CategoryStrategy

Google’s new push to AI-powered services

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At their Pixel 2 event at the beginning of the month, Google released a whole slew of new products. Besides new phones there were updated version of their smart home hub, Google Home, and some new types of product altogether.

I don’t usually write about product launches, but this event has me excited about new tech for the first time in a long time. Why? Because some aspects stood out as they stand for a larger shift in the industry: The new role of artificial intelligence (AI) as it seeps into consumer goods.

Google have been reframing themselves from a mobile first to an AI first company for the last year or so. (For full transparency I should add that I’ve worked with Google occasionally in the recent past, but everything discussed here is of course publicly available.)

We now see this shift of focus play out as it manifests in products.

Here’s Google CEO Sundar Pichai at the opening of Google’s Pixel 2 event:

We’re excited by the shift from a mobile-first to an AI-first world. It is not just about applying machine learning in our products, but it’s radically re-thinking how computing should work. (…) We’re really excited by this shift, and that’s why we’re here today. We’ve been working on software and hardware together because that’s the best way to drive the shifts in computing forward. But we think we’re in the unique moment in time where we can bring the unique combination of AI, and software, and hardware to bring the different perspective to solving problems for users. We’re very confident about our approach here because we’re at the forefront of driving the shifts with AI.
AI as a platform: Google has it.
First things first: I fully agree – there’s currently no other company that’s in as well positioned to drive the development of AI, or to benefit from it. In fact, back in May 2017 I wrote that “Google just won the next 10 years.” That was when Google just hinted at their capabilities in terms of new features, but also announced building AI infrastructure for third parties to use. AI as a platform: Google has it.

Before diving into some structural thoughts, let’s look at two specific products they launched:

  1. Google Clips are a camera you can clip somewhere, and it’ll automatically take photos when some conditions are met: A certain person’s face is in the picture, or they are smiling. It’s an odd product for sure, but here’s the thing: It’s fully machine learning powered facial recognition, and the computing happens on the device. This is remarkable for its incredible technical achievement, and for its approach. Google has become a company of high centralization—the bane of cloud computing, I’d lament. Google Clips works at the edge, decentralized. This is powerful, and I hope it inspires a new generation of IoT products that embrace decentralization.
  2. Google’s new in-ear headphones offer live translation. That’s right: These headphones should be able to allow for multi-language human-to-human live conversations. (This happens in the cloud, not locally.) Now how well this works in practice remains to be seen, and surely you wouldn’t want to run a work meeting through them. But even if it eases travel related helplessness just a bit it’d be a big deal.

So as we see these new products roll out, the actual potential becomes much more graspable. There’s a shape emerging from the fog: Google may not really be AI first just yet, but they certainly have made good progress on AI-leveraged services.

The mental model I’m using for how Apple and Google compare is this:


The Apple model

Apple’s ecosystem focuses on an integration: Hardware (phones, laptops) and software (OSX, iOS) are both highly integrated, and services are built on top. This allows for consistent service delivery and for pushing the limits of hardware and software alike, and most importantly for Apple’s bottom line allows to sell hardware that’s differentiated by software and services: Nobody else is allowed to make an iPhone.

Google started at the opposite side, with software (web search, then Android). Today, Google looks something like this:


The Google model

Based on software (search/discovery, plus Android) now there’s also hardware that’s more integrated. Note that Android is still the biggest smartphone platform as well as basis for lots of connected products, so Google’s hardware isn’t the only game in town. How this works out with partners over time remains to be seen. That said, this new structure means Google can push its software capabilities to the limits through their own hardware (phones, smart home hubs, headphones, etc.) and then aim for the stars with AI-leveraged services in a way I don’t think we’ll see from competitors anytime soon.

What we’ve seen so far is the very tip of the iceberg: As Google keeps investing in AI and exploring the applications enabled by machine learning, this top layer should become exponentially more interesting: They develop not just the concrete services we see in action, but also use AI to build their new models, and open up AI as a service for other organizations. It’s a triple AI ecosystem play that should reinforce itself and hence gather more steam the more it’s used.

This offers tremendous opportunities and challenges. So while it’s exciting to see this unfold, we need to get our policies ready for futures with AI.

Please note that this is cross-posted from Medium. Disclosure: I’ve worked with Google a few times in the recent past.

Opportunities at the intersection of emerging tech, strategy, and good ethics

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We strongly believe that good ethics mean good business. This isn’t just an empty phrase, either: We know from our own experience that often it pays great dividends to go the extra step and taking into account the implications of business decisions.

This is especially true in areas that employ new technologies, simply because there are more unknowns in emerging tech. And more unknowns = higher risks.

Our field of operation is at the intersection of emerging tech, strategy, and good business ethics.

Take, for example, the global tech company’s VP who adapted community-driven guidelines for data ownership in IoT: He knew that this particular pioneer community had a deeper understanding than most of the issues at stake. Even though these data ownership guidelines meant possibly losing some short term revenue gains, he trusted in their long-term positive side effects. Now, and at the time unexpectedly, his organization is in a better position than most to comply with the new EU data protection regulation (GDPR). Even before that, these guidelines likely inspired user trust and confidence.

Other companies lose their best talents because of sketchy business tactics—to those who are honest and trustworthy, and have a credible and powerful mission.

If you pay attention you’ll find these examples everywhere: Good ethics aren’t a buzzword, nor are they rocket science. They’re 100% compatible with good business. They might just be a requisite.

IoT, artificial intelligence, and digital transformation are all intimately related

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Here at The Waving Cat, we’re in the business of analyzing the impact of emerging technologies and finding ways to harness their opportunities. This is why our services include both research & foresight and strategy: First we need to develop a deep understanding, then we can apply it. Analyze first, act second.

Over the last few years, my work has mostly homed in on the Internet of Things (#IoT). This is no coincidence: IoT is where a lot of emerging technologies converge. Hence, IoT has been a massive driver of digital transformation.

IoT has been a massive driver of digital transformation.

However, increasingly the lines between IoT and other emerging technologies are becoming ever-more blurry. Concretely, data-driven and algorithmic decision-making is taking on a life on its own, both within the confines of IoT and outside of them. Under the labels of machine learning (#ML), artificial intelligence (#AI), or the (now strangely old school moniker) big data we’ve seen tremendous development over the last few years.

The physical world is already suffused with data, sensors, and connected devices/systems, and we’re only at the beginning of this development. Years ago I curated a track at NEXT Conference called the Data Layer, on the premise that the physical world will be covered in a data layer. Now, 5 years or so later, this reality has absolutely come to pass.

IoT with its connected devices, smart cities, connected homes, and connected mobility is part of that global infrastructure. No matter if the data crunching happens in the cloud or at the edge (i.e. close to where the data is captured/used), more and more has to happen implicitly and autonomously. Machine learning and AI play an essential role in this.

Increasingly, artificial intelligence is becoming a driver of digital transformation

Most organizations will need to develop an approach to harnessing artificial intelligence, and so increasingly artificial intelligence is becoming a driver of digital transformation.

As of today, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence & machine learning, and digital transformation are intimately connected. You can’t really get far in one without understanding the others.

These are exciting, interesting times, and they offer lots of opportunities. We’re here to help you figure out how to harness them.

Digital transformation requires capacity building

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In Germany, like most industrial nations, there’s a lot of talk about digital transformation. This holds especially true for the public sector, for citizen service delivery.

While in the UK, the Government Digital Services team (GDS) has been doing tremendous pioneering work that’s also echoed in the USDS, and Estonia has gone fully digital a while ago, most countries struggle.

A recent example from Berlin exemplifies this almost perfectly (Morgenpost, in German): In Berlin’s Charlottenburg district, the application for parking permits has been digitized—kind of.

The digital service delivery is worse than before.

According to this article, citizens used to be able to get their parking permits by mail. After the service was put online, they could apply online. So far so good, but the implementation was so lacking that payments couldn’t be processed online. First, government employees manually processed that last bit for every application, but because that was obviously unsustainable the district switched the system. Citizens now apply online, but then to pay have to come in personally to pay on the spot. The payment process was, so the article, forgotten.

The implementation was so bad that putting the service online means that citizens require more efforts to get something simple done. The digital service delivery is worse than before.

This is insanity. On the one hand, process by process is digitized. On the other, it’s done so clumsily that all parties are worse off.

It seems that every step in the process is going wrong.
It seems that every step in the process is going wrong. How can this happen? There’s a simple answer, and a more complex one.

The simple answer is this: The administration doesn’t have the capacity for building digital services yet.

Building digital services requires digital transformation, which requires the institution and all its workflows and org charts to be updated and transformed.

The more complex answer is: Building digital services requires digital transformation, which requires the institution and all its workflows and org charts to be updated and transformed. Otherwise, digitization might bring incremental change at best, or at worst actively create damage.

Germany is a prosperous country with an economy built on high tech. It’s a driving force behind industrial IoT (here summarized under the label “Industry 4.0”). And yet, when it comes to digital delivery of citizen services, the country is woefully behind. This goes all the way from broadband access, where Germany is among the worst in Europe, all the way to how local, state, and federal administrations deliver their services online—or rather don’t, as it were.

Germany is woefully behind in digital services.

In order to even start fixing this malady, we don’t need yet another paper-based workflow to be digitized half-bakedly. Instead, we need a strong mandate from the top, backup up with the necessary budgets, to rethink and truly transform our institutions and administration. Only through true digital transformation can Germany get ready for the 21st century. Until then, citizens and companies alike will have to find workarounds to make things work. We need to aim higher, and we can afford to aim higher.

German federal government adopts an action plan on automated driving

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For a while we’ve been debating the ethics of algorithms, especially in the context of autonomous vehicles: What should happen, when something goes wrong? Who/what does the robo car protect? Who’s liable for damage if a crash occurs?

Germany, which has a strategy in place to become not just a world-leading manufacturer of autonomous vehicles but also a world-leading consumer market, just announced how to deal with these questions.

Based on the findings of an ethics commission, Germany’s federal government just adopted an action plan on automated driving (here quoted in full:

The Ethics Commission’s report comprises 20 propositions. The key elements are:

  • Automated and connected driving is an ethical imperative if the systems cause fewer accidents than human drivers (positive balance of risk).
  • Damage to property must take precedence over personal injury. In hazardous situations, the protection of human life must always have top priority.
  • In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction between individuals based on personal features (age, gender, physical or mental constitution) is impermissible.
  • In every driving situation, it must be clearly regulated and apparent who is responsible for the driving task: the human or the computer.
  • It must be documented and stored who is driving (to resolve possible issues of liability, among other things).
  • Drivers must always be able to decide themselves whether their vehicle data are to be forwarded and used (data sovereignty).
  • The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure’s Ethics Commission comprised 14 academics and experts from the disciplines of ethics, law and technology. Among these were transport experts, legal experts, information scientists, engineers, philosophers, theologians, consumer protection representatives as well as representatives of associations and companies.

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Reading this, I have to say I’m relieved and impressed: These guidelines seem entirely reasonable, common sense, and practical. Especially the non-discrimination clause and the principle of data sovereignty is good to see included in this. Well done!

This bodes well for other areas where we haven’t seen this level of consideration from the German government yet, like smart cities and the super-set of #iot. I hope we’ll see similar findings and action plans in those areas soon, too.

Monthnotes for August 2017

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August came and went quickly: It was a comparatively short month here at The Waving Cat once you subtract vacation time, and so we spent it largely distraction free, heads-down, on writing.

A quick note: I’m doing capacity planning for fall & winter. If you’d like to explore working together, get in touch now. First come, first serve!

Talks

I have a few talks coming up:

  • On 1 September (ie. this coming Friday) I’ll be speaking at Netzpolitik‘s annual conference Das ist Netzpolitik!, in German, about tensions inherent in the power dynamics of IoT as well as the regulatory environment: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung und Spannungsfelder.
  • In October, I’ll be giving a lecture on communications and IoT at Dresden University, where if logistics work out I’ll be chatting a bit about the practitioner’s side of IoT. (Details TBD).
  • On 9 November, also in Berlin, I’ll be at SimplySecure‘s conference Underexposed (program). My talk there is called The Internet of Sneaky Things. I’ll be exploring how IoT security, funding and business models, centralization and data mining, and some larger challenges around the language we use to consider the impact of data-driven systems combined all form a substantial challenge for all things related to IoT. But it’s not all bleak. There are measures we can—and through ThingsCon, we do—take.

Trustmarks for IoT

Consumers don’t necessarily trust connected devices (IoT). Maybe more importantly, many products that are part of IoT do not deserve trust. Too many security holes, too much data gathering and sharing, bad business practices are all all-to-common occurrences.

So I’m very happy to be working on two projects in this space. (For completeness’ sake, some early thoughts of mine on the subject.)

For Mozilla, I’ve been doing research into the potential of trustmarks for IoT. The research and report are pretty much wrapped up after August. We’re currently gathering a last round of feedback from key stakeholders, and there’s a last round of final copy-editing to come. Then the report should be done and published in full within the next couple of months. (Disclosure: My partner Michelle Thorne works at Mozilla.)

I’m particularly excited to hear whispers that some core recommendations might be used in the national IoT policy of a major nation. If this truly comes to pass, then I’ll know why I do what I do. ?

The second project is the #iotmark initiative, co-founded by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque (both friends, collaborators, and ThingsCon alumni) that tries to develop a consumer label for IoT products. Together with Laura James of UK charity Doteveryone, my role is to look into governance questions. There are a lot of moving parts and open questions, but we’re all slowly getting organized, and I think it’s a tremendous group to be part of.

View Source: Shenzhen

Our friends & many-time collaborators over at The Incredible Machine have just flipped the switch on the new site for View Source: Shenzhen. All our research & documentation from our two research trips to Shenzhen in one place. It’s all there, waiting to be explored by you. What are you waiting for?

Learn more about View Source: Shenzhen.

ThingsCon

ThingsCon didn’t really take a summer break, I guess! Instead, the new ThingsCon chapter in Copenhagen will host their first ThingsCon Salon as part of Copenhagen Tech Fest (6 Sep). The annual ThingsCon Amsterdam conference is shaping up to be the biggest global ThingsCon event yet (30 Nov – 1 Dec). The chapter in Antwerp is even pioneering a new experimental format: A ThingsCon Comedy Special. There’ll be another round of ThingsCon Salons in Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne. And we’re hopefully-almost-nearly ready for announcements spanning the globe from Pakistan to the Philippines, from Manila to Nairobi. All the details are up on thingscon.com/events.

Also, the founding paperwork for our members association in Germany has finally been processed: The Verein is now eingetragen, officially making it ThingsCon e.V. This will make it a lot easier to interface with other organizations for advocacy, fundraising and partnerships.

Zephyr Berlin

Over at Zephyr Berlin, we have a summer sale on—free shipping worldwide! Use the discount code SUMMER to get your pair today!

What’s on the horizon?

The next few weeks will go into wrapping up/advancing the Trustmarks for IoT project, as well as planning for the rest of the year. Besides the talks mentioned at the top of this post, I’m also looking at Mozfest and some #iotmark-related workshops, yet to be confirmed. Then, starting in October, it looks like there’s some availability, so hit me up if you’d like to discuss new projects.

Monthnotes for July 2017

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July was short work month: I’m just coming back online from a vacation that started in mid-July. We spent the time on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and across Basque Country. Gorgeous and highly recommended!

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley / Torla

A quick note: I’ll be doing the fall planning over the next few weeks, and as of now there’s some availability. If you’re looking into expanding your markets, creating new products, or understanding the environment of connected products & users better, get in touch now. First come, first serve!

So what happened last month and what’s coming up?

Writing, talks, media

Stories Connecting Dots

Podcast: Stories Connecting Dots

Markus Andrezak of überproduct kindly invited me to his excellent podcast Stories Connecting Dots. This is episode 12, titled “Ethics for The Internet of Things”. (Read my blog post.)

We had a lovely, intense chat about ethics for the internet of things (IoT) space, how to start new projects, and lots more.

Quoting from the show notes:

That lead to getting to know the community around the Internet of Things, which again led to organising the first Thingscon in Berlin. An epic experience in starting a conference, low on budget, high on energy and even the attention of Bruce Sterling.
During the conversation, you will hear a lot about how Peter sees the world. And as I did not choose Peter by chance, you will hear a lot of things on
  • how to start things off
  • how to open things up for a larger community
  • how to be inclusive
  • how to have impact as a person or a small boutique
  • how to work in early phases once things are in genesis so that your impact may still be there when things grow to utility

Learn more about this episode and subscribe to the podcast (RSS, iTunes)!

Markus decided to split up our chat into two episodes because we covered a lot of ground. Where this one focused on the topics above, the next one is going to be all about Shenzhen.

Future-proofing your org / forecasting, IoT, AI

Recently I gave a presentation for a large retailer on how to future-proof the organization. I focused on forecasting as a method, Joi Ito’s motto Compasses over Maps, and an eclectic selection of signals from the world of IoT, AI, and humans & machines working side by side.

It’s somewhat anonymized/cleaned up from concrete references. It’s also an elusive, rarely spotted set of slides in German!

ThingsCon Report: The State of Responsible IoT

Thanks to Bruce Sterling, our ThingsCon report on the State of Responsible IoT was featured on WIRED. Yay!

Bruce Sterling featured our report on WIRED
Bruce Sterling featured our report on WIRED

Read our ThingsCon Report: The State of Responsible IoT.

View Source: Shenzhen

At the most recent ThingsCon Salon Berlin, Shenzhen was featured heavily.

Among other things, we screened The Incredible Machine’s documentary of their quest to build a smart lock as part of a more responsible bike sharing service. This film was created as part of our joint research trips to Shenzhen that I also documented in View Source: Shenzhen.

So for context, I gave a brief introduction to Shenzhen.

My slides and the recorded talk:

Here’s The Incredible Machine’s documentary:

Learn more about View Source: Shenzhen.

Trustmarks for the Internet of Things

I’ve been working on two projects directly related to trust in IoT. I wrote up some thoughts on the underlying issues and challenges that are relevant to both here.

Trust and Expectations in IoT
Trust and Expectations in IoT

So what are the two projects?

The #iotmark initiative, co-founded by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque (both friends, collaborators, and ThingsCon alumni) tries to develop a consumer label for IoT products. Follow along and get involved at iotmark.wordpress.com. Together with Laura James of UK charity Doteveryone, my role is to look into governance structures. Some early thoughts about the kickoff event here.

For Mozilla, I’ve been doing research into the potential of trustmarks for IoT. The report should be done by the fall and will be published in full. (Disclosure: My partner Michelle Thorne works for Mozilla.)

ThingsCon

July was a big ThingsCon month!

With four ThingsCon events (Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Darmstadt), we have a new record of events per month.

Above, you’ve already seen the publication of the video documentary that came out of our recent Shenzhen trips.

Our non-profit structure was approved in Germany (an e.V.) and just received its tax number. This being Germany, the tax number unlocks all the next steps, like opening a bank account, and essentially being able to conduct any official business.

We’re in conversations with local teams about (hopefully) founding several new ThingsCon chapters in Asia and Africa. This is super exciting to me! More on that soon. I’d love to see more chapters around the world, especially in the global South.

Zephyr Berlin

Get yourself a pair of Zephyr Berlin pants now—there’s only a few left.

We’re back in tinker mode. We prototyped new, extra-deep pockets. This was by far the most requested feature.


A few extra centimeters of depth.


Deep pockets are deep.

I'm pushing down the phone in the pocket so you can see the outline a little all the way down. Those are deep pockets!
I’m pushing down the phone in the pocket so you can see the outline a little all the way down. Those are deep pockets!

By the way, if you already have a pair and would like to upgrade, there’s no need to replace your current one: We had this change done by our local tailor and would encourage you to do the same. It’s easy, it’s just a few bucks, and most importantly it means keeping your clothes in use longer.

We’re still looking for examples of how people have modded, hacked or repaired their Zephyrs. If you have, send us a pic, please?

What’s on the horizon?

Outside the ongoing client projects there are a bunch of conference presentations coming up that I’m very much looking forward to:

I’ll be speaking at the conference Das ist Netzpolitik!. At the request of the organizers, even in German! The preliminary title of my presentation: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder.

Also, I’ll be at SimplySecure’s Underexposed conference to talk about The Internet of Sneaky Things.

Last but not least, I’m planning to head to Mozfest later this fall, too, for all of the stuff related to IoT labels and trustmarks mentioned above.