Technology in Everyday Life

Thoughts about how we use technology in everyday life and how technology is impacting our future.

Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

With the birth of my daughter, and immobility that breast feeding brings, I decided to get back into reading real books. This is not to say that I’m not also reading online articles on my smartphone, but I want her to get excited about reading by seeing me read a real book.

thecirclebookjacket

One of the first books that caught my eye (The Circle by Dave Eggers)  took me over a month to finish due to diaper changes, endless laundry, etc. but it was also one of the most thought provoking books I’ve read in a long time.

Overview of the book:

The Circle is a “science ficiton” novel that outlines the employment of Mae at a company called the Circle, an Internet company based in California that has created a universal login for Internet users (that links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system). The Circle also creates other compatible technologies that (while making everyone’s lives easier) also increases the amount of tracking and surveillance of not only Circle users, but also of everyday citizens.

The tracking and convenience starts with Internet searches and progresses to wearable devices that track biometric data (and provide feedback), wearable cameras, and drones.

Dec. 17 airpower summary: Reapers touch enemy forces

You watch Mae get sucked into the appeal of working at the Circle with its extensive campus, employee perks, and social activities driven to keep Circlers (the employees) on the campus more and socializing online to an extreme degree. The description of the Circle campus reads like a description of Facebook or Google’s campus.

The Circle = a book about Google

Throughout the entire novel, I keep thinking. This is Google. He’s talking about Google, and the social issues that Eggers brings up about the Circle are ones that we should be thinking about in relation to Google.

We should question things like: 

  • With our universal login to Google (which includes wearable devices) are we loosing critical personal privacy in exchange for the illusion of more social connection and convenience?
  • What does constant social media posting and commentary do to our social interactions? There are many studies that suggest (and the novel hints at this as well) that it might make us more lonely.
  • Can our brain handle the level of information and data being directed our way? (Some studies suggest we can’t). What are the impacts of that type of brain overload?
  • Does all of that online interaction limit our ability to have moment of deep reflection and contemplation?
  • Where is the legislation that is watching Google’s monopoly over our information? Or Facebooks?
  • While it’s cool that we are training computers to recognized images, when should we become concerned when that technology is used? What if someone uses the technology to quickly scan surveillance video to find known felons (as the book proposes) or to catch a CEO kicking his dog?
  • And when we as a society has access to what (without cameras) would be a private moment, when do we respond? What should our response be? An Internet petition to boycott the CEO’s company?
  • When should we use drones and unnecessary web cams? How should we legislate them?

Personally, the book has lead me to a few personal decisions:

  1. I need to disconnect more so that I can interact more in real life
  2. I need to monitor my own personal information overload and take steps to give my brain a break
  3. I should support Google competitors and legislation that limits the amount of its monopoly
  4. I need to stay abreast of legislation that addresses video surveillance and its use. And the use and legislation of drones for that matter.

I highly encourage anyone who works in the Internet marketing industry to pick up a copy and give it a read.

PredictionIO – Open Source Machine Learning and its Impact on Marketing

PredictionIO – Open Source Machine Learning and its Impact on Marketing

 

PredictionIO just announced that it has raised $2.5M for its open source machine learning server.

Prediction IO logo

Why as an online marketer should this bit of news be interesting?

If you’ve been following this blog, you’re aware that I am fascinated with online personalization and how the two large US search engines (Google and Bing) and some of the major social media platforms (Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn) personalize to the end user.

Personalization powered by machine learning is an ideal situation for the end user, but as a marketer it means that your message might be filtered OUT and not seen by your target audience.

Using machine learning to improve your technology service has only been possible for the big players – until now. With Predicition IO, any developer can grab code to use machine learning create advanced personalization for the online service that they are building.

PredictionIO highlights how its machine learning code could be used for:

But there are wide variety of online systems that would benefit from the personalization that is possible with machine learning.

So hold onto your hats!

The future where every platform is filtering our messages is coming soon, and only those marketers who use hard data about their target audience  will be able to craft message that breaks through.

 

 

Are Consumers Now Interested in Purchasing Wearable Computers?

Are Consumers Now Interested in Purchasing Wearable Computers?

Many may not know, but I led a research effort into the viability of consumer adoption of wearable computers for my master’s thesis. This means that I find the news around Google Glass really interesting.

In general, while at Georgetown University’s CCT program I was focused on creating a thesis topic that allowed me to:

  1. Demonstrate that I knew how to execute marketing using technology (online marketing), and
  2. That I had an understanding of market technology products.

It’s that second focus that let me to research wearable computers

At the time, I wanted to pick a technology product that was being sold to consumers in the earliest stages, but for which consumers would not be able to feel an urgent need for the benefits that the technology provided. I wanted to pick something so far out and weird that consumers would have a hard time grasping how they could use the technology.

My Study of Xybernaut’s Poma – the first Consumer Wearable Computer

The year was 2003, and the only wearable computer product that was marketed to consumers was the Xybernaut product.

10-WN-XybernautPoma

Xybernaut Poma product

It was build (and was being used) in the military and in industrial environments, but the company had piloted a program in Japan with the product and wanted to sell it in the US.

The company had not done any US consumer research related to the use of its product, and since it was having issues selling the product in the US, they gave me one of their $3,000 units to test in focus groups and in a daily use trial.

You can read the results of my research here in my executive summary, or look at the entire thesis (which also looked at the growth of wireless networks here in the US – which back in 2003 was  major impediment to adoption).

Never during my years geeking out about wearable computers, did I think that Google would be the next wearable computer with its Google Glass product.

The Top 5 Issues that will hold consumers back from purchasing wearable computers:

Based on my research, there were a few substantial issues that limited consumer’s interest in purchasing wearable computers:

1. The look of the heads up display (the glasses):

The Poma product (as you can see on the left) had a horrible heads up display. Google is certain putting the right emphasis on the look of the heads up display by working with Warby Parker to develop a design that we’d actually want to  wear. I got a chance back in the day to try MicroOptical’s heads up displays (the company is now folded I believe) and their displays looked more like regular eye glasses.

MicroOptical's Heads up DIsplay

MicroOptical’s Heads up DIsplay

2. The user interface

The other issue that I uncovered with my research was the user interface issues that the Poma had, but considering Google Glass is not running a Windows interface in front of your eyes, I think that’s not an issue in this case.  Can you imagine trying to navigate drop down menus on a screen in front of you with a joystick type device while walking? Believe me, it was comical. The enhancements in voice recognition solve that problem.

3. Pervasive wireless data connection to connect to the internet

Now not an issue in most places, but in 2003 it was difficult to find wifi or mobile wireless data networks that would let you use most of the apps you’d like to use with a wearable device.

4. Just in time apps that made your life easier

The focus group I ran was focused on a device that could be an all in one communications device (keep in mind that back in 2003 there were not the smartphones of today on the market). The focus group also brainstormed a variety of apps that they would fine useful and would drive them to find value in a wearable computer. One of the apps was the ability to be delivered a sales message or coupon for a store you’re about to walk by. Ironically, Google has announced that they will not be adding advertising to the glasses. I find this interesting.

Most of what the Google Glass ads have been focused on are easily taking photos and videos of the world around you – creating record-able memories. Considering Google just hired Ray Kurweil as their Chief of Engineering, an expert on artificial intelligence, and one that has previously wrote about using computers to preserve memories, I’m not surprised.

You can see what people who are wearing Google Glass will see from the interface in the video below:

 

 5. Emotional concern over being always connected

If you’ve seen this Portlandia episode, you know what the folks in the focus group were talking about.

It’s an interesting philosophical question – will be even more disconnected from our fellow human being if we have a computer interface in front of our eyes for most of the day? The only research we have is anecdotal from Steven Mann (the inventor of wearable computers) who had trouble boarding an airplane when they removed his always on wearable computer that he had been wearing for years.

Why is Google getting into the wearable computers business?

My opinion? Data.

Google has been running studies to learn about what we are thinking about without searching and they are frankly trying to get into our heads so that we use Google all of the time for the storage and retrieval of data.

If we all adopt Google Glass (or if only a few of us do) they could launch a huge real life eye tracking experiment by seeing what we see, what object capture our attention and then store that data to use to personalize our results even more.

Conspiracy theory? Hard to say, but with Ray Kurzweil on board, I think anything is possible.