How Google is Becoming an AI-centric company

After search-centric companies, and then mobile-centric companies, here come AI-centric companies! Following the trend such as at IBM, The new strategic impetus at Google is the inclusion of Artificial Intelligence in all its services, with dramatic quality improvements.

google_aiThis interesting NYTimes article ‘the Great AI awakening‘ is worth reading. It hightlights in particular the work of a particular division at Google called “Google Brain” with a focus on the usage of neural networks for deep machine learning and outcome quality improvements. According to the paper, in particular for the ‘Translate’ application, “the AI system has demonstrated overnight improvements roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime” (i.e. since 2006).

The paper also interestingly gives an account of the historical moves that have made machine learning based on neural networks mainstream in the past few years.

Let’s brace for similar improvements in a bunch of similar services that we are increasingly using in our daily life!…


How Democracy is Adapted to a Complex World

Democracy is the political regime best adapted to complexity. The reason is that it allows bifurcations to happen at every election, i.e. depending on the country every 4 to 7 years. Those changes can be unexpected and worrying, but they happen more frequently and -one hopes- less abruptly than in other political regimes.

US election surprise!

Elections are always creating surprises in particular in troubled times, and this has been demonstrated heavily in 2016 where in several western countries there has been a reaction against the establishment and from people who feel left aside from the world’s transformation (Brexit, Trump election).

It is a good property of a system setup to manage a complex world to be able to implement those important changes with this frequency.

Other political regimes will in fact only allow such changes much less frequently and therefore, they will be more abrupt and can even degenerate into civil wars.

We concur heavily with Churchill saying that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried“! And this conclusion on democracy should be kept in mind when we are not happy with election results.


How The Challenge of New Technology Adoption Might Not Be a Challenge After All

One of the main concerns nowadays is the pace at which society can absorb all the technological changes happening.

According to Salim Ismail, Singularity University’s founding executive director and global ambassador  in ‘What Happens If Society Is Too Slow to Absorb Technological Change?‘ “the true challenge with advancing technologies isn’t the threats they impose, but more that society is sluggish at absorbing and making use of the technology at its current pace.”

technology-adoptionHonestly when one looks at the curves available on new technology adoption I don’t see so much of a difference on the latest technologies. In all cases adoption has been fairly rapid once the technology was there. The main difference might be how far reaching and simultaneously global the new technologies spread.

It does not seem to me that the rate of technology adoption is an issue. If it is a good and useful technology it gets adopted. Infrastructure will be modified to fit to it (sometimes with delays due to the investments required). The main issue is for us to learn how to deal with it, but honestly I can’t quite remember how work was before email as this change was so obviously great.

So let’s not believe that technology adoption is really a limiting factor. If a technology is useful and works, it spreads. Period.


How Sustainable Change Management is About Developing Autonomy

Change management is about developing autonomy as part of a conscious evolution.

change_autonomyChange management without autonomy development is an illusion. It corresponds to the old command and control approach. It can only create deviations as soon as control is removed.

The only sustainable change is created by developing the autonomy of those who have to develop and implement it. Only thus will change be adapted to the situation and only thus can it be really deployed throughout an entire organization.

The development of this autonomy needs to be a conscious decision and process. If the organization is not ready to develop autonomy it can only keep those working approaches of the past.

The image is from the excellent Prosci presentation on ‘Demystifying Change Management’ on Slideshare


How IBM’s next strategic move is in Artificial Intelligence

After reinventing itself as a consulting company in the 1980s (after being a hardware company), IBM is reinventing itself again, this time around Artificial Intelligence, as described in length in this excellent NY Times article ‘IBM is counting on its bet on Watson, and paying big money for it‘. Whether that will effectively replace the struggling consulting activities remains to be seen, but this time this seems to be a major strategic move.

ibm_watsonOne of the interesting aspects from the ability to analyse large amounts of data is the possibility to help human decision. In the example quoted in the article, while in 99% of the cases of cancer diagnostics the machine arrived to the same conclusion as the experts (doctors) it also proposed in 30% of the cases alternative treatments, due to the fact it had digested the 160,000 cancer research papers published yearly.

This move away from consulting (which was very successful in the 1990s and corresponded certainly to a real need) is also another confirmation that the economic future probably lies in developing AI applications instead of IT systems consulting. Food for thought for many IT consulting companies!


How Creativity Might Stem From Satisfaction of Basic Needs, and Curiosity

To follow up on our exploration of creativity, the Scientific American paper ‘Where Creativity Comes From‘ makes the point that creativity occurs rarely in a very stressful environment where people have no time to seek opportunities or take the risk of inventing something new.

curiosity-creativityRather, creativity seems to happen rather in settings where the basic needs are satisfied or at least alleviated temporarily. This allows curiosity and exploration initiatives to happen. As the paper shows this is being demonstrated in a number of settings, both in human and animal colonies.

Our previous post discussed that there needs to be a small amount of stress to foster creativity. Here we see that curiosity and exploration can only happen if basic needs are satisfied. This all brings us back to the conclusion of an optimum in between.


How Information Systems Are Increasingly Set Up by Everybody but the IT Department

“Kill that bulky IT department!”. That could be the war cry of many organizations these days as the influence and size of IT departments tend to diminish significantly. As a result, they don’t have the same regulation impact on investment in Information Technologies.

Two related changes are driving this transformation:

  • the move to the Cloud (and thus the lesser need for infrastructure setup and maintenance), and
  • the related fact that other departments can now spend directly for systems without any infrastructure infrastructure needs and thus without any prior authorization or even knowledge by the IT department

it_spendAccording to Gartner, 38% of IT spend in companies is now out of the hands of the IT departments and this tends to increase significantly over time [reference: attended speech from CapGemini CEO in Oct 2016]. The marketing department in particular for BtoC industries, becomes a major client for information services.

This decentralisation has many positives. In particular it removes the centralizing controlling power of the CIO which was oftentimes excessive, even taking strategic decisions without proper understanding of the business impact. It allows specialist trades to implement the tools that they really require. On the other hand it opens the door to issues related to data consistency, possibilities of business intelligence, and all sorts of security-related issues for company data. Actual control of the expenditure may also become an issue as more and more cloud services are Opex based instead of being visible, centrally authorized Capex.

In any case, for us involved in providing specialist software (cf my company ProjectAppServices), it certainly means that all our marketing effort should be directly with the user, and the IT department is just an annoyance to avoid as much as possible.

Are you fully aware of this change? If your IT department still decides everything you are going into the wall. Time to change!



How ‘Luddite’ and ‘Protected Market’ Resistance to Change Add Up

There are basically 2 types of resistance to social and technical change: the ‘luddite resistance’ and the ‘protected market’ resistance. And in the case of the Fourth Revolution, both add up when it comes to resisting change.

Luddites in action in the 19th century
  • The ‘Luddite resistance’ refers to the Luddite, those early 19th century frame breakers, qualified weaver artisans that broke the new weaving machines that only required unqualified labor. Those workers feared for the end of their trade, being replaced by machines.
  • The ‘protected market’ resistance refers to all those markets that for one reason or the other, have been protected (generally in the name of the common good to manage scarce resources or to enhance certain types of services) but the reason for this protection disappears with the Fourth Revolution. In general, many scarce services and goods are now becoming abundant.

As an example, taxi services generally form a protected market with regulated prices and numbers, in the name of public service. Drivers fear to be replaced by machines (the luddite resistance) and at the same time, the reason for market protection disappears as ride-booking apps replace taxi hailing.

This resistance to change analysis framework is actually quite useful to analyse all sorts of resistance to change even in organizations today. People fear that their job will be replaced by machines or information systems, and at the same time the reason for the protection and regulation of certain trades disappears.

In your case, what is the proportion of ‘luddite resistance’ and of ‘protected market resistance’?


How Operating in a Foreign Language Makes Us More Rational

Going deeper in our exploration of the relativity of our mental structures, this excellent article ‘How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language‘ is also very insightful.

foreign-languageResearch shows that we definitely have different ethical standpoints depending on the language we use. In particular it would seem we are more deliberate (rational) when using a foreign language. There are several explanations for this – the effort needed to operate in the foreign language, or the fact that our original language is related to so many emotions, which the foreign language is less.

Whatever the deep explanation, this creates significant issues when working internationally, for example when negotiating an agreement with someone in his native language. The fact that the foreign speaker will be more deliberate and less emotional is rarely considered.


Why It Is The End of Driving Services

It is soon the end of driver services such as taxi and limos, and those currently employed there should start looking for other occupations.

Uber_self_drivingThe self-driving car is just at the corner, and when society will realize that they are indeed much safer than human-driven cars, there will certainly be suddenly a tipping point.

Of course that will be felt like an unjust revolution by those employed in the driving trade, but let’s face it, that is clearly the direction of the world. Convenience, safety and efficiency will create the change. And this will impact also insurance companies, car manufacturing companies (because of the impact on car ownership) and a lot of related services (including the profitable industry of traffic speeding fines!).

I may even live to see human driving forbidden by insurance on public roads because of its dangerous nature.

It will be a disaster for those involved in the trade, and generally a great progress. They’s better anticipate it.


How Today is The Best Time to Be Alive

Today is the best time to be around for a human – that’s a least what the statistics show. A large number of statistics are for example given in this Spectator article ‘Why can’t we see that we’re living in a golden age?‘ : wealth, life expectancy, violence rate, all indicators trend favroably (on average).

Life expectancy evolution in the world, showing improvements for all countries (click for link to larger version)

And indeed in spite of the increase of the world population and all the problems that plague humanity, it looks like it has never been a best time to be alive for a human, male or female.

Of course, the world changes fast and it is difficult to know what to do to thrive, because the practices from yesterday are not the one that will make successful tomorrow. Of course, inequality tends to increase as a result of connectivity and increased complexity. Still humanity has never been as protected and wealthy.

Still we are also very fearful and believe doomsayers. That might be because “We’re hardwired not to believe this. We’ve evolved to be suspicious and fretful: fear and worry are tools for survival. The hunters and gatherers who survived sudden storms and predators were the ones who had a tendency to scan the horizon for new threats, rather than sit back and enjoy the view. They passed their stress genes on to us. That is why we find stories about things going wrong far more interesting than stories about things going right. It’s why bad news sells, and newspapers are full of it.”

Look at evidence and enjoy the ride. And we have never had so much spare time and communication capability to enjoy it anyway!


How To Overcome the ‘Sunk Cost Syndrome’

I am always amazed at how difficult it can be for individuals and organizations to avoid the ‘sunk cost’ fallacy, with dramatic consequences.

sunk-costNot that I would be immune to the phenomenon – I always tend to store too much stuff thinking that I might use it sometime.

Still in my consulting assignments, with an external eye, it is with despair that I observe people persist on doomed projects just because of the effort and expense that has been involved in the past. The technology can be inadequate or obsolete, the object broken beyond obvious repair, still they persist.

Overcoming the ‘sunk cost syndrome’ clearly requires to avoid any emotional attachment with the object or the project. It thus generally requires an external independent view that was not involved. It can be someone from somewhere else in the organization, or an external party.

At any rate, every investment on an existing tool and any cleanup of storage needs to be done with the sunk cost syndrome in mind. It is often cheaper and more convenient to buy new than try to fix an old stuff. Always get an external view of someone that was not involved to get out of the ‘sunk cost syndrome’.