AI, Ethics, Assumptions and Privacy

My podcasts were up to date and I started looking for something new to listen to in the car and while doing my chores and I’m so glad I did.

I landed with Professor Genevieve Bell and the Boyer Lectures starting with 04

Fast, smart and connected: How to build our digital future

and I will be recommending it to my colleagues and associates and of course to you dear reader because it is so pertinent to our lives today.

She talks about privacy and how we willingly give up privacy in return for services we enjoy, but also how that data than gets shared or sold to third parties and how much organisations like NetFlix, Google and Facebook know about us. ‘They almost know more about us than we do ourselves.

In my framework, I relate to her thoughts that we build artificial intelligence based on assumptions, biases and historical information. That means the code in our algorithms for AI are more based on Skinner rooted psychology rather than the more complex behaviours of humans. I think back to seeing video of a fighter jet attacking a base in the Middle East, sighting people wearing burqa or niqab and determining they must be enemies.

We aren’t black and white thinkers and I don’t think IBM’s Watson beating a human playing chess should pass the Turing test. I’m heartened in my work to see the ‘customer’ word used and studied in detail today and am hopeful that we can recognise, in designing our future cities and countries that people are complex and that emotions are a lot more than selections of binary on-off switches, no matter how many transistors we sequence.

She quoted Bill Gates’ concerns about the threat of Smart Machines and even Elon Musk who many might be considered an evangelist of AI, given his focus on driverless cars and other ‘smart technologies’ who says AI is the biggest threat to civilisation.

Growing up on a diet of Science Fiction, like Asimov whose hopeful Laws of Robotics have already been consigned to history; Dick, Heinlein and contemporaries warned of potential dystopian futures that seem a lot more realistic today.

The problem, Genevieve pointed out with machine learning is the biases that go into the programming and then lead to digital biases that ‘thinking’ machines might develop exponentially could lead to extremes of electronic thinking on a totally different track to the human traits Ariely describes as predictably irrational.

I think I’d better go and do my chores, it’s Sunday and dry and I’m at my computer. Here’s a thought and I’ll share my last thought with the quote from Elon Musk that AI is vastly more risky than North Korea.

IMG_0108Be totally honest and truthful and ask yourself, given what we do to each other and our planet, if an AI were given the ability to examine mankind, would it not have to come to the conclusion that humans are the greatest risk to the survival of Planet Earth?


Posted in Artificial intelligence, Autonomous cars, Customer Research, Driverless car, endangered species, Future Technology, Futurist, Google, Intelligence, Intelligent Transport Systems, Internet Privacy, IoT, Privacy, Social Media Marketing, Society, Technology, the future | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congratulations to Countdown on their new Proximity Based Marketing App

For a number of years I’ve been prodding retailers to take advantage of location services on people’s smartphones with several blogs including some looking at the grocery industry.


The previous Countdown App

I was disappointed when they dropped their old app, but delighted to read that Countdown in New Zealand has again showed some leadership with their latest one, designed to allow customers to order their groceries online direct from their smartphone and have them freshly picked and packed for their arrival.

This answers one of the trust questions that I’ve heard raise, which was about the quality of the produce. One of the barriers to delivery is that people want to pick their own fruit based on when they want to consume it. They want the choice cuts of meat, but the store needs to sell as much of their perishable products as quickly as possible.

The other concern is wondering how long it has been sitting in a bag for. Will the frozens be defrosting? Will the product have the longest ‘use by’ time? Many customers know that grocers back-fill their shelves so that’s where they pick their own groceries from.

The proximity element is a win:win because it monitors when the customer is within a 400 meter geo-fence or radius of the store, alerting picking staff to pack the groceries so that they are ready for the customer pretty close to when they arrive at the store. It lets the customer know their shopping will be ready for them. I’m not sure if it gives the customer the option to delay their pickup for example if they want to visit the cafe next door with the time they saved and don’t want it quite so immediately.

It is also great to see that there is a survey component on the app which will allow customers to provide insights on how it it working.

At this stage it is only in a few stores as per this story from Supermarket News, so I will have to wait to try it out, but I think it will be a winner for all. I’ve downloaded it and it has all the features I would expect from the previous experience, including lots of ways to select products including specials, recipes if you’re not yet decided on what’s for dinner and even a store locator if you are away. The only thing I didn’t see was a bar code reader. I’d like to scan products onto my shopping list as I consume products and barcode reading is of course simple on my smartphone today. I’m sure that’s coming….

This is convenient and easy for the customer who knows their groceries have been freshly picked and packed awaiting their arrival; and profitable for the stores who can better manage aged stock and stock turn as well as staffing levels as they get to understand the patterns of when people want to pick up their groceries.

Well done Countdown. This is what I was talking about, recommending retailers get their act together before disrupters like Amazon make it to the local scene. TradeMe really set the example as they did such a good job that giants like eBay didn’t bother coming here. There is no use crying once the competitor arrives, it is better to show them that there is little or no business case for them to turn up.

The next step would of course be to allow me to opt in and be offered proximity based loyalty deals because I am in the neighbourhood, allowing them to compete with convenience stores.

Posted in Best Practice GPS, Business, Business Consultant, Business Intelligence, Checkins, Customers, Foresight, Future, Futurist, geospatial, GPS, GPS Apps, GPS Tracking, grocery, New retail ideas, retail apps, retail survival, retail systems, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m stuffed If I’m Going to Get on that Tokyo Train

This brings back many memories of catching the train in Tokyo. I’ve been on most lines and this was classic morning rush hour. I remember about my 3rd trip I was catching a train to another part of the city to meet the manufacturer of touch screen pads we were looking to use to develop an electronic waiter pad to go with a Casio restaurant POS system.

A colleague from Australia was with me and we stood on the station platform looking at each other, thinking we might have to wait for the next train. But sure enough the men with the white gloves were there to solve the engineering problem in their inimical way. So we joined the throng at the door together and were duly pushed into the carriage along with the locals. There seemed to be a little groping going on and I’m not sure it was the ‘conductors’, but it all added to life’s rich experiences in public transport.

Next thing you know we are on opposite ends of the carriage, but as we were about a head higher than the locals, we could see each other clearly and just cracked up with laughter. We didn’t have to worry about offending anyone, the instant they were on the train, they were asleep. Standing, sitting, it didn’t make any difference, they must have had train circadian body clocks, because they didn’t seem to miss their stations.

Our worry was now that we were packed in like proverbial Japanese sardines, how were we going to get off when we arrived at our station? We worked it out, just gently push and shove the same way we got on.

Posted in congestion, Public Transport, rail, trains, Transport | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Opportunity for Aucklanders to Improve their Communications Skills

DOTSIt seems to me that whenever there is a problem, whether it is family or friends, work, community or at a global level, a lot of it is to do with communication and mostly misunderstandings that are easily fixed. Of course with better skills and active use of them, the issues may not appear at all.

We are in such a hurry to get things done today and we spend so much time at our computers, sending emails, instant messaging, everything other than face to face communication and the result is frequently that we misunderstand, misinterpret people’s intentions or motives and end up in needless conflict, often with people who we actually agree with.

I wonder if we are losing our people skills, I know from my perspective, that used to be a forte for me, but I’m constantly trapped in trying to get things done and being dragged in multiple directions, trying to keep an audit trail because of the pace of life, that I don’t always use my skills to the level I should.

It’s so much easier to deal with people face to face and by using listening skills, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and being empathetic and excited about the differences in our personalities, that strengthen our opportunities rather than weaken them. That means being able to pick what the personality traits are very quickly because first impressions and the beginnings of discussions have a huge impact on the outcome.

It’s with this in mind that I’d like to recommend an exclusive course happening in Albany Auckland, called Connect with DOTS training, being run by my friend Melissa Grainger on Saturday 11 November. Do yourself a favour and check this out.

Sometimes we need to stop and reassess the way we communicate and this is the first time this course is being made available to individuals rather than corporates.

I have had the good fortune to know many leading trainers and great public speakers, and of course used to own and run the NZ Smartphone and PDA Academy, so I know what I am talking about when I tell you that I don’t think you could find a better, walk the talk expert in this field in Australasia, and I don’t say that lightly.

The passion and commitment Melissa has packed into this course will leave you wondering why you have waited so long to change something about the way you communicate. It will help in your personal life, your social life, your business and your career development.

Check the link here to find out more. Whether you get your company to send you, or you make the investment yourself, you won’t regret it.

You know me, it’s very rare that I go out of my way to endorse people or courses. I don’t do it lightly because my reputation is on the line. My reputation is safe:)

Check out the link today at least and if it’s bad timing for you, tell someone else or share this blog post.

Posted in Auckland, Business, Business Consultant, Collaboration, Communications, Customers, Intelligence | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Telecommuting produces gains in productivity

A month or so ago on a Friday, the starter motor on my car decided to stop working. I ended up having to have a tow truck pick it up and take it to the garage where they had to drop the exhaust system to replace it.

I had my work laptop and decided to work from home. The amount of work I got done in one day out of the office was huge. One of my team told me that he had received more emails from me in a day than in the last few weeks.

Presentation 2 (2)I have long maintained that with good training and support, there are many benefits to having people work from home at least some of the time, but having started a number of businesses from home, I’m also aware of some of the pitfalls.

As outlined in this article from Smart Company, research has shown that given the right environment, significant productivity gains can be made and also reduction in costs both for the employer and employee, something a number of companies are seeking as they look to reduce their investment in office space by introducing hot desks and open plan environments.

One of the findings though, which I have also mentioned in previous blogs is the feeling of isolation from colleagues, aka the water cooler, which is an important part of work, both in socialisation and the feeling of belonging to a tribe of sorts with a common purpose.
IMG_0106A plus for cities is not only the reduction of office space and the associated costs, but also a reduction in traffic congestion and the resultant air pollution are fringe benefits.

Four key factors to me that need to be considered are:


1. Technology. Unified Computing allows people to take their deskphone and computer network with them, but they do need to have enough pipe, or internet access at home in order to work to the same level as they do in the office.

2. Mutual trust. As the article says, many managers worry about whether their staff are working or taking advantage of the situation to do non work activities out of sight of their manager. Plenty of people abuse their position IN the office and in fact as this research showed people got MORE work done.

3. Training is really important and I’m talking about the psychology of working from home. When I set up my first business from home, I had to navigate a rocky road of explaining to my family that when I had the door to my home office closed, I was at work and needed to focus on the job. I would make quality time available to hear about what happened at school or discuss other important non work things, but I also had to focus on the job, which paid the mortgage our bills and grow . I didn’t get sick leave, holiday pay or anything else. Working for an employer is a little different, but the bottom line is the same, when you are at work, you are being paid for your time.

4. You do need to socialise. If you work for an employer, you need time in the office for formal and informal meetings, but you don’t need to be there every day. The smart thing to do is try to organise your meetings for certain days. This is easier said than done and does require culture change, but it can also improve productivity and even allow you to look at the purpose and structure of meetings. It’s amazing how you look at meetings differently when it is your income that’s on the line. The same when your clients are paying for your time.

Telecommuting offers many benefits for those who are in roles where they can work away from the office. It does require strategy and forethought. It does require trust, planning and training. It’s worth some strategic thinking about what the purpose of the office is, which activities are most productive and where.


Posted in Business, Business Consultant, Business Writing, Communications, commuting, Lifestyle, People, Technology, telecommunications, Telecommuting, traffic congestion, traffic demand, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sometimes I think I should become a proof-reader. Whatever happened to editors?

IMG_0871I see it everywhere and it drives me nuts. Whether it’s printed or digital newspapers, books by top authors, articles, or in this header from FOX. News services stand out the most because you expect good spelling and grammar from them and whilst we know they are culling out the more highly paid staff (often those with the experience) we also expect them to set the standard.

I see it in so many company brochures, profile documents, corporate PowerPoint presentations, magazine articles, packaging and product instructions and don’t get me started on Asian product descriptions from people for whom English is a 3rd language, I expect that, but if a brochure or a web page can’t even spell correctly when they are promoting their business, what impact does that do to their credibility? You can trust our products and services, we just don’t put attention to detail.

Then there are books. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction the quality is going downhill in proportion to the number of new books that become available through self publishing or at least volume digital sales through Amazon Kindle, but even those with professional editors who are anal about quality like Stephen King still slip up once in awhile. Now in fairness that is very rare, but yes, I’ve found typos in Stephen King books, the man who wrote a book on how to write to perfection. I was really disappointed to find those few, because I know how proud he is, not only of his prose, but also the delivery.

I’m not talking about mixed metaphors or the constructive quality of the writing, just basic things like spelling and grammar. I’ve thought of bookmarking them and going back to the writer and suggesting edits, but the act of doing that spoils my reading pleasure and I decided that the writer probably would also be upset to hear from me, given that the books would have already been edited at least twice and they have paid for that service. I remember reading through the instructions when I first published on Kindle. It focused on proofreading and its importance. Even Amazon cares about the quality of your product and they are a distributor not a publisher themselves.

I suspect these days a lot of people are just focused on churning out quantity at pace on limited resources. Perhaps they should just up their focus on quality assurance, because it doesn’t reflect well and guess what? People talk about what they read, but they don’t tell the writer or brand. It detracts from the topic. Your readers do in fact care and whilst the odd mistake can happen (especially if you ignore the tools at your disposal like a spell checker) multiple errors do reflect on your reputation.

Posted in brand, Business, Business Consultant, Business Writing, Consultant, Customers, eBook, Editor, good books, Marketing, News, Proof reader, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kiwi and Australian Retailers Need to do Change to Beat Amazon

Yesterday I saw a story on CNN about Toys R Us filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. It is big news for retailers and their CEO says they will survive by competing with Amazon and meeting customers needs with new store designs. I have no doubt it’s possible, but not if they fall straight back into their old ways. Their biggest problem now is whether manufacturers will even supply them with their best selling products. They can potentially sell more product, cheaper and at higher margins through Amazon.

What I thought was really interesting is that toymakers shares which took a nosedive are rallying again because they are going to shift their focus to the very businesses like Amazon who are decimating retailers who have held steadfast to their traditional way of doing business. People still want to buy toys right.

What worries me for local retailers on this part of the globe is that many of our retailers are even less customer focused than the American stores are that are allowing themselves to be choked into submission.


What’s it made of?

I also maintain that we like to shop and whether it is grocery or other products, people still want to buy. Price is certainly an issue, as is convenience, but the reason Amazon even gets a look into our local market is because we are opening the door to them. We’re not delivering the best experience and listening to customer insights.

There are retailers who are growing and thriving, perhaps because they listen to the voice of the customer. It seems really ironic to me that there are more and more fresh food retailers focusing on high quality meals and selections that are ready to cook, for a premium. This is a market that our traditional supermarkets knew about 20 years ago.

World leaders like Krogers and Albert Hein didn’t just lead on technology, with partners like NCR and IBM they also learned about big data and how to mine that to come up with profitable combinations, but it seems to me that the focus has now been more about how to squeeze the max out of margins and shelf space, rather than ask customers what they want, or deliver products that are compelling to customers. In doing so I wonder if they are throwing away some of the most profitable opportunities. Amazon’s Whole Foods could seriously impact on the core high stock turn grocery sector and especially hurt the owner operators who have invested everything into their businesses. We won’t stop buying food and toilet paper. What will retailers like Foodstuffs, Coles and Countdown do? What will the DIY industry do? I hear IKEA could be coming down under as well and could threaten Mitre10, Bunnings and similar stores too, who don’t seem to be adapting either. Will they try to compete even more on price?

Napolean HillSo perhaps it’s time for retailers who don’t want to go the way of Borders and Dick Smith Electronics need to do something different before it’s too late.

How? The starting point is to never fall back on business as usual, but to remember how it all started. The grocer used to be the center of the community. They knew what we wanted before we knew we wanted it. The addressed my parents by name. They knew which coffee my mother wanted and how thin to slice her veal. They had a relationship with us.

Today’s technology still allows retailers to have a relationship with us. That might sound like an oxymoron, but it is what we do with data. No we can’t have a personal relationship with thousands of customers, but we can harness technology to deliver the same outcome so that the customer feels valued.

Like the Kiwi baby chain I saw on TV and blogged about last week that consults with their customers and even install baby seats in cars for free, teaching people how to use their product, putting their customers on a mailing list, finding out about their families in a safe way that protects their privacy while delivering what they want, there are are solutions that allow retailers to have their cake and eat it. But they have to adapt.

Those businesses who say their model is doomed will create a self fulfilling prophecy for their businesses. Those who are prepared to change can grow and thrive. It’s rocket science, but it is also about using it to understand the customer.

I’ll leave the last word to astronaut Chris Hadfield. What did resonate with, the science or the person?


Posted in Big Data, endangered species, Inventory Management, Manufacturing, Market Research, Retail, retail apps, Retail POS, retail survival, retail systems, the future | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment