IBM Bans Remote Work

June 22, 2017

The tech blog SiliconBeat reveals a startling development in tech-related employment in, “IBM: So Much for Working from Home.” Thousands of professionals who have built their lives around their remote-work arrangements are now being required to come into the office. For many, the shift would mean packing up and moving closer to one of the company’s locations. As writer Rex Crum puts it:

That’s right. Find your way to an office cubicle, or hit the bricks. The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM began instituting the new you-can’t-work-from-home policy this week, and that the company is ‘quietly dismantling’ the program that has been in place for decades. The Journal said the retrenchment on its employees working remotely was being done so that IBM could ‘improve collaboration and accelerate the pace of work.’ It also happens to be taking place not long after IBM reported its 20th-straight quarter of declining year-over-year revenue. Legendary all-time investor Warren Buffett also said this month that Berkshire Hathaway has cut its holdings in IBM by one-third from the 81 million shares the company owned earlier this year.

But will herding all their talent into their buildings really solve IBM’s financial woes? Not according to this Forbes article. Crum recalls that Yahoo made the same move in 2013, when Marissa Mayer put a stop to remote work at that company. (How has that been going?) Will more organizations follow?

Cynthia Murrell, June 22, 2017

Google: The Full Back Up

June 21, 2017

I read “Google Drive Will Soon Back Up Your Entire Computer.” Sounds good, right? The GOOG will make a bit for bit copy of the data and programs on one’s computer. In the event of a crash, Mother Google will be there. One can search for a file and restore it. That email archive from Thunderbird circa 2011, no problem.

I learned from the write up:

There have been requests for Dropbox to add something like this for ages, and it’s yet to get around to it. Instead, like Drive, people have always had to store files directly in the app’s local folder. For anyone looking for a bit more flexibility in their syncing apps, Google seems like it’s about to become the winning option.

I like the “winning option” for a service about which some details are fuzzy.

My question is, “Will Google scan the backed up data in order to place ads in the service? What about the availability of these data to governments when appropriate documentation is provided to the Google? What happens if the data are part of a legal matter between a person and a corporation?”

Yep, convenient.

Stephen E Arnold, June 21, 2017

Alphabet Google: Just Jobs? Not Likely

June 21, 2017

The is “Connecting More Americans with Jobs.” Sounds good. People want to work, right? Sounds like the right idea even though the notion of universal basic income is floating around like a Loon balloon. With smart software poised to displace MBAs in some of the IPO process steps, jobs are a big deal. Here in Harrod’s Creek, there are quite a few people out of work. There are even some families in which there are two or more generations of people who have never held a full time job. But that’s not a problem.

Google states:

We’re taking the next step in the Google for Jobs initiative by putting the convenience and power of Search into the hands of job seekers. With this new experience, we aim to connect Americans to job opportunities across the U.S., so no matter who you are or what kind of job you’re looking for, you can find job postings that match your needs.

When I read about job aggregation, I thought about the numerous online job services which I have observed over the years. Does anyone remember the BNA’s love affair with job hunting services? And Monster? Love that Monster thing!

From my vantage point, there are several angles to this Google service:

First, aggregating jobs is a useful source of data about people, competitors, and hiring trends. Quick example: Decades ago I was involved in a database called Pharmaceutical News Index. The hot feature of this database was that a person in the pharmaceutical industry could look up a company and see what jobs big wheels and wizards were taking. The information had high value because hires provide direct information about certain types of research initiatives. Now imagine the value of the data of Google can scrape and crunch the job data its announcement references. Valuable information? Yep, definitely above average in my book.

Second, job aggregation is a foundation stone. The service makes it possible to take another step: Matching candidates to jobs. Hey, if you are in the Google system and you want a job, why not let Google’s smart software process your profile and generate a list of potential opportunities. Google has a mostly overlooked dossier function and the nifty analytic tools to make this a walk in the part. Employers might be interested in get information from Google about hiring trends, salaries, and Glassdoor-type insights into what a company is “really like.”

Third, Google’s smart software can knit together a number of items of information about a person or a company. This “federation” of data provides an opportunity for Google to use the Recorded Future technology or a similar home brew technology to predict what is likely to happen for sectors, companies, and even product innovations.

Should Microsoft / LinkedIn be worries?

Yep.

Stephen E Arnold, June 21, 2017

Editorial Controls and Data Governance: A Rose by Any Other Name?

June 16, 2017

I read “Why Interest In “Data Governance” Is Increasing.” The write up uses a number of terms to describe what I view as editorial controls. The idea in my experience is that an organization decides what it okay and not okay with regards to the information it wants to process. The object is to know what content will be processed before the organization kick starts indexing, metadata tagging, or text analysis.

The organization then has to figure out and implement the rules of the game. Questions like “What do we do when entities are not recognized?” and “Who goes through the exceptions file?” must be answered. Rules, procedures, processes, and corrective actions have to be implemented in the work flow. One cannot calculate costs, headcount, or software expenses unless one knows what’s going to happen.

The write up explains that data governance is important. I agree. The write up hooks the notion of editorial controls and editorial process to a number of buzzwords. I don’t think this type of jargon catalog is particularly helpful. Jargon distracts some people from focusing on Job One; that is, putting appropriate controls in place before nuking the budget or creating the type of editorial craziness which Facebook and Google are now trying to contain and manage.

The notion that an organization has to perform “data program management” is fine. But this is nothing more than hooking the editorial rules of the road to the responsibilities of the people who have to set up, oversee, and change the work flow.

Jargon does not help implement editorial controls. Clear thinking and speaking do.

Stephen E Arnold, June 16, 2017

DARPA Progresses on Refining Data Analysis

June 12, 2017

The ideal data analysis platform for global intelligence would take all the data in the world and rapidly make connections, alerting law enforcement or the military about potential events before they happen. It would also make it downright impossible for bad actors to hide their tracks. Our government seems to be moving toward that goal with AIDA, or Active Interpretation of Disparate Alternatives. DARPA discusses the project in its post, “DARPA Wades into Murky Multimedia Information Streams to Catch Big Meaning.” The agency states:

The goal of AIDA is to develop a multi-hypothesis ‘semantic engine’ that generates explicit alternative interpretations or meaning of real-world events, situations, and trends based on data obtained from an expansive range of outlets. The program aims to create technology capable of aggregating and mapping pieces of information automatically derived from multiple media sources into a common representation or storyline, and then generating and exploring multiple hypotheses about the true nature and implications of events, situations, and trends of interest.

‘It is a challenge for those who strive to achieve and maintain an understanding of world affairs that information from each medium is often analyzed independently, without the context provided by information from other media,’ said Boyan Onyshkevych, program manager in DARPA’s Information Innovation Office (I2O). ‘Often, each independent analysis results in only one interpretation, with alternate interpretations eliminated due to lack of evidence even in the absence of evidence that would contradict those alternatives. When these independent, impoverished analyses are combined, generally late in the analysis process, the result can be a single apparent consensus view that does not reflect a true consensus.’

AIDA’s goal of presenting an accurate picture of overall context early on will help avoid that problem. The platform is to assign a confidence level to each piece of information it processes and each hypothesis it generates. It will also, they hope, be able to correct for a journalistic spin by examining variables and probabilities. Is the intelligence community is about to gain an analysis platform capable of chilling accuracy?

Cynthia Murrell, June 12, 2017

Privacy Enabled on Digital Assistants

June 8, 2017

One thing that Amazon, Google, and other digital assistant manufacturers glaze over are how enabling vocal commands on smart speakers potentially violates a user’s privacy.  These include both the Google Home and the Amazon Echo.  Keeping vocal commands continuously on allows bad actors to hack into the smart speaker, listen, record, and spy on users in the privacy of their own homes.  If the vocal commands are disabled on smart speakers, it negates their purpose.  The Verge reports that one smart technology venture is making an individual’s privacy the top priority: “Essential Home Is An Amazon Echo Competitor Puts Privacy First.”

Andy Rubin’s recently released the Essential Home, essentially a digital assistant that responds to vocal, touch, or “sight” commands.  It is supposed to be an entirely new product in the digital assistant ring, but it borrows most of its ideas from Google and Amazon’s innovations.  Essential Home just promises to do them better.

Translation: Huh?

What Essential Home is exactly, isn’t clear. Essential has some nice renders showing the concept in action. But we’re not seeing any photos of a working device and nothing in the way of specifications, prices, or delivery dates. We know it’ll act as the interface to your smart home gear but we don’t know which ecosystems will be supported. We know it runs Ambient OS, though details on that are scant. We know it’ll try to alert you of contextually relevant information during the day, but it’s unclear how.

It is compatible with Nest, SmartThings, and HomeKit and it is also supposed to be friendly with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.  The biggest selling feature might be this:

Importantly, we do know that most of the processing will happen locally on the device, not in the cloud, keeping the bulk of your data within the home. This is exactly what you’d expect from a company that’s not in the business of selling ads, or everything else on the planet.

Essentially, keeping user data locally might be a bigger market player in the future than we think.  The cloud might appeal to more people, however, because it is a popular buzzword.  What is curious is how Essential Home will respond to commands other than vocal.  They might not be relying on a similar diamond in the rough concept that propelled Bitext to the front of the computational linguistics and machine learning market.

Whitney Grace, June 8, 2017

Voice Assistant Apps Have Much Room to Grow

May 31, 2017

Recent excitement around voice assistants is largely based on the idea that, eventually, a thriving app market will develop around them. However, reports Recode, “Alexa and Google Assistant Have a Problem: People Aren’t Sticking with Voice Apps They Try.” Though sales of Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant platforms over the holidays were encouraging, startup VoiceLabs recently issued a report that indicates most apps entice few users to give them a try. Furthermore, those who have dabbled in voice apps have apparently found little to tempt them back. See the article for some statistics or the report for more. Writer Jason Del Rey observes:

The statistics underscore the difficulty Amazon and Google are having in getting Echo and Home owners to discover and use new voice apps on their platforms. Instead, many consumers are sticking to off-the-shelf actions like streaming music, reading audiobooks and controlling lights in their homes.

 

Those are all good use cases for the voice platforms, but not sufficient to build an ecosystem that will keep software developers engaged and lead to new transformative revenue streams. As a result, the numbers highlight the opportunity for Amazon, Google or others like Apple to stand out by helping both consumers and developers solve these discovery and retention problems.

The founders of VoiceLab see a niche, and they are jumping right into it. Amazon and Google, thus far, supply only limited usage data to would-be app developers, so VoiceLabs is lending them their own voice analytics tool, VoiceInsights. They are counting on the app market to pick up, and are determined to help it along. So far, this tool is free; the company expects to start charging for it once Amazon and/or Google provide a way to monetize apps. When that happens, developers will already be comfortable with VoiceLabs—well played. Probably. Founded in May 2016, VoiceLabs is based in San Francisco.

We, too, are paying close attention to the rise of voice assistants and their related apps. Watch for the debut of our new information service, Beyond Alexa.

Cynthia Murrell, May 31, 2017

About That Freedom of Speech Thing

May 26, 2017

I read “G7 Summit: Theresa May to Ask World Leaders to Launch Internet Crackdown after Manchester Attack.” The Internet means online to me. Crackdowns trigger thoughts of filtering, graph analysis, and the interesting challenge of explaining why someone looked up an item of information.

The write up interpreted “online” as social media, which is interesting. Here’s a passage I highlighted:

The prime minister will ask governments to unite to regulate what tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter allow to be posted on their networks. By doing so, she will force them to remove “harmful” extremist content, she will suggest to G7 members at a meeting in Italy.

The named companies have been struggling to filter inappropriate content. On a practical level, certain inappropriate content may generate ad revenue. Losing ad revenue is not a popular notion in some of these identified companies.

The companies have also been doing some thinking about their role. Are these outfits supposed to be “responsible” for what their users and advertisers post? If the identified companies are indeed “responsible,” how will the mantle of responsibility hang on the frames of Wild West outfits in Silicon Valley. The phrase “It is easier to ask forgiveness than seek permission” is a pithy way of summing up some Silicon Valley action plans.

The write up enumerates the general types of digital information available on “the Internet.” I noted this statement:

She [Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister] will also call for industry guidelines to be revised by the tech companies to make absolutely clear what constitutes harmful material, with those that fail to do so being held to account.

The impact of Ms. May’s suggestion may create some interesting challenges for the companies facilitating the flow of real time information. Will Silicon Valley companies which often perceive themselves as more important than nation states will respond in a manner congruent with Ms. May’s ideas?

My thought is that “responsibility” will be a moving target. What’s more important? Advertising revenue or getting bogged down in figuring out which item of information is okay and which is not?

At this moment, it looks to me as if revenue and self interest might be more important than broader political considerations. That Maslow’s hierarchy of need takes on a special significance when Silicon Valley constructs consider prioritize their behaviors.

What happens if I run an online query for “Silicon Valley” and “content filtering”? Bing wants me to personalize my results based on my interests and for me to save “things for later.” I decline and get this output:

image

I particularly liked the reference to Silicon Valley sending “its ambassador” to Appalachia. Sorry, Ms. May, my query does not encourage my thinking about your idea for responsible censorship.

Google displays an ad for social media monitoring performed by GFI Software in Malta. I am also directed to hits which do not relate to Ms. May’s ideas.

image

Google interprets the query as one related to third party software which blocks content. That’s closer to what Ms. May is suggesting.

Neither search giant points to itself as involved in this content filtering activity.

That tells me that Ms. May’s idea may be easy to articulate but a bit more difficult to insert into the Wild West of capitalistic constructs.

Digital information is a slippery beastie composed of zeros and ones, used by billions of people who don’t agree about what’s okay and what’s not okay, and operated by folks who may see themselves as knowing better than elected officials.

Interesting stuff.

Stephen E Arnold, May 26, 2017

Amazon Answers Artificial Intelligence Questions

May 24, 2017

One big question about Amazon is how the company is building its artificial intelligence and machine learning programs.  It was the topic of conversation at the recent Internet Association’s annual gala, where Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, discussed it.  GeekWire wrote about Bezos’s appearance at the gala in the article, “Jeff Bezos Explained Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence And Machine Learning.”

The discussion Bezos participated in covered a wide range of topics, including online economy, Amazon’s media overage, its business principles, and, of course, artificial intelligence.  Bezos compared the time we are living in to the realms of science fiction and Amazon is at the forefront of it.  Through Amazon Web Services, the company has clients ranging from software developers to corporations.  Amazon’s goal is make the technology available to everyone, but deployment is a problem as is finding the right personnel with the right expertise.

Amazon realizes that the power of its technology comes from behind the curtain:

I would say, a lot of the value that we’re getting from machine learning is actually happening beneath the surface. It is things like improved search results. Improved product recommendations for customers. Improved forecasting for inventory management. Literally hundreds of other things beneath the surface.

This reminds me of Bitext, an analytics software company based in Madrid, Spain.  Bitext’s technology is used to power machine learning beneath many big companies’ software.  Bitext is the real power behind many analytics projects.

Whitney Grace, May 24, 2017

Did IBM Watson Ask Warren Buffet about Value?

May 19, 2017

I read “$4 Billion Stock Sale Suggests Warren Buffett’s Love Affair with IBM Is Over.” The subtitle caught my eye. What would Watson think about this statement:

Berkshire Hathaway’s founder Warren Buffett has admitted that buying IBM shares was a mistake. He has sold 30 percent of his 81 million shares because the company failed to live up to the expectations it held in 2011.

If I had access to a fully functioning (already trained) IBM Watson, I would ask Watson that question directly.

Last night I was watching the NBA playoff game between the technically adept Houston team and the programming-crazed San Antonio team. There in the middle of a start and stop game was an IBM Watson commercial.

Let me tell you that the IBM Watson message nestled comfortably amidst the tats, the hysterical announcers, and the computer-literature crowd.

IBM has a knack for getting its message out to buyers with cash in their hands for a confection of open source, home brew, and acquired technology.

Why doesn’t Warren Buffet get the message?

According the the write up, Mr. Buffet explains what message he received about IBM:

… IBM “hasn’t done what, five or six years ago, I expected would happen – or what the management expected would happen, if you look back at what they were projecting, and how they thought the business would develop. “The earnings have been obviously disappointing. I mean, five or six years ago, I think they were earning $20+ billion pre-tax and maybe it’s $13 billion now, and I don’t think the quality of the earnings has improved. “It’s been a period when it’s been tougher than they thought and it’s been tougher than I thought. But I was wrong. I don’t blame them. I get paid to make my own decisions, and sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong.

Interesting but not quite as remarkable as smart software being advertised to NBA fans. Air ball.

Stephen E Arnold, May 19, 2017

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