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Opinion Editorials

All the Google machines in the house say Yeah!

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Tech is fun and useful, but we’re advancing too quickly on one hand (devices are so smart, do so much) but too slowly on the other (as evidenced by this conflicting devices problem).

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google home smart-home digital assistants

Setting the scene

It’s 4:47 AM. It actually is 4:47 AM as I write this, but it’s OK. Don’t, I don’t know, dispatch journalist-wranglers with tranq darts or anything.

bar
I work night shift. But I’m saying, imagine.

Ok Google

4:47 AM. You’re up. You’ve got a flight to catch, or work to do, or a baby to feed. All of the above! You need to accomplish all those tasks at this godforsaken hour and, like any civilized human, you would like to do it with as little impact on you and yours as possible.

Like any civilized human, your first thought is to use your tech, because that’s what it’s for.

Right? That’s why we have all the shiny plastic things. Easing our lives is what they’re for. You roll over, rub your eyes, rise from your comfy bed, mutter “OK Google…”

And the entire house wakes up.

A symphony of Googles

For the single grownups and only children in the audience, take it from someone who did a short but memorable portion of his growing up in a small house with seven people in it, three of them small girls and one a crabby male tween (hi!): that’s a freaking extinction-level event.

“Wake up the whole house” is a killing curse, especially with children. There is only so much sleep to be had in a house with children.

Interrupting it should be punishable by law.

If it were, Google would be doing hard time up Folsom way. Try it like this. A Google household of two adults (or an Apple or Amazon one; Google just happens to have the highest “good market saturation/dumb UI” ratio) might have two wearables, two phones and a shared hub.

That’s five devices, and they all answering to the same trigger phrase, all designed to be audible and run Audible. Five devices plus one “on” switch equals a nonzero chance of blanketing your home with overlapping noise every time you’d like the equivalent of a glance at your calendar.

Oops

It may seem like a nit. It will probably get fixed, since it’s such a glaring flaw. The obvious answer would be naming devices, so your wearable responds to different commands than your hub: “OK, HAL, what’s it like outside? OK, SHODAN, set an alarm for 2:30 pm.” I name all my tech after evil computers, just so they know I’m onto ‘em.

But it is a glaring flaw.

We’re talking about user interaction fail on the level of setting every light in a house to a single switch. The question isn’t “When is Google going to fix this?” The question, and it’s a big, serious question, is “will Google fix this properly?”

Context people!

It comes back to AI and context, and how one doesn’t understand the other. It’s tempting to write that off as just another kind of technical glitch. But it’s a new glitch, one built into our evolving relationship with technology.

The great dream of AI and voice control has always been “zero UI.”

Technology built on that premise is meant to integrate seamlessly into our lives; we should interact with it without noticing the interaction, the way we turn on a faucet without noticing the pipes or the water heater.

AI is a giant leap in that direction, the first big move toward digital tech becoming an ambient part of day to day life, basic as plumbing.

The great nightmare is: ever had your plumbing fail?

When off isn’t an option

I have. I was out of my apartment for days, crashing anywhere I could find while spending money I didn’t have on repairs I couldn’t afford, on terms I finished paying off years after the event. I’m not a plumber. I couldn’t fix it myself. I didn’t even know there was a problem until it disgorged itself on my carpet.

That’s the danger of ambient technology.

When our digital conveniences were limited to phones and workstations, tools we used, then hung up or turned off, their positive impact on our lives was limited, but so was their ability to do damage. The worst thing that can happen to your hard drive can’t deactivate your car.

That’s not true of AI

Lock yourself out of security, for example, and it may not just be a matter of not being able to get to your data for 15 minutes. It might also lock your phone. And your watch. And the only copy you have of your plane ticket. And, ten years down the road, your spiffy self driving AI-enabled Tesla.

By contrast, waking the kids an extra hour before breakfast might seem minor, though I’ll wager they won’t see it that way. But it’s the same problem on a smaller scale. AI tech, and AI buy-in from consumers, is advancing at a remarkable pace. At the moment, AI usability is not. That needs to be fixed, and fixed from go. AI applications need to be designed, or at a minimum updated, on the assumption that people will actually use AI as a basic, permanent fixture of their lives.

Reliability please

In short, if Google, Apple and Amazon want people to buy into AI on the scale of a home utility, it needs to be home utility convenient and home utility reliable.

Anything less will leave the robot voices on the 3D TV scrap heap of “used to be a good idea.”

#AllTheGooglesSayYea

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Opinion Editorials

If Reddit goes IPO, will it have to shed its soul?

(EDITORIAL) Reddit is known as a firebrand, a bastion of free speech, but if they go public, will they be able to remain as they are now?

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reddit

Reddit, the eighth-most popular website on the Internet, is reportedly considering an IPO. As a site valued at over 1.8 billion dollars, this is great news for the company itself – but how much of Reddit will remain if the IPO goes through?

Reddit’s history is steeped in controversy, from minor incidents such as invasion of privacy and a few creepily quirky community members to allegations of child pornography and egregious hate speech. While Reddit’s policy has allowed it to tighten posting restrictions regarding the latter two, the fact remains that Reddit – for all its usefulness – is viewed by many as a ticking time bomb.

An IPO would certainly lend back to Reddit a degree of credibility not seen since its inception, but the problem is that Reddit itself (the haven of free speech and original content that made it so popular in the first place) might not survive the offering. Given the platform’s controversial past, many believe it likely that stakeholders would move to tighten further the restrictions on the platform, ultimately ending a significant era in Reddit’s history.

Admittedly, Reddit has come a long way since its early days of supporting user-created content regardless of persuasion: this past year saw entire subreddits shut down for violating the terms of use regarding hate speech, and the platform certainly has cracked down on illegal and abusive content. Unfortunately, the history might be too much to shake off going forward, which is why we think that Reddit’s branding won’t be a part of the final IPO.

The platform’s developers’ dedication to free speech and truth-seeking is what makes Reddit so fantastic, and that’s not liable to change – it’s the most marketable aspect of the site, after all – but perhaps the rationale behind going public lies in a sense of duty rather than routine. 2017 has seen some of the most reprehensible instances of false reporting and deliberate misguidance in recent history; maybe Reddit’s team feels that they can provide a stable news platform at the cost of some personality.

At any rate, the IPO itself isn’t set in stone, and is unlikely to take place for quite some time. As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if Reddit embraces its past, or sheds it altogether.

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Opinion Editorials

‘Follow your passion and the money will follow’ is bulls**t advice

(EDITORIAL) Following your passion can create success, though it may not be financial. So should you really just “do what you love” and hope for the best?

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follow your passion

If you asked anyone who knows me, they would tell you that I’m a strong advocate for people following their passion. However, when I encourage people to pursue their dreams, this comes with a big asterisk.

I recently heard someone use a phrase along the lines of, “if you do what you love, the money will follow.” Um… no.

While it’s great that you’ve found something you’re passionate about, that’s only a trillionth of the battle. You need to be willing to work your ass off and be willing to sacrifice everything in order to make that enthusiasm into a success.

Most people that have started their own business will tell you that it took a while into the process to begin paying themselves. Again, if it truly is your passion, this is all worth it in the end. But if you like food and shelter, it might not be.

Say, for example, your passion is acting and your goal in life is to become a famous movie star. Now, you can’t pull a Tobias Funke and simply say, “I’m an actor” and then expect everything to miraculously fall into place.

Like any other passion, you need to invest in yourself. You’ll need to get headshots, take acting classes, and find a flexible day job that allows you to go on auditions. Cutting corners on any of this in order to expedite the process or save a few bucks will end up hurting you in the long run.

For the sake of this article, let’s define “passion” as loving something so much you couldn’t imagine doing anything else… you would even do it for free. And, as there is no correlation between having passion for something and money, you just might.

While doing what you love is admirable, be aware that it may take an incredibly long time to see results in the form of numbers. Because of this, it’s wise to always have a back up plan to support yourself financially and pursue passion with a strong business plan in tact.

It is never wrong to want to follow your passion. I personally think that everyone should give it at least something of a shot during the course of their career so that you never ask “what if?” But following passion because you read a cliche statement can lead to major financial and emotional losses, so put on your business hat before blindly chasing dreams.

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Opinion Editorials

Tech CEO tweet ruins years of a young designer’s hard work

(EDITORIAL) With a tweet here and there, thoughtless questions have potentially bullied a young Asian woman in tech out of her career.

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naomi wu tweet

It’s hard enough for women, particularly women of color, to make it in the world of tech, without rude jerks questioning if you literally exist.

Sadly, that’s what happened to Naomi Wu, also known as “SexyCyborg,” a 23-year old cyberpunk superstar from Shenzhen, China who has amassed a huge following for her 3D printing experiments and other techie pursuits. Wu has 140,000 followers and millions of views for her YouTube channel, where she shows off her experiments and provides educational tutorials.

Unfortunately, some rude dudes from America can’t seem to imagine that a young Asian woman is capable of the feats that Wu has accomplished.

Dale Dougherty, CEO of the DIY magazine Maker (and an official schmuck), has cyberbullied Wu so badly that it is said to have damaged her career. He tweeted, “I am questioning who she really is. Naomi is a persona, not a real person. She is several or many people.”

This despite the fact that Wu says that she has actually spoken to Dougherty, and that he knows she is real. “For Westerners who don’t understand the important of reputation in China it seems like a very minor thing,” says Wu, “it is everything here and there’s no repairing this.”

Wu has even lost a sponsorship deal from a 3D printer company over the accusations that she isn’t who she says she is.

Dougherty eventually apologized, but Wu says that “the damage had been done” at that point, and that Dougherty knew the accusations would be “devastating” to her “reputation and professional prospects.”

Wu says that the attack is motivated by white male entitlement to tech spaces.

She says that she can’t imagine Dougherty attacking “a white lady from San Francisco.” Wu has been an advocate for diversity in tech and maker spaces. “I kept pushing for more inclusion – not just me, other underrepresented people,” she says. “They didn’t like being pushed. This is payback.”

We stand behind Wu as she continues to push the edge in tech spaces, and say shame on you to bullies who won’t make space for women and racial minorities. Sorry you’re not as cool as SexyCyborg, but that’s on you and you need to get over it.

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