Thursday, September 22, 2016

TechSavvy: That Sound You Hear Is Your Enterprise’s AI Technology

MIT Sloan Management Review, Sept. 22, 2016

by Theodore Kinni

Sound Enterprise AI Technology Artificial IntelligenceApple held its “Special Event” and, among other things, officially killed the iPhone’s 3.5-millimeter earbud jack, replacing it with $159 wireless AirPods. My first reaction: Meh. But then I read Mike Elgan’s paean to this development in Computerworld.

Elgan says that AirPods are actually artificial intelligence hardware. “The biggest thing going on here is the end of ‘dumb speaker’ earbuds, and the mainstreaming of hearables — actual computers that go in your ears,” he says. “Bigger still is that the interface for these tiny computers is a virtual assistant. When you double-tap on an AirPod, Siri wakes up, enabling you to control music play and get battery information with voice commands.”

What does this mean for your company? Soon every employee could have a supercomputer whispering in his or her ear. For instance, Hearables startup Bragi and IBM just announced that they plan to combine Bragi’s Dash earbuds and IBM’s Watson IoT platform “to transform the way people interact, communicate, and collaborate in the workplace.”

Earbud-sporting workers, according to the companies, will use the devices to “receive instructions, interact with co-workers, and enable management teams to keep track of the location, operating environment, well-being, and safety of workers.” Bragi and IBM have targeted six areas of initial focus: worker safety, guided instructions, smart employee notifications, team communications, workforce analysis and optimization, and biometric ID. Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

TechSavvy: Monitoring Your Employees’ Every Emotion

MIT Sloan Management Review, September 15, 2016

by Theodore Kinni

Monitoring Employee Emotions
Have you heard about the Cowlar? It’s a smart collar that dairy farmers can strap around the necks of cows to monitor their herds. It promises improved milk production, early disease detection, heat detection, and real-time monitoring and alerts. How would you feel about wearing one? I ask because it seems like it’s a question that more and more employers are asking their employees.

“Companies including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have had discussions with tech companies about systems that monitor worker emotions to boost performance and compliance, according to executives at the banks,” reports Hugh Son in Bloomberg Businessweek. They got the idea from MIT Sloan School prof Andrew Lo, who strapped wristwatch sensors that measure pulse and perspiration on 57 stock and bond traders to monitor their reactions in a simulated trading environment. “Imagine if all your traders were required to wear wristwatches that monitor their physiology, and you had a dashboard that tells you in real time who is freaking out,” Lo said to Son. “The technology exists, as does the motivation—one bad trade can cost $100 million.”

If this suggests that employee monitoring devices will be limited to high-risk occupations, you should read Thomas Heath’s Washington Post article on Boston-based Humanyze. Humanyze makes and monitors employee ID badges that hang around your neck. “Each has two microphones doing real-time voice analysis, and each comes with sensors that follow where you are in the office, with motion detectors to record how much you move,” writes Heath. “The beacons tracking your movements are omitted from bathroom locations, to give you some privacy.” The company’s CEO Ben Waber predicts that “every single” ID badge will be so equipped within three to four years.

As with other means of digitally monitoring and measuring employee activity, companies probably should expect some pushback, including legal challenges relating to privacy and discrimination. But Waber says that you can tell employees that their new IDs are “exactly like a Fitbit for your career.” I think it’s going to be a little harder to explain away their unflattering similarity to Cowlars. Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Amy Edmondson’s Required Reading

strategy+business, September 14, 2016

by Theodore Kinni

Amy C. Edmondson’s abiding interest in teaming may well be rooted in her intriguing stint as chief engineer to the iconoclastic R. Buckminster Fuller in the early 1980s. It was Fuller, after all, who plucked the word synergy from the lexicon of chemistry and expanded its use to include the way in which a holistic approach can help any interactive system — whether a geometric structure or a business — add up to more than the sum of its parts.
After Fuller’s death in 1983, Edmondson served as director of research at Pecos River Learning Centers, a training and development firm, where she designed and implemented transformational change programs for large companies. In 1996, after adding advanced degrees in organizational behavior and psychology to her undergraduate degree in engineering and design (all from Harvard), she joined the faculty at the Harvard Business School; 10 years later, she was named its Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management.
Since then, Edmondson has been teaching, consulting, and writing about the organizational synergies that can be created via teamwork, with a particular focus on the role leaders play in producing them. In Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy(Jossey-Bass, 2012) and Teaming to Innovate (Jossey-Bass, 2013), she explored teamwork in dynamic, unpredictable work environments. Most recently, in Building the Future: Big Teaming for Audacious Innovation(Berrett-Koehler, 2016), Edmondson and coauthor Susan Salter Reynoldsexamined the challenges and opportunities of teaming across sectors through the case of Living PlanIT, a startup that designs operating systems for urban  infrastructure.
When I asked Edmondson about the books that executives should read to become more effective team leaders and to capture the benefits of synergy for their companies, she shared the following three titles. Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

TechSavvy: A Code of Ethics for Smart Machines

MIT Sloan Management Review, September 8, 2016

by Theodore Kinni

Smart machines need ethics, too: Remember that movie in which a computer asked an 
impossibly young Matthew Broderick, “Shall we play a game?” Four decades later, it turns out that global thermonuclear war may be the least likely of a slew of ethical dilemmas associated with smart machines — dilemmas with which we are only just beginning to grapple.

The worrisome lack of a code of ethics for smart machines has not been lost on Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft, according to a report by John Markoff in The New York Times. The five tech giants (if you buy Mark Zuckerberg’s contention that he isn’t running a media company) have formed an industry partnership to develop and adopt ethical standards for artificial intelligence — an effort that Markoff infers is motivated as much to head off government regulation as to safeguard the world from black-hearted machines.

On the other hand, the first of a century’s worth of quinquennial reports from Stanford’s One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100) throws the ethical ball into the government’s court. “American law represents a mixture of common law, federal, state, and local statutes and ordinances, and — perhaps of greatest relevance to AI — regulations,” its authors declare. “Depending on its instantiation, AI could implicate each of these sources of law.” But they don’t offer much concrete guidance to lawmakers or regulators — they say it’s too early in the game to do much more than noodle about where ethical (and legal) issues might emerge.

In the meantime, if you’d like to get a taste for the kinds of ethical decisions that smart machines — like self-driving cars — are already facing, visit MIT’s Moral Machine project. Run through the scenarios and decide for yourself who or what the self-driving car should kill. Aside from the fun of deciding whether to run over two dogs and a pregnant lady or drive two old guys into the concrete barrier, it’ll help the research team create a crowd-sourced view of how humans might expect of ethical machines to act. This essay from UVA’s Bobby Parmar and Ed Freeman will also help fuel your thinking. Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

TechSavvy: Every Company Is a Tech Company and Tech Is No Longer an Industry

MIT Sloan Management Review, September 1, 2016

by Theodore Kinni

If you’re competing on the uneven playing fields created by so-called tech companies — like Uber, Airbnb, and Alibaba — that seem to be able to ignore the rules of the game with impunity, you’ll want to read Anil Dash’s latest missive on Medium.

Tech Industry“Once upon a time, it made perfect sense to talk about ‘the high tech industry’ in America — pioneering companies like Intel or Fairchild Semiconductor or IBM or Hewlett Packard made computer processors and related hardware, and most of the companies in Silicon Valley dealt with actual silicon from time to time,” writes Dash. “But today, the major players in what’s called the ‘tech industry’ are enormous conglomerates that regularly encompass everything from semiconductor factories to high-end retail stores to Hollywood-style production studios. The upstarts of the business can work on anything from cleaning your laundry to creating drones. There’s no way to put all these different kinds of products and services into any one coherent bucket now that they encompass the entire world of business.”

But we try anyway, and that needs to stop ASAP, argues Dash. “The reason is simple: A reductive name for the industry masks an enormous set of social challenges that we need to tackle quickly. Mature industries develop their own regulatory frameworks, their own systems for self-regulation, and their own standards for monitoring transgressions within the industry. Today, tech as an industry is almost completely lacking in all of these areas.”

The consequences? A lack of accountability — resulting in situations like the Theranos scandal in which “its founder and its investors all shielded themselves under the cultural cover of being a glamorous member of the ‘tech industry’ rather than a prosaic medical supplier.” The spreading of the “tech’s well-known shortcomings around inclusion and diversity into new fields” is another conundrum. And, continues Dash, “companies ranging from AirBNB to Uber [that] have relied on their status as ‘tech companies’ to systematically shirk inconvenient laws in each new city they enter.”

The solution? Since all companies are tech companies these days, we should define them by the businesses in which they engage, not how they choose to compete. “All it takes is a little discipline in how we communicate,” concludes Dash. “How we talk to each other, to our lawmakers, to the media — each of those little shifts will affect how we think about the impact that tech-enabled companies are having on the world. There’s no doubt that technology itself can have a hugely positive impact. But ensuring that it does may depend on us taking apart the idea that technology is created or sustained by a ‘tech industry’ in the first place.” Read the rest here.