Dunvegan Thought Spot

In the research The Dunvegan Group conducts to support our CCR (Customer Care & Retention) programs, we discover articles, blog posts and videos which, although not directly related to our work, are thought provoking or concern matters you may want to think about.  ‘Thought Spot’ covers a broad range of subjects.

The posts in ‘Thought Spot’ are selected by Olev Wain, Ph.D., VP of The Dunvegan Group. 

We welcome your feedback!



Exponential Technologies – What Are They?

Peter Diamandis is an American engineer, physician and entrepreneur who co-founded Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank providing educational Artificial Intelligenceprograms as well as running a business incubator. 

The university focuses on scientific progress and the development of ‘exponential’ technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and virtual reality.

The incubator encourages application of these technologies in various fields such as data science, digital biology, medicine and self-driving vehicles.

In his primer on exponential technologies, Peter Diamandis writes (edited):

For a technology to be ‘exponential, its power and/or speed doubles each year, and/or the cost drops by half.

They are technologies which are rapidly accelerating and shaping major industries and all aspects of our lives.

Diamandis constructed a framework for summarizing the characteristics of exponential technologies. These characteristics are interrelated.

He calls these characteristics the 6 D’s. Here is a summary (edited) and explanation as presented by Vanessa Bates Ramirez writing on SingularityHub.com on November 22 2016:

1. Digitized – it can be programmed

“Anything digitized enters the same exponential growth we see in computing.

Digital information is easy to access, share and distribute. It can be spread at the speed of the internet.

Once something can be represented in ones and zeros – from music to biotechnology – it becomes an information based technology and enters exponential growth.”

2. Deceptive – it is initially slow in developing

“When something starts being digitized, its initial period of growth is deceptive because exponential trends do not seem to grow very fast.

Doubling .01 only gets you .02, then .04, and so on. Exponential growth really takes off after it breaks the whole number barrier.

Then 2 quickly becomes 32, which becomes 32,000 before you know it.”

As an example, artificial intelligence had its origins in research conducted during the Second World War (1939 to 1945) but did not demonstrate its true potential until more than 50 years later in 1997 when IBM’s supercomputer ‘Deep Blue’ defeated world-champion chess player Garry Kasparov.

3. Disruptive – it is more effective and cheaper than what it replaces

“The existing product for a market or service is disrupted by the new market the exponential technology creates because digital technologies outperform in effectiveness and cost.

Once you can stream music on your phone, why buy CDs?

If you can also snap, store and share photographs, why buy a camera and film?”

4. Dematerialized – take something that is physical and re-create it digitally.

“Separate physical products are removed from the equation.

Technologies that were once bulky or expensive – radio, camera, GPS, video, phones, maps – are all now in a smart phone that fits in your pocket.”

As an example, the Sony Walkman, a portable cassette tape player introduced in 1979, allowed people to carry their music with them. Now the same end is accomplished via the iPhone and digitized music.

5. Demonetized – becoming cheaper

“Money is increasingly removed from the equation as the technology becomes cheaper, often to the point of being free.

Software is less expensive to produce than hardware and copies are virtually free.

You can now download any number of apps on your phone to access terabytes of information and enjoy a multitude of services at costs approaching zero.”

6. Democratized – available to everyone, not just the wealthy

“Once something is digitized, more people have access to it. Powerful technologies are no longer only for governments, large organizations or the wealthy.”

If you can buy a cheap phone with an internet connection, you have the same communications capabilities and access to the same platforms as a billionaire.

I think the 6 characteristic D’s of exponential technologies can be summarized even further as:

1. A digitized form of a previous technology
2. Accelerating development of improvements following a slow start
3. More effective and cheaper than what it is displacing and therefore available to everyone

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of akindo at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Meet ‘Flippy’ – CaliBurger’s Robot Hamburger Cook

CaliBurger is a California-based hamburger restaurant chain similar to Five Guys, In-N-Out and Shake Shack. It positions itself as a tech company that also sells hamburgers.

While in the restaurant, customers can play games such as GemJump and Minecraft and see the results of interactive in-house gaming amongst its customers displayed on a huge video wall.

Currently, CaliBurger has restaurants in 13 countries including China, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Sweden.

Automation of some jobs is the next step for CaliBurger. Line cooks are the target.

Writing on singularityhub.com, Vanessa Bates Ramirez provides details (edited version):

CaliBurger has partnered with a company called Miso Robotics and developed ‘Flippy’, a robotic kitchen assistant, and recently installed one in their Pasadena, California location.

Flippy the bot is more than just an assembly line robot requiring an organized work space with ingredients being precisely positioned for it to cook hamburgers.

Flippy incorporates the latest machine learning and artificial intelligence software to locate and identify all things that are in its workspace and to learn from its experience through a constant feedback loop.

The bot consists of a cart on wheels with a single six-axis arm providing full range of motion allowing it to perform multiple functions.

It has an assortment of tools such as spatulas, scrapers and tongs which it can change by itself, depending on the task.

Some of the bot’s key tasks include pulling raw patties from a stack and placing them on the grill, tracking each burger’s cook time and temperature, and transferring cooked burgers to a plate.

Sensors on the grill-facing side of the bot take in thermal and 3D data, and multiple cameras help Flippy ‘see’ its surroundings. The bot knows how many burgers it should be cooking at any given time through a system that digitally sends tickets back to the kitchen from the restaurant’s counter.

Nevertheless, a human is required to finish the burger. Flippy alerts human cooks when it’s time to put cheese on a grilling patty. A human is also needed to add sauce and toppings once the patty is cooked, as well as wrap the burgers that are ready to eat.

Two of the bot’s most appealing features for restaurateurs are its compactness and adaptability—it can be installed in front of or next to any standard grill or fryer, which means restaurants can start using Flippy without having to expand or reconfigure their kitchens.

Because this bot ‘machine learns’, it can also learn to prepare other foods on the menu.

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, there were 2.3 million chefs in 2014 in the United States; line cooks are included in this figure.

Flippy takes care of jobs around the grill that are repetitive and dangerous due to the possibility of cuts or burns.

I believe many line cooks operating in a repetitive-task environment can and will be replaced by automation. Bots like Flippy are more reliable than humans, can work longer shifts, provide a uniform product and never call in sick. Nor are there any personnel issues.

The argument has been made that destruction of one job will lead to the creation of another job; in the case of robots like Flippy, new tech jobs will certainly be created to manufacture and maintain these devices.

These new jobs require higher levels of technical expertise, things that line cooks cannot be easily re-trained to do.

The prospects for people losing jobs through automation, are not good, particularly for those whose entire skill set has been replaced by an ‘intelligent’ bot.

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of chiarito at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The Importance of Recess

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines recess as “regularly scheduled periods within the elementary school day for unstructured physical activity and play.”

In elementary school, my academic day started at 9:00 AM and ended at either 3:30 or 4:00 PM, depending on whether you had misbehaved and had to stay until 4:00 as punishment.

There was a 15 minute recess in the morning as well as in the afternoon; lunch time was 90 minutes long from noon until 1:30 PM with almost all students walking or bicycling home for lunch. Most of us were back in the school yard by 1:00 PM, playing whatever games we wanted.

I liked school and was interested in all subjects; however, towards the end of each classroom study segment I looked forward to either recess or going home for lunch and then doing something involving physical activity.

It seems that these days less and less time is being allocated by elementary schools to unstructured free time with more time being allotted to academic pursuits.

My personal experience suggests that this might not be the best way to run an elementary school to achieve optimal learning conditions.

Writing in theatlantic.com in December 2016, Alia Wong explains (edited version):

In Florida, a coalition of parents known as “the recess moms” has been fighting to pass legislation guaranteeing the state’s elementary-school students at least 20 minutes of daily free play. Similar legislation recently passed in New Jersey, only to be vetoed by the governor, who deemed it “stupid.”

When, you might ask, did recess become such a radical proposal? In a survey of school-district administrators, roughly a third said their districts had reduced outdoor play in the early 2000s.

Likely culprits include concerns about bullying and the No Child Left Behind Act, whose time-consuming requirements resulted in cuts to play.

The benefits of recess might seem obvious—time to run around helps kids stay fit. But a large body of research suggests that it also boosts cognition.

Many studies have found that regular exercise improves mental function and academic performance.

And an analysis of studies that focused specifically on recess found positive associations between physical activity and the ability to concentrate in class.

Preliminary results from an ongoing study in Texas suggest that elementary-school children who are given four 15-minute recesses a day are significantly more empathetic toward their peers than are kids who don’t get recess.

Perhaps most important, recess allows children to design their own games, to test their abilities, to role-play, and to mediate their own conflicts—activities that are key to developing social skills and navigating complicated situations.

I agree, especially with Alia Wong’s last comment.

As an elementary school pupil I remember playing pick-up soccer and baseball during recess and lunch time.

Without any adult supervision, we settled disputes amongst ourselves and renegotiated rules as required.

We were masters of both our physical space and our relationships with one another, if only for a short time.

Fast forward to today . . .

Some elementary schools have set up stationary bicycles with desks attached to the handle bars. Students may use them to do their work when they feel they are not able to sit still and concentrate on their academic studies. It seems that simultaneous physical activity helps them focus on their work.

The results, so far, appear to be promising. However, as with most new innovations or practices, only time will tell if studying while peddling a stationary bicycle consistently aids learning.

Or are stationary bicycles just a passing fad that students and teachers want to believe helps with cognitive functioning?

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of dolgachov at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The Appeal of The Physical in Our Digital Age

The digital age we live in has changed the way we listen to music, capture or record images, and read. As new digital technologies developed, old technologies were swept aside with many believing it was only a matter of time before they ceased to be used, being remembered only as museum curiosities.

This has not happened.

In fact, vinyl records and film photography are experiencing a renaissance, and paper books are still being sold and read.

Christian Jarrett in his article on “The psychology of stuff and things” in The Psychologist magazine explains:

More than mere tools, luxuries or junk, our possessions become extensions of the self. We use them to signal to ourselves, and others, who we want to be and where we want to belong. And long after we’re gone, they become our legacy. Some might even say our essence lives on in what once we made or owned.

I doubt if many people, upon inheriting old digital files, would view them as a legacy item by which to remember someone.

Digital images, words, and sounds, which have no physical manifestation, which can be instantly uploaded or deleted, may not be considered “real”.

Perhaps people are now seeking “real” things in their physical world to complement their digital world . . . something they can touch, see and smell.

Think about vinyl records.

In 2006, only 900,000 new vinyl records were sold in the United States; in 2015 new record sales had increased to 12 million which is an increase of more than 30% per year. And sales are not just to older people who used vinyl records in their youth and might now be making vinyl purchases for nostalgic reasons; young digital natives who never experienced vinyl records are also buying them.

As David Sax explains in his new book “The Revenge of Analogue”

Records are large and heavy; require money, effort, and taste to create and buy and play; and cry out to be thumbed over and examined. Because consumers spend money to acquire them, they gain a genuine sense of ownership over the music, which translates into pride.

Film photography is also on the upswing across all age groups, producing a physical record (i.e., a negative) that can be printed on paper or scanned into a digital file . . . the point being that you have a physical manifestation of the image you captured, which, if stored properly, will be usable for a very long time . . . perhaps more than a hundred years under ideal conditions.

What happens to JPEG files as storage technology evolves and the ability to open these files is no longer available. Should you have any, how many of you have the ability to retrieve data from your old 8” floppy disks. (Hint: you can still find these drives on eBay starting at about $250 . . . but what about the software that was used to write the files originally? Not so easy, is it?)

And finally, about reading and the paper book. Pew Research reports that two-thirds of Americans read a paper print book in 2016 . . . about the same figure as in the preceding four years. Only about a quarter read an e-book in the same period.

I believe we are not ready to entirely abandon our physical media and totally embrace a digital world. While the digital world is here to stay, there will still be a market for outdated technologies.

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Kodak Invented The Technology That Destroyed It

Many people continue to believe that Kodak sat by idly as the digital camera destroyed its film business. This was not the case.

Kodak was very active in the research and development of digital imaging technology.

Writing in the July 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, Scott Anthony points out that:

“The first prototype of a digital camera was created in 1975 by Steve Sasson, an engineer working for … Kodak. The camera was as big as a toaster, took 20 seconds to take an image, had low quality, and required complicated connections to a television to view, but it clearly had massive disruptive potential.”

David Usborne writing on independent.co.uk observed that:

“A vice-president left [Kodak] in 1993 because even then he couldn't persuade it to manufacture and market a digital camera. ‘We developed the world's first consumer digital camera but we could not get approval to launch or sell it because of fear of the effects on the film market."

To a degree this was understandable since the profit on film was 70 cents on the dollar; such margins could not be achieved with digital cameras.

Then, in 1994 Apple launched ‘Quicktake’ one of the first digital consumer cameras. Apple did not manufacture it . . . Kodak did!

Meanwhile, Kodak continued to design and manufacture high end digital cameras and other imaging equipment, not realizing the mass market potential for consumer digital cameras.

According to Wikipedia (edited):

In 1999 Kodak had a 27% market-leading share in digital camera sales.

In 2001 Kodak held the No. 2 spot in U.S. digital camera sales (behind Sony)  but it lost $60 on every camera sold.

By 2010 it held 7% share, in seventh place behind Canon, Sony, Nikon and others.

Despite the high growth, Kodak failed to anticipate how fast digital cameras became commodities, with low profit margins, as more companies entered the market in the mid-2000s.

Kodak’s digital cameras soon became undercut by Asian competitors that could produce their offerings more cheaply.

Now an ever-smaller percentage of digital pictures are being taken on dedicated digital cameras, being gradually displaced in the late 2000s by cameras on cellphones, smartphones and tablets. 

So you see, Kodak was not blind to the digital revolution but actually participated in it. Trying to maintain its film business prevented the company from a more aggressive move into the consumer digital camera arena.

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of bpablo at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Smart Phone Addiction – Going “Cold Turkey”

Writing on theguardian.com on February 11 2016, Jenna Woginrich describes life after getting rid of her mobile communication device 18 months ago. Here is an edited excerpt:

The phone rings: it’s my friend checking to see if I can pick her up on the way to a dinner party. I ask her where she is and as she explains, I reach as far as I can across the countertop for a pen.

I scribble the address in my trusty notebook I keep in my back pocket. I tell her I’ll be at her place in about 20 minutes. Then I hang up. Literally.

I take the handset receiver away from my ear and hang it on the weight-triggered click switch that cuts off my landline’s dial tone.

I take my laptop, Google the address, add better directions to my notes and head outside and drive over. If I get lost on the way, I’ll need to ask someone for directions. If she changes her plans, she won’t be able to tell me or cancel at a moment’s notice. If I crash on the way, I won’t be calling 911.

I’m fine with all of this. As you guessed by now, I haven’t had a cellphone for more than 18 months.

I didn’t just cancel cellular service and keep the smartphone for Wi-Fi fun, nor did I downgrade to a flip phone to “simplify”; I opted out entirely. There is no mobile phone in my life, in any form, at all.

Arguably, there should be. I’m a freelance writer and graphic designer with many reasons to have a little computer in my holster, but I don’t miss it. There are a dozen ways to contact me between email and social media. When I check in, it’s on my terms.

“My phone” has become “the phone”. It’s no longer my personal assistant; it has reverted to being a piece of furniture – like “the fridge” or “the couch”, two other items you wouldn’t carry around with you.

I didn’t get rid of it for some hipster-inspired luddite ideal or because I couldn’t afford it. I cut myself off because my life is better without a cellphone.

I’m less distracted and less accessible, two things I didn’t realize were far more important than instantly knowing how many movies Kevin Kline’s been in since 2010 at a moment’s notice. I can’t be bothered unless I choose to be. It makes a woman feel rich.

When friends found out, I was told it was as insane a decision as leaving a rent-controlled apartment.

But I was tired of my world existing through a black screen and even more tired of being contacted whenever anyone (or any bot) felt like it.

I was constantly checking emails and social media, or playing games. When I found out I could download audiobooks, the earbuds never left my lobes. I was a hard user. I loved every second of it.

I even slept with my phone by my side. It was what I fell asleep watching, and it was the alarm that woke me up. It was never turned off.

It got so bad that I grew uncomfortable with any 30-second span of hands-free idleness. I felt obligated to reply to every Facebook comment, text, tweet, and game request.

As an author I wrote it all off as reader interaction, free publicity and important grassroots marketing. These were the justifications of a junkie; I was an addict at risk of losing myself completely

I made the decision to break up with my device and I did it “cold turkey”.

I’ve been clean a year and a half now, and I’m doing fine. I get plenty of work, I don’t miss invitations, and I’m no longer scared of my own thoughts.

I got a landline and I got more sleep. I look people in the eye. I eat food instead of photographing it. My business, social life, and personal safety have not evaporated overnight either.

Turns out a basic internet connection and laptop is plenty of connectivity to keep friends informed, weekends fun and trains running on time. And while I might be missing out on being able to call 911 at any moment, it’s worth the sacrifice to me.

I’m glad to be back in the world again. It beats waiting for the notification alert telling me that I exist.

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of Georgijevic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Reasons for Sending Handwritten Notes and Letters

With the domination of the Internet and social media as a communication medium, the art of handwritten letters and notes delivered by snail-mail, seems to have taken a back seat to instantaneous electronic communications.

Whenever I open my mailbox and I see an envelope that has been addressed by hand, I am more likely to open it first. Usually it contains a personal communication from a friend or relative.

Can this approach be taken for more effective business communications?

The answer is “yes”.

Writing on americanexpress.com, Carla Turchetti made the following points in support of the handwritten note or card:

Use handwritten notes to reach out to prospective clients and to say thank you to vendors and clients. Email is too easy to ignore. Phone calls can be invasive and are more challenging to schedule. Letters are hard to ignore and not invasive.

Taking the time to write something by hand makes the recipient feel special.

Handwritten notes can be more convincing and powerful than the actual message.

Handwritten notes remind us to slow down and take note … of our surroundings, our customers, and our community and clients

On a personal level as well there are good reasons for sending handwritten notes and letters.

Writing on huffingtonpost.com on May 15 2015, Traci Bild provided several reasons.

“1. A Lifetime Keepsake: Personal handwritten notes grow rarer by the day. According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. In a world where people seem to have everything, words on paper, sealed with a stamp, can be far more valuable than any material item purchased.

2. Your Heart on Paper: In a wired world — where emails, tweets and text messages are more accessible than handwritten notes — there is something magical about reading words written in longhand.

3. The Ultimate Surprise: Let’s be honest: How do you feel when someone handwrites you a note? Imagine the person you write walking to their mailbox, opening it and finding a letter inscribed to them from you. It will be the best part of their day!

4. A Feeling of Importance: What people want more than anything is to feel validated and to know they matter. Your handwritten letter will send a clear message: You are important and you do matter to me.

5. It’s Fun! Purchase beautiful stationary that reflects your personality, buy interesting stamps and try out a sealing wax stamp to secure the envelope. I have a butterfly and a heart and it’s like putting a cherry on top!

6. No Regrets: How many times have you missed the opportunity to say what needed to be said, only to find it was too late? Make a point of letting people you care about, who have influenced and shaped your life know how you feel.”

And one final point. You should keep the handwritten cards and letters you receive.

I have letters my parents wrote to each other during World War II when they were separated for over four years. Reading these letters today allows me to reconnect with them . . . they passed away over 20 years ago.

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of Eerik at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Office Lunch Indian Style – A Study in Supply Chain Management

I have a lingering visual memory of my visit to Bombay (now Mumbai) India.

Just after 11:00 am on a weekday morning, hundreds of bicycles and carts emerged from the commuter railway station carrying wooden trays filled with canisters and quickly disappeared into the downtown business district.

Each canister (also known as a tiffin or dabba) contained a hot meal prepared by an office worker’s wife or mother, at home that morning, to be delivered to his place of work. The logistics of this delivery system are simply mindboggling . . . and it operates with neither an electronic trail nor paper trail!

The delivery person is known as a dabbawalla – someone who delivers dabbas – loosely translated as “lunch box man”.

The dabbawallas  are a cooperative network of more than 5,000, largely illiterate, rural workers who use the metropolitan train system to bring dabbas (the food canisters) from home to the office in time for lunch and then return the empty dabbas home at the end of the day through the same network.

Dabbawallas use nothing more than 3-4 symbols painted on the dabbas to create an unparalleled food supply chain that’s famous for its incredible punctuality and reliability.

They don’t use any technical devices to support their service. Bicycles, carts, and trains are used to transport and deliver the collected dabbas.

Writing on popupcity.net in 2010, Joop de Boer explained how (edited version) the system works:

The first dabbawalla picks up the dabba from a home and takes it to the nearest metropolitan commuter railway station.

The second dabbawalla sorts out the dabbas at the railway station according to destination and puts them in the luggage carriage.

The third one travels with the dabbas to the railway stations nearest to the destinations.

The fourth one picks up dabbas from the railway station and delivers them to each individual’s office.

The process is reversed in the evenings with each dabba completing a distance of 60-70 kilometers and changing hands eight times.

Customers pay $5 to $9 a month for this service, which also explains why Western cities hardly know these kinds of services . . . it would be too expensive.

The system is a cooperative, which means that all the workers collectively own the business, are paid equally and share equally in the profit.

Every work day the dabbawallas pick up and deliver 200,000 lunch boxes within only a couple of hours, in a traffic-congested city whose population is more than 20 million.

It has been estimated that the dabbawalla’s on-time service delivery standard was 99.99998% . . . which exceeds Six Sigma standards! That is one late/missed delivery for every 6 million deliveries!

It has been said the Dabbawallas are the envy of Fedex.

The dabbawallas have started using internet technology to build their customer base. They are now carrying mobile phones. Their monthly delivery fees have increased and business is growing.

They have a long tradition in India, but how long will the dabbawallas last as an occupation?

There is a trend to eat out more often and use take-away food vendors at lunch time. And, women in younger generations are more likely to be working themselves so they are not at home to make mid-day meals for their husbands.

But, the strict dietary requirements of the various different religious groups in India make home made meals a necessity for many workers.

As in all countries, dining out is expensive, and the trains will continue to be overcrowded making it difficult for workers to carry their lunch dabbas in the passenger cabin.

I think it will be some time before the dabbawalla disappears.

Your thoughts?

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

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Will Robots Take Your Job? Not Entirely . . . For The Time Being!

Much has been written recently about the impact of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence on the workplace and various occupations.

Robots can perform repetitive tasks more quickly and more accurately than humans and remain with a task for long periods of time. And they don’t call in sick!

Although you may not realize it, automation has been a reality going back to our parent’s time as well as our grandparents. Just think of labour saving devices such as circular saws and power drills which came into use with the introduction of electricity in our homes. The electric circular saw allows a person to make 10 cuts in the time it would take to make one cut using a manual saw . . . the carpenter simply became more efficient yet still needed all his other skills to complete the project he was working on.

Automation is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

In a study published in January 2017 by McKinsey & Company titled “Harnessing automation for a future that works”, several points were made about the potential impact of automation on you and your job.

The study’s key point however, is that:

“Automation . . . won’t arrive overnight [and that its] full potential requires people and technology to work hand in hand.”

Here are some other observations:

”The right level of detail at which to analyze the potential impact of automation is that of individual activities rather than entire occupations.

Every occupation includes multiple types of activity, each of which has different requirements for automation.

Given currently demonstrated technologies, very few occupations—less than 5 percent—are candidates for full automation. However, almost every occupation has partial automation potential, as a proportion of its activities could be automated.

We estimate that about half of all the activities people are paid to do in the world’s workforce could potentially be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. That amounts to almost $16 trillion in wages.

The activities most susceptible to automation are physical ones in highly structured and predictable environments, as well as data collection and processing.

In the United States, these activities make up 51 percent of activities in the economy, accounting for almost $2.7 trillion in wages. They are most prevalent in manufacturing, accomodation and food service, and retail trade.

And it’s not just low-skill, low-wage work that could be automated; middle-skill and high-paying, high-skill occupations, too, have a degree of automation potential.

As processes are transformed by the automation of individual activities, people will perform activities that complement the work that machines do, and vice versa.”

It certainly appears that automation will permit increased production with the same or fewer people; however, we also expect that new types of jobs requiring new skills will emerge.  

What new types of jobs will materialize as automation progresses?

And if automated jobs are not replaced with new types of jobs or occupations, will the Basic Universal Income become a reality?

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of fatihhoca at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The Death of The Department Store and The Shopping Mall – Really?

In the first week of January 2017, Sears announced the closing of 150 stores by spring. According to Hayley Peterson writing on businessinsider.com on January 4 2017: “That means [Sears] will have fewer than 1,500 stores left . . . that's down nearly 60% from 2011, when Sears had more than 3,500 stores.”

In the same week Macy’s announced the closing of 68 stores. These closures are significant since many of these large stores are shopping mall anchor tenants.

Forbes.com reports that:

“[In the 20 years] since 1995, the number of shopping centers in the U.S. has grown by more than 23% . . . while the population has grown by less than 14%. Currently [in 2015] there is close to 25 square feet of retail space per capita (roughly [double that], if small shopping centers and independent retailers are added). In contrast, Europe has about 2.5 square feet per capita.”

Clearly, retail space in the US has been over developed and will shrink further with the onslaught of on-line shopping.

However, I think there is more to the story that the convenience of on-line shopping combined with the emergence of discount merchants and big box stores, are the reasons for the decline of traditional retailers and malls.

The rise of social media also has had an impact. Whereas people, particularly teens, used to go to malls to meet with their friends they can now connect with others instantaneously via Facebook for example, without having to travel to a physical location for this social interaction.

With 1.18 billion daily Facebook users (about one out of every six people on the face of the Earth) the number of people you can connect with has increased exponentially.

So . . . why bother going to the mall if you can connect with all your friends without having to physically transport yourself . . . particularly if you can do most of your shopping online?

What’s the poor mall owner to do?

The answer, according to Kate Taylor writing on businessinsider.com on January 23 2016 is this:

“To compete with online shopping, malls need to match e-commerce in convenience and create experiential reasons to visit the mall that you cannot find online.”

Some malls are already re-inventing themselves.

“Touch-screen platforms that provide customer information are becoming an increasingly common and interactive feature.

For example, YunTouch uses face recognition technology to collect and analyze customers’ past purchases when they stop by a digital display terminal.

In the US, Ralph Lauren is testing interactive mirrors in fitting rooms that allow shoppers to change the lighting, request different sizes, browse through other items, or interact with a sales associate.

The other major shift in the mall of the future is in customers’ own hands — their smartphones.

With the chance to connect, some malls are now texting shoppers. Shanghai’s Cloud Nine and Shenzhen’s SEG Plaza are utilizing social-messaging app WeChat for their news and loyalty programs, connecting with customers even when they aren’t at the mall.

In the US . . . Macerich [who owns and operates regional shopping malls in the US has some] locations [that] allow shoppers to text questions to the mall’s information desk to get speedy and convenient answers.

In closing . . .

“New technology helped contribute to the decline of malls in America, as shoppers turned to e-commerce. However, today the tides are turning. Now, with new experiential and smartphone tech, retailers have the chance to use technology to reverse the downfall of the mall.”

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of Versionphotography at  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Does Practice Make Perfect? Sometimes!

In her article titled “Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hours Rule: What It Actually Takes to Reach Genius-Level Excellence”, Maria Popova discredits the pop-psychology rule of “10,000” as the number of hours of practice required to perform exceptionally well in any field of endeavour … be it music, sports, acting or becoming an excellent chef.

The “10,000 hour” rule is only half true.

What is required, over and above repetition, is the means to monitor and adjust your execution so that you move towards your goal of total excellence.

The main predictor of excellence is what can be described as ‘deliberate practice’ … a mindset requiring your concentration in addition to your time.

This is accomplished through some sort of feedback or system for correcting yourself … a coach, skilled expert or mentor can be used. In the case of a musician this can also be accomplished by listening critically to recordings of their own performance and comparing it to those of a master performer.

People who become expert in their field do so by concentrating in each practice session on improving a single aspect of their performance that an expert has identified as needing further development.

The feedback loop is important in spotting errors and correcting them as they occur. Practice without such feedback will not contribute to success in any field.

Paying full attention to what you are doing, and correcting faults along the way, is essential for getting to the point where you feel that executing some specific aspect of your performance is no longer work and that ‘it comes naturally’.

But here is where even more self-discipline is required …

You must switch from continuing on autopilot repeating what you already know or are good at, to monitoring and correcting another aspect of your performance.

If at any point you stop your disciplined practice, and simply continue reinforcing what you have already mastered, your skill level will plateau and you will cease making progress.

And as a final note, world-class performers in any field often limit their disciplined and focussed practice to about four hours a day. This appears to be the optimal time for maintaining optimal concentration and focus on improvement in a specific area.

Sounds like a plan … doesn’t it?

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What Happens to Merchandise Returned After Christmas?

Writing in Quartz (qz.com) on December 29 2016, Marc Bain, Sarah Slobin and Michael Treb explain:

The season of giving is over. It’s followed by the season of returns.

During the first week of January, US consumers will send nearly $30 billion in products back to where they came from, returning 9% of all e-commerce purchases.

[For UPS] that adds up to 5.8 million packages in transit [in the first week in January], peaking January 5th, a day that UPS has nicknamed National Returns Day.

But here’s something you probably didn’t know: Many of those returns aren’t going to make it back into store inventory and onto shelves.

Instead, they will rack up a giant carbon footprint as they wind their way through a network of middlemen and resellers and, at each step, a share of those goods will be discarded in landfills.

“It’s a huge environmental impact,” says Tobin Moore, cofounder and CEO of Optoro, a technology company focused on improving the “reverse logistics” of consumer returns. “It’s over 4 billion pounds of [landfill] waste generated a year in the US from reverse logistics.”

Optoro, which UPS recently bought a stake in . . . estimates that just 50% of returns go back into store inventory. Because of their condition, due to use, damage, or even just opened boxes, the rest have a different fate. Stores may be able to return some to their manufacturer, or resell them through their own outlets.

But often they sell them at a fraction of their original cost to discounters or massive, centralized liquidators, who buy truckloads of inventory that they sort and resell to other middlemen before they land at secondhand shops.

At each step, if it’s more economical to throw an item away rather than ship it, off to the dumpster it goes. Big retailers toss out huge quantities of inventory each year.

Moore says that many people mistakenly think their return will simply be resold, so they use free shipping/easy returns to effectively rent products, like TVs for Superbowl parties or power drills for moving into a new home.

Unfortunately, not everything you send back will have a second life. That’s something to think about next time you hit send from that virtual shopping cart.

Your thoughts?

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Reports of The Death of Film Photography Are Greatly Exaggerated!

Digital cameras have not killed film . . . well, not entirely. Some people still prefer film for image capture . . . and for good reasons!

In an article in the Los Angeles Times on August 4th 2014, Martin Scorsese, director of films such as “New York, New York”, “Raging Bull” and “Gangs of New York” was quoted, saying:

“Everything we do in [digital high definition when making a movie] is an effort to recreate the look of film. Film, even now, offers a richer visual palette than [high definition]. We have to remember that film is still the best and only time-proven way to preserve movies.”

This is why he and other directors continue to use traditional film when making a movie.

Before you throw out your old 35 millimeter film camera, consider three things.

First, what happens to the pictures you take? 

How many of you have your parents’ albums containing pictures shot on film? I do . . . and I think you would agree there are some good memories in those photo albums.

Today, given the proliferation of cameras on our portable devices, we are taking more photos than ever …but how many of these images will still be available for viewing in 30 years? Most, I believe will have been erased or forgotten, or the digital images will have been corrupted. Film pictures are permanent whereas digital images can be easily lost or destroyed.

Second, shooting with film encourages you to be patient.

Writing on fstoppers.com, David Geffin explains;

“[I]t’s far more worthwhile to wait, watch, direct a little and have a clear vision in your head AHEAD of what you shoot, rather than shooting and looking at images, trying to work out what you were trying to say. Shooting film is a cure for the over-shoot-because-we-can digital sickness.”

And third, a completely manual film camera forces you to understand what each part does and what you must do to get the picture you want.

With today’s digital cameras it is all too easy to put the camera into a pre-set or automatic mode and start taking pictures, letting the camera make all the decisions for getting the right exposure, but not necessarily the image you want.

And with a manual film camera you will have to make decisions about the length of exposure and aperture (or how ‘wide’ the lens opens) to get the correct depth of field for your picture.

All the learning from taking pictures with a manual film camera can be transferred to your digital camera, allowing you to take exactly the picture you want, instead of leaving it up to the camera.

Your thoughts?

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Artificial Intelligence & The Destruction of Art And Music As We Once Knew It

Famous paintings and classical compositions have brought joy to countless millions of people over the ages. Rembrandt and Johann Sebastian Bach are only two examples of past masters.

Imagine that modern technology, driven by artificial intelligence, could produce new works by these same masters that experts could not identify as copies of the original artist’s or composer’s style.

Well, that day has arrived.

Here are some recent developments you should be aware of.

Writing about Rembrandt, in theverge.com on April 5 2016, Alessandra Potenza said:

“A new Rembrandt painting was unveiled today in Amsterdam. But the portrait wasn’t exactly made by the 17th century Dutch master; it was created with 3D printers by a team of data analysts, developers, and art historians.

The painting, called “the New Rembrandt” was developed by the Amsterdam-based advertising agency J. Walter Thompson for its client ING Bank, and took 18 months to create. To reproduce Rembrandt’s painting style and brushstrokes, a unique software and facial recognition algorithm were used to analyze digital representations of all of his 346 known paintings. The data was then fed to a 3D printer, which released 13 layers of paint-based UV ink onto a canvas to recreate the painting texture similar to a real Rembrandt. The final artwork, which was realized also with help from Microsoft, is made of more than 148 million pixels.”

It is very difficult for experts to conclude that this computer generated “painting” was a fake.

And about the famous composer Bach, the following from technologyreview.com on December 14 2016 from the Emerging Technology file:

“Gaetan Hadjeres and Francois Pachet at the Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Paris . . . have developed a neural network that has learned to produce choral cantatas in the style of Bach. They call their machine DeepBach.

[They said:] After being trained on the chorale harmonizations by Johann Sebastian Bach, our model is capable of generating highly convincing chorales in the style of Bach . . . about half the time, these compositions fool human experts into thinking they were actually written by Bach.”

Here are three questions we have to ask ourselves about the future of art and music:

  1. When new works of art and music can be produced in the style of past masters, will the value of their original works be diminished?
  2. Will artificial intelligence allow us to improve or enhance a composer’s original works to be even more pleasing to the ear?
  3. Will new forms of music, yet unknown to us, evolve through advances in artificial intelligence?

Your thoughts?

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Job Destruction and Universal Basic Income (UBI)

At the beginning of December 2016 Amazon announced a new technology it has been testing at its prototype Amazon Go store in Seattle . . . a small retail store offering ready-to-go food items and basic groceries. There is no check-out.

Upon entry to the store you scan an app on your phone, just like you would scan a digital boarding pass when checking in for a flight. Then take whatever you need from the shelves and simply walk out.

While you are in the store, on-shelf sensing and computer vision technology tracks your every move and records items you pick up and put in your bag.

And, if you change your mind just put the item back on the shelf. The system dutifully records that you returned it.

On your way out, the system double checks the contents in your bag. Your items are then charged to your Amazon account.

Amazon Go stores will start opening to the U.S. public in early 2017.

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, about 3.5 million people in the US work as cashiers. Are these jobs going to be lost permanently once Amazon’s new technology is widely adopted in the retail sector? Only time will tell.

Automation of many processes and jobs is a given in our society. The likelihood of permanent job losses without sufficient numbers of new jobs being created to make up for this loss is a very real possibility. So how do people acquire or earn money to survive?

In his article on theguardian.com on December 9 2016, Tim Dunlop makes the following observations:

This sort of economy is also a recipe for massive inequality and insecurity. Platforms like Uber or Amazon Go, because they need so few workers, tend to funnel the wealth they generate to owners and investors rather than distribute it broadly via wages.

The role of government therefore becomes one of equalisation, of finding ways to see that the wealth generated in the new economy doesn’t simply flow to a tiny number of people at the top of the new corporations.

The most efficient way for governments to do this is by the mechanism of a universal basic income, a guaranteed wage for everyone, that not only provides a financial floor below which no one can fall, but allows us to redefine the sort of work we do and find meaningful.

That is to say, by breaking the link between survival and work, [Universal Basic Income] allows us all to not only benefit from the technology, but to reinvent what we even mean by the concept of work.

What are your thoughts about a Universal Basic Income?

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Technology Comes To The Rescue of Handwriting

Today, most students take lecture notes using electronic keyboards (e.g., laptop computers or tablets) while relatively few take manual notes (e.g., hand written notes using pen and paper). This could change with advances in technology and discoveries in neuroscience about how information is processed and internalized through the act of using pen and paper.

Writing at the National Public Radio website (NPR.org) on April 17, 2016, James Doubek explained how handwritten notes are superior.

The case for using an electronic keyboard is that it is faster, resulting in more information being recorded. And these lecture notes can be readily distributed to others or edited at a later date. Of course, it also solves the problem of messy handwriting.

While it is slower to take manual notes, there is an advantage to doing this the old fashioned way.

In studies conducted at Princeton University and UCLA it was discovered that students taking manual notes were more selective in what they wrote down compared to those taking notes on their electronic keyboards.

The keyboarders tended to simply transcribe the words of the lecturer without internalizing the concepts being taught . . . those taking manual notes started processing the lecture material as they were listening, resulting in what is known as generative note taking.

Generative note taking involves summarizing and paraphrasing information as it is being received.

When tested on their ability to apply concepts discussed in a lecture, students taking manual notes scored significantly better than those using electronic keyboards.

Will students go back to taking hand written notes using ink and paper to improve their learning abilities?   I think the answer is no. The technology train left the station a long time ago.

So how can the advantages of a keyboard and the electronic storage of notes be married to the ‘better learning’ advantages of manual note taking?

The answer is the digital pen, also known as a smartpen. There are several technologies on the market … Livescribe is one.

It is an ink pen which contains a minicomputer as well as a digital audio recorder. When used with digital paper, which allows for the determination of where the pen is on the paper, the pen records what it writes . . . the digitized written text can then be uploaded to a computer along with the audio that has been recorded of the lecture.

The hand writing can be converted to editable on-screen text which is synched with the audio recording. Portions of the audio recording can be accessed by simply tapping on the notes that were taken during the lecture.

Seems like the best of both worlds to me.

Your thoughts?

Disclaimer: Olev Wain has no personal or financial interest in Livescribe

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Living Without Regrets

In her book “The Top Five Regrets of The Dying” Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse, lists the five most common regrets people have in their final days.

Here is the summary of her conclusions that appeared in the February 1, 2012 issue of theguardian.com:

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again."


1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

"This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

"This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

"Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

What's your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

Your thoughts?

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Art Forgery - Painting Authentically Is Not Enough to Be Successful

Creating an authentic looking art forgery is not enough to have it accepted as “the real thing” painted by a famous artist . . . it must also pass historical and technical analyses before being accepted as genuine. Successful forgers realize this.

In the January 2016 issue of New Republic magazine, Jeff Taylor discussed what it takes to be a successful art forger. He writes:

“At the center of every major forgery scandal of the last century stands someone . . . who not only could produce a very convincing fake, but who also [understands] how to corrupt the very systems of knowledge the art world uses to determine attributions and authenticity.”

All forgers learn from those who went before them and the answer lies in giving art experts and connoisseurs what they are looking for.

Using the same type of paint and materials as the original artist, is an absolute necessity.   Modern technical analyses can determine the properties of paint and thereby the era in which it was manufactured.

What is of equal importance, however, is to provide the ‘provenance’ of a painting . . . documentation such as previous owners, which dealers it passed through, what publications documented the painting and when, and who authenticated the painting and what their credentials were.

Faking provenance is what the brilliant German art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi (born in 1951) did to authenticate his forgeries.

In his article, Taylor tells us that Beltracchi searched French and German gallery exposition catalogues from the 1910’s and 20’s to find paintings that were considered lost; paintings that were listed only by title and artist (i.e., no image of the painting was available).

Since there were no images, Beltracchi, an exceptionally talented and versatile painter, could create whatever he thought would best fit the title, in the style of the original artist.

To create provenance for the works, he invented an art collection in the name of Werner Jägers , the grandfather of his wife. Beltracchi also stamped, in German, “Collection of Werner Jägers” on the backs of his forged paintings. He also forged collection stamps from Galerie Flechtheim, a well-known German art dealer in the 1920’s, and placed them on the backs of his paintings.

As the photo shows, Beltracchi even went so far as to photograph his wife posing as her grandmother, with his forgeries hanging on the wall behind her “since an archival photograph is the Holy Grail of provenance documentation”.

And that is how he authenticated his forgeries!

Your thoughts?

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Project VoCo - Photoshoping the Human Voice

At Adobe’s Max Conference in November 2016, Adobe unveiled a project which can be described as Photoshop for the human voice.

Writing at fastcodesign.com on November 7, 2016, Mark Wilson describes Project VoCo as an app capable of ‘learning’ or mastering your voice after listening to an audio clip of you speaking for only 20 minutes.

The app then identifies the words that you spoke and displays them in a text editor. You can edit these words and play back the revised audio clip. And voilà, your voice on the original recording is now saying something different.

Apparently it is easier to do such voice editing than modifying a picture in Photoshop. And the sound of the revised words using your voice is extremely convincing.

Although this technology is still in its infancy, the implications are profound. For years the music industry has been able to synthesize music; VoCo now presents the potential for synthesizing the human voice. How about Caruso, who passed away in 1921, singing a modern composition? Perhaps the octave range for a singer can be enhanced? Or how about synthesizing the ideal perfect voice and positioning it as a live performer … no royalties to the performer, but perhaps to the synthesizing artist.

The potential for abuse is also great. Evidential material such as, for example, recordings of private conversations sometimes used in court proceedings, could simply be made up.

When VoCo is combined with real-time video image manipulation (developed in a joint venture between researchers at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, The Max-Planck-Institute for Informatics and Stanford University) it is theoretically possible to make changes to not only the facial expressions of a videotaped person but the movement of their mouth as well so they are co-ordinated with the words that are being literally ‘put in their mouth’.

So much for the old expressions “seeing is believing” or “hearing is believing”!

How long before all of this is readily available and in widespread use?

Who knows, but technology evolves quickly. Remember, Photoshop was initially released in 1990 . . . just 26 years ago. The advances made with Photoshop software since then, have been phenomenal.

Your thoughts?

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Criticisms of New Communications Technologies . . . Same Old Story!

Every innovation in communication technology has spawned critics who highlight its destructive elements.

The advent of the Internet and now social media has raised concerns among parents who worry about the impact on their children’s minds and brains . . . it’s the same old story but on a different day about the most recent communications development.

Writing at Slate.com, Vaughan Bell’s article on the history of media-technology-scares provides some historical, and perhaps amusing, insights into the acceptance, as well as criticism, of new communication technologies throughout the ages:

Socrates warned that writing would promote forgetfulness because memories would no longer be used to their full extent.

When newspapers became common, it was argued that getting the news from the printed page socially isolated readers. Better to get the news from the pulpit when everyone is gathered together.

When public schools became the norm, some argued that institutionalized learning was unnatural and a threat to mental health. The medical profession considered excessive study to be a primary cause of madness.

When radio arrived, it “was accused of distracting children from reading and diminishing performance in school.”

And television made things even worse! Media historian Ellen Wartella wrote that "opponents voiced concerns about how television might hurt radio, conversation, reading, and the patterns of family living.”

Is all this beginning to sound familiar?

Vaughn Bell goes on by saying:

By the end of the 20th century, personal computers had entered our homes, the Internet was a global phenomenon, and almost identical worries were widely broadcast through chilling headlines: CNN reported that "Email 'hurts IQ more than pot'," the Telegraph that "Twitter and Facebook could harm moral values" and the "Facebook and MySpace generation 'cannot form relationships'," and the Daily Mail ran a piece on "How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer."

Not a single shred of evidence underlies these stories, but they make headlines across the world because they echo our recurrent fears about new technology.

Now, what about virtual reality devices? What will critics say about them?

Your thoughts?

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