Siri on Steroids


A recent Wall Street Journal article offered a “tipping point” thought. The number of transistors on a chip will exceed the number of brain cells in humans by 2018. Does this mean that humans will face their biggest test when computers surpass human intellectual capabilities? Some think so.

We all know that the movie Avatar was not possible when the project to make the film started. They knew they would have the capability by the time they would need it in the production sequence.

Siri can already detect emotions. Amazon’s Echo can do that as well. One of my previous blogs about 2001 Space Odyssey and HAL (which by the way is the initials for IBM indexed over by one letter) showed these future capabilities … even though it was more about sensing intent and deciding whether that intent was permissible or not.

We have been following the idea of human emoting robots. We will receive some of them late this year and experiment with emoting robots that work with customers to explain their bills. There are a host of them … coming soon to a store near you. These are computers that respond to emotions and appear to emote. They read facial expressions or perhaps the patterns in our speech. That really doesn’t sound that far-fetched now does it? Then, what about automated responses to messages sent to you by customers? Why is my bill so high? We have that application running in call centers and online. We even have automated video movie explanations.

For myself, I am going to get very upset if the computer feeds me psychobabble questions like “how did that make you feel?”   I think I would become very nervous if it asked me “was that good for you?” How about “wassup?” and it begins to converse with you like a real person and then ends with “whatever.”

I, Robot, was a film that forecast what might happen by 2035. I think they missed that by 10 years for sure based upon the latest computation and robotic innovations. R2D2 seems only a decade away at most. Meanwhile cars will drive themselves this year. Fatal collisions will be almost impossible to imagine at some time in the future. What are all those insurance industries going to do?

Meanwhile most in the energy industry attempt to refine what we used to think was the customer experience. That experience is changing at lightning speed. What you thought was true last year is almost irrelevant for the future. Stop driving your companies using the rear view mirror as a guide. Even if you have one of the auto-stop features in your autopilot.




Look Ma… No Hands!

handsfreeMaybe you were a daredevil child and would ride your bike without holding the handlebars. I eventually was to be able to do that after years of riding … still couldn’t do it when the bike went through soft sand though. The idea was to show off a bit and ask your mother to notice.

We now have people who try to drive their cars the same way, using their hands to fumble with the phone or worse yet to text. The chilling adage here is a bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you love Jesus. Text if you would like to meet him!” We all need to focus when we are driving and even when we are walking. The internet is alive with illustrations of people walking into things when they are distracted.

When we toured Italy last year, the guide gave us a list of driving tips that started with this one: When entering a traffic circle, close your eyes … it makes merging much less terrifying. Also, drive with your knees. This leaves both hands free to hold a cell phone, a cigarette, and to gesture at other drivers. Of course, this really is no laughing matter, but I have to say we did observe these rules in common practice.

But, perhaps the days when we need to keep our hand on the wheel are ending. Self-driving cars are here. They will be operational this year. The car will literally go to your destination and even find a parking spot and park itself. This will certainly be interesting to watch.

What struck me this week was the contrast to the way fighter aircraft were flown just a few years ago and the dependence upon the pilot to fly the plane. I still love watching Top Gun. I have known several Top Gun pilots. These are very special people. They have to be a bit over the top to do what they do. At least, that was then. Perhaps not now. Here is a conversation snippet about just one difference:

“With a conventional fighter radar, the pilot must direct the radar beam to search in specific areas and he must command the radar to lock on to a detected target. In the F-22, the pilot does neither of these tasks. The radar is one contributor to a knowledge base of information about the air and ground space surrounding the Raptor. The radar is self-cueing and continuously searches all available space within its field of regard. It can also perform multiple tasks at one time such as searching and tracking multiple targets. The radar does this with no pilot interaction and inputs its findings to the core avionics which, in turn, sorts and sifts this information along with inputs from the other sensors to formulate a complete picture of enemy aircraft, friendly aircraft and ground threats in the vicinity of the Raptor.” (Excerpt from Top Gun script.)

I think you all know that the idea of firing at enemy aircraft using your hands is also outdated.

So, this leads me to a grand idea. Almost all great innovations in everyday life started out as technology first for the military. These ideas are proven out in environments demanding the utmost and eventually are simplified and cost reduced through mass production such that we can all afford them.

In past blogs, I talked about the Amazon Echo. Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, has the American household clearly in his sights. And Tesla’s visionary leader, Elon Musk, seems to have the power supply to these homes in his sights. Where are the big ideas? Where are the dreamers? I guess I still love Steve Jobs’ adage: “The future is only limited by the size of your ideas and the degree of your dedication.”

Ah, if I only had the money to play with all this that Robert Downey Jr had in Iron Man.

The Internet of Things…the IoT


This latest three-letter acronym really captures the imagination. Just about everything will be digitally interconnected to everything else that is digital. Theoretically, your refrigerator will tell you what is spoiling and remind you what might be getting a bit old in the freezer. Your phone of course will become your personal servant issuing orders or taking requests for just about everything in the home. And all along, you can of course be sure that the government is simply ignoring all this information. After all, we do insist on our privacy … but let’s leave that alone and the subject of another blog.

Here is my latest thought about this concept. The keyboard as you now know it may become a buggy whip. Take a look at this upstart (a company called CICRET)

I suspect the concept we currently hold dear using a phone may be gone shortly. What a silly idea to carry that around; worry about where it is, etc. There is now a whole array of almost holographic presentation formats. Watch the Ironman movies carefully. This is not far off.

Of course, the reason we will tolerate this digital intrusion is that our lives will be somehow made easier, simpler, and perhaps less expensive. Our cars are about to drive themselves. Our electric vehicles will call us to tell us they are ready to get us to the next destination. My son starts his car to warm it up remotely on cold winter mornings and I can tell if he ever exceeds a speed limit. There is no point in anyone stealing the car. I can shut it down and alert the police about its whereabouts. And, this car is less than $20k brand new.

Meanwhile the utility industry keeps thinking customers are captive and uninterested in energy issues. What will it take to upend that world? Jawbone is keeping track of your personal fitness and is now talking to the NEST about your comfort. It seems like our technologies haven’t heard about our disinterest. It seems like they may be conspiring to upend the business.

Maybe this is because all these technologies just don’t bother talking to the energy utilities. Maybe these free market companies simply do not believe utilities are relevant to this evolutionary movement.

Abraham Lincoln was right of course. Things may come to those who wait, but only those things left by those who hustle.


Networking Minds

Creator's Code

This is the last in my series of blogs about the wonderful book, The Creator’s Code. It is about how we can all collaborate … even as competitors … to bring about the new world of energy engagement.

First, let me point out that the chapter on networking is in stark contrast to today’s seeming preoccupation with consensus decision making. The chapter is all about the productive creative tension that diverse groups and the social discomfort these create have on productive change.

“Homogeneous groups found it more comfortable to work with those from the same background. They became entrenched in their point of view and overconfident in their assumptions. Diverse groups, by contrast, experienced an upset of the status quo and felt insecure, but were motivated to reconcile opposing opinions.”

Many of today’s thought leaders condemn consensus decision making. Why then is that the mantra for so much of what we hear in thoughts about the relationships of energy companies and customers?

Perhaps we need to encourage dissenting, dissimilar, and uncomfortable thoughts?

Could there be even bigger truths we might discover? Or, are we just so perfectly satisfied with the things we think are true that we don’t want to work that hard to discover they are incomplete?