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‘Hey Siri, bring in the cattle and irrigate field four’

If you go down to the farm today, you’ll probably find it packed with sensors, drones and remote management systems managed by iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices.

A new agriculture

In fact, we’re only one or two Siri Shortcuts away from voice-controlled farms equipped with remotely controlled irrigation, livestock and crop management solutions and blockchain-based crop lifecycle analysis tools.

Most of this technology exists, though cost constrains deployment.

Leading the digital transformation of agriculture are apps, such as: Agrellus, an online marketplace for agriculture, xarvio Scouting App for better crop management, FieldNET Mobile to control water pivots remotely, Yara ImageIT which turns your iPhone into a crop nutrient testing system, AgSense, GrainTruckPlus. There are many more apps for agriculture available at the App Store – including Tudder, the “Tinder for farm animals”.

The good iShepherd (drone)

Above the fields, drones are seeing use across the agricultural lifecycle, for herd protection, crop management and more.

An app called FieldAgent is a good example of this.

It flies your DJI drone to capture data in order to build crop health and field plans, to identify weeds and more. These tasks can be automated.

The tech industry’s current darling, Blockchain, is seeing use. IBM at CES 2020 introduced an app that connects consumers to farmers using it, the idea being that the ‘chain carried all the information about the coffee a consumer might want in a format that could be accessed using an iPhone app.

This was a good illustration of how the blockchain can be used to store data about crops, things like pH levels, distribution, nutrition and more.

The idea here is that better transparency across the agricultural lifecycle should benefit all the stakeholders in the industry.

Ole farmer iPhone

Remote controlled farms are a reality.

Such technology solves real problems, after all, most farms are spread across vast areas so just taking the journey to analyse and solve a situation sucks up time. Technology innovation also opens up other efficiencies. And, of course, backing up these remote agricultural M2M deployments are the mobile networks and companies like Dacom.

One recent example of farm irrigation systems being controlled using Apple’s technologies was recently revealed in Namibia, Africa, where Konigstein Capital has installed smart irrigation systems controlled with an iPad.

The idea is that farmers control the water pivots from the Apple device.

This saves time, enables fast repairs, but also makes it possible to farm 24/7.

The location has installed auto steering systems on three tractors, enabling them to work safely and effectively at night when human drivers ordinarily can’t do the job.

Robot farmers for robot farms

As semi-autonomous vehicles take the road it will only be a matter of time until we see AI-driven farm equipment. In fact, we already do – take a look at the work from Japan’s high-tech agriculture tech provider, Spread.

Next up? AR-based agricultural control systems. Take a look at the research exploring use of drones and soil sampling with AR for ideas of how this is being deployed.

Of course, once you have turned a mobile device into a control system for such equipment, you’ve also made it possible to build voice-based shortcuts for those controls. Farmers may even end up managing the whole process using your voice and a set of connected AR glasses.

And don’t even get me started on Big Data in agricultural production.

Big problems, big solutions 

The drive to install technology across agriculture isn’t merely a case of technology looking to become a solution, but a case of an industry that needs such change.

Global population is expected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050, the UN claims.

Feeding these people will demand global agricultural production climbs 69% by 2050 – even while climate and environmental challenges impact crop cycles.

This is the context that is driving technology deployment as agriculturalists and technologists seek out any form of productivity advantage to help them meet these challenges.

In practise, of course, the cost of such technologies will most benefit those enterprises with the money to invest in them, while smaller farmers will employ less efficient processes.

But, if ever an industry needed tech-driven democracy, agriculture is it:

Because around 9 out of 10 of the world’s farms are small – but provide over 80 percent of global food supply.

We just can’t meet these targets without them.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Hey, Google: Maybe it’s time to take a lesson from Samsung

Whew! I don’t know if you heard, but Samsung held its first super-duper-neato special event of the year on Tuesday, and the company’s got a few new phones for us all to ogle.

The devices themselves seem fine enough, in their respective ways. I’ll sum ’em up quickly for you, because what I really want to talk about is something a bit deeper. So here’s the lowdown:

  • The Galaxy S20 is Samsung’s new main 2020 flagship. It comes in three models, all with 5G in the U.S., and they’re all about as Samsung as it gets: big screens, small bezels, and All The Specs™ — loads o’ numbers that look impressive on paper (108 megapixels! 8K video! 120Hz screens! 16GB of RAM!) but ultimately mean very little when it comes to real-world impact. They’re also expensive: $1,000 on the lower end and all the way up to $1,600 for the maxed-out top-of-the-line model.
  • The Galaxy Z Flip is a new horizontally-folding foldable phone — basically a better version of the recently released Motorola Razr, from the looks of it, and an interesting technological advancement but almost certainly something no normal person should actually buy at this point.

That’s the ultra-abbreviated version, anyway. The reality is that Samsung’s bound to sell a boatload of its Galaxy S20 phones, as it generally does with its primary new flagships — and that’s the area I really wanted to explore.

First, a quick pinch of context: Aside from creating appealing devices, Samsung has worked hard over the years to build up brand awareness and loyalty. Initially, that was driven by bold, memorable, and ubiquitous marketing — but then, at least in part, it turned into a bit of a self-propagating cycle. By that, I mean that the longer someone sticks with a particular style of Android phone and the more times they upgrade from one generation of that phone to another, the more likely they are to make that same sort of upgrade the next time the need arises.

Think about it: How many people do you know who bounce between different brands within Android? In my experience, outside of a small subset of enthusiasts, most people don’t even entertain the notion. They’ve had Galaxy phones for the past few cycles, so when the time to upgrade comes around, the only question they consider is which model and style of Galaxy phone they want to get. Just as smartphone platform preference has largely become tribalized, smartphone brand preference within Android seems to have turned into a mostly static quality.

And the effects of that go even deeper: When someone who doesn’t yet have a strong brand preference within Android looks to make a buying decision — an average phone-buyer, whether for individual or company-wide purposes — what do they think about first? More often than not, it’s what brand they know and see everywhere they look, both in the hands of their colleagues or companions and in the most prominent positions on store shelves. Once that cycle starts, it’s difficult to disrupt.

Samsung knows that, and it showed us this week just how carefully it’s working to reinforce that cycle — in a way that’s almost the polar opposite of what Google does with its Pixel line of phones.

Think about these bigger-picture takeaways from this week’s Samsung event and how much of a contrast they illustrate between Samsung’s smartphone selling approach and Google’s:

1. Samsung revealed that Galaxy S owners are waiting longer than ever to upgrade their devices.

This first one’s mostly just for context, but it’s important: The average upgrade cycle among Galaxy S owners, specifically, jumped from 22.6 months in 2016 to 26.6 months in 2019 — an increase of 18%, according to Samsung. That mirrors the industry-wide pattern we’ve been hearing about for a while now, but seeing Samsung acknowledge the same trend specific to Galaxy S owners — and seeing it get stated with the flat-out assumption that those Galaxy S owners are gonna upgrade to a new Galaxy S phone and not any other brand’s offering — is pretty telling.

It also leads us directly to our next point:

2. For the first time, Samsung is going to keep producing its previous-generation phone — the Galaxy S10 — and will sell all of those models for $150 less than their original prices.

This is something Apple has long done but most Android device-makers (Google included) have yet to come around to — and by golly, it makes so much sense, it almost hurts.

Yes, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 prices may be mildly outrageous, but if you don’t want to drop a cool grand or more on a bunch of cutting-edge technology you probably don’t need, well, now you can get last year’s still-quite-impressive Galaxy S10 phone for a much more palatable $750 price. Heck, you can go as low as $600, if you want to drop down to the still-perfectly-nice S10e model.

Google did this ever so briefly with the Pixel 2 back when the Pixel 3 came out, which gave me hope that it was adopting a similarly smart strategy — one that would be especially sensible with Pixel phones, by the by, being that they’re the only Android devices to receive a full three years of guaranteed operating system updates — but it turned out the company was just selling off whatever stock it had left as opposed to continuing to produce the older model as a deliberate, ongoing strategy. Alas.

And then there’s the biggest point of all:

3. Samsung is bending over backwards to encourage current Galaxy owners to upgrade.

Sure, the Galaxy S20 might be a thousand bucks — but if you’ve got a Galaxy S10, you can trade in your old phone and get the new one for a mere $400 (unlocked and off contract). Got a Note 10? Samsung will give you a $700 trade-in credit and sell you the new model for $300.

Even older Galaxy models come with decent trade-in discounts. The Galaxy S9 and Note 9, for instance, give you $300 off the price of a new phone. And if you’re coming from a Pixel, the Pixel 4 will net you a $600 credit, bringing the S20’s price down to $400. The 2018 Pixel 3 will get you $300 off the S20’s starting price. And even the midrange Pixel 3a will get you $200 off the price of a shiny new S20 phone.

Google has its own trade-in program for Pixel phone purchases, too, but it pales in comparison. The company offers a maximum of $265 in credit for a Galaxy S10 — less than half of what Samsung gives for that same device. Even for its own previous-gen Pixel 3, Google provides a maximum trade-in value of $165 toward a Pixel 4, compared to Samsung’s $300 credit for that same Google-made phone.

A widely cited adage states that acquiring a new customer costs five times more than retaining an existing customer. Samsung may not provide anywhere near Google’s level of post-sales software support — and hell, it even quietly sells its users’ data! — but when it comes time to think about a new phone purchase, Samsung clearly knows the value of reinforcing its relationship with existing customers and motivating them to stick with the Galaxy brand. Google, on the other hand, seems to make little more than a token effort.

(And this isn’t just on the phone front, either, incidentally: Over on the smart speaker side of things, where Amazon is absolutely slaughtering Google despite having an objectively worse product, Amazon wisely encourages Echo owners to trade in their older devices in order to receive a store credit plus an instant 25% off any new Echo product. Google puts out plenty of new smart speaker models but does absolutely nothing to encourage that same sense of brand loyalty and repeat purchasing among owners of its aging products.)

When I think about all the stuff Samsung announced this week, the phones are certainly everything everyone hoped they would be — eye-catching, technologically impressive, and probably the precise right amount of push forward needed to maintain Samsung’s mobile-tech dominance. But the circumstances surrounding those phones seem far more significant to me, especially in that bigger-picture sense of what Samsung’s doing to support its technology and reinforce the loyalty it’s worked so hard to create.

We can talk endlessly about the ways Google could position its Pixel phones and market them to the masses, but even if it manages to win over new users, it needs to come up with a smarter strategy for maintaining its momentum and creating a self-propagating cycle of customer loyalty. And, as Samsung’s reminding us all this week, it doesn’t have to look far to find an example of exactly how that oughta be done.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Hey, he said sorry | Computerworld

This pilot fish wakes up around 1:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom and checks his work cellphone. Lo and behold, there are a lot of emails about a very important filesystem that’s full. This filesystem contains all the user home directories for an entire facility, and according to the emails, even though several people had deleted large numbers of big files they no longer needed, the filesystem filled up again, and rather quickly.

Although the emails stopped around 10 p.m., fish knows he’s going to have a rowdy mob of incensed users clamoring at his cubicle in the morning, so he gets dressed and goes to work, arriving at about 2:45 a.m. This particular filesystem lives on a network that cannot be accessible from the internet.

Fish figures that some process has lost its mind and is writing incessantly to the storage. To find it, he runs a df -k on the home directory filesystem, which lived on a RAID platform, so it was — a tad slow. Two hours later, he identifies a user home directory that is at 1.1TB, up from 120GB a couple of weeks earlier. From there, he runs an ls -lR and looks for a mind-bogglingly big file or files. But none show up, and when fish does a sum of the filesizes from the ls command, they show about 120GB of files.

This makes no sense at all. Because fish is tired and hasn’t had his normal dose of caffeine, his mind isn’t functioning at full speed, but he eventually realizes he has seen this before. It means the file had been deleted, but the process was still writing to the storage.

When this has happened before, it was during work hours, when it was possible to identify the user and machine. With no idea which machine is hosting the errant process, fish has to search through them all and run lsof to look for errant open files. He does finally find it, but there is no process assigned to the entry, it has no size or inode, and the status of the entry is “unknown.” Fish has to reboot the machine to clear it.

He finishes just about the time the user of the machine in question shows up. User explains he had a test process go crazy and refuse to die, even when he issued kill -9. So he just deleted the output file and went home.

Fish then gives a rundown on how he has spent the past six or seven hours and explains that the user’s actions meant that both the process and file were left in almost undetectable states.

To which the user makes amends with the words, “Oh, sorry about that.”

Sharky wants you to ls your true true tales of IT life for me. Send them to [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Hey Siri, how will I feel next Tuesday?

Voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri have been a bit of a giggle in their infancy. This is about to change as AI gets smarter, contextual intelligence greater and the augmentation of human capacity through use of them reaches different parts of life.

We’re reaching critical mass

Siri, Alexa, Assistant, Cortana – none of these systems are perfect, some are less perfect, and all the big names in this technology need to wake up and take action around the privacy implications of use of such devices.

That means recordings shouldn’t be kept, what recordings do exist shouldn’t be connected to individual humans, and no one other than you and your robot should ever be able to know what you asked.

This just seems to be common sense.

However, technology improves, privacy awareness grows and even the biggest surveillance capitalists seem to have a slightly less tin ear to these concerns than they did even a year ago.

They need to. Accenture claims 83% of consumers will share their data in exchange for more personalized experiences, but only if businesses are transparent about how their data is used.

That’s certainly Apple’s aim, despite a blatant recent error of judgement.

Right now, around 111.8 million people in the U.S. are already using a voice assistant at least monthly in 2019, according to recently published research from eMarketer.

“Voice-control technology has officially moved out of the early-adopter phase and into the mainstream,” the report claims.

Consider the evidence

There are hundreds of millions of devices in use today that can handle voice queries and controls: billions of smartphones, millions of tablets (particularly iPad), devices powered by Alexa, Siri, Assistant and more.

We wear voice assistants on our wrist, use them in high-end cars, and may even speak to one when we call our bank.

What are we using these things for?

Amazon claims you can use voice to transact hundreds of tasks on Alexa. Apple’s Shortcuts app means it can also claim to be able to get a huge variety of tasks done with Siri.

While the range of things you can use voice assistants for is increasing fast, the tasks we transact most seem to reflect an earlier stage in voice assistant evolution.

We use these things to get directions, make calls, handle music playback and to find local stores (hence the important of local search optimization for most enterprises).

What will we use them for?

A recent World Economic Forum report offers some interesting insights into how voice assistants will become more personalized in the next evolution of the tech.

They will become more responsive to your age, gender, accent; later they become capable of discerning emotional states. (Don’t neglect that Apple has already invested in hiring counsellors and therapists to help develop Siri).

For a glimpse of what comes next, take a look at Gatebox. That company is developing a voice assistant that offers emotional support to users — and I don’t think anyone will be comfortable if human quality controllers or ads networks are analysing those conversations.

Of course, the evolution of personalization also means voice assistants will develop extensive contextual awareness.

You already see this with Siri, which tries to surface actions and shortcuts it thinks might help you with your life by analysing what you do most regularly.

The implications? They begin with Siri recognizing you like to call mom on Tuesdays and end up with it calling ahead to your hotel aircon system to automatically set your room temperature.

Eventually, I can see voice assistants using crowd-sourced data to estimate the likelihood of a person contracting an illness and advising necessary preventative action.

What better vehicle to offer these warnings than your voice assistant, using the health and activity data about you that you have already created on your device?

Or to automatically identify the best available health insurance deal for someone in your condition?

Convenience or dystopia?

I’ve a feeling lots of people may not be completely comfortable with these ideas.

Right now we’re just becoming accustomed to asking a slightly inept Siri to find where the latest Tarantino movie is showing, or requesting a playlist of classic 60’s psychedelia after we’ve watched the film, or contacting the local dog adoption agency…

There’s a big difference between accomplishing the more prosaic tasks and the emerging future in which we interact with an AI intelligence that understands our moods and probably already booked us the movie tickets.

This collision between human nature and technology advancement is likely as old as the development of fire – and the evolution of voice assistants and AI is going to be as transformative.

Ronan de Renesse, Practice Leader for Ovum’s Consumer Technology team observes:

“There is a disconnect between the ‘know-it-all, do-it-all’ approach that current digital assistants are aiming toward and the highly personalized virtual assistance experience that consumers have dreams/nightmares about.

“Whoever can bring personal consumer data in a secure, non-creepy way to digital assistance will be able to bridge that gap and capture most of the opportunity.”

Meanwhile, with one-third of the U.S. population now becoming accustomed to using these things, the next evolution is most surely on the way.

Isn’t that right, Siri?

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Hey, Siri, what’s the future of enterprise voice services?

Apple’s focus on privacy is incredibly important when it comes to the development of Siri and voice services, as the potential goes way beyond asking your Apple Watch to turn off your lights.

Silent whisper

If you use HomePod, you already know that Siri will respond to commands only slightly louder than a whisper.

You can use it to carry out tasks, control home automation equipment, media playback controls, answer questions, and more. Apple’s AI teams are constantly developing ways to get Siri to do more.

Even then, it’s the thin end of the wedge.

I’ve explained before that Apple, Google, and Amazon all keep recordings of your voice interactions with their smart speakers.

I’ve also explained the fundamental differences in their approaches that make Siri the most secure voice assistant to use:

  1. Siri’s recordings cannot be traced back to you, as Apple does not link them to your account. Both Google and Amazon keep those recordings associated with your account.
  2. Apple deletes those recordings after a set period of time, while Google and Amazon do not (that’s my understanding).

A recent Washington Post story (summarized here) explained the dangers of these warrantless recordings. It’s why I’d never recommend transacting a business deal in the same room as any non-Apple voice device – even though around 50 million people probably do. What you say, the conversations you have, have value.

Unlocking the value of voice

Voice assistant services aren’t just about what happens at home.

Enterprises know the value of the voice – and they don’t even need to analyze what you are discussing in order to unlock that value.

If you’ve ever spoken with an automated customer support chatbot, you understand how voice provides value, in this case in terms of the provision of personalized services. Apple’s Business Chat service is its solution to support these machines.

It’s also important to consider how the nature of voice itself is changing now that conversation is digitized. This voice data can be far more easily analyzed. Data analytics of voice communications is real, and it is happening.

In a sense, it already takes place each time you speak with Siri, which (while mostly reliant on pattern matching) also boasts an increasingly accurate AI capable of figuring out contextual information to boost recognition of what is said.

So, now you have voice assistants that are capable of understanding what is said, figuring out the context around which an utterance is made, and matching patterns and analyzing the content of millions of conversations concurrently in real time.

What could the enterprise value of these systems be?

Hey, Sir, what’s RPA?”

There’s a way to go before you see voice widely used as a component in systems for business or workflow analytics or robotic process management – but there are already signs of the incoming change.

Think about voice as biometric ID.

Banks already use voice recognition biometrics as part of their fraud control systems — HSBC’s VoiceID has prevented $400 million value of fraudulent transactions.

Think also about how voice assistant technologies can act as some form of digital twin for real human chat.

Perhaps you are involved in a group discussion on some matter. Ordinarily, people take notes during the meeting. These days we see document sharing systems that work around enterprise collaboration suites, some even provide on-the-spot automated transcription. Voice assistants add automatic detection of key dates, future meetings, targets, and project outcomes – similar to the way iOS may spot a meeting date and time in an email. 

Similar technologies applied against customer service calls may identify similar trends:

  • Do particular product or service fault call requests tend to take place at particular times of day?
  • Automated systems may pick up signs (such as an unusually high number of customer support requests) that warn of a product or batch flaw. 

Mining the data

Back in the call center, data analytics of voice communications should yield useful insights around performance (was the resolution satisfactory?) to follow up to enabling and empowering support for personalized services: If a customer rings twice, can such systems flag what their previous request was and provide call center operatives with the current resolution status of the matter?

Properly mined, voice data analysis may also yield early insights around service faults, and at least one big telecommunications company plans to mine voice data in order to provide business analytics solutions based on voice for enterprise customers.

Underpinning all these transactions sits a need for privacy.

Indeed, Apple CEO Tim Cook’s demand for a bill of digital rights in which customers can control and manage all the different slices of their digital data held by third-party entities seems an appropriate response as enterprises large and small inevitably explore how to use this data for their own ends.

How many times a day does your smart lighting system send usage information back to its manufacturer? And what do they do with this data once they own it?

Learn more about voice services in the enterprise and share your thoughts: Join the @IDGTECHtalk Twitter chat on Thursday, May 9, using the hashtag #IDGTECHtalk

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

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