Robots Just Want To Have Fun!

There are dozens of novels about dystopic robots – our future “overlords” as as they are portrayed.

In the news, there are many stories about robots and artificial intelligence that focus on important business tasks. Those are the tasks that have peopled worried about their future employment prospects. But that stuff is pretty boring if it’s not your own field.

Anyway, while we are only beginning to try to understand the implications of artificial intelligence and robotics, robots are developing rapidly and going beyond those traditional tasks.

Robots are also showing off their fun and increasingly creative side.

Welcome to the age of the “all singing, all dancing” robot. Let’s look at some examples.

Dancing

Last August, there was a massive robot dance in Guangzhou, China. It achieved a Guinness World Record for for the “most robots dancing simultaneously”. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouZb_Yb6HPg or http://money.cnn.com/video/technology/future/2017/08/22/dancing-robots-world-record-china.cnnmoney/index.html

Not to be outdone, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a strip club had a demonstration of robots doing pole dancing. The current staff don’t really have to worry about their jobs just yet, as you can see at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdNQ95nINdc

Music

Jukedeck, a London startup/research project, has been using AI to produce music for a couple of years.

The Flow Machines project in Europe has also been using AI to create music in the style of more famous composers. See, for instance, its DeepBach, “a deep learning tool for automatic generation of chorales in Bach’s style”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=QiBM7-5hA6o

Singing

Then there’s Sophia, Hanson Robotics famous humanoid. While there is controversy about how much intelligence Sophia has – see, for example, this critique from earlier this year – she is nothing if not entertaining. So, the world was treated to Sophia singing at a festival three months ago – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu0hIQfBM-w#t=3m44s

Also, last August, there was a song composed by AI, although sung by a human – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUs6CznN8pw&feature=youtu.be

There is even AI that will generate poetry – um, song lyrics.

Marjan Ghazvininejad, Xing Shi, Yejin Choi and Kevin Knight of USC and the University of Washington wrote Hafez and began Generating Topical Poetry on a requested subject, like this one called “Bipolar Disorder”:

Existence enters your entire nation.
A twisted mind reveals becoming manic,
An endless modern ending medication,
Another rotten soul becomes dynamic.

Or under pressure on genetic tests.
Surrounded by controlling my depression,
And only human torture never rests,
Or maybe you expect an easy lesson.

Or something from the cancer heart disease,
And I consider you a friend of mine.
Without a little sign of judgement please,
Deliver me across the borderline.

An altered state of manic episodes,
A journey through the long and winding roads.

Not exactly upbeat, but you could well imagine this being a song too.

Finally, there is even the HRP-4C (Miim), which has been under development in Japan for years. Here’s her act –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCuh1pPMvM4#t=3m25s

All singing, all dancing, indeed!

© 2018 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

More Than A Smart City?

The huge Smart Cities New York 2018 conference started today. It is billed as:

“North America’s leading global conference to address and highlight critical solution-based issues that cities are facing as we move into the 21st century. … SCNY brings together top thought leaders and senior members of the private and public sector to discuss investments in physical and digital infrastructure, health, education, sustainability, security, mobility, workforce development, to ensure there is an increased quality of life for all citizens as we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

A few hours ago, I helped run an Intelligent Community Forum Workshop on “Future-Proofing Beyond Tech: Community-Based Solutions”. I also spoke there about “Technology That Matters”, which this post will quickly review.

As with so much of ICF’s work, the key question for this part of the workshop was: Once you’ve laid down the basic technology of broadband and your residents are connected, what are the next steps to make a difference in residents’ lives?

I have previously focused on the need for cities to encourage their residents to take advantage of the global opportunities in business, education, health, etc. that becomes possible when you are connected to the whole world.

Instead in this session, I discussed six steps that are more local.

1. Apps For Urban Life

This is the simplest first step and many cities have encouraged local or not-so-local entrepreneurs to create apps for their residents.

But many cities that are not as large as New York are still waiting for those apps. I gave the example of Buenos Aires as a city that didn’t wait and built more than a dozen of its own apps.

I also reminded attendees that there are many potential, useful apps for their residents which cannot justify enough profit to be of interest to the private sector, so the government will have to create these apps on their own.

2. Community Generation Of Urban Data

While some cities have posted their open data, there is much data about urban life that the residents can collect. The most popular example is the community generation of environmental data, with such products like the Egg, the Smart Citizen Kit for Urban Sensing, the Sensor Umbrella and even more sophisticated tools like Placemeter.

But the data doesn’t just have to be about the physical environment. The US National Archives has been quite successful in getting citizen volunteers to generate data – and meta-data – about the documents in its custody.

The attitude which urban leaders need is best summarized by Professor Michael Batty of the University College London:

“Thinking of cities not as smart but as a key information processor is a good analogy and worth exploiting a lot, thus reflecting the great transition we are living through from a world built around energy to one built around information.”

3. The Community Helps Make Sense Of The Data

Once the data has been collected, someone needs to help make sense of it. This effort too can draw upon the diverse skills in the city. Platforms like Zooniverse, with more than a million volunteers, are good examples of what is called citizen science. For the last few years, there has been OpenData Day around the world, in which cities make available their data for analysis and use by techies. But I would go further and describe this effort as “popular analytics” – the virtual collaboration of both government specialists and residents to better understand the problems and patterns of their city.

4. Co-Creating Policy

Once the problems and opportunities are better understood, it is time to create urban policies in response.  With the foundation of good connectivity, it becomes possible for citizens to conveniently participate in the co-creation of policy. I highlighted examples from the citizen consultations in Lambeth, England to those in Taiwan, as well as the even more ambitious CrowdLaw project that is housed not far from the Smart Cities conference location.

5. Co-Production Of Services

Then next is the execution of policy. As I’ve written before, public services do not necessarily always have to be delivered by paid civil servants (or even better paid companies with government contracts). The residents of a city can help be co-producers of services, as exemplified in Scotland and New Zealand.

6. Co-Creation Of The City Itself

Obviously, the people who build buildings or even tend to gardens in cities have always had a role in defining the physical nature of a city. What’s different in a city that has good connectivity is the explosion of possible ways that people can modify and enhance that traditional physical environment. Beyond even augmented reality, new spaces that blend the physical and digital can be created anywhere – on sidewalks, walls, even in water spray. And the residents can interact and modify these spaces. In that way, the residents are constantly co-creating and recreating the urban environment.

The hope of ICF is that the attendees at Smart Cities New York start moving beyond the base notion of a smart city to the more impactful idea of an intelligent city that uses all the new technologies to enhance the quality of life and engagement of its residents.

© 2018 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

When Strategic Thinking Needs A Refresh

This year I created a new, week-long, all-day course at Columbia University on Strategy and Analytics. The course focuses on how to think about strategy both for the organization as a whole as well as the analytics team. It also shows the ways that analytics can help determine the best strategy and assess how well that strategy is succeeding.

In designing the course, it was apparent that much of the established literature in strategy is based on ideas developed decades ago. Michael Porter, for example, is still the source of much thinking and teaching about strategy and competition.

Perhaps a dollop of Christensen’s disruptive innovation might be added into the mix, although that idea is not any longer new. Worse, the concept has become so popularly diluted that too often every change is mistakenly treated as disruptive.

Even the somewhat alternative perspective described in the book “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant” is now more than ten years old.

Of the well-established business “gurus”, perhaps only Gary Hamel has adjusted his perspective in this century – see, for example, this presentation.

But the world has changed. Certainly, the growth of huge Internet-based companies has highlighted strategies that do not necessarily come out of the older ideas.

So, who are the new strategists worthy of inclusion in a graduate course in 2018?

The students were exposed to the work of fellow faculty at Columbia University, especially Leonard Sherman’s “If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat! – Strategies for Long-Term Growth” and Rita Gunther McGrath’s “The End Of Competitive Advantage: How To Keep Your Strategy Moving As Fast As Your Business”.

But in this post, the emphasis in on strategic lessons drawn from this century’s business experience with the Internet, including multi-sided platforms and digital content traps. For that there is “Matchmakers – the new economics of multisided platforms” by David S Evans and Richard Schmalensee. And also Bharat Anand’s “The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change”.

For Porter and other earlier thinkers, the focus was mostly on the other players that they were competing against (or decided not to compete against). For Anand, the role of the customer and the network of customers becomes more central in determining strategy. For Evans and Schmalensee, getting a network of customers to succeed is not simple and requires a different kind of strategic framework than industrial competition.

Why emphasize these two books? It might seem that these books only focus on digital businesses, not the traditional manufacturers, retailers and service companies that previous strategists worked at.

But many now argue that all businesses are digital, just to varying degrees. For the last few year we’ve seen the repeated headline that “every business is now a digital business” (or some minor variation) from Forbes, Accenture, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, among others you may not have heard of. And about a year ago, we read that “Ford abruptly replaces CEO to target digital transformation”.

Consider then the case of GE, one of the USA’s great industrial giants, which offers a good illustration of the situation facing many companies. A couple of years ago, it expressed its desire to “Become a Digital Industrial Company”. Last week, Steve Lohr of the New York Times reported that “G.E. Makes a Sharp ‘Pivot’ on Digital” because of its difficulty making the transition to digital and especially making the transition a marketing success.

At least in part, the company’s lack of success could be blamed on its failure to fully embrace the intellectual shift from older strategic frameworks to the more digital 21st century strategy that thinkers like Anand, Evans and Schmalensee describe.

© 2018 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

Are Any Small Towns Flourishing?

We hear and read how the very largest cities are growing, attractive places for millennials and just about anyone who is not of retirement age. The story is that the big cities have had almost all the economic gains of the last decade or so, while the economic life has been sucked out of small towns and rural areas.

The images above are what seem to be in many minds today — the vibrant big city versus the dying countryside.

Yet, we are in a digital age when everyone is connected to everyone else on the globe, thanks to the Internet. Why hasn’t this theory of economic potential from the Internet been true for the countryside?

Well, it turns out that it is true. Those rural areas that do in fact have widespread access to the Internet are flourishing. These towns with broadband are exemplary, but unfortunately not the majority of towns.

Professor Roberto Gallardo of Purdue’s Purdue Center for Regional Development has dug deep into the data about broadband and growth. The results have recently been published in an article that Robert Bell and I helped write. You can see it below.

So, the implication of the image above is half right — this is a life-or-death issue for many small towns. The hopeful note is that those with broadband and the wisdom to use it for quality of life will not die in this century.

© 2018 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved


[This article is republished from the Daily Yonder , a non-profit media organization that specializes in rural trends and thus filling the vacuum of news coverage about the countryside.]

When It Comes to Broadband, Millennials Vote with Their Feet

By Roberto Gallardo — Robert Bell — Norman Jacknis

April 11, 2018

When they live in remote rural areas, millennials are more likely to reside in a county that has better digital access. The findings could indicate that the digital economy is helping decentralize the economy, not just clustering economic change in the cities that are already the largest.

Sources: USDA; Pew Research; US Census Bureau; Purdue Center for Regional Development This graph shows that the number of Millennials and Gen Xers living in the nation’s most rural counties is on the increase in counties with a low “digital divide index.” The graph splits the population in “noncore” (or rural) counties into three different generations. Then, within each generation, the graph looks at population change based on the Digital Divide Index. The index measures the digital divide using two sets of criteria, one that looks at the availability and adoption of broadband and another set that looks at socio-economic factors such as income and education levels that affect broadband use. Counties are split into five groups or quintiles based on the digital divide index, with group №1 (orange) having the most access and №5 (green) having the lowest.

Cities are the future and the countryside is doomed, as far as population growth, jobs, culture and lifestyle are concerned. Right?

Certainly, that is the mainstream view expressed by analysts at organizations such as Brookings. This type of analysis says the “clustering” of business that occurred during the industrial age will only accelerate as the digital economy takes hold. This argument says digital economies will only deepen and accelerate the competitive advantage that cities have always had in modern times.

But other pundits and researchers argue that the digital age will result in “decentralization” and a more level playing field between urban and rural. Digital technologies are insensitive to location and distance and potentially offer workers a much greater range of opportunities than ever before.

The real question is whether a rural decline is inevitable or if the digital economy has characteristics that are already starting to write a different story for rural America. We have recently completed research that suggests it is.

Millennial Trends

While metro areas still capture the majority of new jobs and population gains, there is some anecdotal evidence pointing in a different direction. Consider a CBS article that notes how, due to high housing costs, horrible traffic, and terrible work-life balances, Bend, Oregon, is seeing an influx of teleworkers from Silicon Valley. The New York Times has reported on the sudden influx of escapees from the Valley that is transforming Reno, Nevada — for good or ill, it is not yet clear.

Likewise, a Fortune article argued that “millennials are about to leave cities in droves” and the Telegraph mentioned “there is a great exodus going on from cities” in addition to Time magazine reporting that the millennial population of certain U.S. cities has peaked.

Why millennials? Well, dubbed the first digital-native generation, their migration patterns could indicate the beginning of a digital age-related decentralization.

An Age-Based Look at Population Patterns

In search of insight, we looked at population change among the three generations that make up the entire country’s workforce: millennials, generation X, and baby boomers.

First, we defined each generation. Table 1 shows the age ranges of each generation according to the Pew Research Center, both in 2010 and 2016, as well as the age categories used to measure each generation. While not an exact match, categories are consistent across years and geographies.

In addition to looking at generations, we used the Office of Management core-based typology to control by county type (metropolitan, small city [micropolitan], and rural [noncore]). To factor in the influence of digital access affects local economies, we used the Digital Divide Index. The DDI, developed by the Purdue Center for Regional Development, ranges from zero to 100. The higher the score, the higher the digital divide. There are two components to the Digital Divide Index: 1) broadband infrastructure/adoption and 2) socioeconomic characteristics known to affect technology adoption.

Looking at overall trends, it does look like the digital age is not having a decentralization effect. To the contrary, according to data from the economic modeling service Emsi, the U.S. added 19.4 million jobs between 2010 and 2016. Of these, 94.6 percent were located in metropolitan counties compared to only 1.6 percent in rural counties.

Population growth tells a similar story. Virtually the entire growth in U.S. population of 14.4 million between 2010 and 2016 occurred in metropolitan counties, according to the Census Bureau. The graph below (Figure 1) shows the total population change overall and by generation and county type. As expected, the number of baby boomers (far right side of the graph) is falling across all county types while millennials and generation x (middle two sets of bars) are growing only in metro counties.

But there is a different story. When looking at only rural counties (what the OMB classification system calls “noncore”) divided into five equal groups or quintiles based on their digital divide (1 = lowest divide while 5 = highest divide), the figure at the very top of this article shows that rural counties experienced an increase in millennials where the digital divide was lowest. (The millennial population grew by 2.3 percent in rural counties where the digital divide was the lowest.) Important to note is that this same pattern occurs in metropolitan and small city counties as well.

Impact on the “Really Rural” County

“Urban” and “rural” can be tricky terms when it comes to demographics. The Census Bureau reports that 80% of the population lives in urban areas. Seventy-five percent of those “urban” areas, however, are actually small towns with populations of under 20,000. They are often geographically large, with a population density that falls off rapidly once you leave the center of town.

On the other hand, some rural counties are adjacent to metro areas and may benefit disproportionately from their location or even be considered metropolitan due to their commuting patterns. Because of this, we turned to another typology developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service that groups counties into nine types ranging from large metro areas to medium size counties adjacent to metro areas to small counties not adjacent to metro areas.

Figure 3 (below) shows counties considered completely rural or with an urban population of less than 2,500, not adjacent to a metro area. Among these counties, about 420 in total, those with the lowest digital divide experienced a 13.5 percent increase in millennials between 2010 and 2016. In other words, in the nation’s “most rural” counties, the millennial population increased significantly when those counties had better broadband access.

Sources: USDA; Pew Research; US Census Bureau; Purdue Center for Regional Development. This graph shows population change by generation and “DDI” quintile in the nation’s most rural counties (rural counties that are farthest from metropolitan areas). In rural counties with the best digital access (a low digital divide index), the number of Millennials and Gen Xers increased.

The New Connected Countryside: A Work in Progress

To conclude, if you just look at overall numbers, our population seems to be behaving just like they did in the industrial age — moving to cities where jobs and people are concentrated. Rural areas that lag in broadband connectivity and digital literacy will continue to suffer from these old trends.

However, the digital age is young. Its full effects are still to be felt. Remember it took several decades for electricity or the automobile to revolutionize society. Besides, areas outside metro areas lag in broadband connectivity and digital literacy, limiting their potential to leverage the technology to affect their quality of life, potentially reversing migration trends.

Whether or not decentralization will take place remains to be seen. What is clear though is that (while other factors are having an impact, as well) any community attempting to retain or attract millennials need to address their digital divide, both in terms of broadband access and adoption/use.

In other words, our data analysis suggests that if a rural area has widely available and adopted broadband, it can start to successfully attract or retain millennials.

Roberto Gallardo is assistant director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and a senior fellow at the Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder. Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum. Norman Jacknis is a senior fellow at the Intelligent Community Forum and on the faculty of Columbia University.

Libraries And The Story Of Apple

[Note: I’m President of the board of the Metropolitan New York Library Council, but this post is only my own view.]

For some time now, the library world and its supporters have worried about the rise of the Google search engine. Here’s just a sample of articles from the last ten years that express this concern and, of course, push back against the Google tide:

And there was also John Palfrey’s 2015 book, “BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google”, which shares some themes of this post.

This concern has had such a profound effect that many libraries have effectively curtailed their reference librarian services as people instead “Google it”.

No doubt Google is formidable. While there have been ups and downs (like 2015) in Google’s share of the search engine market, it is obviously very high. Some estimates put it at 80% or higher.

But the world is changing and perhaps librarians aren’t aware of a nascent opportunity.

In an article about a month ago, the data scientist Vincent Granville took a closer look at the data about the ways people search and get information. He found “The Slow Decline of Google Search”. Here are some of the highlights:

“Google’s influence (as a search engine) is declining. Not that their traffic share or revenue is shrinking, to the contrary, both are probably increasing.”

“The decline (and weakening of monopoly) is taking place in a subtle way. In short, Google is no longer the first source of information, for people to find an article, a document, or anything on the Internet.”

“What has happened over the last few years is that many websites are now getting most of their traffic from sources other than Google.”

“Google has lost its monopoly when it comes to finding interesting information on the Internet.”

“Interestingly, this creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs willing to develop a search engine.”

As the New York Times reported recently about the announcement of the new Pixel phone, Google has noticed all this and is strategically re-positioning itself as an artificial intelligence company.

What has this got to do with the Apple story?

Apple is now the most valuable company in the world. That wasn’t always so. Indeed, it almost was headed for oblivion as the chart shows. Even now, its earlier business of selling personal computers hasn’t grown that much. It was able to add to its mix of products and services in a compelling way. It is one of the great turnaround stories in business history.

That history offers a lesson for librarians. The battle against what Google originally offered has been a tough one and libraries have suffered in the eyes of many people, especially the public officials and other leaders who provide their funding.

But looking forward, libraries should consider the opportunities arising from the fact that Google’s impact on Internet users is lessening, that the shine of Google’s “do no evil” slogan has worn off in the face of greater public skepticism and that artificial intelligence – really augmented human intelligence – is now a viable, disruptive technology.

As many once great and now defunct companies, other than Apple, show, there aren’t many second chances. Libraries should take advantage of its second chance to play the role that they should
play

in a knowledge and innovation economy.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

Libraries As Platforms For Big Data

The yearlong theme of the New York State Regents Technology Policy and Practice Council (TPPC) is data.  Given the Regents’ responsibility for education, the council’s focus is on data in education, but not just data arising from schools. Beyond education, they are thinking about data that is or could be offered through libraries, museums, libraries, public broadcasting, and the like.

With this background, Nate Hill, Executive Director of the Metropolitan New York Library Council and I (in my role at METRO’s board president) have been asked to make a presentation on this subject when the group meets today. That is partly because of METRO’s role as the umbrella organization for all kinds of libraries, museums, archives and, more generally, information professionals in the New York area.

They also want to know about METRO’s leading role in working on data and digital content, even open data. (And Nate Hill’s work on an open data platform at the Chattanooga Public Library, before he came to New York, is also relevant.)

Of course, this is not a new subject to me either as I wrote more than three years ago in “What Is The Role Of Libraries In Open Government?

Here in a nutshell are some of the main ideas that we are presenting today:

-> There has already been the start of big data and analytics in K-12 education. Unfortunately, all of the tests that kids take is one manifestation of this application of analytics. But there are other good sources of data for the classroom, like that supplied by NOAA.

image

->

Data has another use, however. It can motivate students and encourage them to be curious. How? If instead of using the standard, remote examples in texts for most subjects, the examples were drawn from data collected and about their own community, where they live.

image

->

Drawing on themes from my Beyond Data talk in Europe, “Is Open Data Good Enough?”, it’s important not to just depend upon the data that some governments publish on their websites. There is a world of data that is of public interest, but is not collected by governments. And data alone isn’t insightful – for that, analytics and human inquiry are necessary, both of which students and older scholars can provide.

->

Libraries have been the curators of digital content and increasingly can be the creators, as well. Whether this is through mashups or linked data or the application of their own analytics skills, libraries will be extending and making more useful the raw data that has already been made public.

image

->

Libraries have historically been community centers where issues could be discussed in an objective manner. But when so many people are not satisfied with merely being consumers of content and instead act as producer-consumer, libraries can offer the intellectual resources, the tools and the platform for citizens to play a role in investigating data on public issues and in co-creating the solutions.

image

Our hope is that METRO can help to show the future paths for the open data movement in all of its venues and, maybe even provide the platform we envision in our talk today. If you’d like to join in this effort, please contact Nate Hill or myself.

image

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

A Small-Town Tech Program That Enables People To Make A Living

There’s been lots of talk about our transition from an industrial manufacturing economy to a digital economy. Many people have been caught in this transition, just as many young farmers were caught in the transition to the industrial era and ended up filling the slums of rapidly growing cities more than a hundred years ago. While we see low earnings growth in cities and suburbs, this has been especially a problem in small towns and rural areas.

With all the talk about the issue, there’s been very little action considering the size of the problem – particularly impactful programs to help these folks. And those that do exist usually deal with part of the one problem, say training but not placement or the other way around. That problem is in part due to silos that have been created by our laws.

Nevertheless, there are some programs worth watching, expanding and emulating. Digital Works, a non-profit organization which currently operates in Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas is a good example.

image

This is not about creating more computer programming and other high-level jobs in big cities. Nor does it work on helping low-income people in areas with concentrations of traditional metropolitan city corporate employment, such as the successful Workforce Opportunity Services.

Instead, as you can tell from where they operate, Digital Works focuses on rural areas and small towns with high unemployment – the part of the economy that has been most left behind. As an example, one of their locations is Gallipolis, Ohio, about forty miles from the West Virginia border in southeastern Ohio. At its high point in 1960, almost 8,800 people lived there. The Census Bureau estimates there are fewer than 3,500 people there now.

These are also the places that require residents to travel the most to get to big (or even bigger) cities that have concentrated traditional employment in factories, offices and stores. So being able to make a living, by working digitally, in or near your home opens up all kinds of new economic opportunities.

Digital Works trains local people for contact center work that can be done anywhere there is sufficient Internet connectivity, either at home or at a work center. The goal is that the work pays better than minimum wage, with performance-based raises and promotional opportunities.

Digital Works handles the whole cycle that is necessary for the unemployed – recruitment, screening, training, placement, mentoring, development and retention. (It reminds me a bit of the transitional work programs for urban poor and ex-convicts that I helped run much earlier in my career.) They even work with their graduates to obtain the National Retail Foundation’s Customer Service Certification.

They will create remote work centers in partnership with local governments in those areas where broadband is not yet widely available. It’s worth noting that Digital Works is a subsidiary of Connected Nation, which itself is focused on increasing broadband deployment and adoption.

Digital Works is fulfilling the vision of the Internet as the foundation for expanded economic growth everywhere it can reach.

And, of course, to complete the circle, a large part of their effort is on developing relationships with companies that would pay the people to whom they are giving several weeks of training. These business relationships also ensure that the training provided is what employers are actually looking for – something that is often discussed in other training programs, but not so closely practiced as by Digital Works.

With a more global vision, one of the more interesting people to participate regularly in the Intelligent Community Forum’s activities is Stu Johnson, who directs Digital Works. He has said:

“There’s no other workforce training program that offers what we do—it’s really groundbreaking. We are able to offer employer-customized training to high-quality candidates, job-placement assistance, on-going mentorship, and even advanced training and career development. There is an excessive demand for these types of jobs, and Digital Works is connecting those employers with eager and trained job seekers.”

image

It is hard to find external studies of programs like this, which operate with little overhead in areas of the country that don’t much national attention. But Diane Rekowski, Executive Director of the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments has noted that

“The best part about this program is that it is free to anyone, and the success in Ohio has shown a 97% placement rate in a paid job upon completion of the training. Whether you are a recent high school graduate or enjoying your retirement years, this is an opportunity to have a flexible career and potential for earning much more than minimum wage.”

Digital Works’ data shows that the program has an 85% graduation rate and that 91% of their placements retain employment for more than a year.

While this program won’t work for everyone, everywhere and it certainly isn’t turning its graduates into millionaires, it is the kind of thing that can make a tremendous difference in real lives as this video shows – https://vimeo.com/150681091 

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

Surprises And Insights As Intelligent Community Leaders Meet Again

Returning to New York City, the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) held its Annual Summit last week. Many of the ICF’s 160+ communities from around the world were represented, in addition to speakers and guests from this year’s Top7:

Although two years ago, the Intelligent Community of the Year was Columbus, Ohio, it’s noteworthy that this year no American city or community made it to the Top7. (This year, Rochester, New York, was the only American city even in the Smart21.)

image

In addition to the contest, which attracts much interest, the Summit is also a place where people meet and present ideas on how to best use information and communications technologies as a foundation for creating better communities and quality of life.

It’s in the workshops and presentations from speakers who do not represent contestants that often the most interesting insights arise. This post will highlight some of those more unexpected moments.

1.      First, there’s the Digital Government Society (DGS) of academic specialists in e-government, the Internet and citizen engagement. DGS also held its 18th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, dg.o 2017, last week. Its theme was “Innovations and Transformations in Government”.

image

Since ICF had a couple hundred government innovators in attendance and DGS is particularly interested in dialogue between academic researchers and practitioners, it was only natural that the two groups took a day last week to have a joint conference. This kind of interaction about areas of common interest was valuable for both groups. They even participated together in prioritizing the challenges facing the communities they lead or have studied.

2.     As part of the program, there were some presentations by companies with their own perspective on intelligent communities. Perhaps the most unusual example was Nathaniel Dick of Hair O’Right International Corp., which is an extremely eco-friendly beauty products company, best known for its caffeine shampoo.  It won’t surprise you that Mr. Dick is a very earnest, entrepreneurial American. What may surprise you is that he and Hair O’Right are based in Taiwan.

image

3.     While there has been much talk about government opening up its data to the public over the last several years, there haven’t been all that many really interesting applications – and perhaps too many cases where open data is used merely for “gotcha” purposes against office holders. But Yale Fox of RentLogic demonstrated a very useful application of open data, helping renters learn some of the hidden aspects of the apartments they are considering.

Starting with the nation’s biggest rental market, New York City, they pulled together a variety of public documents about the apartment buildings. Now all a potential renter needs to do is enter the address and this information will be available.  Wouldn’t you like to know about anything from a mold problem to frequent turnover of ownership before you moved in?

image

4.     Rob McCann, CEO of ClearCable and one of Canada’s thought leaders on broadband, provided a down to earth review of the current state of broadband deployment and how to address the demand for its expansion.  He noted Five Hidden Network Truths: “The Network is Oversubscribed (so manage it); The Network is Not Symmetrical (accept the best you can); Consumption CAGR exceeds 50% (so prepare for growth); More Peers are better than Bigger Peers; Operating costs are key, not just build costs”.

To get the point across, he also showed an old, but funny, video about Internet congestion.

5.     One of the new communities to join the summit was the relatively new area of Binh Duong, Vietnam (population more than a million).  Dr. Viet-Long Nguyen, Director of their Smart City Office, even gave a keynote presentation

6.     We’ve all heard much about the Internet of Things, the various sensors and devices that are supposed to change urban life – and, unfortunately, the sum of what too many people consider to be smart cities. By contrast, Mary Lee Kennedy, my fellow board member from the Metropolitan New York Library Council led a panel on “The Internet of People”. With panelists with their own perspectives – Mozilla Leadership Network, Pew Research, the Urban Libraries Council, New York Hall of Science – the focus was on the people who are not yet benefiting from everything else we were hearing about that day at MIST, Harlem’s own tech center. (You can read her more detailed post here.)

Overall, the impression a visitor to the summit is left with is that many places you wouldn’t have thought of are rapidly developing their technology potential and, more important, its value for their residents.

Next year, we expect to learn more and be surprised a few times more as the ICF Summit will be held in London and other parts of England.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved @NormanJacknis

Campaign Analytics: What Separates The Good From The Bad

Donald Trump, as a candidate for President last year, expressed great skepticism about the use of analytics
in an election campaign.  Hillary Clinton made a big deal about her campaign’s use of analytics. Before that, President Obama’s campaigns received great credit for their analytics.

If you compare these experiences, you can begin to understand what separates good from bad in campaign analytics.

Let’s start with the Clinton campaign, whose use of analytics was breathlessly reported, including this Politico story about “Hillary’s Nerd Squad” eighteen months before the election.

However, a newly released book, titled Shattered, provides a kind of autopsy of the campaign and its major weaknesses. A CBS News review of the book highlighted this
weakness in particular:

“Campaign manager Robby Mook put a lot of faith in the campaign’s computer algorithm, Ada, which was supposed to give them a leg up in turning out likely voters. But the Clinton campaign’s use of the highly complex algorithm focused on ensuring voter turnout, rather than attracting voters from across party lines.

“According to the book, Mook was insistent that the software would be revered as the campaign’s secret weapon once Clinton won the White House. With his commitment to Ada and the provided data analytics, Mook often butted heads with Democratic Party officials, who were concerned about the lack of attention in persuading undecided voters in Clinton’s favor.  Those Democratic officials, as it turned out, had a point.”

image

Of course, this had become part of the conventional wisdom since the day after the election. For example, on November 9, 2016, the Washington Post had a story “Clinton’s data-driven campaign relied heavily on an algorithm named Ada. What didn’t she see?”:

“Ada is a complex computer algorithm that the campaign was prepared to publicly unveil after the election as its invisible guiding hand … the algorithm was said to play a role in virtually every strategic decision Clinton aides made, including where and when to deploy the candidate and her battalion of surrogates and where to air television ads … The campaign’s deployment of other resources — including county-level campaign offices and the staging of high-profile concerts with stars like Jay Z and Beyoncé — was largely dependent on Ada’s work, as well.”

But the story had another point about Ada:

“Like the candidate herself, she had a penchant for secrecy and a private server … the particulars of Ada’s work were kept under tight wraps, according to aides. The algorithm operated on a separate computer server than the rest of the Clinton operation as a security precaution, and only a few senior aides were able to access it.”

While the algorithm clearly wasn’t the only or perhaps even the most important reason for the failure of the campaign, that last piece illustrates why the Clinton use of analytics wasn’t more successful. It had in common with many other failed analytics initiatives an atmosphere of secretiveness and arrogance – “we’re the smartest guys around here” so let us do our thing.

The successful uses of analytics in campaigns or elsewhere try to use (and then test) the best insights of the people with long experience in a field. They will even help the analyst look at the right questions –
in the case of the Clinton campaign, converting undecided voters

The best analytics efforts are a two-way conversation that helps the “experts” to understand better which of their beliefs are still correct and helps the analytics staff to understand where they should be looking for predictive factors.

Again, analytics wasn’t the only factor that led to President Obama’s winning elections in 2008 and 2012, but the Obama campaign’s use of analytics felt different than Clinton’s. One article went “Inside the Obama Campaign’s Big Data Analytics Culture” and described “an archetypical story of an analytics-driven organization that aligned people, business processes and technologies around a clear mission” instead of focusing on the secret sauce and a top-down, often strife-filled, environment.

image

InfoWorld’s story about the 2012 campaign described a widely dispersed use of analytics –

“Of the 100 analytics staffers, 50 worked in a dedicated analytics department, 20 analysts were spread throughout the campaign’s various headquarters, and another 30 were in the field interpreting the data.” So, there was plenty of opportunity for analytics staffers to learn from others in the campaign.

And the organizational culture was molded to make this successful as well –

“barriers between disparate data sets – as well as between analysts – were lowered, so everyone could work together effectively. In a nutshell, the campaign sought a friction-free analytic environment.”

Obama’s successful use of analytics was a wake-up call to many politicians, Hillary Clinton included. But did they learn all the lessons of his success? Apparently not.

Coming back to the 2016 election, there is then the Trump campaign. Despite the candidate’s statements, his campaign also used analytics, employing Cambridge Analytica, the British firm that helped the Brexit forces to win in the UK. Thus, 2016 wasn’t as much of a test of analytics vs. no analytics as has sometimes been reported.

image

But, if an article, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”, published two weeks ago in the British newspaper, the Guardian, is even close to the mark, there is a different question about the good and bad uses of analytics in both the Trump and Brexit campaigns. In part scary and perhaps in others too jaundiced, this story raises questions for the future – as analytic tools get better, will the people using those tools realize they face not only technical challenges.

The good and bad use of analytics will not just be a question as to whether the results are being executed well or poorly – whether the necessary changes and learning among all members of an organization take place. But it will also be a question whether analytics tools are being used in ways that are good or bad in an ethical sense.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved. @NormanJacknis

Augmented Reality Rising

Last week, I gave a presentation at the Premier CIO Summit in Connecticut on the Future of User Interaction With Technology, especially the combined effects of developments in communicating without a keyboard, augmented reality (AR) and machine learning.  I’ve been interested in this for some time and have written about AR as part of the Wearables movement and what I call EyeTech.

First, it would help to distinguish these digital realities. In virtual reality, a person is placed in a completely virtual world, eyes fully covered by a VR headset – it’s 100% digital immersion. It is ideal for games, space exploration, and movies, among other yet to be created uses.

With augmented reality, there is a digital layer that is added onto the real physical world. People look through a device – a smartphone, special glasses and the like – that still lets them see the real things in front of them.

Some experts make a further distinction by talking about mixed reality in which that digital layer enables people to control things in the physical environment. But again, people can still see and navigate through that physical environment.

When augmented was first made possible, especially with smartphones, there were a variety of interesting but not widespread uses. A good example is the way that some locations could show the history of what happened in a building a long time ago, so-called “thick-mapping”.

There were business cards that could popup an introduction and a variety of ancillary information that can’t fit on a card, as in this video.

There were online catalogs that enabled consumers to see how a product would fit in their homes. These videos from Augment and Ikea are good examples of what’s been done in AR.

A few years later, now, this audience was very interested in learning about and seeing what’s going on with augmented reality. And why not? After a long time under the radar or in the shadow of Virtual Reality hype, there is an acceleration of interest in augmented (and mixed) reality.

Although it was easy to satirize the players in last year’s Pokémon Go craze, that phenomenon brought renewed attention to augmented reality via smart phones.

Just in the last couple of weeks, Mark Zuckerberg at the annual Facebook developers conference stated that he thinks augmented reality is going to have tremendous impact and he wants to build the ecosystem for it. See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/technology/mark-zuckerberg-sees-augmented-reality-ecosystem-in-facebook.html

As beginning of the article puts it:

“Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has long rued the day that Apple and Google beat him to building smartphones, which now underpin many people’s digital lives. Ever since, he has searched for the next frontier of modern computing and how to be a part of it from the start.

“Now, Mr. Zuckerberg is betting he has found it: the real world. On Tuesday, Mr. Zuckerberg introduced what he positioned as the first mainstream augmented reality platform, a way for people to view and digitally manipulate the physical world around them through the lens of their smartphone cameras.”

And shortly before that, an industry group – UI LABS and The Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance (AREA) – united to plot the direction and standards for augmented reality, especially now that the applications are taking off inside factories, warehouses and offices, as much as in the consumer market. See http://www.uilabs.org/press/manufacturers-unite-to-shape-the-future-of-augmented-reality/

Of course, HoloLens from Microsoft continues to provide all kinds of fascinating uses of augmented reality as these examples from a medical school or field service show.

Looking a bit further down the road, the trend that will make this all the more impactful for CIOs and other IT leaders is how advances in artificial intelligence (even affective computing), the Internet of Things and analytics will provide a much deeper digital layer that will truly augment reality. This then becomes part of a whole new way of interacting with and benefiting from technology.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved. @NormanJacknis

Interactivity For An Urban Digital Experience

This is the third and last of a series of posts about a new urban digital experience in the streets of Yonkers, New York. [You can the previous posts, click on part1 and part2.]

As a reminder, the two main goals of this project are:

  • To enhance the street life of the city by offering delightful destinations and interesting experience, a new kind of urban design
  • To engage, entertain, educate and reinforce the image of Yonkers as an historic center of innovation and to inspire the creativity of its current residents

We started out with a wide variety of content that entertains, educates and reinforces the residents’ understanding of their city. As the City government takes over full control of this, the next phase will be about deepening the engagement and interactivity with pedestrians – what will really make this a new tool of urban design.

This post is devoted to just a few of the possible ways that a digital experience on the streets can become more interactive.

First, a note about equipment and software. I’ve mentioned the high-quality HD projectors and outdoor speakers. I haven’t mentioned the cameras that are also installed. Those cameras have been used so far to make sure that the system is operating properly. But the best use of cameras is as one part of seeing – and with the proper software – analyzing what people are doing when they see the projections or hear something.

The smartphones that people carry as they pass by also allow them to communicate via websites, social media or even their movement.

With all this in place, it helps to think of what can happen in these four categories:

  1. Contests
  2. Control of Text
  3. Physical Interaction
  4. Teleportation

Contests

What’s your favorite part of the city? Show a dozen or so pictures and let people vote on them – and show real time results. It’s not a deeply significant engagement, but it will bring people out to show support for their area or destination.

Or people can be asked: what are your top choices in an amateur poetry contest (which only requires audio) or the best photography of the waterfront or a beautiful park or the favorite item that has been 3D printed inside the library’s makerspace? Or???

Even the content itself can be assessed in this way. We can ask passersby to provide thumbs up or down for what it is they are seeing at that moment. (Since the schedule of content is known precisely this means that we would also know what the person was referring to.)

People could vote on what kind of music they would want to hear at the moment, like an outdoor jukebox, or on what videos they might want to see at the moment.

Contests of this kind are a pretty straightforward use of either smartphones or physical gestures. Cameras can detect when people point to something to make a choice. It is possible to use phone SMS texting to register votes and the nice thing about this use of SMS is that it doesn’t require anyone to edit and censor what people write since they can only select among the (usually numerical) choices they’re given. SMS voting can be supplemented with voting on a website.

Control Of Text

Control implies that the person in front of a site can control what’s there merely by typing some text on a smart phone – or eventually by speaking to a microphone that is backed by speech recognition software.

People can ask about the history of people who have moved to Yonkers by typing in a family name, which then triggers an app that searches the local family database.

This kind of interaction requires that someone or a service provides basic editing of the text provided by people (i.e., censorship of words and ideas not appropriate for a site frequented by the general public).

Physical Interaction

With software that can understand or at least react to the movement of human hands, feet and bodies, there are all kinds of possible ways that people can interact with a blended physical/digital environment.

In a place like Getty Square where the projectors point down to the ground, it’s possible to show dance steps. Or people can modify an animation or visual on a wall by waving their arms in a particular way.

Originally in Australia, but now elsewhere, stairs have been digitized so that they play musical notes when people walk on them. These “piano stairs” are relatively easy to create and actually don’t really need to be stairs at all – the same effect can be created on a flat surface and it doesn’t have to generate piano sounds only.

In Eindhoven, the Netherlands, there is an installation called Lightfall, where a person’s movements control the lighting. See https://vimeo.com/192203302

Pedestrians could even become part of the visual on a wall and using augmented reality even transformed, say into the founder of the city with appropriate old clothes. Again, the only limit is the creativity of those involved in designing these opportunities.

Teleportation

The last category I’m calling teleportation, although it’s not really what we’ve seen in Star Trek. Instead with cameras, microphones, speakers and screens in one city and a companion setup in another, it would be possible for people in both places to casually chat as if they were on neighboring benches in the same park.

In this way, the blending of the physical and digital provides the residents with a “window” to another city.

I hope this three-part series has given city leaders and others who care about the urban environment as good sense of how to make 21st blended environments, how they might start with available content and then go beyond that to interaction with people walking by.

Of course, even three blog posts are limited, so feel free to contact me @NormanJacknis for more information and questions.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

Digital Content For A New Urban Experience

Last week, I posted an overview of a new urban digital experience in the streets of Yonkers, New York.

With the ability to project anything you want on a large wall of a highly-trafficked site or on the ground of the historical center square of a city, how do you kick off something like this?

image

In this post, I’ll outline the approach we took for the first phase. (Next week, I’ll describe the more interesting and engaging future.)

The two main goals of this project are:

  • To enhance the street life of the city by offering a new, interesting experience, a new kind of urban design
  • To entertain, engage, educate and reinforce the image of Yonkers as an historical center of innovation and to inspire the creativity of its current residents

With that in mind, we looked for certain kinds of content. Because many residents of the city and an even larger percentage of visitors know little of its history, we wanted to give them some background. Here are some examples:

  • We worked initially with the public library to obtain the front page of the main city newspaper of a hundred years ago. In addition to projecting the front page on the wall of the Riverfront Library building, we created a kind of old time radio news summary of that front-page news, sandwiched between appropriate sounding news bulletin music from years ago. Even when there was daylight and the front-page graphic couldn’t be seen, people could still hear the news headlines. As it turns out, with a Presidential election and the onset of America’s entry into World War I, the days’ news from a hundred years ago was pretty interesting.
image
  • We also had a variety of short documentaries about the history of the city that were part of a regular weekly program. This included items related to special events. For example, when the annual Yonkers Marathon was run, you could see video of the previous year’s marathon as well as a Pathé news reel about the marathon in the 1930s.

    There was footage from a drone.

image
  • We also included features about the business of the city, called Made in Yonkers, that enables residents to see inside the buildings that are normally closed to the public and to learn about the interesting things going on. Indeed, this kind of venue allows people to see inside any buildings that are closed – museums that are closed at night can still show their contents. It is also possible to show how a part of the city has changed in the last hundred years or even recently or how it will change in the future – just by overlaying a projection of the past or proposed future.
image
  • We identified the great musical artists and other performers who had lived in Yonkers – from WC Handy (of early blues/ragtime), to Gene Krupa (jazz drummer) to the singers Ella Fitzgerald and Steven Tyler (local high school grad and originally lead singer of Aerosmith) to the famed comedian Sid Caesar, among others – and put together shows that informed the public of their work and their relationship to the city.
image
  • Then we wanted to celebrate the creativity and artistry of current residents. One of the first organizations to cooperate with this project was the Yonkers Philharmonic. On Wednesday nights, you can see them perform if you’re just walking down the street. You can also hear them many mornings, while you wait for your train.
image
  • The relatively new Westchester Center for Jazz and Contemporary Music made an album available.
  • Similarly, Friday nights are usually devoted to musical shows from the two local theater companies and performances from the schools. Yonkers also runs its own Idol contest and the most recent edition of that is also shown from time to time.
  • Yonkers, like other cities, runs various festivals during the year – from Friday night Jazz on the waterfront in the summer, to Riverfest that features folk music, to Hispanic and other ethnic group events. The best performances from those are also shown periodically.
image
  • As a side note, there is some reassuring about seeing a summer jazz festival
    or a flower garden

    when it’s the middle of February and the streets still have snow. It cheers you up!

image
  • Yonkers is also the home of Sarah Lawrence College and an outpost of Purchase College, both of which are especially strong in the arts. The Westchester Community College also has a branch in the city and its Digital Arts program was an early contributor to the content. These local colleges then provided and even created content especially for this project, including animations, documentary videos and new music.

This is only a partial list. If it had to do with Yonkers, if it happened in the city and helps residents appreciate where they live, then it became part of the content library. That library is still growing.

Visual projections on a big concrete wall are pretty straightforward. For the projections on the ground, the same kind of videos won’t quite work all the time and there more emphasis is given to animations, graphics and text.

Obviously, visual projections are limited to nighttime. But the speakers are on all day. So, there is a program for the morning and evening rush hour – usually a sample of what had been played the night before.

And, for a little fun and to liven up the street, during the middle of the day at random times, pedestrians hear little clips of musical sounds or other ambient sounds, like elephants roaring. Huh? I’m walking in Yonkers and I hear an elephant? That will wake up people who have stopped paying attention to their environment.

From some of the examples I’ve given, you also get the sense of how you can transport people mentally. You can show them what’s happening in a different part of the city. You can show them the sunset from yesterday or the flowers of spring when it’s still winter. All of this can uplift the mood of a city.

Clearly the focus of the content I’ve described was on this city – Yonkers – but any city could do the same. People, even city government folks, were surprised at how much content there was about the city. Your city too has much to show. You just need to look and be a bit creative about it.

But even what I’ve described here doesn’t fully take advantage of the opportunity to create new street experiences. More on that next time.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

A New Urban Digital Experience In Yonkers, New York

Over the last several years, I’ve written about the value of blending digital and physical spaces for cities so that they can create new exciting, delightful destinations that will inspire and attract people. This was one part of the work I did for the US Conference of Mayors on a strategy to ensure the viability of American cities — especially mid-sized and smaller cities — in a post-industrial, digital age.

Mayor Mike Spano, an innovative public leader and dedicated son of Yonkers, New York, saw one of my presentations at an annual meeting of the mayors and thought it would fit well with the revitalization program he had initiated in his city.

That’s how I got started helping the City bring the “Yonkers Digital Experience” to life.  (The picture below is from the press conference launching the project.)

image

There’s a lot to this project so this will be a series of posts — an overview in this post and then later more detail about the content and future direction of the project.

Yonkers is a city of about 200,000 people, on the northern border of New York City along the Hudson River. It was founded in 1646 during the Dutch colonial period, but grew dramatically during the industrialization of the late 19th and early 20th century. For example, it was the birthplace of the Otis Elevator Company. But like many other similar cities in the US and elsewhere, it suffered during the long decline and out-migration of industrial jobs.

With that background, there are two main goals of this project in Yonkers:

  • To enhance the street life of the city by offering a new, interesting experience, a new kind of urban design
  • To entertain, engage, educate and reinforce the image of Yonkers as an historical center of innovation and to inspire the creativity of its current residents

As befits a smaller city — and one that didn’t want to have this supported by commercial advertising which would detract from quality of life — the project was very built on a very economical budget. Instead of huge LED displays, like Times Square, it uses high quality projections and outdoor speakers. When it’s dark, the video is seen and engaged. During the day, there is only audio. The projectors are attached to existing street lights and are relatively unobtrusive.

image

While the cost of all this technology has come down dramatically over the last few year, it is still not a trivial technology project to implement. The complete system that takes the contributed digital content and ultimately displays it consists of several independent components of technology that are not always simple to integrate.

For the initial roll-out, two different kinds of sites were selected and handled quite differently.

The first site is the large concrete wall of the big Riverfront Library, which is across the street from the main train station and a big city park (with the Saw Mill River running through it). It is also very near the more upscale apartments that face the Hudson River and the Palisades. This is already an attractive area with lots of pedestrian traffic. It is ideal for the presentation of past and current performances, history, and the like in a fairly conventional way.

image

The second location is Getty Square, which was the center of the city a hundred years ago, but is now not quite as important.  In this location, there are two projectors with speakers that are aimed at the ground in the center of the “square”. This is an edgier location and one that is expected to be the center for more non-traditional experiments in art and interaction.

While there have been projections on walls in various cities around the world, especially in Europe, these have usually been limited to the few days of a festival and have mostly been opportunities for graphic artists to use a building wall as a canvass – rather than to create a new permanent urban experience.

From what I’ve seen and read, the closest project to what Yonkers is doing has taken place in Montreal. But in Montreal, the program has been fairly static and solely visual, without sound, the impact on passers-by is limited. Nor does it seem they have any longer-term plans to enable interaction with residents on the street.

So, the Yonkers Digital Experience is an early experiment in urban design, technology and engagement.

The next post will be a review of the kinds of content that is currently part of this project. The final post will highlight where this kind of project can go, as it uses some fun digital technologies.

If you’re interested in the previous blog posts on this general subject, they can be found here:

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

Adventures In Translation On The Road

I made a recent two-week trip to Europe in four countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany.  A large part of the trip was in the countryside where, generally, a smaller percentage of the residents speak English well.  (Actually, the Netherlands is sort of an exception to this rule as a large number of people speak English everywhere and Dutch and English even have similar sounding words.)

In presentations, I’ve been highlighting the improvements over the last few years in real-time translation between different languages, especially the phone apps intended for this purpose.  So, I thought this would be an ideal test to see how well they worked in the real world.

I chose the two leaders – Google and Microsoft – and took them on the road with me.  I used these primarily to read menus, signs, information and the like in the foreign (non-English) language and translate into English.  I also used it to translate my written English into the foreign language so that a non-English speaker could I understand what I was asking for.  I tried a couple of times to use the speech recognition and speech synthesis capabilities of these apps, but that was limited for reasons I outline below.

Anyway, here are the results of my adventures in real time translation on the road.

Although not as smooth as the videos from the companies would have you believe, these apps generally worked pretty well.  Frankly, whatever the limitations, I would have been in deep trouble and frequently lost without these apps.

You should check how well each works in a particular country.  Google Translate did a better job in France and Microsoft Translator a better job in Germany.

Google bought the company that produced the original WordLens app that allowed you to hold your phone’s camera over non-English text and see it in English – a nice example of augmented reality (AR).  That software is still embedded in the Google Translate app.  It’s really cool, when you can hold your phone still over foreign text in good light.  As a practical matter, this isn’t always the case.  

That’s where Microsoft Translator has the edge because it doesn’t try to do the AR thing.  It just uses the camera to take a photo and then provides an alternative photo in English.  It was a nice way to create an English language menu.  Apparently I hadn’t been the only ones to do this since waiters usually just shook their heads in recognition – another American making English versions of printed menus unnecessary.  (Not really, of course, at least not yet.)

The speech and voice recognition capabilities in both apps require having a good internet connection, something that is not all that widespread when you’re interacting with people who don’t speak English.  In hotels, museums and offices where there is available wi-fi, most people speak English well enough.  It’s elsewhere that you need the translation capability and it seems there is a correlation between the availability of wi-fi and the percentage of people who speak English in a foreign country – or putting it the opposite way, you usually won’t have wi-fi when you need it to carry the translation duties.

So, it is best for both apps to download the complete file for whatever language you’re going to need.  For me, that meant downloading fairly large files of Dutch, French and German.  If you don’t download, then you’re going to need wi-fi even just for text.

As with any useful technology, you want it to get out of the way and become invisible.  While neither is invisible magic yet, Google Translate helps with a nice little trip.  If you type in English and then hold your phone sideways (horizontally), it shows the foreign language translation in big letters.  This is very useful in explaining to baristas and clerks in mini-marts what you want.  Microsoft has a similar capability, but requires an additional step to make it happen.  Here is what it would look like in Spanish if you type “please give me a large latte to go”.

One nice feature of Microsoft Translator is its phrase book.  This has many of the basic questions and requests that a tourist is likely to want to communicate.

All in all, I’m never going to travel in a non-English speaking country again without these apps.  This area of computer science has advanced rapidly over the last few years and I only expect it to get better, especially for offline use.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

The Bumpy Transition To Video Meetings

As internet bandwidth gets better, we’re seeing more people communicate by videoconference. Facetime and Skype are now quite common ways for family members and friends to see each other when they are physically separated. Video conferencing has been around for a while in big multi-national corporations.

More slowly, we’re also seeing the adoption of videoconferencing for meetings of public bodies.  There are various reasons for the slow adoption.

  • Public agencies are unfortunately often populated by the less technically savvy part of the overall population or whose members are just more comfortable with physical than virtual face-to-face communication.
  • Or their members may have had a bad experience with video conferencing a few years ago, when neither the software nor the bandwidth was sufficient to become invisible and not interfere with free-flowing conversation. (Of course, there are still examples of bad videoconferences even now. I mention video products I’ve used successfully below.)
  • Public bodies are also subject to various open meeting laws and rules, which haven’t always caught up with changes in technology.

But things are changing, so I went on a search of the video conferencing practices of government bodies. Here’s some of what I found.

Since the latter part of last year, the City Council of Austin, Texas, has allowed the public to speak at their meetings via video so that citizens aren’t forced to come downtown for this opportunity.

image

A bigger step is virtual attendance at meetings of the members themselves.

This is important especially when distances are large or obtaining a quorum is hard to achieve. It may be unusual for a city council or a state legislature to fail to have a quorum, but there are tens of thousands of other public bodies who can’t get their business done because not enough members can show up. This affects school boards and libraries and water districts and state advisory boards, etc. (By the way, the problem isn’t new – the first session of the US Congress was delayed for some time while members arrived very slowly.)

Video conferencing that would enable members to participate remotely would seem to be a natural solution. But as in all other aspects of the public sector, things aren’t so simple and policies seem to be the first obstacle to overcome.

Over the last few years, the Wyoming’s State Legislature has developed its video policy, which still seems be somewhere in the middle between those without full confidence and those who want to use it. Approvals are needed for committee use of video, as the policy states: “With prior consent of the committee chair, a video conference may be held for legislators unable to attend a meeting at the official meeting location.”  More generally, “An entire committee can meet via video conference at the direction of the chairman.”

Since 2013, the State of Missouri has allowed those elected to public bodies (mostly local) to vote and participate by video. But the Missouri Municipal League felt it necessary to a model policy for videoconferencing. It particularly emphasizes such guidance as: “a member’s use of video conference attendance should occur only sparingly.”

Following a change in the Illinois Open Meetings laws, the Schaumburg Library in 2009 adopted an official policy on this subject. They require a quorum of members at the physical meeting, not counting members participating via electronic means. Once that quorum is established, the remote participants have full rights although their votes are recorded as being remote. The policy also lists the acceptable reasons for wanting to participate remotely – employment, board business, illness, or family emergency.

In Texas, school boards also can use videoconferencing, but with somewhat similar requirements for a quorum. Whereas, public bodies in Pennsylvania can count remote participants as part of the quorum.

The State of Florida has empowered condo boards, which are a major form of local governance there, to use video. The State allows board members to be counted as present and vote remotely via video conferencing.

In New York State, which has some of the strictest open meeting laws, the State has allowed members to participate in meetings by video, but not phone conference calls. The idea is that, as in a traditional physical meeting, everyone has to be able to see all members’ reactions at all times.

In addition, New York State looks on video participation as a remote extension of the physical meeting, so public bodies using video must list all locations in its public notices – both the main physical meeting as well as any location where a member is using video. Presumably, someone in a hotel in, say, Florida or France, would have to allow any interested citizens to come into their room and also see what’s going on.

I’m on a number of public boards and they have different policies. Some boards are reluctant to use video at all. Another board has just had a completely virtual meeting that worked very well using Fuze and will be repeating this at least twice a year. I’ve also used Zoom successfully for meetings with large numbers of people.

Like most adoption of technology, transitions are not smooth and the old and the new exist together. In the streets of cities a hundred years ago, there were accidents between automobiles (then still relatively new) and horses pulling carriages.

Why should we expect video conferencing to be different?

image

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/158159631752/the-bumpy-transition-to-video-meetings]

Affective Computing

One of the more interesting technologies that has been developing is called affective computing. It’s about analyzing observations of human faces, voices, eye movements and the like to understand human emotions — what pleases or displeases people or merely catches their attention.  It combines deep learning, analytics, sensors and artificial intelligence.

While interest in affective computing hasn’t been widespread, it may be nearing its moment in the limelight. One such indication is that the front page of the New York Times, a couple of days ago, featured a story about its use for television and advertising. The story was titled “For Marketers, TV Sets Are an Invaluable Pair of Eyes.”

But the companies that were featured in the Times article are not the only ones or the first ones to develop and apply affective computing. IBM published a booklet on the subject in 2001.  Before that, in 1995, the term “affective computing” was coined by Professor Rosalind Picard of MIT, who also created the affective computing group in the MIT Media Lab.

In a video, “The Future of Story Telling”, she describes what is essentially the back story to the New York Times article.  In no particular order, among other companies working with this technology today, there are Affectiva, Real Eyes, Emotient, Beyond Verbal, Sension, tACC, nVisio, CrowdEmotion, PointGraB, Eyeris, gestigon, Intel RealSense, SoftKinetic, Elliptic Labs, Microsoft’s VIBE Lab and Kairos.

Affectiva, which Professor Picard co-founded, offers an SDK that reads emotions of people at home or in the office just by using web cams.  Here’s a video that shows their commercially available product at work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFrSFMnskI4

Similarly, Real Eyes also
offers a commercial product that analyzes the reactions of what people
see on their screens. Here’s their video about real-time facial coding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WF4eG1s44U&list=PL1F3V-C5KJZAxl8OGF0NjbG8WHTTE6_hX

The
two previous products have obvious application to web marketing and
content. So much so, that some predict a future in which affective
technology creates an “emotion economy”.

But affective computing
has longer term applications, most especially in robotics. As human-like
robots, especially for an aging population in Asia, begin to be sold as
personal assistants and companions, they will need to have the kind of
emotional intelligence about humans that other human beings mostly have
already. That’s likely to be where we will see some of the most
impactful uses of affective computing.

Over the last couple of
years, Japan’s Softbank has developed Pepper, which they describe as a
“social robot” since it aims to recognize human emotion and shows its
own emotions. Here’s the French software company behind Pepper  — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQFgGS8AAN0

There
are others doing the same thing. At Nanyang Technological University,
Singapore, another social robot, called Nadine, is being developed.  See
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXg33S3U_Oc

Both
these social robots and affective computing overall still needs much
development, but already you can sense the importance of this
technology.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/157863647250/affective-computing]

Creativity Versus Copyright

In the Industrial Age, the fight between labor and the owners of industry (“capital”) was the overarching political issue. As we move away from an industrial economy to one based on knowledge that debate is likely to diminish.

Instead, among the big battles to be fought in this century, will be about intellectual property — who controls it, who gets paid for it, how much they get paid, who owns it and whether ideas can properly be considered property in the same way we consider land to be property.

I’ve written about this before, but a recent story about the settlement of a suit by Star Trek was settled recently, as reported in the NY Times, brought this to mind, especially as I came across an interesting series of posts that provide some new perspectives.

image

These were written at the end of last year and the beginning of this year by the former chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, Rich Haridy.

His aim was to “examine how 21st century digital technology has given artists a set of tools that have dismantled traditional definitions of originality and is challenging the notions of copyright that came to dominate much of the 20th century.”

image

Here’s a quick, broad-brush summary of his argument for a more modern and fairer copyright system:

  • Not just in today’s digital world of remixes, but going back to Shakespeare and Bach and even before that, creative works have always been derivative from previous works. They clearly have originality, but no work is even close to being 100% original.
  • The tightening of copyright laws has undermined the original goal of copyrights — to encourage creativity and the spread of knowledge.
  • This reflects the failure of policy makers and the courts to understand the nature of creativity. This is getting worse in our digital world.
  • While the creators and distributors deserve compensation for their works, this shouldn’t be used as a reason to punish other artists who build and transform those works.
  • The enforcement is unequal. While bloggers and artists with limited financial means are easy targets for IP lawyers, the current system “while [theoretically] allowing for fair use, still privileges the rich and powerful, be they distributors or artists.”

It’s worth reading the series to understand his argument, which makes a lot of sense:

Haridy is not proposing destruction of copyrights. But if arguments, like his, are not heeded, don’t be surprised if more radical stances are taken by others — just as happened in the past in the conflict between labor and capital.

image

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/157274980178/creativity-versus-copyright]

The Virtual Metropolis Moves Forward

The NTCA-Rural Broadband Association held its annual meeting and expo this week in San Diego with more than 2,000 people in attendance.

image

I was on a panel to discuss the idea of a Virtual Metropolis, a topic I introduced to the Rural Broadband Association and have written about here.

The idea is simple. In the pre-internet days, cities — especially big cities — brought together lots of people. Because these peoople were near each other and could casually interact, these cities became hotbeds of innovation and economic production.  Along with increased agricultural productivity, this led to the shift of population from rural to urban areas that has threatened many small towns.

As a sort of last gasp, after World War II, many small outlying towns tried to substitute factories as a source of employment.  In the face on increasing automation and cheaper labor markets elsewhere, that strategy crumbled too. In the last couple of decades, the drop in small town and rural population has increased. Many bright, ambitious young people can’t wait to move away to a big city.

And, if you’re an entrepreneur with some great new product or service, it’s easier to start up in New York or Silicon Valley or some other equivalent place. Why? Because no single person has all the skills they need to succeed and it’s easier to find skilled people in those cities than in your small town.

When I write this, you may be thinking about high-tech entrepreneurs. But the historic limitations of small town life affect everyone, even artisans or those in other low-tech businesses.

This all may sound bleak and many people share that bleak outlook.  Even some of the members of the Rural Broadband Association can be overwhelmed by this picture.

But what I’ve described is about the past, not the potential for the future. In this digital age, if you’re connected by broadband you can live anywhere. If you enjoy country living and love the quality of life there, you no longer need to compromise your economic prospects by continuing to live in the country.

We’ve seen some of the positive impact that broadband can have on those rural communities who have invested in broadband, but that impact has not been widespread enough for people to take notice.

Partly this reflects the lack of reasonably priced broadband in many rural areas.   The Rural Broadband folks are working hard to fix that.

More important, there hasn’t been a digital platform devoted to the needs of people in the countryside that would provide a substitute for the casual face-to-face interactions and the breadth of the skill pool that people in big cities take for granted.

That’s where the Virtual Metropolis comes in. We are building this platform to make it easier for people in small towns and rural areas to see and talk to each other about how they can work together for mutual economic benefit.

image

Broadband makes this possible because it provides the bandwidth that’s necessary for visual chat. Visual chat is especially critical in helping to establish trust, compared to email, messaging and other forms of communication that are limited to text.

The shared small town experience is also an essential basis for mutual understanding and trust.  That common experience gets drowned out in the overwhelmingly urban outlook of much larger social media and job services.

If even 10 or 15% of the people living in more rural areas join in for business purposes, they will be virtually part of a metropolis of more than five million people. In that way, they can achieve many of the same benefits of physically residing in a big city.

(While my focus is on economic opportunity, broadband will also give these folks access to great educational, cultural and medical resources.)

In addition to creating and setting up the technology for a Virtual Metropolis, we need to build a community — to get people to participate.

In part, that’s where the NTCA plays a key role.  They can reach out to the early adopters, the innovators in their regions and let them know that the days of isolation are over. Clearly, from a business viewpoint, the Virtual Metropolis provides their customers and potential customers with a strong business justification for increasing their bandwidth.

One of the panelists, Dusty Johnson of Vantage Point Solutions in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Despite Mitchell’s selection among the ICF’s Top 7 most intelligent communities in the world, he was initially skeptical as a self-described “cranky old man.”  But as he thought about others in Mitchell, particularly his own children and other young people, he realized the value of the idea.

The other panelist, Michael Burke, CEO of MTA, the local broadband provider for 10,000 square miles of Alaska is already an unusually innovative leader. MTA goes way beyond merely providing connectivity in many ways, for example providing customer training on new technology and funding coding classes in the schools.

Mr. Burke quickly championed the Virtual Metropolis. Of course, considering the distance from the lower 48 and the nature of winter in Alaska, the necessity of being part of a much larger virtual community is crystal clear.

[If you’re interested in joining and helping to build this virtual metropolis, please contact me.]

image

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/156987590937/the-virtual-metropolis-moves-forward]

Team of Teams

The book, “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”
by retired General Stanley McChrystal and his associates Tantum Collins,
David Silverman, and Chris Fussell has been out for
more than a year. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it partly because I
wasn’t sure I wanted to read what I thought would be yet another
general’s exercise in self-promotion.   I’ve also been through too many
conferences filled with speeches from high ranking executives that are
essentially war stories in which they are the heroes of the story.

image

So, when I finally had the time to read it at the end of last year, I was surprised to find that this book is one of the best recent books on management. It has been criticized by some as not really having anything new in it and merely reflecting the undue length of time it has taken a general to figure out these things.

While there is some truth to that, the fact remains that most large corporate and public sector organizations operate in the old style that McChrystal finds inadequate for a new era of change, complexity, and creativity. This includes even highly touted tech companies who reach a certain size and stage of maturity, even while they profess to be using agile approaches.

image

For General McChrystal, it’s a question of what the organization is designed to achieve. Traditional “Taylorism”, which has been the model of most large organizations, aims to maximize efficiency. As part of that goal, he writes “organizations have implemented as much control over subordinates as technology physically allowed.” That certainly sounds like the traditional image of the Army and many large corporations.

image

Instead, he argues that in today’s world, adaptability is much more important. This is a necessary response to deep and widespread technological changes. He also notes that those same technologies make possible a more modern, more adaptable organization.

Although much of what it’s in the book isn’t exactly new, the authors synthesize the material and lay it out to build a story that should be compelling to any senior executive.

The value of teams and the use of the intelligence of team members, rather than considering them cogs in a large machine, is explained well.  But the real challenge in leading large organizations is how to scale those benefits.

That’s where McChrystal and co-authors make a real contribution.

Here are some the key take-aways:

  • A systems approach and a more organic rather than mechanistic view is needed by leaders when looking at large organizations whose units must work together. Each person in the organization needs to maintain a systemic perspective too.
  • Frequent inter-team communication – “shared awareness” of the environment that develops into “shared consciousness” – is necessary to prevent teams from doing things that run counter to the needs of the overall organization.
  • On the latter point, perhaps communication is too weak a word because it implies that each side decides when and what to say. The General found instead that absolute transparency between units (and teams) was necessary. And, as he noted, “In traditional organizations, this constitutes culture change that does not come easily.”
  • Although this has been well known to organizational researchers for some time, the practice of using physical space to encourage this kind of approach is not widespread. General McChrystal relates his own and other organizations use of common spaces. Of course, in a world of increasingly virtual organizations it is especially important to create continuously operating virtual spaces, with full video, to achieve the same effect.
  • Where people from different teams couldn’t be physically next to each other, he set up “embedding and liaison programs to create strong lateral ties between our units, and with our partner organizations. Where systemic understanding mirrors the sense of ‘purpose’ that bonds small teams, this mirrored the second ingredient to team formation: ‘trust.’”
  • The leader as mastermind or chess master is yet another old concept to be thrown away and replaced by the model of a gardener who enables the ecosystem rather than directing it. We should not “demand unrealistic levels of knowledge in leaders and force them into ineffective attempts to micromanage.”
  • In order to be able to react with necessary speed to ever changing situations, organizational leaders need to abandon traditional control because “Individuals and teams closest to the problem, armed with unprecedented levels of insights from across the network, offer the best ability to decide and act decisively.”
image

This book is an excellent guide to effectively managing large-scale operations to implement a strategy. But, much like the wars that General McChrystal was part of, it doesn’t focus on whether the larger strategy makes sense. That’s not a criticism of the book, just a realization that there are important considerations beyond its scope.

© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved

[http://njacknis.tumblr.com/post/156356212937/team-of-teams]

A Picture Of The Last Year

It’s the end of the year and I won’t be posting anything new until 2017.

To close out this year, I thought I might create a word cloud from all of the posts over the last twelve months and here it is:

Happy Holidays and, no matter how this year was for you, I wish you a better one in 2017!

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved