Last weekend was the Dallas FIRST Regional

Last weekend was the Dallas FRC regional. There are videos of the competition available on-line. This year’s competition was steampunk based.

FRC

I’ve been coordinating judging for the FIRST Robotics competition in Dallas for about 8 years now, so naturally there are a significant number of retired EDS and a few Raytheon folks involved.

FRC allows students to start from a standard kit of parts and some state of the art tools (received at the kickoff in January) to build a robot attempting to meet specified objectives. This video is an overview of this year’s challenge – FIRST Steamworks

The goal of FIRST is to encourage the understanding and passion around STEM. It has a proven track record of results that is hard to argue with. 


I was also drafted to judge the Jr. FIRST Lego League competition on Saturday morning. That competition is targeted at grade school students. At least in the Dallas area this competition was sponsored by Raytheon, among others.

Jr

Advertisements

Ethical issues on the horizon for digital assistants focused at children?

robots-too-humanThis week, I was part of an innovation panel at a large Dallas based IT manufacturer and during the discussion a new product for children was mentioned. Cognitoys is the company that makes a huggable dinosaur-like toy that is connected to IBM’s Watson APIs. I can’t help thinking about Barney whenever I see it.

I call these digital assistants, since they can understand and interact using natural language. Popular digital assistants for adults currently include Apple’s Siri, Google Now and soon Microsoft’s Cortana. This particular implementation is:

  • Speech enabled
  • Internet connected
  • Personalized
  • Educational

There was all the concern about ‘smart’ Barbie earlier this year. Barbie was just a warning shot to the possibilities, since the Barbie implementation wasn’t backed up by a supercomputer. I haven’t heard any concern yet about this toy.

The possibilities makes me wonder about the whole issue of “digital immigrants” vs. “digital natives” vs. these kids who will grow up interacting with and possibly being trained by digital nannies.

What level of configuration (or self-configuration) will be possible through the parent panel? Will parents enable the ‘toy’ to suggest that it is time for bed, take a bath, be more polite, learn a language, understand algebra or religion?? One parents grey area could will likely be another’s line in the sand.

There will be some ethical issues for the patents, the company providing the services… that will likely be worked out in the marketplace during this holiday season.

The future of work…

working at a deskFast Company had a thought provoking post on The New Rules of Work – What Work Will Look Like in 2025. The focus of the article is on the technology enhanced human, enhanced by offloading many of the mundane elements of work on automation. Some of those elements (like recognizing faces) may weaken some of our mental faculties but the automation of other areas will likely refine our skills.

One statement that holds true today though is:

Workers will need to engage in lifelong education to remain on top of how job and career trends are shifting to remain viable in an ever-changing workplace

There is also a few expressed that the automation could eliminate bias from the hiring process. Personally, I doubt that since it would just codify the bias into the selection algorithm through the encoded selection criteria. Granted it may not bias based upon race or gender, but for those who really want a diverse set of perspectives in their workforce employee selection will still be difficult to do well.

One of the best elements of this article though is the number of links to other material on a range of topics. There were a number of links related to the topic of the redefinition of retirement.

In any case the workplace and the type of work being performed will be shifting and this article is food for thought.

In-shoring opportunities in with automation

AutomationI had a long discussion with a serial entrepreneur last week that is looking to define a service offering in the help desk/virtualized meeting/education front. He seems to have a good handle on the business model and the differentiation between what he provides and the other services in the market place.

During the discussion, it did remind me a bit about the CNN post about the effect of Silicon Valley’s virtualization and automation efforts on jobs. What was most intriguing about the discussion was the ability to move the skills in demand to underserved parts of the country.

We both grew up in small mid-west towns and feel that techniques virtualizing the workforce he is developing could open up possibilities in areas of the country that are currently under employed.  With the possibilities of human-centered automation, these approaches will be increasingly important. I do question if today’s HR organizations are ready for this level of innovation.

Starting an R programming course

educationI always like to try and take a few Coursera courses every year. Now I am starting a course on R out of John Hopkins. One thing addition to this approach that I haven’t seen before is that the R environment has a Computer Based Instruction available called Swirl. As analytics increases in importance a bit of hands on exercise is likely a good thing.

It just started, so if you’re interested in this, feel free to drop me a note.

Service Innovations over time…

SaaSI was in an exchange with Jim Spohrer (of IBM) the other day about Service innovations and he gave me the following lists dealing with service innovations:

Top Ten Service Innovations in all of History
1. Division of Labor – an entity gets to do more of what they do best, and less of what they do less well
2. Cities – local concentration of division of labor, including security and protection
3. Writing – allows communications over distance and time
4. Written Laws – brings more objectivity into governance and justice
5. Money – brings efficiency into exchange transactions
6. Universities – local concentration of division of knowledge, including preparation of next generation
7. Democracy – collective decision making via voting (citizen -> decision)
8. Republics – two stage collective decision making via voting (citizen -> representative -> decision)
9. Checks – safer than carrying paper money
10. Banks – safe storage of money, and compound interest/loans

Top Ten Service Innovations of Last 100 years

1. Universal Education – increases capability of population, and allows more complex problem solving
2. Universal Service – even rural people can communicate, and have right to communicate efficiently
3. Rural Electrification – even rural people can have lighting and access to modern appliances
4. Credit Cards – convenience and safety
5. Loyalty Programs – incentives for usage
6. Franchises – standard service in multiple places
7. FedEx – overnight package delivery
8. Automobile Transportation – systems of filling stations, roads, laws
9. Internet & Worldwide Web – access to information
10.  Wireless Communication Networks – Radio & Television – conquest of distance and access to service

Top Ten Service Innovations of Last 10 years
(or so)
1. Amazon – market for books and things
2. eBay – market for personal stuff
3. iTunes – market for music
4. Etsy – market for home made things
5. Uber – market for rides
6. AirBnB – market for rooms
7. Smart Phones & App Economy – access to information, communications, and other mobile services, including cognitive assistants
8. MOOCs – massively open on-line courses to augment education
9.  Mutual funds – finance investments that provide benefits of diverse portfolios
10. Global IT-enabled Outsourcing – division of labor between nations and large corporations

I’d add 3D printing to this list myself, but that may be just me.

Top Ten Service Innovations that broke out in 2014
1. TransferWise – lower transaction cost of transferring money
2. Coinbase – bitcoin digital wallet
3. Apple Pay – easier to pay money out
4. Lending Club – easier method to get investments in and out (founded in 2006)
5. Quirky – inventor community (started in 2009)
6. Bill.com – small business pay bills better (started in 2008)
7. Betterment.com (investment personal assistant)
8. Kickstarter – crowd funding (I think this actually started in 2009)
9.  Amazon Echo (home assistant)
10. Google Nest (home assistant) (actually the first Nest appears to be released in 2011)

Some things to think about…
What would be on your list? What should make the list for 2015? Do these innovations have anything in common?