How Artificial is the Hype Around AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing into big business. Machine learning, a subset of AI, is expected to reach $8.81 billion by 2022. After millennia of automaton dreams and decades of AI hype, the ability to automate tasks is becoming reality for an ever-widening range of applications. Increasingly, researchers are applying machine learning to power their AI, from the onslaught of costumer-centric chatbots and product recommendations to self-driving cars and future scenario forecasting.

The How

In computer science, a computer is programmed with an algorithm, a set of directions to follow in order to accomplish a task. Machine learning is the use of algorithms to enable a machine to effectively learn from the data it is fed. Often, the more algorithms a machine is programmed with and the more data it is fed, the more complex it can become. Therefore, the machine will appear more (artificially) intelligent to humans.

The hype surrounding AI in general and machine learning specifically is due in large part to the upsurge in big data. With big data, we’re talking about very large sets of data especially those generated from the internet. So, the machines are able to recognize more intricate patterns, and therefore, they are more useful for industries.

The What

There are multiple ways to program a machine with algorithms for machine learning. The primary methods (although there a couple of others) are:

  1. Supervised learning: the algorithms are directed toward a specific answer. For example, if a car drives past a line on the intersection while the light is still yellow, snap a photo. If the license plate is identifiable, search for an address. If the address is found, send traffic citation.
  2. Unsupervised learning: the machine is given data to process and identify patterns with few or no instructions. It works really well with retail payments to identify demographics of customers by their purchases. Usually, this information is applied to an algorithm that will predict future customer behavior. Such predictions are usually more accurate than if the unsupervised learning were not performed.
  3. Deep learning: human brains are artificially simulated in a machine using whole groups of algorithms. These simulated brains are capable of processing information of larger sets of data at faster rates. More importantly, deep learning machines are capable of recognizing images and sounds. So, deep learning is driving self-driving cars and automated language translation.
  4. Cognitive computing: some people argue that the term is a marketing buzzword. However, scientists have combined our current understanding of cognitive science with deep learning, computer vision, and other fields. IBM’s Watson which won on Jeopardy is the primary example.

The Who

Instead, of relying so heavily on AI, many experts are calling for hybrid intelligence, a relationship between humans and machines that will improve the thinking of both. In other words, an AI drives the car while we keep our hands on the steering wheel and our foot on the brake pedal. The car’s primary directive is safety, and the car will, therefore, drive at a speed that is appropriate to all the information it is given. However, the driver is still alert to any dangers the car may not recognize.

For millennia, humanity has created automatons to show off our godlike abilities of creation. Forecasters and science fiction authors have helped foster the narrative that AI will either save or destroy humanity. And now some people even want to create AI gods. Once society has deified or demonized something, it is much more difficult to think of it as an equal.

But Why?

Researchers do not fully comprehend how the most advanced algorithms work. Many of these algorithms are unsupervised learners after all. This issue is key because the algorithms could easily make mistakes. A car driven by deep learning/ cognitive computing could plow down a pedestrian, or a smart house could allow a murderer to walk through the front door. These are hypothetical, but mistakes of some sort are likely to be made. Who takes responsibility for those mistakes? How could researchers address such mistakes if they don’t even understand the process that led the machine to make such decisions?

The root question from all of this research, of course, is whether any of the machine learning techniques create machines that are actually intelligent. As far as Douglas Hofstadter is concerned, they aren’t because they do not mimic thinking even if they mimic the human mind. He believes thinking depends heavily on the analogies we as individuals use to view the world and our place in it. If Hofstadter if correct, perhaps we need to hold off on applying these AI techniques to dangerous domains like driving until our machines can understand our cultural perspectives.

The above was written for Excel4theStreet

I've got mail from MyPostcard

Scanning hit for the future of postal services and customer experience

I’ve been working on a bit of research about the future of mail and couriers. One of the coolest bits of research I found is MyPostcard.

MyPostcard is actually a scanning hit for a trend I’ve been following for a hospitality company. The hospitality industry has been focused on customer experience, experience design, and the role tech plays in curating these experiences. Especially with luxury brands, the success is in the details.

People are buying tailored suits. They are buying more hand-made products. Bespoke products and services are the leaders at the moment. Customers are wanting concierge service from personal butlers. There are modern accommodations that are treating the staff like servants from an upstairs/ downstairs drama. Nostalgia is a key driver, but so too is the desire for high-quality, personalized experiences that technology just doesn’t quite deliver.

MyPostcard is a perfect example of how tech can enable and even drive this trend. First, the app for Android or Apple has a great user experience. It’s easy to upload images, write text, and even sign the card.

You can choose from postcards, greeting cards, XXL greeting cards, or photo prints. You can also order them in bulk. The XXL cards are very cool. I sent two to my parents in the states from here in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. They print photos of the kids all the time, but the cards of our own design featuring photos of the kids and the kids’ signatures/ drawings gave them a special thrill. It was an inexpensive gift that will pay dividends in maintaining relationships between my parents and their grandchildren. My kids love the postcards I sent them too. The app is so easy, even my parents have learned how to use it and send some to my kids.

This is the kind of experience that is both nostalgic and modern. Although society is still pushing toward being completely paperless for all the bills and correspondence that used to flood the mail services, customers still need mail and courier services. This need is expected to continue until Amazon Prime Air can handle all of our delivery needs. By then, it will be the United States of Amazon, right? Until then, little touches like these will add value to personal relationships, client relationships, etc.

I should also include that businesses have long offered personalized cards and gifts. Moonpig is one example that has offered online orders since their launch to deliver anywhere in the world. However, MyPostcard is less expensive, and it has a much easier and pleasant UX. MyPostcard offeres the typical greeting card templates if that’s what you want, but their focus is on sharing your images and helping you create your own card from scratch.

I’m working on a more professional post, but I wanted to share my unique code. If you want to try out MyPostcard, enter my code, TVHESH, after creating a new account. You’ll get $3 and I’ll get $3 too. It’s a great way to stay in contact with people.

I've got mail from MyPostcard
I’ve got mail from MyPostcard

More than Money: Get the (Free) Gist on the Future of Blockchain

Our latest Gist report briefly looks at the future of Bitcoin and its related technologies – blockchain, smart contracts and distributed autonomous organizations. Proponents say Bitcoin will decentralize power away from banks and other institutions while distributing it across whole communities. If these promises hold true, Bitcoin will only be the beginning.

Download the whole report for free.

What is changing?

Financial institutions are investing in the blockchain to make their job easier and more secure. R3 CEV is a company specifically set up to help banks trial blockchain technology. They lead a consortium of 42 banks who want to see how blockchain technology could change their industry, the potential of which R3 compares to how the internet changed the music and media industries.

However, the blockchain could be useful for so much more than just financial transactions. Ubitquity has developed a blockchain platform specifically for the real estate industry. The company says the new platform will improve the title transfer process by making it faster, more accurate, and more transparent for fraud prevention. And they say it will improve the due diligence process for the industry.

Multiple organizations are working to use blockchain tech to make voting more secure, and anonymous. In 2014 a major political party in Denmark, the Liberal Alliance, used blockchain tech for its own internal party voting. Since the blockchain relies on consensus anyway, it is inherently a voting platform and could one day be modified by government entities for such purpose.


Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies offer a libertarian ideal that could destabilize the current infrastructure of banks and other powerful institutions. The blockchain offers distributed, secure, trusted and highly scalable architectures that conventional technologies cannot compete with. Although the banking industry is pre-empting disruption by investing in this new technology, many of their business models and revenue streams will be affected especially with increased competition from the tech industry. The opportunity for the financial industry is high, but the potential risks are also large especially for smaller players in the industry.





Learn more from your future than you do from your past

Verne Wheelwright is a pioneer in using foresight for personal development. The same methods that corporations and governments have used for the past decade are just as relevant for personal use as they are for shaping macro futures.

Many self help authors want readers to connect to their future selves, but none of them offer any practical tools for doing so. Such authors look too narrowly at the future to guide readers into visualizing multiple, plausible futures, and readers often give up or lose faith when their actual future turns out differently than they expected.

Wheelwright takes a different, less mystical approach with his award winning self-help book, It’s Your Future…Make it a Good One. He also offers some free downloads on his website which I strongly recommend, but the book provides readers with the perspective necessary to understand what these free resources are all about.

Most people view the future as either a hazy, cryptic event or a technological utopia. Neither of these views are true much less practical. The future is unpredictable, especially at a personal level. But the future can be forecasted into multiple scenarios to help organizations and (now thanks to Wheelwright) individuals steer their personal lives in a direction to achieve their goals no matter how the future plays out.

If you run your own business, no mater what size, this is the most important book you could read for your business success. As a business owner, your personal life is the rudder that steers your business, and to achieve success you need to align your personal future with the future of your company. Wheelwright even has a book coming out soon about applying these techniques to small and medium sized businesses.

Methods for learning about the future have been in use by businesses for decades, but the process was simply too complex for most individuals. The Personal Futures Network introduces some new, easily understood approaches that will help you to think and plan like a futurist. You will be able learn about and plan for your personal futures.

Think like a futurist? What does that really mean, think like a futurist? Well, each futurist may have some different thoughts, but generally futurists think about longer term futures, usually 10 or more years ahead. Futurists believe that the future is not predetermined, but that several futures are possible. If several futures are possible, then one of those futures may be better than the others, or a “preferred” future. Very important; futurists believe that individuals or groups can take actions in the present that will help determine the future.

That brief paragraph helps explain why most futurists don’t make predictions about the future, but rather suggest multiple possible futures, often in the form of “scenarios” or stories about the future.

The above quote was taken from Wheelwright’s homepage. The whole website is dedicated to helping readers understand how to look at the future in an effective and practical way. Read the book and begin learning more from your future than from you do from your past.

Wearing IT to Work–repost from Shaping Tomorrow

Wearing IT to Work is my latest trend alert based on my report on wearables. I am also hosting 2 free webinars to cover the basics of the report (please see links below).

Wearable electronic devices, or simply wearables, have emerged from specialized markets such as the medical sector and the military and are aggressively entering the mass market. Fitness trackers such as the FitBit, smartwatches such as Samsung’s Gear, and head mounted displays such as Google Glass can accelerate a wearer’s access to information while offering greater convenience.

What is changing?

 Wearable computing is converging with the mainstream mobile sector and driving growth in both industries. Wearables will help expand the mobile sector, but they will also provide significant benefits for almost every other industry as well. Wearables can be categorized into seven primary areas of application:

  • Mobile: One Among Many – The wearables experiencing the biggest push in the market at the moment function as extensions of the wearers’ mobile devices.
  • Measuring Myself – These wearables draw data from the wearers’ activities and physical condition, and they help users better understand their daily activities – sleep, exercise, work.
  • Immersive Experiences – Augmented reality and virtual reality are both rising, and their applications in wearables promise to further immerse users in their digital interactions.
  • Spying on Myself – Wearable recording devices (i.e. cameras or microphones) – previously relegated to spy shops – are being used for liability purposes, personal/ mobile security, and recording personal or organizational legacies.
  • Thinking Outside the Brain – Neurotech is breaking out of the lab to help organisations and individuals gain greater insight on their behavior as well as control certain devices.
  • Wearing My Password – Biometric authentication can be more secure than passwords, but the real benefit will be the convenience of signing in to anything, anywhere with the wave of a hand.
  • Feeling the Data – Haptic feedback is very effective at alerting mobile phone users to incoming messages, but it can communicate more complex information – GPS directions and potentially news feeds such as stock quotes.


 Wearables accelerate access to information, and they increase the types of information made practical in a variety of industries. While maintaining a constant connection, wearers will be able to work hands free allowing wearers to track more information and multitask more effectively. Wearables will also increase security and play a part in improving memory. These benefits will enable individuals to optimize their performance of everything from exercise and driving to teaching and stock trading. One study has already indicated that wearables can increase productivity and even job satisfaction. Wearables will help ramp up the changes spurred by the advent of the internet, but they will also intensify the existing questions surrounding privacy, security and society’s definition of humanity. As the devices enter the mainstream, the cost for R&D will drop, and more organisations will be able to utilize the devices to their full potential. Employees will also want to wear their own devices to work (similar to other BYOD policies), and organisations will have to decide how to regulate their use. The trends and their implications are further explored in our latest trend report,Wearing IT: Trends Expanding the Wearable Web. In it, we also explore wearables’ benefits for:

  • Medical and caregiving
  • Security and defense
  • Training and simulation
  • Transport and logistics
  • Banking and finance
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Travel and Tourism

We are also hosting 2 free webinars that will cover the basic findings from the report. Both webinars will require the download of GoToWebinar software or mobile app to attend. Please register here: