Anyone who’s driven in rush-hour traffic lately…stood in line at the grocery store checkout counter…or had a

Kardashian encounter while channel surfing…understands the need for a bit more intelligence in our world.

Fortunately, the search for Super Smart Stuff is as simple as picking up your aptly named smartphone, where the

“next big things” are playing a lightning-quick game of leapfrog.

Artificial Intelligence has come a long way since

the WOPR computer taught itself the futility of

thermonuclear war 30 years ago by playing tictac-

toe in the movie Wargames. Over the past

few years, we’ve witnessed IBM’s Watson throw

down on Jeopardy and serve the show’s greatest

champions a hunk of the humble pie it concocted

with its Cognitive Cooking database. And

we’ve marveled at Siri’s siren song as she comprehends

– and responds – to voice commands in a

way that feels almost human.

I find myself saying, “Oh, THAT’S cool!”

more and more these days as new apps make their

way onto my phone…into my car…even onto

my wrist (if Santa thinks I’ve been good this year)

when the Apple Watch debuts. So I thought I’d

use this column to share a few items that spiked

my WOW meter recently.

Watch What Happens

It seems like only yesterday that I was wondering

if I really wanted to shell out a few hundred dollars

for a smartphone. Around that time, I remember

watching Steve Jobs stroll onto the stage at an

Apple event holding the very first iPhone in his

hands. Within 30 minutes, I knew that I no longer

wanted a smartphone. I NEEDED one.

It literally was yesterday when I felt a sense of

déjà vu after watching a recording of Tim Cook’s

keynote launch of the Apple Watch. Up to then,

I felt smart watches were gadgets for geeks that

didn’t add much of anything to my life. But

that’s the genius of Apple, isn’t it? Creating

beautifully designed products that we never

knew we needed. Until we saw them.

The Apple Watch’s design is elegant by smartwatch

standards, but nothing extraordinary. The

interface, on the other hand – that’s where the

genius lies. Apple Watch isn’t a scaled-down version

of the iPhone’s UI. It’s an entirely new experience

that makes interacting with apps on a tiny

screen not only doable, but enjoyable. (Note:

This opinion is not based on first-hand usage, but

rather the number of times I said “THAT’s cool!”

while watching the unveiling video.)

Texting. Calendars. Notifications. Everything

has been reimagined in a way that is elegant and

functional within the watch face’s tiny space.

There’s an activity app that’s so well thought out,

it looks like a personal fitness device I might consider

using beyond the first month in January.

There’s also a Passbook feature that lets you store

boarding passes, tickets and loyalty cards right

on your wrist. Handy dandy.

And then, there’s Apple Pay, which opens up all

kinds of possibilities in conjunction with Apple’s

partners. You can use the Open Table app to make

reservations at a restaurant and, with the tap of a

button on your watch, pay your bill after the meal

(sans the waiter…or the waiting). Starwood Hotels

is creating an app that allows guests to unlock their

doors using their watch. Yeah, THAT’s cool! And

that’s just scratching the surface.

Viv And Let Live

Meanwhile, somewhere in a space that’s not coming

to a wrist near you soon, the geniuses who

created Siri for the iPhone (they weren’t Apple

employees at the time – Apple bought their

company) are hard at work on an advanced form

of artificial intelligence that will change the

landscape of computing, and our interaction with

it, in radical new ways.

In a previous column, I described how the

Google Now app uses all of the information it

knows about you (compiled from Google’s vast

data mining exploits) to proactively feed you the

information you need, when and where you need

it. No muss, no fuss, and no queries needed.

Neato. But a band of visionary engineers at a

startup named Viv Labs are working on a new

generation of AI that’s even more adept at predicting

– and fulfilling – your desires.

Powered by huge knowledge graphs, AI

agents like Google Now and Siri can tell you

what day your birthday falls on this year. They

can also suggest nearby restaurants and help you

make reservations. But for now, they cannot connect

the dots and help make a restaurant reservation

on your birthday using a single voice command.

As smart as they are, these apps can’t do

anything that their programmers haven’t explicitly

hard coded them to do.

Viv leaps beyond these limitations by – get

this – generating its own code on the fly.

Without any intervention by a programmer! It’s

being designed to figure out the parts of a query

it can’t answer…determine the best resources for

acquiring the answer…then write its own code

in a way that allows it to link previously disparate

information together and respond to complex

requests. All in fractions of a second.

Does it really work? Right now, the project is

veiled in secrecy – but AI experts who’ve gotten

a glimpse of Viv say they’re blown away. The cre-ators are taking an open systems approach

that allows for the assimilation of countless

other apps into Viv’s “boundless brain” using

brief stints of training (sometimes lasting

only minutes) to comprehend new ideas and

jargon expressions. As Viv’s knowledge grows,

so will its understanding. The more it’s used,

the smarter it gets.

The system’s creators have built three core

pillars into its AI design: 1) It will be taught

by the world, 2) it will know more than it is

taught, and 3) it will learn something new

every day. Isaac Asimov would’ve been

pleased. To prevent the system from going

Borg on mankind, however, I suggest they

avoid that WOPR of a problem by adding a

backdoor password with an on/off switch.

Thank you, Wargames.

Those of us who’ve seen too many movies can

envision a time when Viv achieves the kind of

consciousness that led to Hal’s 2001 Space

Odyssey. Ann: “I’m out of ice cream. Viv, give

me directions to the store that sells Chunky

Monkey for the cheapest price.” Viv: “I’m afraid

I can’t let you do that, Ann…”

Ignore No More

Finally, there’s nothing artificial about the intelligence

behind Sharon Standifird’s app, which I love.

Tired of having her kids ignore her phone calls, this

Texas mom took matters into her own hands by

developing an app she called Ignore No More.

Once installed, the $1.99 app lets parents tap

their kid’s name on screen, type in a code, and

viola…every app on the child’s phone is locked

until they call their parent back. It’s the nuclearoption

answer to a parent’s prayers. Currently,

Ignore No More is only available for Android

phones, but an iPhone version is in the works.

Here’s the best part: This mom had no background

in developing apps. She’d never coded

before in her life. But for someone who served in

the Gulf War and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro,

that was a minor obstacle. “I got on the Internet,

and I literally just started researching how to

develop an app,” she said.

Not only did she solve her immediate parenting

problem, but she also devised a solution that

will pay for her son’s college. And then some. I

think that’s brilliant. My teenage boys probably


Op/ed column submitted by Ann Nygren,

President of Key Consulting Software. KCS is

an IT consulting company focused on gaming

and hospitality applications ranging from

Agilysys (LMS/Stratton Warren/Infogenesis),

Infinium (AM, AR, FA, GL, GT, HR, IR,

PA, PL, PY, TR), Bally (CMS, CMP, ACSC &

SDS), and interfaces with Aristocrat, IGT

and Micros to Transitioning properties during

purchase, sales, or merging of properties.

KCS provides IT Departments with assistance

in installation & upgrades, customization,

interfacing and creation of unique

client-specific software. Ann can be reached at


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