassing desktop ads for the first time.  Why waste money on TV advertising, when I can send you an ad that will be delivered to the mobile device in your pocket or purse?

Probably safe to say that most people will be looking at their mobile phones more than they will be watching TV.  It’s just a matter of time.  But I have forgetten that we live in the age of multi-tasking.  Why not do both?

Ray Myers

Conversation – There’s no App for That

Ours is now a world of constant communication.  We can reach colleagues, friends, and family in an instant thanks to our technological connectivity anywhere from wherever we may be.  It’s hard to imagine that it has not always been this way.  And as teachers struggle with implementing technology in their classrooms in the most advantageous ways for all students, they often find technology getting in the way.  With students’ heads bowed scanning the screens of their iPads or other digital devices, teachers must often compete for some modicum of attention for a lesson they are presenting.

Maybe there’s really nothing new about this classroom phenomenon.  Teachers have been competing for students’ undivided attention since the days of Aristotle but the most consequential outcome in the digital age may be the loss of students’ conversational and broader social skills.  As one writer expresses it:  “Kids have to use their five senses, and, most of all, they have to talk to each other.”   In a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study across more than three dozen countries (not including the United States), moderate computer use in school results in modest academic gains.   More frequent or heavy computer use has a negative impact on student learning.  

So students in the digital age may actually be learning less as they use their computers more.  Besides turning off or moderating their use of digital devices, what should these young people do.  Maybe have a face-to-face conversation with someone?

Ray Myers

Meditation – There’s an App for That!

Well I think we have truly come full circle.  Personalized technology that can help you meditate, and keep you motivated?  Please don’t get me wrong, but I am not sure that is what meditation is supposed to do.  For example, the apps’ creators say that one of the most challenging problems in learning to meditate is remembering to do it.  If I remember correctly from my time living in India, and trying to meditate myself, it is that you were attempting to “suspend” time, and become part of another more spiritual and “universal” world.  I think that there were also more preferred times of the day to meditate that conformed with astronomical cycles.

Thanks to these apps you can now receive motivational alerts and track your progress in meeting personal meditation goals.  And in an effort to make this experience even more personalized, you can receive all this information in any voice and tone you prefer.  Some feature female American voices.  Others have a mix of male and female voices with British and American accents, so you may like some better than others.  

Now you can really customize your meditation experience.  Some experts proclaim that the voice you hear could be the determining factor in the meditation experience.  What about the voice inside your head?

Ray Myers

Analog Fever in the Digital World

Got to have those 45s!  This phenomenon appears to be more than a nostalgic whim. but I am sure that it plays some part.  Some say that the marginalization of the physical (e.g., 45 rpm records) has propelled it into the realm of luxury.  But perhaps the biggest irony is that the best place to locate and buy analog items is online.  Maybe it really doesn’t matter how you get it, so much as it is the ownership of something that is both sensual and symbolic.  It’s reviving an old fashioned consumer experience: you are the “owner” of the latest from a favorite musician, author, film maker, and so on. 

At the same time, analog fever does not function in opposition to digital dominance, but in concert with it.  YouTube video clips actually show analog social media devices that may be of interest to viewers.  No more streaming if that’s not for you.  You get to own what you like, and control its access as you determine best.  And this is now called a “luxury” that we had lost in the digital world.

I’m old enough now to have lived in both the analog and digital worlds.  I guess it’s all about ownership, independence, and prized possessions.  Maybe it’s like handing or texting someone a reading list of favorite books as opposed to actually sharing the books themselves?

Ray Myers