Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Web Secret 476: Fun and games

I like games.

But I don't like to kill orcs, zombies or other assorted creatures. And I certainly don't want to be racing against the clock.

No, I want my games to be soothing, beautiful, and quietly challenging.

So forget first place shooter titles. Instead download:

Monument Valley I and II. If M.C. Escher could have designed a game, this would be it.

The Room I, II, III. Imagine an incredibly baroque and complex chest of drawers whose secrets unfold themselves like origami whenever you solve a puzzle.

Fairway Solitaire. Sometime I want to enjoy the junk food equivalent of gaming. Fairway Solitaire is a combo of classic solitaire and golf. It is brainless and utterly addictive. Perfect for standing online or passing time in a waiting room.

It's summer.

Have some fun.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Web Secret 475: tech's frightful five

Two months ago, I read a New York Times article "Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us."

I can't stop thinking about it.

Author Farhad Manjoo makes the point that we are all in "inescapable thrall to one of the handful of American technology companies that now dominate much of the global economy. I speak, of course, of ... the Frightful Five: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google."

Farhad then asks the reader: "If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?"

The first cut was easy for me - Facebook. It never had much of a hold on me. I rarely post, preferring to spend a few minutes each day scrolling to read what my friends are outraged about at that point in time.

See ya, Facebook

After that, it was very difficult.

I live in a retail desert and I would guess that 80% of what I purchase I do through Amazon. And then there are the TV shows I enjoy through Amazon Prime. But if I absolutely had to, I could purchase directly from product websites. It would take longer, but it could be done.

Bye bye Amazon.

Microsoft - sure I use Word every day, and PowerPoint and Excel from time to time. But I could use Apple's Pages and Prezi instead. I also don't use any of Microsoft's laptops, tablets, etc.

Ta ta Microsoft.

Alphabet - is not just the parent company of Google, but of YouTube. There are other search engines - Wolfram Alpha comes to mind. But YouTube? It's not about cat videos for me. I go there to see my father George London. He is preserved in dozens upon dozens of live and taped performances. It would be hard to find an alternative source for all of those clips.

So reluctantly, adieu, Alphabet.

Last would have to be Apple. I could not survive without my MacBook Pro, my iPad Mini, or my iPhone 7 plus. It's how I work and navigate the world. Through them I read books and play games. I use countless iOS apps, to do countless things.

I will leave you last, Apple.

Now it's your turn.

How would you rank the frightful five?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Web Secret 474: Singularity Hub

No need to consult the Oracle at Delphi, you can predict the future by visiting Singularity Hub.

I'll let them explain themselves:

"Singularity Hub chronicles technological progress by highlighting the breakthroughs, players, and issues shaping the future as well as supporting a global community of smart, passionate, action-oriented people who want to change the world."

Oh.

Here is a taste of what you can learn on their website:

4 New Human Rights for When Our Brains Are Hooked Up to Computers

Cybersecurity Pros Will Soon Patrol Computer Networks Like Agents in ‘The Matrix’

Dwarf Planetary Systems Will Transform the Hunt for Alien Life

These 5 Big Tech Trends Are Changing the Way We Learn

I'm hyperventilating.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Web Secret 473: slow TV

All of a sudden slow TV is having it's day.

Slow TV involves broadcasting tasks and activities in real time. With little or no narration.

In Norway, slow TV is a huge hit.

Norwegians produced a 7 hour train journey.

And a 13 hour National Knitting Night.

These slow gems are now available on Netflix.

If watching sheep being shorn is not your vibe, check out these perennial favorites:

It doesn't have to be Christmas to enjoy "The Yule Log."


Channel your inner Seventies and watch the iconic Bob Ross, host of the "Joy of Painting."


Slow TV: the antidote to our rapid paced 21st century lifestyle.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Web Secret 472: the people who train the robots

Before the robots take over our jobs, they will have to learn our jobs.

This is already happening.

The New York Times profiled five people who have been put in this remarkable position. More than most, they understand the strengths (and weaknesses) of artificial intelligence and how technology is changing the nature of work.

Here is the Cliff Notes version of that article:

Rachel Neasham, travel agent

Ms. Neasham works for a travel booking app Lola. She knew the company’s artificial intelligence computer system — its name is Harrison — would eventually take over parts of her job. Still, there was soul-searching when it was decided that Harrison would actually start recommending and booking hotels.

At an employee meeting late last year, the agents debated what it meant to be human, and what a human travel agent could do that a machine couldn’t. While Harrison could comb through dozens of hotel options in a blink, it couldn’t match the expertise of, for example, a human agent with years of experience booking family vacations to Disney World.

Ms. Neasham sees it as a race: Can human agents find new ways to be valuable as quickly as the A.I. improves at handling parts of their job?

Diane Kim, interaction designer

Ms. Kim works as an A.I. interaction designer at x.ai, a New York-based start-up offering an artificial intelligence assistant to help people schedule meetings. X.ai pitches clients on the idea that, through A.I., they get the benefits of a human assistant — saving the time and hassle of scheduling a meeting — at a fraction of the price.

It’s Ms. Kim’s job to craft responses for the company’s assistants, that feel natural enough that swapping emails with these computer systems feels no different than emailing with a human assistant.

Dan Rubins, chief executive

Mr. Rubins created Legal Robot, a start-up that uses artificial intelligence to translate legalese into plain English.

Having reviewed nearly a million legal documents, Legal Robot also flags anomalies in contracts.

Legal documents are well suited to machine learning because they are highly structured and repetitive. The less time lawyers need to spend reviewing contracts, the more time they can spend on, say, advisory work or litigation.

Sarah Seiwert, customer representative

It took two weeks for Ms. Seiwert to notice that her company’s A.I. computer system was starting to pick up on her work patterns.

She is a customer representative at the online test-prep company Magoosh. When an email comes into Magoosh, its A.I. system reads the email, categorizes it and routes it to the appropriate employee. After a few months, it starts to automate responses for some common questions. This happens when the A.I. has seen enough examples of how human agents handled the request that it gains confidence that its answer will be correct.

Even though the A.I. is learning from human, Ms. Seiwert doesn’t foresee a future where she’s out of a job. Too many questions still require a level of human intuition to know the appropriate answer.

Aleksandra Faust, software engineer

Formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo wants to build autonomous vehicles that can react properly under all kinds of unusual circumstances. Not only when drivers run red lights, but also when a child crosses an intersection riding a hoverboard while walking a dog.

Waymo’s cars have driven two million miles in the real world and billions more in computer simulations. But it’s impossible to program for every event.

Safety is a concern, but so is comfort. Take the process of braking at a red light. When human drivers see a red light, they tend to slow down gradually before coming to a full stop.

A sudden stop is dangerous because other drivers may not be paying attention. And it is jarring for the passengers.

Ms. Faust’s team creates different models for the most natural way a car should brake depending on how fast it is going.

We live in disruptive times.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Web Secret 471: the death of in person psychotherapy - part 2

This week I finally realized, (much sooner than expected,) the in person psychotherapy session is marching towards extinction.

It happened when I noted the sudden proliferation of apps and platforms geared towards a virtual or digital counseling/coaching experience.

I'm talking about you:

Encrypted texting platform  
WhatsApp.

Texting apps  
7cups.com  
Talkspace - raised 15 million in venture capital. Talkspace for business is invading the world of corporate mental health and EAP.

Online therapy platforms  
ginger.io
better help

Cognitive therapy app  
joyable.com - also marketing to the workplace

Coaching app  
Lantern - raised $17 million in venture capital

Mood tracking app  
T2 Mood Tracker - Who is behind this app? The US Department of Defense

Artificial intelligent weight loss coaching app
Sam - powered by IBM's Watson.

And I could have listed dozens more.

People born in 1993 are the last of the Millenial generation. In a couple of years, Gen Z will begin to enter the workplace.

They have never known a world without Facetime or Skype.

So combine money, the US military, IBM, millions of dollars and a growing number of users who are perfectly comfortable with digital media; couple that with a demand for immediate response.

And you have an explosion.

And the old office based clinical model will die.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Web Secret 470: the death of inperson psychotherapy - part 1

I finally found someone who tried Talkspace.

It's not someone I know personally or another psychotherapist.

It's Casey Schwartz, a reporter who wrote "What happens when you share your deepest anxieties with an app?" for Departures magazine.

Quick reminder, Talkspace is a subscription-based psychotherapy app that allows for unlimited texting with a licensed professional starting at $128 per month.

Schwartz writes: "Despite the absence of a personal rapport, I surprised myself ... [finding] some small but real degree of comfort at having this source of encouragement and cheer, who was always only a text message away ... Yet because I happen to know what it is to actually sit in a room with a living, breathing psychologist ... I registered all too glaringly the superficiality inherent in my Talkspace arrangement. To me, insight and advice are nice, but the relationship itself is the point.

Others see it differently. “Cost, access, and stigma,” ... “Those are the three pillars of why people are interested in digital therapy.”

...The online therapy movement ... has provoked plenty of skepticism. Justin Shubert, a psychologist in Los Angeles and the director of Silver Lake Psychotherapy, questions the very selling point of many of these programs: the instant access. “When a therapist is on demand, that’s reinforcing an immature way of relating for a lot of people, where the therapist is there to gratify the client’s needs wherever and whenever they want,” Shubert says. “That’s not how real relationships work.”

...As for me, I soon realized that I was hesitating to reveal anything truly personal ... Our exchange began to wear on my nerves on or around day six... I found I had come to dread the whole communication. So I did the only thing I could think to do: I ghosted my online therapist."


Schwartz lists a couple of other apps in the same vein as Talkspace:

Lantern Instead of therapy, Lantern offers “coaching.” Users share problems via text and receive highly structured strategies for feeling better in that moment, such as guided meditation or breathing exercises. Starting at $49 a month. In 2016, Lantern raised $17 million for its mobile-based mental health coaching program.

T2 Mood Tracker This free app enables its users to track their own mental health, helping them to identify patterns and triggers by which they might gain greater insight and control over changes in mood. Who is behind this app? Like many innovations in tele behavioral health - the US Department of Defense. War is not good for people and other living things.

Ginger.IO This app combines the concept of smartphone-based fitness tracking with live human feedback and care from a coach or therapist and/or a psychiatrist to help with medication support. Works with text-message exchanges as well as videoconferencing. Starting at $129 a month.

Sam Using artificial intelligence, Sam provides users with instant access anytime, to help them with losing weight. FYI, Sam is powered by IBM's Watson.

Who needs people to deliver counseling?