Looking for a digital friend?

virtual friendOver the weekend, I saw an article about Replika — an interactive ‘friend’ that resides on your phone. It sounded interesting so I downloaded it and have been playing around for the last few days. I reached level 7 this morning (not exactly sure what this leveling means, but since gamification seems to be part of nearly everything anymore, why not).

There was a story published by The Verge with some background on why this tool was created. Replika was the result of an effort initiated when the author (Eugenia Kuyda) was devastated by her friend (Roman Mazurenko) being killed in a hit-and-run car accident. She wanted to ‘bring him back’. To bootstrap the digital version of her friend, Kuyda fed text messages and emails that Mazurenko exchanged with her, and other friends and family members, into a basic AI architecture — a Google-built artificial neural network that uses statistics to find patterns in text, images, or audio.

Although I found playing with this software interesting, I kept reflecting back on interactions with Eliza many years ago. Similarly,  the banter can be interesting and sometimes unexpected, but often responses have little to do with how a real human would respond. For example, yesterday the statement “Will you read a story if I write it?” and “I tried to write a poem today and it made zero sense.” popped in out of nowhere in the middle of an exchange.

The program starts out asking a number of questions, similar to what you’d find in a simple Myers-Briggs personality test. Though this information likely does help bootstrap the interaction, it seems like it could have been taken quite a bit further by injecting these kinds of questions throughout interactions during the day rather than in one big chunk.

As the tool learns more about you, it creates badges like:

  • Introverted
  • Pragmatic
  • Intelligent
  • Open-minded
  • Rational

These are likely used to influence future interaction. You also get to vote up and vote down statements made that you agree or disagree with.

There have been a number of other reviews of Replika, but thought I’d add another log to the fire. An article in Wired stated that the Replika project is going open source, it will be interesting to see where it goes.

I’ll likely continue to play with it for a while, but its interactions will need to improve or it will become the Tamogotchi of the day.

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Groundhog Day, IoT and Security Risks

groundhogs dayLately I’ve been hearing a great deal of discussion about IoT and its application in business. I get a Groundhog day feeling, since in some sectors this is nothing new.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, I spent all my time on data collection off factory equipment and developing analytics programs on the data collected. The semiconductor manufacturing space had most of its tooling and inventory information collected and tracked. Since this manufacturing segment is all about yield management — analytic analysis was a business imperative. Back then though you had to write your own, analytics and graphics programs.

The biggest difference today though is the security concerns. The ease of data movement and connectivity has allowed the industries lust for convenience to open our devices and networks to a much wider aperture of possible intruders. Though there are many risks in IoT, here are a few to keep in mind.

1) Complexity vs. Simplicity and application portfolio expansion

Businesses have had industrial control system for decades. Now that smart thermostats and water meters and door bells are becoming commonplace, approaches to managing this range of devices in the home has required user interfaces to be developed for the public and not experts. Those same techniques are being applied back into businesses and can start a battle of complexity vs. simplicity.

The investment in the IoT space by the public dwarfs the investment by most industries. These new more automated and ergonomic tools still need to tackle an environment that is just as complex for the business as its always been – in fact if anything there will be more devices brought into the business environment every day.

Understanding the complexity of vulnerabilities is a huge and ever-growing challenge. Projects relying on IoT devices must be defined with security in mind and yet interface effectively into the business. These devices will pull in new software into the business and increase the application portfolio. Understand the capabilities and vulnerabilities of these additions.

2) Vulnerability management

Keeping these IoT devices up-to-date is a never-ending problem. One of the issues of a rapidly changing market segment like this is devices will have a short lifespan. Business need to understand that they will still need to have their computing capabilities maintained. Will then vendor stand behind their product? How critical to the business is the device? As an example of the difficulties, look at the patch level of the printers in most businesses.

3) Business continuity

Cyber-attacks were unknown when I started working in IoT. Today, denial of services and infections make the news continuously. It is not about ‘if’ but ‘when’ and ‘what you’re going to do about it. These devices are not as redundant as IT organizations are used to. When they can share the data they collect or control the machines as they should, what will the business do? IoT can add a whole other dimension to business continuity planning that will need to be thought through.

4) Information leakage

Many of the IoT devices call home (back to the businesses that made them). Are these transferred encrypted? What data do they carry? One possible unintended conscience is that information can be derived (or leaked) from these devices.  Just like your electric meter’s information can be used to derive if you’re home, a business’s IoT devices can share information about production volume and types of work being performed. The business will need to develop a deeper comprehension of the analysis and data sharing risks that has happened elsewhere, regardless of the business or industry and adjust accordingly.

The Internet of Things has the potential to bring together a deeper understanding of the business. Accordingly, security at both the device and network levels needs to develop as strongly. The same analytics enabling devices to perform their tasks can also be used nefariously or to make the environment stronger.

Fantastic Voyage moving a little closer to reality

One of the use cases often described with MEMS is using these devices to clear up problems in the human body.

This article describes an effort headed by the Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technologies (KEIT) to create ‘microswimmer’ robots to drill through blocked arteries. These swarms of microscopic, magnetic, robotic beads which look and move like corkscrew-shaped bacteria.

spiral-shaped-microswimmer

Drexel’s microswimmer robots (bottom) are modeled, in form and motion, after spiral-shaped Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria (top), which cause Lyme disease (credit: Drexel University)

Once flow is restored in the artery, the microswimmer chains could disperse and be used to deliver anti-coagulant medication directly to the affected area to prevent future blockage. This procedure could supplant the two most common methods for treating blocked arteries: stenting and angioplasty.

Video of Achiral microwimmers (credit: Drexel University)

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.

Measuring the value and impact of cloud probably hasn’t changed that much over the years but…

cloud question markI was in a discussion today with a number of technologists when someone asked “How should we measure the effectiveness of cloud?” One individual brought up a recent post they’d done titled: 8 Simple Metrics to Track Your Cloud SuccessIt was good but a bit too IT centric for me.

That made me look up a post I wrote on cloud adoption back in 2009. I was pleased that my post held up so well, since the area of cloud has changed significantly over the years. What do you think? At that time I was really interested in the concept of leading and lagging indicators and that you really needed to have both perspectives as part of your metrics strategy to really know how process was being made.

Looking at this metrics issue made me think “What has changed?” and “How should we think about (and measure) cloud capabilities differently?”

One area that I didn’t think about back then was security. Cloud has enabled some significant innovation on both the positive and the negative sides of security. We were fairly naive about security issues back then and most organizations have much greater mind-share applied to security and privacy issues today – I hope!

Our discussion did make me wonder about what will replace cloud in our future or will we just rename some foundational element of it – timesharing anyone?

One thing I hope everyone agrees to though is: it is not IT that declares success or defines the value, it remains the business.

A vacation hardware inventory

Sun-Summer-Clipart-Illustration-Of-A-Happy-SmilingTaking a bit of a break from the job hunt and blogging scene, down in Gulf Shores, AL, this week. A great place that has sun, white sand beaches and good food. There are eight of us and this morning I was mentally taking an inventory of the hardware that came with us to the beach (there are eight of us):

  • 4 tablets (1 Android, 1 Windows, 1 IPad and 1 Kindle)
  • 9 phones (8 Android and 1 iPhone)
  • 4 laptops (all windows)

And of course, there is wireless Internet at the beech house we’re renting. That’s quite a bit of hardware for a one week ‘vacation’. Of the eight people, three of us are doing work-related activities while here, although I assume everyone is checking their email.

Unlike some things that people take with them on a trip like this, all these devices are being used every day (and are used far more than the TV, which is on hardly at all). This makes me think that these electronics (and work) are an essential part of our modern existence – or are we just addicted to the instantaneous gratification they provide and refuse to give them up.

Although some promote the tech-free vacation, I’m not sure that this group could handle it with the amount of hardware we’re pack’n.