Thursday, February 13, 2020

Wired Validates Predictions about Privacy & AI Built Into Everything

Two of our predictions for 2020, which we've called the "Age of Anxiety," is the feeling that we're constantly under surveillance. We also said that a media topic would be "AI in everything."

With the latest column for Wired, "Worried About Privacy at Home? There's an AI for That How edge AI will provide devices with just enough smarts to get the job done without spilling all your secrets to the mothership,"  by Clive Thompson, a very smart columnist who also writes for the New York Times, touched on both parts: the privacy and the AI in everything.

His feeling: "I don't need light switches that tell dad jokes. When it comes to gadgets that share my house, I'd prefer they be less smart."

What he means is there are companies building "edge AI": AI that runs on "teensy microprocessors" that have enough capability to control a coffee maker but nothing more than that; perhaps an edge AI can understand 200 words. 

Why is that enough? With designed limited capability, the edge AI-enabled coffee machine does not need to interact with the cloud, which would give it more power but also share all kinds of data in the cloud, where it can be used to better train future iterations of the coffee machine (perhaps) and also could be monetized or further shared without your permission.

Designed to handle specific applications, edge AI can be faster and can ensure privacy while helping you get the job done. As Thompson notes:
"You can't banter with it (edge AI) as you would with Alex. But who cares? 'It's a coffee maker. You're not going to have a meaningful conversation with your coffee maker...'"
Thompson describes edge AI as perfect for appliances light lamps, TVs, and other devices that could benefit from voice control without needing full-on conversational capabilities. True, users would need to know the key terms to turn on and off devices or handle other variables (like turn up or down the lights and thermostats or the channels or volume, if that's how you still watch TV or listen to music). But they won't have to worry that someone is listening in on the conversations.

Edge AI won't solve all the "Age of Anxiety" issues but it's a good way to use just-smart-enough AI to help us without being too smart and not knowing how our input and data are being used.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Axios Validates Our Prediction about Distrust in the Media Being a Big Factor

For this year's top 3 trends, we picked "Distrust of Big Tech media fuels anxiety," published Jan. 8, and Axios validated that in it's newsletter from Jan. 18, noting:

"This trust crisis — flagged for us as part of a larger presentation by lobbyist Bruce Mehlman — is based on polling that shows how little confidence the public has in powerful players and institutions."

We don't like the situation but "trust chasm," unfortunately, is an appropriate term to describe where we are as a country. 

The rest of the Axios article looks at the implications of the trust chasm in terms of how it may play out in November but we see trust issues having an impact on Big Tech and other parts of the economy.  According to the New York Times, "'Techlash Hits College Campuses: Facebook, Google and other major tech firms were every student's dream workplaces. Until they weren't," mistrust of Big Tech is hurting recruitment. (By the way, Mehlman's presentation is interesting and worth checking out but focuses on political issues.) 

Our point: trust is important in all kinds of relationships. Companies need to building up their credibility in order to maintain positive relationships with customers, employees, partners and others. And that can be challenging, given the ease with which negative information can get shared via social media. 

This will be something that companies need to keep in mind as they go about their business in 2020.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

USA Today Validates Our Prediction about Space & Space Junk

Back on January 15, we published our "Additional Set of Predictions for 2020: A Baker's Dozen of Tech Trends," in which we said: 

"There will be a lot of media space allocated to covering outer space...Meanwhile we also expect coverage about political and legal issues of space as well as articles about things that just a few years ago would have flown under the radar (we've really been trying not to make space puns) such as the growing awareness that too many satellites are causing a traffic jam in space. This space jam began to get recognition as a potential problem in space in 2019 but we think it will get more recognition in 2020. The risk of collisions among satellites is a problem."

On Jan. 28, USA Today wrote: "Heads up: Two satellites might collide in space 559 miles above Pittsburgh."

By NASA JPL -, Public Domain,

Update: Since we first published this blog, The Atlantic published an article, "The Night Sky Will Never Be the Same: Elon Musk’s plan for worldwide internet has sent bright artificial, lights streaking through the dark" that also validates our prediction. The Atlantic looks at Starlink, described as "a floating scaffold" that Musk "hopes will someday provide high-speed internet to every part of the world." The problem: 
"These satellites have turned out to be far more reflective than anyone, even SpaceX engineers, expected. Before Starlink, there were about 200 objects in orbit around Earth that could be seen with the unaided eye. In less than a year, SpaceX has added another 240. 'These are brighter than probably 99 percent of existing objects in Earth orbit right now,' says Pat Seitzer, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan who studies orbital debris."
You might say, so big deal about this prediction? What can we do about this problem. We think it's interesting for several reasons:
  1. This was a topic that was mostly ignored a few years ago. In Feb. 1, 2017, Popular Science published an article about space junk, "If Earth's orbit is so crowded, why don't we see space junk in photos of the Earth?" The article acknowledge a problem with space junk but not the aspect of collisions, and that was just three years ago.
  2. There seems to be more interest in space (and not because of the U.S. Space Force). Awareness of space junk is probably a good thing. What we really need is a solution. There could be a business in decluttering old, useless satellites still in orbit.
  3. From a media perspective, one article may reinforce another reporter filing another story. This is how media bandwagons start, and it may encourage governments and businesses to find a way to remove space junk.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

WSJ Validates Our Trends on Privacy and Robots & Offers Some We DIdn't Consider

We wrote and published our 2020 trends before seeing this article "Robots, Mood Enhancers & Scooters: 10 Top Consumer Trends for 2020" appeared in the Wall St. Journal.
So we're pleased that the Journal picked two of the same trends: privacy concerns and more robots. Our initial set of trends, which included privacy, was published Jan. 8, while our additional set of trends, which included robotics, appeared Jan. 15, the same morning that the Journal article appeared.
The Journal's set of trends included some we didn't consider, including
  • Homebodies: During economic, political and personal uncertainties, people often retreat to their homes, the Journal notes, which will likely fuel growth of internet shopping, home fitness, and food delivery services.
  • Instant Gratification: We didn't frame a prediction about staying home but we took a look at convenience, mentioning those three growth areas. The Journal agreed, and went a bit further: "Shorter attention spans means that people expect information to be as accessible as possible in the quickest possible time frame." We think this absolutely correct.
  • Inclusivity: According to the Journal, "more products and services are highlighting 'inclusivity for all,' including people with physical and mental disabilities. In our set of predictions, we mentioned voice control will be built into more devices, without drawing the connection to inclusivity. We liked this, and are sorry we missed that point.
Check out the other trends the Journal identified in the article.

Monday, February 3, 2020

One Additional Aspect of "The Age of Anxiety" Prediction: Sleeplessness

In saying that 2020 will be the "Age of Anxiety," we wrote about some of the driving factors that "will fuel feelings of anxiety, anger, exhaustion and insolation, regardless of political perspective."

We also said that "We expect many Americans will look for solutions and companies that provide joy, comfort, assurance and realiability to bolster their sense of well-being and connection."

We'd like to add to that.

We think the "Age of Anxiety" will drive sleeplessness. There's already recognition that sleeplessness is a health and productivity issue but we think this will increase.

We may have reached peak mattress -- sometimes it seems there are as many different mattress companies as there are podcasts where they advertise -- but we expect that there will be more devices over the next year that are designed to measure and deliver a better night's sleep.

We also think that stress, stress eating and stress drinking will be topics that will get covered by the media, specifically tips on how to reduce and cut back. Perhaps related, there will be more coverage about cannibis and the cannibis business sector.

These are important aspects of living in the "Age of Anxiety."