James Barry's Blog

Thoughts on a Software Society

Month: December 2016

Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – 2 tech tools to dominate in 2017

Two tools that mean a lot to those involved in the tech world (Blockchain and AI) , but not much outside will dominate the tech news in 2017. Many customers may be seeing the delivery of these two technologies without even realizing it starting next year. Embedding these technologies in everyday systems will be the trend and companies that marry the two technologies may be the winners. But both technologies also can unleash the “dark” side of technology too, as they have the potential of eliminating many jobs currently performed by humans. Like robotics on the shop floor, Blockchain and AI can eliminate many of the functions performed today in back offices. AI is not only back office, but can extend beyond into customer facing systems. What company doesn’t want to eliminate human positions and increase their efficiency? That is why these two technologies will begin to dominate new product rollouts in 2017. They are both maturing to a point they can be embedded in larger projects with very measurable impact.

Why Blockchain? Well Blockchain is the distributed ledger behind Bitcoin. While Bitcoin is having its own impact, I believe that the technology behind the coin, Blockchain will have a much bigger impact that Bitcoin by itself. Blockchain is a tool that allows many processes to be settled electronically that today go through multiple systems and potentially multiple people. Blockchain will allow these processes to shrink and happen in minutes not days. And most importantly Blockchain uses collaborative decentralized agreement and trust. Having many copies of the original and many systems in agreement, accuracy and trust in tough transactions soars. Add in smart contracts that self execute as steps are completed and you have a perfect IT system to trim down back office operations while increasing audit trust in the results. Think this is futuristic? Well there are over 100 large firms in the Hyperledger project working on a common Open Source core set of programs. And daily there are announcements about firms launching their first Blockchain application or a small startup getting funded. Look for this trend to accelerate in 2017.

Lots has been written on AI as it becomes embedded in systems like Alexa from Amazon and Siri from Apple. What is not apparent is how this affects all software systems where decisions need to be made. AI is what makes driverless cars work, take your order electronically in many companies, make sure your credit card is not stolen etc. Overall AI is being embedded in every software system, not just those that you think of as AI like Alexa. AI will be used in every system to give the user exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it.  

So will Blockchain and AI allow new business models to emerge. I would say yes, in a way that one cannot envision as we end 2016. AI will drive transactions to want the end user wants faster and Blockchain will ensure that all parties in a transaction can trust it and that transaction can be settled much faster than today. Together both technologies will make software systems smarter faster and in Blockchains case more trusted. And in both cases fewer humans will be needed to operate these systems once they are built. The twin effect of these technologies in 2017 and beyond will affect every software system being developed going forward. I believe that the effect can is like http was in the early 90’s – apparent that the impact will be huge, guesses are made on what will be impacted, but in the long run the impact will be felt by every business in massive ways as yet unforeseen.

The Body Computer – The next big leap in computing?

As its approaching Christmas time, I have been thinking about high tech presents, and particularly wearables, like watches and Fitbits. Are they relevant and when is the right time to get one that becomes a “must have”? I have concluded that they are the forerunners of the future of the entire computer/phone industry and the type of devices that will replace computers and phones in the next decade or two. Why? Because as phones and computers become more personal to every human they must shrink in size and grow immensely in capabilities.

I have started calling this the first generation “body computer” because that is where the computer will end up, no matter who wins out or how the implementation ends up, it has to be on the body. Apple started with the Watch, Google with its “Glass” and Microsoft with their Hololens and a myriad of others. The Apple approach started with a big computer on your wrist with a little screen, whereas Google started with a giant virtual screen in front of your eyes. The marriage of these is where we will end up.

Well I confess I personally have an Apple Watch and a Fitbit One that I wear religiously every day. The devices are so primitive on what they future will bring, that only those who see an immediate benefit should buy them. Was Apple right in putting out a watch? Well I will contend that their intended use was wrong. They have been correcting that through software updates, simplifying what you can do and focusing on health and fitness. Have you noticed that the hardware is on version two, but their software is on Watch OS is on version 3. All in less than two years – fast for Apple. And Fitbit last week said they were moving towards health functions that your doctor can use, a new niche beyond primitive steps.

The thought that you can conduct business on a tiny screen was wrong. I don’t need hundreds of apps – at least not until the screen projects in space in front of my and I use voice and my hands to control all of the functions of my “body computer”. The small screen of Apple Watch is not a computer, as it does not have the capacity to see all that you need to see from a computer point of view. The “view” of Google Glass or Holo Lens is the view only, not the computer side. Google erred by making the “view” have power fully based on the cloud. I believe that first company who puts a powerful computer on your body with the equivalent view of a 4k TV screen in front of you – projected or holographic, will win the war to change computers to a “Body computer”. That company will own the next generation of computing.

Where the computer ends up, on your wrist, on you ear, taped to the body, or even embedded in your body, the result will be the same. The body computer will sense your internal biorhythms (heart rhythms are like fingerprints unique to the individual) and work only will on or in you. As the size and communications capabilities shrink over time, there will be no need for a big computer, or even a phone, just a body computer.   Think about it, the processing power will need – at least as far as I can see into the future, a watch sized computer to handle the power that your phone, pad, laptop all have today. When you go to work the communications capability will grab data that you need for work and everything will be projected in front of you. No computer displays, no phone/tablet/watch for you to glance at, it will all be in front of you whenever you want it. Your employer will not need to buy you a computer, but rather give you encrypted channels into their network of data that runs their business. Already startups have you bring your own computer, so habits are changing in preparation of this brave new world.

As any new industry starts out there are a lot of individual efforts that will all be needed to make this Body Computer happen. Miniaturization of the hardware and sensors will continue. Apple is a leader in that area. Projection screens where Google, Microsoft and Facebook all are working on. Artificial intelligence to make decisions without requiring us to think, where IBM (Watson), Google, Apple and a myriad of others are leading. Voice and text recognition where Apple (Siri), Amazon (Alexa), Google (Home), IBM (Watson) and others are making fast advances. And there is even a leading totally stealth company Magic Leap that raised $1.4 billion (yes Billion) dollars without releasing a product that is supposed to be building this. Of course they are starting with games to get us used to the technology. But that is a lot of money without a product, showing the tech giants know this will happen.

In summary, we have yet to see the future of computers/phones etc. It is just beginning. But once it is on our body, the “Human Computer” will rule our businesses, our lives and transform society in ways yet unknown. We live in exciting times as the “computer revolution” is still at its infancy. The mobile computing revolution will be seen as very crude first attempts in a few short years. So when you buy your new tech baubles this Christmas realize you are leading the way as a way of getting feedback to the bright minds building our future computing.


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