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The new Amazon Echo is straight out of Y2K

(TECHNOLOGY) Amazon’s latest version of the Echo boasts a new feature that is sure t bring up flashbacks to the early 2000s.

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New old tech

The future! Eternal, shiny and chrome. We all know what it will look like, right? A little bit of immersive VR, a splash of zero UI, maybe a tiny bit of artificially intelligent robot conquest.

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And… this thing, apparently.

Echo

That there is a recently leaked new look for Amazon’s Echo, and it may just be the future home of Alexa, the House Bezos entry in the apparently mandatory Charming If Subtly Creepy Female Sounding Virtual Assistant Contest, alongside Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s… Google Assistant.

Google is not so much with the naming of things other than Google. Except Alphabet, I suppose.

As linked, ink has already been spilled over the seriously retro form factor of the screen-enabled Echo, but… seriously, that is a retro form factor. I mean, integral speaker? I’m pretty sure I saw Ally McBeal answer a phone call on one of those, no doubt in a charmingly flustered fashion.

I’m going to swim against the already-forming current, however: I like it.

Obviously I’m 90s enough to make Ally McBeal references and use all the letters in the word “obviously,” but my fondness for the device goes beyond the fact that modern world frightens and angers me.

Remember setting up Bluetooth for the first time? Or a wireless peripheral? Because I’ll bet a shiny quarter a fair number of y’all had to use a wired device in the process.

I know I did.

That’s the unavoidable curse of new interfaces and connection protocols: if they don’t work, by definition you can’t ask them what their problem is, because you need it to work before you can ask.

Looming over the otherwise utterly welcome shift to voice-controlled zero UI is the prospect of the most severe case of Can’t Talk To The Thing ever. This time, if the cheerful Dalek of your choice turns blue and falls over – and it is a universal truth that everything, everything eventually turns blue and falls over, it’s the Tao of Tech – you literally won’t be able to talk to it.

It’ll be straight up “I can’t do that, Dave,” and nobody wants HAL in their house, even if he’s just queueing up Netflix reruns.

What about redundancy?

By all appearances, this is a touchscreen interface stuffed in a very large, very grey box. Touching Alexa might be a plus (that sounded less creepy in my head) but how is that functionality not duplicated by your phone?

My thing with that is… ever lose your phone?

The whole point of zero UI is that it runs everything. Techie types have been saying for decades that personal tech is eventually going to come down to two things, the thing you have in your house and the thing you carry around. Make the one depend on the other and the next time you leave your phone on the bus, when you get home, your house won’t work. Undesirable.

But look at this guy

It really, obviously isn’t going anywhere. It’s a beast. You’d need worshippers with ropes and a bunch of log rollers. It’s gonna hang in your house, shining the time, hanging on to your IMs and absolutely, positively guaranteeing you can talk to all the tech that runs your life.

It might just be, in this one case, the way forward is taking a step back.

#Echo

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.

Real Estate Technology

Your office could benefit from a more open floor plan

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Science proves that open floor plans are more conducive to office productivity, but will it work for everyone?

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If you walk into a tech startup, nine times out of ten you’ll find an open seating/bull-pen style seating. Whereas traditional work environments are divided up into departments with individual offices and cubicles, open office floor plans put all employees in the same room. Studies have shown that cubicles don’t increase productivity. As a matter of fact, people are more productive when they are sitting close together, but can see each other.

Pros of openness

Some of the advantages of an open office floor plan are obvious. These kinds of offices are economical because you can fit more people and more desks in less space, and because it is more efficient to heat, cool, and light one large room than several small rooms.

Open office plans also facilitate communication between managers and their employees, and between departments.

Rather than taking the stairs or hiking down the hall to collaborate with another person, you can simply holler across the room.

Cons of openness

Unfortunately, all of that hollering can sometimes be pretty distracting. A University of Sydney study found that half of workers in open offices say that the most frustrating part of their workplace is the “lack of sound privacy.”

Open offices are not only noisy, but are also less secure, since everyone can overhear one another.

Employees may get peeved if they can’t concentrate because of all the noise around them, or can’t make a phone call without being overheard.

Dr. Who inspired solution

A startup called Framery Acoustics offers a solution.

They create soundproof phone booths and meeting pods designed to complement open office floor plans.

One of the founders, who previously worked in an open office, complained that his boss talked too loudly on his cellphone. His boss replied, “Well, get me a phone booth.” Thus, Framery Acoustics was born.

Simple solutions

Framery Acoustics is just one company that offers a product suited to appease open office dissenters. Framery Acoustics isn’t ready to give up on openness and neither should you. So, when it comes time to return to your office (if you haven’t already), look for ways to make your office more flexible. Whether it is by providing a quiet capsule for private meetings and phone calls or just having a designated section for meeting, the solution is out there.

Compromising allows you to reap the benefits of an open office plan, while still ensuring that you and your officemates have privacy and quiet when it is needed.

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Real Estate Technology

3D printed homes are now gaining traction outside of the US and China

(TECHNOLOGY) Other countries are now using 3d printing to build homes to underscore their infrastructure. This shows the viability of the technology!

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3D printing

Recently, we reported that Lennar was using 3D printing to build homes in Austin. In 2014, the BBC reported that China was printing up to 10 homes a day at the low cost of $5000 per home. This trend is making strides in the real estate market, even though there’s still a long way to go. In a move that should give the industry confidence in 3D printing, Indonesia’s Public Works and Public Housing (PUPR) Ministry announced that they are using concrete 3D printing to build homes in rural areas. Eventually, plans are in the works to construct schools.

Using 3D printing to build an infrastructure

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country. As with most countries, housing expenses are climbing in both urban and rural areas. According to Habitat for Humanity, 11.3% of the population lives below the poverty line. For comparison, in September, the U.S. Census Bureau released information that the U.S poverty rate increased to 11.4%, one percentage point over the same time in 2020. Affordable housing is a problem in Indonesia.

“This technology really helps us, so we can build faster, more accurately, and with precision,’ explains Kusumastuti, Indonesia’s Director General of Human Settlements.” The PUPR reports that 3D printing reduces waste and improves construction quality. Considering that up to 70% of housing is built by individuals, not private developers or the government, using 3D printing under the PUPR Ministry is an upgrade in a country that deals with many types of economic disasters, due to its climate.

3D printing’s potential for real estate

As 3D printing is used in more construction projects, not only in the U.S. and China, it’s hoped that the real estate industry embraces the technology. Indonesia isn’t the only country that is trying out 3D printing. 14Trees constructed a school in Malawi using this method already, with the project taking around 18 hours. The company is undertaking more projects in Africa using this technology and more companies are building houses using 3D printing in the United States. It will be exciting to watch how this plays out in the various markets.

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Real Estate Technology

Why everyone and their mother own spy machines (aka smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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smart speakers scare me

I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: Despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

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