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Free Basics: An “Ashwatthama Hato-Hatah” Type Half Lie

5 Jan

free basics

So my newsfeeds have been equally flooded with notifications from two sides of the same coin – folks expressing outrage at Facebook’s audacity with the “old-wine-in-new-bottle” Internet.org/ free basics 100 crore campaign; and those who, believing truly in the “promised land of freedom” for poor, signing up the free basics petitions – I get the feeling half unknowingly.

A sample of some posts:

Facebook has sneakily–without any announcement– launched its Internet.Org service across India, asking people to send an automated email to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), letting them know that you support ‘Free basics’.

If you are free and have some time for a really funny activity – please do this –
1. Make a list of all your friends who are supporting Facebooks’s “free basics”
2. Now make a list of all your friends who are implicitly and explicitly Bhakts
3. Tell me the % overlap between the two lists
(it will also explain to you a concept called Statistical Correlation)

Irritated to see so many notifications of friends on my timeline signing up the Free Basics petition to TRAI. Not quite sure how people fall in this trap for net neutrality without understanding the basics…Good job by Facebook in sugarcoating and re-packaging its agenda by renaming it as Free Basics… Jago Grahak Jago!

I am getting notifications about FB friends, who have “Written” to TRAI supporting “Free Basics” (So called FB “charity” initiative to become the Gatekeeper for what is accessible on the internet).
I am wondering… are these friends really aware that “Free Basics” is just another name for their previous aborted attempt to do the same thing as “Internet.org”? Do these friends really support this sinister design of Zuck and gang? Do they realize that clicking on that button that FB so helpfully is pushing on their feed is not the same as clicking on the “Like” button? Do they realize that their names will be sent by FB to TRAI as “proof” that “many” Indians support FB’s attempt to limit the access of the poor to the internet?
(On a side note, this is also an experiment to check if FB has bots analyzing our comments on this issue to downgrade this post)

Some of my friends have become victim of Facebook’s latest conspiracy. Please don’t write to TRAI without understanding the implications. Facebook is manipulating public opinion. please don’t get trapped into their advertising campaign and media management. I am against Free Basics.
https://www.linkedin.com/…/facebook-misleading-indians-its-…

– ‪#‎freebasic‬ is not a freebie for ppl being given by FB! It’s against ‪#‎netNeutrality‬!!! Why else wd they spend so much on full page ads and hoardings! Use common sense, else read up before u sign petitions or then just abstain if u aren’t aware of the issues!
Else maybe then I am being harsh and you all who have signed up, have read the petition and truly agree with the fact that consumers shd not have freedom of choice and shd be docile and submissive and take whatever the Giants allow us to use!

Do u support ‪#‎freeBasics‬ or do u support ‪#‎netneutrality‬ .. Pls think before you blindly support. If u have understood what you are supporting by signing the ‪#‎freeBasic‬ petition today then don’t complain about lack of Internet freedom Tomo!

Hope all the bhakts wake up and realize that Zucky boy is running a business. Not a charity. Please read and for heaven’s sake, educate yourself before supporting Free Basics

The way ‪#‎Facebook‬ is behaving with ‪#‎FreeBasics‬, slowly people will start telling “What the Zuck” instead of WTF! ‪#‎SaveTheInternet‬

M not an expert but lets ask those who don’t have internet access today are they worried about the corporate war behind Free Basics? Are they worried about whether FB gets benefit out of this or not? Or are they only concerned about whether they get the internet access no matter who (& how) they provide them. The debate has to be fair. Let’s not debate it like a first world problem (“net neutrality”.)

freebasicsads

Media has been equally vociferous obviously, with opposition, defence, counter defence, allegation, counter allegation, doing repeated loops.

Most of you must have read Zuckerberg’s “op-editorial” in the TOI, arguing about the good that Free Basics brings. And then, this contra opinion by Nikhil Pahwa.

Probably the article(s) that got most coverage on the evil side of the coin were started by this one by Mahesh Murthy; and then facebook’s rebuttal to Murthy and his rebuttal, and then theirs….(just kidding, but this is a good summary of the to and fro :). The latest one by Nandan Nilekani and Viral Shah with a proposed solution; and another by Giridhar Pai have also been widely read.

Some nice spoofs emerged :

spooffreebasics

The funniest by far video is done by AIB : here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Most of those supporting the move, seem to be saying “something is better than nothing” for the majority (with many opinions arguing that this is the rich minority fighting about the poor majority’s issues!)

And most dissidents feel that Facebook is cleverly creating a walled garden, that there are no free lunches, that the telecom (Reliance) and Facebook will monetise all data in the future, that the move anyway is discriminatory (Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre for Internet and Society, said, “Facebook, a foreign company, is allowed to campaign with impunity, but NGOs receiving funding from foreign trusts are subject to all manners of restrictions and may not campaign in India.”).

It’s interesting isn’t it, on the one hand there are universities and corporates working towards freeing up content (MIT-Open/ edX/ Coursera etc MOOCs), and then here is Facebook working towards restricting freedom in the garb of the opposite.

I think THAT’s my big problem – not so much the fact that they are creating a restricted walled garden, but they are doing it in a hole and corner fashion – with half truths/ part pictures and not full information.

Think about the petition many of my friends have signed –

“Meanwhile, To the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, I support digital equality for India. Free Basics provides free access to essential internet services like communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and more. It helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile operators. With 1 billion Indian people not yet connected, shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country’s most vulnerable people. I support Free Basics – and digital equality for India. Thank you.

To me, it is very very reminiscent of Dharmaraj Yudhishtira resulting in Guru Drona’s death in the epic Mahabharata, via a very famous half lie – “Ashwatthama hato hatah – narova kunjarovah”

ashwathama

But, I think what is worth pondering over, is that Ashwatthama, is purportedly one of the 7 “chiranjeevi” or “amar” i.e. ever living legends!

Do you think free basics in India will be unputdownable too? We have to wait and watch. (Good news – Egypt just said a no! to it)

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Healthcare in India – still Miles from the Internet of Things Vision

28 Dec

My 81 year old dad has been having a rocky couple months.
It started with weakness and giddiness; then a feeling of numbness in his limbs; then incidences of blurred vision and slurred speech – classic stroke symptoms.
My brother and I started the usual merry go round that all caregivers of senior citizens go through – emergency-neurologist-cardiologist-nephorologist-endocrinologist-back to emergency-repeat cycle. Threw in sessions with a GP, and then a couple operations of the eye at the ophthalmologist.
Went to two hospitals, and 4 branches of one of them.

Was completely appalled at the isolated nature of patient information access and diagnostists available, even at the best hospitals, in the Silicon Valley of India. And this, when we are debating the use of Wearables, Internet of Things and Big data all the time!

Lets look at the possibilities for the Healthcare IoT first:

– At the individual/ patient level –

The ultimate beneficiaries, patients (both current and potential/ future), will basically create and consume larger amounts of data than ever before – due to wearables (e.g. Tempo from CarePredict) / implants/ other gadgets and devices owned.

This will enable better monitoring of behaviour, and, when coupled with context – facilitate hugely improved diagnostics. Diagnostics that are derived from integrated data – multi disciplinary, as well as omnichannel/ source. (So, no more – “your sodium is low, eat more salt – says nephrologist — uhhh, but BP is high, reduce salt says cardio”! )

These diagnostics will then not only treat any emergencies or negative incidences quicker/ more competently, but also act proactively – thus alerting users and discouraging them from harmful behaviours (too much smoking/ not enough walking/ too many carbs/ not enough sleep….)

This personalised patient care, is after all, the raison-d-etre of the wearables market, which, according to a recent IDC report, is set to reach 45.7 million units worldwide in 2015, and 126.1 million units in 2019.

The IoT approach can then be taken a step further – and use gamification techniques to reward compliant medical behaviour. (My constantly sudoku playing dada and candy crushing mom I’m sure will be very vulnerable to these approaches!)

– At the macro/ aggregated level –

Obviously, when taken as a large body of data, analytics organisations can develop and fine tune personas and segments, making them richer and more detailed. The way to do this would be to combine biomed research using life sciences databases with aggregated patient behaviour and symptoms. This should ideally ultimately result in predictive models, thus leading to better treatment. Basically, a higher emphasis on real time monitoring and intervention combined with traditional lab work becomes the new clinical research methodology! In long term vision, companies and nations get a jumpstart on reducing burden of disease in the overall population.

– At the enterprise level –

Many studies are saying that providers may be able to save up to a quarter of their business costs with the Internet of Things.  This would be done by integrating new technologies into their operational strategies. Think about it – a vast, dynamic mass of wearables, biometric sensors, smartphone add-ons, and other medical devices and implantables – all growing, shifting, and ripe for an IoT approach

wearables

– Miscellaneous –

The serious side of Healthcare IoT is only one side of the picture actually – the wearables landscape is fairly glamorous even from the early adopter tech consumer’s Point of View! Think Ping, a social networking garment developed by designer Jen Darmour; Smart socks that tell you when to change, and where the pair is; Electrozyme or Motorola digital tattoos (that always remind me of the Bourne Identity series); tweeting bras (to remind one of breast exam monthly); dream inducing headbands; Peekiboo, a cap that lets you see the world through your baby’s eyes; smart pajamas that help you with bedtime entertainment when your kids are ready for bed; i-Grow income hair growth helmet; Drumpants which is Multiple touch pads sewn into a pair of classy jeans give drummers a six-piece kit; and, the coolest of all, Necomimi, a set of feline-like ears that strap on to your head, supposedly measure brainwaves and then move and flick based on how you’re feeling at a given moment!

The Flip Side

But the real truth, atleast in India (as experienced by my dad and me) is a far cry from the vision. At the moment, there is NO healthcare Internet of Things – maybe just a random collection of medical devices and consumer monitoring technologies that don’t quite know what to do with each other! 

Treatment is isolated – diagnosis is gut and experience based (which actually is not necessarily a bad thing – since, given India’s huge population, doctors do get to practice a lot and so see a wide variety of patients); there is very little digitisation even in the best hospitals. (In fact, in the hospital where we treated our dad, even within the 3 buildings in the same health city campus, there are different degrees of digitisation – the newest, the Eyecare hospital introduced EMR maybe 3-4 years ago, and so it’s all modern; the next oldest Multi Specialty Hospital now scans the written prescriptions of the doctor after you come out of the treatment room, (so, atleast keeping some records – though I’m reasonably confident nothing is being done with those scans yet); and the oldest, the Cardio facility I think still does nothing digital)

To answer the question – “why” – I think it really has to do with a basic question of population – in our country, we are too busy solving the Maslow’s Hierarchy lowest rung questions of food, clothing and shelter to spend too much money and time on other stuff. Coupled with legacy systems and old habits dieing hard, it’s a tough combo to beat!

And then there’s the question of reliability – many medical practitioners suspect non manual devices and gadgets – I have met with scepticism on the results of digital BP monitors from all doctors and nurses! (and my 10-times-a-day-BP-measuring dad’s experience shows significance differences between same time readings of manual/ analog BP monitors and the digital ones. Despite repeated calibrations!). So, reliability is suspect.

And, as yet, I’m not even stepping into the whole compliance/ medico-legal/ security aspect of the data

I think this is a bit like the “obvious” steps in customer centricity across functions and kind of business that are visible to everyone now with Big Data, but the fact is that no one is exploiting them – due to lack of vision, corporate lethargy, or even mal-intent in the form of vested interests! (watch out for the next blog on that topic in a few days). The good news – In a PwC study, 95% of healthcare CEOs said they were exploring better ways to harness and manage big data. The bad news – this is not confined to India alone – Read this article on how this state of affairs sadly seems true globally :(.

Maybe it’s just a matter of time – the question is how much time! Meanwhile, for my dad and me, it’s onwards and upwards to the next “o-logist” – this time the ENT specialist for new hearing aids! Yawwwnnnn….

The Internet Of Things: State of Maturity in India

21 Dec

Digital India Smart Cities

With all the hype about Digital India, and Prime Minister Modi’s Smart City initiative, one question that keeps getting asked is the state of maturity of the Internet of Things in India.

Well, first of all, let me give you my take on the state of maturity of the IoT in the world – like most revolutionary waves that arise because of supply and not demand, at this stage a lot of the work on the IoT is more conceptual/ background building than application oriented. As a corollary of this, the real benefits haven’t trickled down to the end consumer – mainly also as the last mile connectivity applications are still being built. Early devices that purported to be based on the IoT were more bought than used (it is said 70% of fitness trackers bought are not used now); Google Glass is currently resting in a graveyard; IoT revenues are growing at 20-25% for even the top players in the space/ the facebook’s internet.org is getting into all kinds of hot water.

The eco system of companies in the IoT is still hyper fragmented and interoperability is still an issue (standards and protocols are still being worked upon – in fact, that’s where a large body of work is being done).

One of the big roadblocks to progress is miniaturization – specially of batteries. For ultra small sensing devices, either fitted into large industrial buildings, or on small wearable devices, the level of miniaturization requiredd of batteries is not funny – our smallest batteries are still how big

Having said that, there are many heartening examples of work that has been done – after all, ever since 2008, there have been more connected “things” than people in this world! Not the least of this is evident in Smart Cities. Songdo in South Korea has been one of the oldest cities to get ‘smart” – they have a smart energy grid which matches power supply and demand. They have no garbage – their waste gets automatically sucked into Sewage Treatment Centres.

Glasgow has recently announced a budget of 37 mil $ for its project. Their street lights will automatically switch off; they will map routes for easing traffic congestion; footfalls can be monitored, noise and air pollution levels are monitored; Delivery services are prioritized per criticality; there is CCTV coverage of the whole city to ensure higher safety levels.

When it comes to India though, 100 smart cities at a Rs. 7060 crores investment plan notwithstanding, there are a few further hurdles to quick penetration of the Internet of Things.

First of all, we need indigineous/ low cost hardware. Even now, some 65% of hardware that India uses is imported. Then, our bandwidths need to improve significantly. With a $ 12 – 15 billion IoT market revenues expected by 2020, we cannot make it happen with the current pathetic internet speeds. We need low cost/ low power devices that are pluggable into wi-fi. We need the basic infrastructure required for any technology to work. And finally, we need a thriving eco system of vendors building off the Internet of Things.

But maybe the biggest issue facing IoT development in India is that of usability – essentially, the Big problem to be solved/ prioritized still needs to be defined!

I think the first few areas that need/ will see IoT solutions, much like the rest of the world, will be: Utilities/ Smart cities; Agriculture and Healthcare. On the business front, it could be logistics and supply chain – with a newly booming e-commerce industry driving usage.

The overall/ global perceived risks of security threats still exist – as much in India as anyplace else, but I think at an overall level, this fear is becoming slowly marginalized. A higher risk is a more social one – on the one hand, tha of “de-humanization” – machines talking to machines/ robots and AI devices will slowly delimit human contact even more than the current whatsap culture is doing. On the other hand, there is a real “social apartheid” risk – these technologies, atleast till the time they focus high end customer acquisition, may just polarize the haves and have nots even more.

All in all, though, the IoT is coming – earlier in some places than in others, but the advance is real! One statistic said that by 2017, 50% of IoT solutions will come from companies that are less than 3 years old. So, get ready all, action stations!

The IoT Ecosystem – A Beginner’s Guide for Benefiting from It

17 Dec

Last month I was at a panel discussion. The Topic was – “The Internet of Things; Leveraging Technologies in Business”. As I was thinking about what I would say to a room full of entrepreneurs, I came across a startling statistic – 87% of people in this world have not heard of the IoT!!! There bursts our collective IT/ Valley type bubble, which gets so wound up in the latest tech thing that it forgets to demystify even really applicable stuff to the real beneficiary!

I decided therefore to begin my talk with a very simple eco system clarification graphic – one that would explain to each of us our place in the Internet of Everything / Internet of Nouns whatever you want to call it. Here it is:

IoT Ecosystem

CONSUMER BENEFITS IN THREE WAYS:

What it means is basically, that as Consumers, of course, our lives will be made easier due to the Internet of Things. But that happens in essentially 3 ways:

a) The environment becoming more efficient/ optimised/ user friendly and hopefully cheaper. Think smart cities; urban lighting i.e. street lights auto switch off; transport management including traffic congestion easing and smart parking; smart energy grids; city and waste management; agriculture produce optimisation…..in effect, the Gotham city of the future without Batman! 🙂

Gotham-City

b) Better Health and Welfare – All the fitness meters and wearables will enable better quality healthcare for most of us; things like remote tracking for senior citizens; and better compliance and adherence in treatment administration. Not only that, security for kids/ adults/ everyone in fact will be much better with tracking devices and sensors.

c) Customization – What the plethora of things stuck on any and every monitor-able membrane will do, is enable micro modules of data – every action, behaviour, and even possibly thoughts and emotions will be tracked for everyone. This will enable better mapping of individuals (not just segments or clusters), thus making daily lives more efficient and easier. This is where the standard use cases of the thermostat enabled warm home before you enter from office (Google’s Nest acquisition); the pre-ordering fridge when eggs stock gets depleted (Whirlpool, Electrolux); the erstwhile Google Glass, and the pre determined shopping selections at retail play. This is also where much of the glamour and hype around the IoT exists – after all, the early adopters consumers will really be looking at these ‘cool/ quirky” gadgets to show their “with-it-ness”.

ENTERPRISE ECO SYSTEM COULD BE AS IoT VENDORS; OR USERS OF IoT FOR CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT

But when it comes to businesses, the interplay changes a bit.

Most of the thought leadership coming currently on this space is from businesses participating directly in the Internet of Things – these are (largely) technology or data type firms – and they could be either manufacturing devices (the last mile therefore); or operating in the standards and protocols arena – therefore providing the platforms for all to operate; or working on applications on and around the IoT; or be working with the data arising out of the petabytes of data (erstwhile BI/ Big Data processors).

In all these avatars, the companies are providing products and services directed related to creating, harnessing and delivering the Internet of Things – whether to other businesses, or to end consumers. Also, as in most modern technological playing grounds, everyone is collaborating with everyone else (or, well, should be!). There are large interdependencies, and companies have realized that it is better to work on their chunk of the whole. Cisco, IBM, Intel, Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Amazon, Samsung and GE with their Industrial Internet are the primary large names that pop up when this category is discussed.

The balance of the businesses, will essentially participate in the Internet of Things to harness and derive the benefits it delivers. Hence, this is about exponentially bettered customer centricity – about really hyper personalized, context driven products and solutions. The insights gleaned from processing the oodles of data generated by all the sensors will enable one to one customer dialogue in a multi channel environment, and therefore real time, event based marketing and service to customers.

But also overall, the Internet of Things will create a smarter, more efficient Enterprise Eco System (that both kinds of businesses will benefit from).

Think more predictable weather conditions bettering disaster prevention; better Industrial Automation, Logistics, shop floor management and supply chains (including traffic/ fleet management); better utilities; better buying procedures; better infrastructure at lower costs!

What this really implies is that, beyond the hype, there is something in the IoT for everyone, the only thing to do is to figure out your place in that sun, and to be able to monetize it (if you are a business), or use it (as a consumer).

Viva IoT!

Size Matters? How Does App-Only Fit In?

17 Jul

Appified

Last week, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with posts like these:

– As an inveterate online shopper, (can’t remember the last time I bought at a physical store/grocer/mall) I am appalled to read Flipkart will soon go mobile-only. I don’t care what their analytics team says. To browse/drool/look/re-look on a teeny 3*5 screen….yikes! How terrible the experience is likely to be!

And a sample of some comments:
– …did you order that from the cell phone? I did try ordering from the cell phone and gave up half way.

– …Agree totally. Refuse to shop on the mobile:)

– …Totally agree – no matter how good the mobile app is, I can’t imagine peering at stuff on my phone screen and trying to figure what to buy

– …Interesting . ..have they done their research right with the correct tg?

– …The experience is beat when I use all my senses to see, hear, touch, feel, taste and smell the physical product. Even with books, I love to browse through every chapter before buying. Perhaps you may call me old-fashioned and not abreast with the times.

Here’s another one:

First Myntra, now flipkart! I am not ‘appy

With its comments:
– …I think they are moving way too early. It will be a while before the phone replaces the desktop in terms of Internet surfing. Myntra already recorded drop in sales after they moved. Not sure how it will end up for Flipkart.

– …Agreed …while I use the phone for a bunch of apps, I still like the exp of sitting on my desktop / laptop to shop.

– …Ha,, ha They are making sure that users land up with nice neck, shoulder, hand pain… they should soon start another division for treating their loyal users!! why is it that human factors are not considered with technology advancement?

Then my husband, who was tracking a gift order I had placed on Amazon, told me – It’s been despatched. When I said – where from? Bangalore or Delhi? He said, just a minute – lemme check on my laptop 🙂

Not only normal people, but “experts” are debating this – HuffPost carried an article on why this move could be a potential disaster for Flipkart; while of course other folks are hailing this move as a harbinger of an app-only economy in the fastest growing app market in the world!

myntraflipkartapponly

This move should make folks like my friend Debjani, whose company zineone has bet completely on a mobile ready world, and who makes very cool app support software for enterprises, happy and vindicated.

But clearly, many many people (users) are not.

The big reason really seems to boil down to size! Tablets/ Phablets notwithstanding, it IS so much better to see a 14 or even 11 inch screen than a smaller one. The whole experience changes significantly! Scale, in all its manifestations, we all know the benefits of – economies; distribution synergies; skill specialization enablement; technology consolidation; etc etc…infact, even in the new digital/ e-comm & m-comm economy, we are seeing actions and transactions that reflect the desirability of scale and size – you see companies consolidating, take overs and buy outs – which will eventually I’m sure result in a shakedown.

Other Side of the Coin?: You know, it’s interesting, that I actually started writing this post (with the same first part of the headline) a few weeks ago – and at that time, it was going to be an “anti-size” post!

What prompted it was I guess the time of the year – it’s back to school time, and most people my age have kids leaving home to go to college for the first time – parents thus facing shrunk households. This always, but always, leaves my tummy churning, with a dreadful sinking feeling – I just vicariously go through the whole empty nest thing, and badly so (I still thankfully hv a few years before this hits me – one of the few advantages of a late marriage). And the thought came to me – looking at all these large 5000 sq ft houses, what are two old people (and in some cases, a dog) going to do, rattling away in these houses? Maybe they should de-size/ de-clutter/ scale down!

Achu

It also struck me, when after visiting a friend’s lovely spanking new, set in a 1 acre plot house, built in the beautiful traditional Kerala style, with a drool worthy Prof Higgins like library, my husband told me – hey, let’s buy a plot there. And it struck me, there’s really no end to this – bigger house, bigger car, bigger salary, bigger bank balance, (and bigger tummy to go with it!); and, actually, rather than buy a plot there – I did kind of anti-action – convinced my husband to sell off one of our (bigger) cars. So, we learn to survive with just the one (we’re managing fine btw, the Ubers and Olas have made life so much easier)

See, one gets faced with it actually even in business – after expanding the no. of items on offer, a retailer almost always goes through a phase of SKU rationalizing; large companies, after many M&As, get down to downsizing; many larger size packages of consumables start getting sold in smaller and smaller “trial packages” (sachets being of course the Indian success story to aid purchase in a low Per Capita Income society.) It is no secret that none of the Big Pharma actually now have a super cool pipeline, it’s the smaller boutique Biotech and Pharma companies that are doing all the meaningful research to bring potentially blockbuster drugs to market.

Incidentally, even downsizing is not easy. Read this interesting POV on retail store resizing problems.

Dino Extinction

It is said that Dinosaurs went extinct because their bodies scaled up disproportionately as compared to their brains; (and it is said that human beings will become extinct because our brains will become too big as compared to our bodies!)

So maybe it is a circle of life thing. One is small, then wants to become bigger, so expands. When one is too big, one has to reverse direction and cut down. Anti Size! ….One is single, then gets married, then has kids, then the kids fly the nest and you hunker down…anti size! 😦 ….Company gets many quarters of growth, starts becoming bigger, acquires diverse competencies, then…realizes is becoming inefficient, so, downsizes…anti size!

So, which is it to be? Big or Small? Website or App Only? Scale or Anti Size? Laptop or Phablet?

While you ponder this, I think that the defining “default” answer on “size matters” can be found in the Friends episode below. Enjoy 🙂

Not Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, Page & Brin, But Nora Roberts! (Or, the state of the Internet Of Things)

21 Jan

JDRobbIoT

I lead a very “must not do” lifestyle – I am retired from active corporate life; I snack on unhealthy junk almost everyday; I drink gallons of fattening beer every weekend; I don’t sleep all that much; and, most importantly, I read almost NO elevating/ informative/ educative stuff – all I read is some news on the web on technology, and LOTS of trashy fiction – specifically, romance and who-dun-it novels.

My current favorite author is Nora Roberts, maybe because she combines the above two genres really well! In reading avidly her futuristic cop thriller series, written under the pseudonym J.D. Robbs, I begin to see a strange similarity between her world of the 2050s and 60s; and what is going on in the Internet of Things/ Connected Device world.

Quick summary: the Internet of Things is essentially nothing but a world in which all devices are connected, and many of them are wearable on the human body, to enable use of the data generated in one place in order to predict actions in another! This means a world of tiny embedded “sensors” all over – on highways, in thermostat boxes, glasses, bras, beds, wind mills….you name it….that then allow seamless living!

Look at how some parallels exist between Robb’s world and the current endeavour of most of the technology world, with leaders being Zuckerberg, Bezos, Benioff, Musk and many many many other smaller/ niche players:

Virtual RealityCredit

1. Virtual Reality:
Arguably, one of the stars at this month’s CES was the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype with Spatial Audio feature. It seems to have excited people, specially VR enthusiasts all around, with the advancements it shows over previous versions. A look at some applications – driving simulations and Gaming excites even boring ole’ non-gamer me!

But hey, in the JD Robb world, VR and Holo videos are very much par for the course! Not only can you program VR headsets in the gym to give you the real experience of whichever setting you want, HoloRooms are like Star Trek Holo Decks and owned by the wealthy, and can be programmed for interactive vacations at the beach, street scenes for training in fighting techniques, or rescue missions, or jogging along a path, or dining in a mountain chalet, etc. HoloGlasses provide 3-D life-like scenarios, similar to the HoloRooms, but worn on the head. And, to me, the extreme use was very very evil! In the book I last read, “Fantasy in Death”, a gamer whizkid actually injected reality into virtual reality – and as a by product killed a couple people!

“Roarke took another sip of coffee – “Let me understand you. You are suggesting that a holographic image, which is essentially light and shadow, attempted murder and committed it…Neuro and nano-tech have advanced, and the images produced in holo programs act and react, according to that program. They appear 3D, appear to have substance. The player’s senses are involved and engaged……found a way to enhance wave front, increase the power stream of the light….to create a kind of current that is an electronic replication of the substance….that could, cut, slash, sever….or could replicate an impact where the currents could inflict the same damage as they have been programmed to inflict”


2. Customized Talking Billboards:

Talking billboards are now old hat. Even a lot of the motion/ temperature triggered ones. But, essentially in that they use sensors to activate a series of actions that could be customised depending on you/ your location/ your preferences, they are very I0T!

Then, ofcourse, google glass is (was) the ultimate in customized billboards in a way – plus much much more. Despite its lukewarm performance in this round, Google is sure to get it back with a bigger bang …soon!

And, in a J D Robb parallel, Eve Dallas, the main protagonist, is forever catching customised billboards looking down at her on her drives/ airlifts through crowded noisy New York streets:

When she caught a familiar face burst across one of the animated screens…over the street at thirty fourth….she..whirled…jiggled, spun, in a few sassy and amusingly placed scraps of electric blue. With each revolution, her hair changed from red to gold to blinding green…her oldest friend…

3. Robotics/ Artificial Intelligence:

From Super Mario’s latest AI induced self aware tricks, to Facebook’s intense use of AI, the world of AI is definitely here. (After all, what was Siri, but an early version of AI). In fact, this is becoming a controversial area, with recently, Tesla’s Elon Musk coming out in strong opposition of the potential evil fallouts of AI!

amazon drones Credit

Then there are drones, which have been used for military purposes (e.g. in Israel and Afghanistan) for a while, and infact are now being advanced, e.g. with mind controlling technologies. Amazon also created news a couple of years ago with their pilot of deliveries using drones (Amazon Prime Air).

In J.D. Robbs’ world, there are “Droids with human characteristics that can be programmed to cook, clean, man office desks, physically fight and wrestle, watch over children and the elderly, teach, bartend, waiters and waitresses and even be programmed for sex. There are also droid animals – dogs, cats and birds.”

“The droids were well represented as well- mechanical looking household and yard droids, cheap mini droids, and a number of the human replicas lined up like suspects….”This model’s top of the line. She’s designed to exactly replicate the character physically, and she has top-flight programming capabilities””

“They were droids..you couldn’t even smell them…she swung back, slamming her knees into the droid behind her…catching him by the ankles as he deployed the weapon….he didn’t buckle as a man would, but teetered back, arms pinwheeling for balance.”

Then there are AutoVehicles that can fly and zip around, but also be driven like normal cars and buses.

“Three cars ahead of her, two rapid cabs shot into vertical lift at the same time…airlifts hovered above, shooting out their streams of light…..”

nest-labs-google Credit

4. Home Automation

With Apple’s Smart Home project, Google’s Nest and the earlier versions of the IoT which almost always had a pre programmed refrigerator ordering eggs when you ran out, Home Automation was one of the earliest applications of the IoT. And, lets face it, its also the sexiest/ most widely adoptable one; hence catching consumer eye balls far more than windmills, gas meters and smart highways! (Marc Benioff had addresses the Dreamforce 2013 attendees with a case on his Philips toothbrush!) It is also the app where a lot of work is being done without suffering reverses (like the glass). Companies like Philips, Logitech, Nokia and many more are working flat out to address and dominate their respective inches of the home automation turf. This article is a nice look at the news on home automation.

At the centre of everything – most things consumer IoT atleast, is the ubiquitous smartphone – that device that most other devices link to, that very soon 1 in every 4 earthling will possess, that works as your personal friend, philosopher guide, but also has millions of app developers working day and night on, that you use to talk/ email/ measure sleep patterns/ order cabs/ check restaurants/ listen to music and watch movies…in short, everything…And now, the smart watch

Motorola-Moto-360-Smartwatch-5

Cut to Robbs. She has the AutoChefs that can deliver home-cooked meals and coffee.

“He walked to a large Autochef “What is it then – Pizza or Burger”….Took a large bubbling Pizza out…headed to the AutoChef, programmed coffee….He’d already programmed their meal in the recesed Autochef – I thought we’d have ham and eggs today”

The Drying Tube that senses your temperature requirements and then dries you up.
“…Like the warm, clean scented swirl of air in the drying tube…”

The biometric scanning device, that tells you where anybody in the house is (Roarke has programmed all answers to Eve such that it always starts with “Darling Eve!”, a fact that really irritates the heroine!

“Where is Roarke”?.. Welcome home, darling Eve!..As usual the recorded voice using that particular endearment had slivers of embarrassment pricking up her spine”

Links that are a modernized video cell phone that can hold and transfer data besides making calls – both audio and video; Memo Cubes that are modern, electronic Post-Its, without the sticky paper, Wrist Units that combine most functions!

“Nice wrist unit…“Serviceable.” Eve turned her wrist to admire the simple band, the flat, silver-toned face….“It‟s got a couple of nice features,” she added as she fiddled with it. “It‟s nice,” Peabody said again, then drew her beeping communicator out of her pocket. “Give me a sec, I . . . hey, it‟s you.” Mouth dropping, Peabody jerked her head up. “It‟s got a micro-com in it? That‟s pretty mag. Usually they‟re all fuzzy, but this is really clean.” “Nano-com. You know how the vehicle he rigged up for me looks ordinary?” “Ordinary leaning toward ugly,” Peabody corrected. “But nobody gives it a second look or knows that it‟s loaded, so . . . same deal?” Automatically Peabody dug out her ‟link when it signaled, then paused. “Is that you? It‟s got full communication capability? In a wrist unit that size?” “Not only that, it‟s got navigation, full data capabilities. Total data and communications—he programmed it with all my stuff. If I had to, I could access my files on it. Waterproof, shatterproof, voice-command capabilities. Gives me the ambient temp. Plus it tells time.”

IoT Security
5. Security:

This is clearly the foremost concern in the IoT! The WEF has gotten a report together recently advising caution! Top executives similarly feel that the biggest risk of the IoT is security!

But, this article shows that despite security concerns, IoT is definitely growing.

J.D. Robb has her own version of the security issues – all data devices are controlled by the federal mother computer – the CompuGuard. This is very big brother-ish, and supposedly can track everything going on in any computing device. (Ofcourse, Mr. Know-it-all, ex criminal, richest man in the world Roarke can get past the Compuguard – and often does, thus, often aiding Ms. Dallas in her investigations, much to her irritation!)

“Compuguard monitored all e-transmissions and programming on planet and off….I’m obliged to caution you that this transmission is being traced through CompuGuard, and it’s being recorded.”

J.D. Robb has a few other interesting gadgets strewn about her books – Skids are high-tech sneakers that can float above ground and there are skateboards that hover a few inches above ground instead of on wheels; Glide carts are moving food carts on the street; Credits, which are tokens used instead of coins…

At the end, a lot of it is illusory and advanced stuff – both in the IoT world, and the JDRobb one. As an example, the much touted wearables have abysmal penetration and even worse usage figures for consumer devices (at an average, all wearables get discarded after 6 months). This article is interesting too.

Having said that, there is no doubt that some if all all of this, is coming, and coming sooner than later! Most pundits say the world should focus on “real” applications with substantial impact – healthcare/ infrastructure/ utilities, rather than consumer products – but, if consumers didn’t show an interest, a lot of the glitter and shine wouldn’t be there!

In my opinion, the question is no longer – “will it come” but ‘when will it come”….Maybe, some of the companies in the arena should consider hiring Ms. Roberts as strategic advisor.

In the meanwhile, interested in reading some of the JDRobb books? Here’s where you can download some free – enjoy!

The Problem With Context

15 Sep

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill


Credit

“I do not fear truth. I welcome it. But I wish all of my facts to be in their proper context”: Gordon B Hinckley

Growing Up, my marketing 101 lesson taught me “Customer is King”. The Father of India, and probably its best known global personality, Mahatma Gandhi, said – “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

However, It could be argued in today’s world that the all important C word is being replaced with another C word – Context. So, now, Context is king – mainly, because Context is what allows an organization to understand its (first C word) Customer better.

We as prospects, shoppers, switchers; movie goers, diners, Home owners, Business people, car drivers, facebook users, are today cumulatively generating Yottabytes (10^24) of data, which is going to increase very soon to Brontobytes (10^27)! Intelligent organisations are (or atleast are thinking of, and if not, then should be thinking of) investing in technology, infrastructure and analytic decision processes to use this data for higher revenue generation as well as cost optimization. Context, the accumulated historical data generated by people, places, and things, is almost a mandatory component of these analytic processes.

In simple, laymen terms – context makes up the circumstances in which an event or an idea is set, and that therefore is what makes something clearer to you —

– Does listening to a special song make you think of a special person or a special situation? That’s context! (As “The way you look tonight” was Julia Roberts’ and Dermot Mulroney’s “special song” in My Best Friend’s Wedding)

– Think of nursery rhymes – when you delve deep into them or take them out of context of being repeatable pieces of music for kids, they are fairly disturbing! (Jack broke his crown? Humpty couldn’t be put back again? Whoaaa!!!)

For the traditional marketing folks, context analytics is a bit similar to behavioural + psychographic segmentation in the good ole fashioned days, and not just demographic – so, you add parameters of date/ time/ purchase event/ mood/ place/ company/ actions/ attitudes/ usage etc., and layer them in – to create better profiles of people/ events/ data….

When you marry Context with Data, you trigger unique, new relationships between hitherto unrelated data points – this helps you derive trends and patterns – and generates new business opportunities. Context makes data become richer, more meaningful. Someone very famously once said “Context is worth 80 IQ points”

Conversely, without Context, business conclusions might be flawed. It’s the old analogy of “knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad”

So, is data and context a marriage made in heaven?

I would say, it is certainly high on the “will not make the divorce courts within the next 6 months – ok, 2 years” side of the coin, but, like all relationships, it needs work! One of the thing that contextual analytics ends up doing, counter intuitively, is still not giving the whole picture (A bit like the blind men and elephant story – where, depending on CONTEXT, each blind man ascribed a different name to the elephant – thus describing a piece part of it, but no one realized it was an elephant)

blind men elephant relativity

So, what then is the secret sauce required to turn this marriage into one made in heaven?

a) Disruptive Discovery: An inherent flaw in most predictive analytics algorithms – whether based on big data or not, is that their results are incremental – because what you know/ what has happened/ inbuilt assumptions – i.e., CONTEXT are what predict the future, they will to a certain extent pre-determine the outcome of the prediction.

As a friend said, facebook always recommends Metallica to me when because like Iron Maiden – it doesn’t realize that I also like Jazz! Similarly, Amazon always shows me more Nora Roberts – as I bought some romance once, and leaves a huge opportunity gap because it doesn’t realize that I have bought say a Khaled Hosseini elsewhere!

Not sure how many of you read this hilarious piece that was circulating recently on how “liking” everything on facebook for 2 days turned the news feed into a strange animal! Much recommended for an empathetic laugh

A good case study in how pre ordained behaviors, or context, or for that matter assumptions, to a certain extent skew actual results can be read here (a pithy commentary on Windows 8’s failure)

b) Response Timeliness: This one again is a bit counter intuitive. Experts and proponents of context analytics would say – but PART of context is the real time nature of the tracking! One is continuously refreshing data with newer and newer inputs, that turns the context richer and richer that then gives better and better outputs — and on and on and on.

The tragedy, however, is that while most organisations are (or atleast are thinking of, or if not, then should be thinking of) collecting and processing data on a real time basis, the RESPONSE to a lot of this data is NOT real time – why? Mainly because it CANNOT be! They don’t have the capabilities – this is the classical bottleneck/ the Blackwell’s limiting factor/ the critical path in the Gantt chart!

As a parent, I realized very early on that the concept of “quality time” that was created to essentially rationalize lack of adequate time spent with kids by working parents was a lot of bs. It fell into shambles the minute my tearful 1 ½ year old asked me – “when I fell down and was bleeding so much, where were you”!!

As business people, we also know the value of being at the right place at the right time. This time criticality determines a lot of what we do – how we behave as consumers – what time we eat, when we exercise, when we buy… – but also how we plan say marketing promotions, or budget calendars, or for that matter the pitch to the HR guy for a raise!

As one of my fav musicians George Harrison said:
“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

What this then means in the big data world is, that when a customer sends out data – you translate it into a signal/ information/ wisdom – and then you jolly well figure out a way to respond to it at the time that the signal is asking for a response! May be immediately, may be a few days later – but, figure it out! Use the context, to not only tell you parts of the elephant, but the whole mammoth! So, its not only to find out what you can sell to the customer and where – but when/ and how quickly to lend a sympathetic ear/ when to fix a broken washing machine or a crashed site!!

Unless you can gear up your response mechanism to be time dynamic and responsive, all that context married to your data – is going to —- to use the marriage analogy – not produce a baby!!!

c) The Human Touch – AI, the Internet of Things and all automation notwithstanding, atleast for now, we humans are just wired to need human intervention

a. This is because technology is still flawed – Watson notwithstanding, most humans actually instinctively and judgementally can scan a wide breadth of data and more or less give reasonably accurate judgements – after all, that is what experience and seniority lend to a man.

b.Man is a social animal after all – most of us want, nay need, human contact – a good case is customer service. Automated responses just don’t cut it for many – they want to talk to a real person, the more serious the issue, the higher the need for human contact (maybe shortly that “real person” will also be a drone, but that’s besides the point).

After all, how else but due to a human would you see these 2 really delightful examples of ‘customer service” interactions – one by a Netflix representative, and this one by an amazon guy.

Make no mistakes, human beings could just as easily make bad mistakes – like seen in this http://www.theverge.com/2014/7/15/5901057/comcast-call-cancel-service-ryan-block!

But, by and large, if one could only afford it, human beings would be the best response mechanism.

All in all, its great to see the progress made due to big data and the Internet of Things etc, but the organization who can take the best of the context plus data marriage, and add the disruption, the time criticality and the human interface element would be the one on which I would put my money!