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