How Do We Build High-Performance Teams?


True teams are a rare thing; what we typically view as a team is usually a group of (sometimes) highly functioning individuals who end up being successful more due to their own individual abilities than anything the group sets out to do.   With that, however, success takes more time and greater effort.  Most people avoid building true teams because of the perceived work up front that creates efficiency/success in the long term.

In creating any team, there is intentionality to it as you have to have trust, a comfort with conflict, true commitment, accountability and ownership across the team, while maintaining a focus on results.  As well, to be a team, you must have a common purpose, clear roles, accepted leadership, effective processes, and transparent relationships.

Qualities of an effective team leader include:

  • They appreciate the collective intelligence of the team
  • They believe in the power of diversity among team members
  • They see team leadership as a role by which to serve the team, not a position to be served
  • They see power as something to be released and shared rather than something to hold and control
  • They understand that teams are for achieving a team purpose

As well, a leader must have clear and quantifiable goals that fit into larger mission/vision/values to rally around.  The reality is that we don’t form teams, we build them, and have to have the patience to allow the organic nature of team growth to occur.  As leaders, we have to have clarity around what we are trying to build and be clear about our collaboration efforts in order to get the results we desire.  With that, it doesn’t work for the leader to be the only one who understands what an effective team looks like, the team does as well, and the definition of what is effective may vary by team and company.  There are some fundamentals, however:

  • Team development is a process, not an event
  • Development must be a felt need of the team
  • Use the work of the team to build the team
  • There are no shortcuts to team effectiveness
  • Willingness supersedes skill when it comes to collaboration
  • We must have shared goals that are aligned across the team
  • Include everyone on the specific team in the planning process – don’t alienate by exclusion
  • Review the past objectively and learn from it
  • Force assumptions out of the room
  • Be intentional in your meetings and treat time together as a precious commodity
  • Effective teams will understand the big picture, has common goals, functions as a unit (and has each other’s back)

If you’ve not ever heard of him, Patrick Lencioni has written a great collection of books around how to build highly effective organizations and teams.  They’re written in fable form, and simple to read.  According to Lencioni, “a cohesive team trusts one another, engages in constructive conflict, commits to group decisions and holds one another accountable.”  Conflict is an integral part of any team’s interaction, but it never gets personal and issues are never left unresolved.  To this end, you must address the five dysfunctions of any team, as they make a truly functional leadership team impossible.

  • The absence of trust results from a fear of being vulnerable with team members and prevents the building of trust within the team.
  • The fear of conflict results from a desire to preserve artificial harmony which stifles the occurrence of productive, ideological conflict.
  • A lack of commitment results from the lack of clarity or buy-in preventing team members from making decisions to which they will stick.
  • Avoidance of accountability stems from the need to avoid interpersonal discomfort which prevents team members from holding one another accountable for their behaviors and performance.
  • Finally, inattention to results comes when the pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

While they suffer from varying degrees of the five dysfunctions within the site and the leadership team and at different levels with different individuals, all five are present and impede the ability to build a cohesive leadership team.

Once an effective leadership team has been built, you can create organizational clarity.  Healthy organizations clarify topics such as values, strategies, goals and roles & responsibilities.  By making the fundamental values of the organization very clear to everyone in it, by actions as well as words, we join people together.  As well they need to over-communicate organizational clarity so that they align our employees with said clarity through repetition and comprehensive communication of all aspects of the fundamental values of the organization.  Every individual in the organization should be able to communicate their fundamental values of the organization from their first day with the group and then be constantly reminded of them.  This also means that those fundamental values must be simple and absorbable.  The team also shouldn’t hesitate to ask a member to leave if they don’t fit those values.  As well, whenever the leadership team meet, the outcome of every meeting should result in information that needs to be communicated out to the team within a set timeframe, with a specific deadline so that people don’t feel as though they are the last to know or learn of something in an inefficient manner (which leaves the message open to interpretation).  Finally, they need to reinforce organizational clarity through human systems.  Organizations sustain their health by establishing simple structures around the way they make decisions, evaluate job candidates, manage performance, reward and fire employees.  They need to stress how individuals will fit with our values as a part of the interviewing process and then reiterate those values through onboarding and with a regular rhythm for the team.

In tandem with the above, leaders need to assess which of the five temptations of a leader they, themselves suffer from.  The first temptation, which is the hardest for a leader to fix, is becoming more interested in protecting your career status than making sure your team attains results.  One suffers this malaise if one thinks the proudest day of your life was the day you were chosen for a high position, not a day when you actually accomplished something.  Great leaders should be driven by their need to achieve, not by ego. Leaders who have fallen prey to this temptation focus on enjoying the fruits of rank, work fewer hours, and worry less about the company’s performance than about their personal level of comfort.  To avoid the temptation of self-preservation, adhere to the most important principle governing every executive: the desire to produce results. Unfortunately, many leaders put the most dangerous of the temptations ahead of this goal and yield to the desire to protect the status of their careers. The danger is that after you arrive at the top, you may focus primarily on preserving your status. You are vulnerable to making decisions to protect your reputation or to avoiding making decisions that might hurt it. You may also reward the people who make your ego feel better, rather than those who contribute to the company’s bottom-line results. If you want to show that you should be the leader, don’t give in. Make results the most important measure of personal success. Don’t hold the success of the company as a hostage to your own ego.  Focus on results by publicly committing to measurable results and evaluate your success based on these results alone.

The second temptation is the desire to be popular with the people who report directly to you, rather than holding them accountable for their assignments. You need to tell people what you expect, remind them of those expectations, and make the consequences of not meeting those expectations clear.  Avoid the desire to be popular. Many leaders fail because they don’t hold the people who are directly reporting to them accountable for delivery on their commitments, which is the basis for achieving results. Leaders succumb to this temptation because it is lonely at the top. Leaders spend time with few people except those who report to them directly (their “reports”), who are often the same age and earn about the same amount of money as they do. Thus, leaders commonly become friends with their reports and they share their feelings about any employee problems and concerns. When it comes time to criticize their reports and hold them accountable, many leaders are reluctant. They don’t give as much attention to their performance reviews as to those of lower level managers, and they don’t give good constructive or negative feedback. They are too concerned with being friends. Seek your reports’ long-term respect, rather than their affection. Don’t see them as a support group, but as high-level employees who have to deliver what you expect.  Hold people accountable by confronting direct reports immediately about behavior and performance and clarify expectations up front to make confronting direct reports easier.  Frankly, an employee should never be surprised by their performance review nor if they are put on a performance management program because their manager or leader will have over-communicated around expectations and delivery.

The third temptation is being so concerned that all of one’s decisions are correct that one is unwilling to make decisions with limited information. You want to be absolutely sure, to achieve certainty, even at the risk of clarity and action. If you don’t make decisions, you can’t hold people accountable, because you haven’t been clear about what you want. Thus, you must make decisions about your business group’s goals and the responsibilities of people in the team to meet those goals, even if you don’t have all the information you need. As in the military, it’s better to make any decision than to make no decision. One’s job as a leader is to come up with answers.  Don’t worry about being wrong. Become comfortable making tough decisions with limited information, because people need that clear direction to move forward. Be willing to make mistakes when faced with uncertainty.  Be very clear about what you want, rather than being afraid to be wrong. Achieving certainty is impossible, because the world abounds with uncertainty and imperfect information.  Many leaders who feel a need for precision may postpone decisions or fail to let people know exactly what they are supposed to deliver. People will not just figure out the right answers as they go along, so the likelihood of good results is limited. Strive to achieve clarity, rather than accuracy. It is better to take decisive action than wait for additional information. One of a leader’s responsibilities is to risk being wrong so one needs to welcome conflict and challenge.  It’s not only leaders that prefer harmony to conflict and obedience to insubordination, but the consequences for leaders that get carried away by these desires can be dire.  Provide clarity by setting public deadlines for making key decisions and practice making decisions without complete information around less risky issues.

The fourth temptation is the desire for harmony. Although people naturally want harmony, it can undermine good decision making, because you can close yourself off to other ideas that might lead to discord. By contrast, you should have the full benefit of everyone’s ideas to make good decisions.  When you seek harmony rather than being open to productive conflict and opposing ideas, you can lose credibility. People may find you inconsistent and unfair, because they aren’t sure how serious you are when you issue an instruction since you’ve never pressured them in the past. Perhaps you have tried too hard to be nice to get people to like you. No one likes conflict, but in the process of avoiding it, you can cut off good ideas and opinions, and keep people from gaining clarity about their tasks. This can deprive you of information you need to make decisions.  Avoid developing such a strong desire for harmony that it prevents one from getting the information you need to be clear. This quest for harmony can interfere with achieving clarity, because you may be shutting down people who might express divergent opinions or ideas. Many leaders do this because they like to see people agree and get along, rather than have disagreements and conflicts. It is in your best interests to get different views and opinions out in the open so you can make good decisions and consider all the available knowledge.  Establish productive conflict by drawing out differing opinions and perspectives from staff members and engage in and allow passionate discussions about key issues.

The fifth temptation is invulnerability, or being afraid to trust others (coming back to one of the foundations of the five dysfunctions). To get others to trust you, you have to trust them, which means being willing to be vulnerable. Many people don’t do this because they are afraid of getting burned. But even if you do get burned at times, it’s not fatal. You should trust people to have healthy, productive conflict.  Establish productive conflict by drawing out differing opinions and perspectives from staff members and engage in and allow passionate discussions about key issues.  To avoid invulnerability, put aside the desire to appear invulnerable. Many leaders mistakenly think they will have less credibility if they show that their ideas can be challenged. But a free exchange of ideas is far more productive; people say what they think and you get better input. Encourage your people to challenge your ideas. Trust them with your reputation and your ego. If you show you trust people, they will return that trust with both respect and honesty and a willingness to be vulnerable, too.  Build trust by acknowledge your own weaknesses and mistakes and allowing direct reports to see your human side.

From a people management standpoint, Lencioni has three very basic suggestions for getting better results and performance out of the team:  make things measureable, provide accountability and know your people.  While these would appear to be something we already do, we in fact for the most part do not.  In describing them, it will become obvious that we don’t.  The three signs break into components of anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurement.

Anonymity: People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority. People who see themselves as invisible, generic or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.  This is the squishiest of the three in that it requires each people manager to take a vested interest in getting to know their people in-depth.

Irrelevance: Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employees need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just the boss.

Immeasurement: Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without tangible means of assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.

Lencioni states that “management is like a ministry. You can help your employees feel good about themselves and the work they do. See that they feel important and know that they are contributing.  Give them some tangible means for marking their own progress. If you do these things, you will have an immeasurably profound positive impact on your employees’ lives. They will feel better about themselves, which will make everyone around them feel better. To create this happy, productive environment just treat the people who work for you like human beings. It’s really that simple.”  I underline tangible twice because while at Microsoft we have the tangible system of commitments by which individuals can measure themselves year on year, we don’t necessarily identify daily/weekly/monthly tangible measures by which they can do the same – most organizations and corporations don’t.  Additionally it is important that we find ways to tie the relevance of each individual’s role to someone else in the team so that their only accountability isn’t to their manager.  This allows them to see their relevance in repeatable and measurable ways.  This is where, more than anywhere else, a lack of buy in and participation by a people manager should lead to a transition for that individual to an IC role.

The last area where they should focus is in tearing down the silos that exist between both feature teams and along functional lines.  Silos are common and almost natural to organizations. They are also deadly.  Silos emerge when leaders fail to establish the right context to unify their organizations. Team building exercises and open discussions lay the foundations for eliminating silos, but they are not enough.  By approaching singular themes or rallying cries as though the team were in crisis, silos are torn down as people focus on the rallying cry as opposed to their function or team.  The thematic goal (the single, temporary, and qualitative rallying cry shared by all members of the team) is used to frame all major discussions and decisions during this time period. Our goal must be unified, but distinct from our overall operational goals. It should be a qualitative call to action expressed with active verbs. We need to communicate this goal and the interim stepping stones so clearly that our employees know how their individual actions contribute to achieving this milestone together.  All of this ties back to creating our own story and changing our myths to suit the needs of the business.

There are two other areas where Lencioni focuses, one being how we serve our customers and another how we hire the right people or, with existing teams, retain the right people.  I’ll skip the “getting naked” portion of service (as he puts it) and focus instead on how we hire or retain the right people.

When we’re looking for people to join our teams, there is any number of technical skills that we tend to vet for, no matter what industry.  What we run into at times, though, is a lack of understanding about what we need to screen for from a behavioral standpoint.   Lencioni believes, and I agree, that we should be looking for people who are hungry, humble, and smart.  What does that mean?

We’re looking for people who are hungry so that when the crunch time comes, they don’t check out and leave it up to their colleagues to get the job done.  While we have a commitment to them to ensure work/life balance, we need to know that they have the drive to get the job done when it comes down to it.

Humility is all about ego, or the desire for a lack of one.  Some might debate with me on this point, stating that people what are further along in their career are likely going to have more of an ego because of their success.  That’s crap.  We always want people who speak more of “we” than “me.”  We especially need those who lead us to be focused on the team and what the team has accomplished, not their own accomplishments.

Last is smart, but not the smart you’re thinking.  We want people who are emotionally intelligent, or people smart, so that they have the empathy necessary to be a part of a highly effective team.  When we lack emotional intelligence, we have a tendency to run rough shod over others or miss the social cues that might help us find success easier in an organization and know who is willing to partner with us to solve a problem.

Now, at any given time, a person is going a have a gap in one of these areas, if not more.  For those who have gaps in multiple areas, that’s a tough one to resolve, and typically you’ll end up coaching them out of your company if you stay true to the mantra of hungry, humble, and smart. Why is that, you might ask, and simply put, as a highly effective leader, you have a commitment to your people to help them grow, and intentionality around that in any of these areas can be a challenge to receive, to focus on multiple areas at once will likely be overwhelming.  Again, though, as leaders, we have to, as it is our commitment to our teams and, most importantly, to the individuals who work for us.

Well, that’s enough of a “book report” for the week.  I hope you’ve found it all useful, and next week I’ll get back to my usual format of tech/business trends.  Until then, be well!

Oh wait, a TED talk for you … well, this week, this talk from Tim Leberecht seems relevant.  In it, he talks about his belief that in the face of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we need a new for radical humanism in the workplace so that we focus on authenticity and questions instead of efficiency and answers.

2016 Global Innovation 1000 Study, The Decline in Chinese Cyberattacks (and the takedown of the Internet of Things), Microsoft/Apple round up + more


There’s been a bit going on from a tech standpoint in  the news of late, so first this week, take a look at strategy+business’s 2016 Global Innovation 1000 Study.  In it they capture not only who the top innovators and spenders are, but also trends in that spending as well.  For example, Healthcare is expected to pass Computing and Electronics to become the largest overall industry in R&D spend by 2018. Speaking of Healthcare, there’s a coming $1.5 Trillion shift in the industry according to the same people.

To follow on to that is a piece from Techonomy of the Corporation as technology.  They believe that technology is redefining business and society (duh), but they go one to discuss how the corporation is a technology for organizing labor, resources and capital towards the creation of economic and social value.

Next this week is an article from Techcrunch on the darker side of machine learning.  As we opt-in to machine learning technologies through the platforms we use, we need to be wary of their invasiveness of user privacy.  For example, blurring and pixelation are common techniques used to preserve privacy in images and video. They’re practices that have proven their effectiveness in obscuring faces, license plates and writings from the human eye, but it seems that machine learning can see through the pixels.

Researchers at University of Texas at Austin and Cornell Tech recently succeeded in training an image recognition machine learning algorithm that can undermine the privacy benefits of content-masking techniques such as pixelation and blurring. What’s worrying, the researchers underlined, is that the feat was accomplished with mainstream machine learning techniques that are widely known and available, and could be put to nefarious use by bad actors. Paired with that is this piece about when algorithms work against us.

Since Virtual Reality continues to be a hot topic in the news these days, I thought we might take a look at the top 25 innovators in VR, courtesy of Polygon.

Well, it seems like Detroit has a little less to worry about from Silicon Valley, as the big players out west have decided that it is just too hard to build a car.  There’s more to the story than that, and I don’t necessarily think that means that the auto industry will remain undisrupted.  It does point, in my mind, to how challenged Google and Apple are these days to be as innovative as they once were.

Eighty billion dollars … it sounds like it should be a punch line from a b movie where the bad actor demands it in exchange for NOT releasing a badly ginned up neurotoxin into the atmosphere over a major city, but no, it’s what the AOL/Time Warner deal was originally announced at by the media.  That linky link points to a great summary by and collection of articles around the merger, and while I won’t say whether I think it will or won’t go through, this post from Wikipedia might be of interest for context.  That’s not to say I don’t care about the deal though.

While the current administration has been touting a marked decrease in commercial cyberattacks, the real story behind that is a bit different.  Technology Review explores the reasons why in this piece.  Who is defending us from those attacks?  Here’s the oddest 15 under 15 list I’ve seen of late, and it answers just that.  Paired with that, however, was the coordinated distributed denial-of-service attacks which took place last week.  These are attacks that are designed to keep legitimate users from accessing a site.  There’s more going on than just that, however: a variety of probing attacks in addition to the DDoS attacks.  Hackers are testing the ability to manipulate Internet addresses and routes, seeing how long it takes the defenders to respond, and so on. Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services.  The access point, in this case, were a slew of hijacked internet-connected devices.  That’s right, we were responsible for your favorite website being taken down because we’ve gotten lazy about the security protocols built into our favorite internet-connected devices.  The Internet Society warned last year: “The interconnected nature of IoT [internet of things] devices means that every poorly secured device that is connected online potentially affects the security and resilience of the internet globally.”

Despite what we’re hearing in the news, start-ups are not, in fact, getting cheaper to launch today.  In fact, if anything, the opposite is true.

There were several articles out this last week about years of research done by Google about the key to good teamwork.   What was that key, you ask?  Being nice.  Did I mention that this was based on years of research?

One of my favorite reads this week was on an Aussie bank’s 7000 mile blockchain experiment and the impact that it could have on trade.  It involved shipping 88 bales of cotton around the world, but how they did it is what is fascinating, and it could point to how the shipping industry could be disrupted.

How can I not mention, though, the news this week that Uber delivered a truckload of beer with a driverless truck?  Well, not entirely driverless, but Bob and Doug McKenzie would be floored.  Then there’s this interview with the head of machine learning for Uber on how pattern-finding computing fuels Uber’s success.

So let’s start with this guy who says that Macs, long term, are three times cheaper than PCs for companies to maintain.  Sounds crazy, right?  Must be some yahoo from some small, boutique start-up that’s catering to a bunch of millennials, no?  Nope, he works for IBM, and he’s replaced thousands of PCs with Macs for that company over the past few years and has the data to back up the claim.  Next, both Microsoft and Apple had a few announcements this week, Microsoft’s top eight are summarized here, while Apple’s top seven here.  For Apple, most people are swooning over their new touch bar.  For Microsoft, it the Surface Studio. Check them both out for yourself.

What could a future driverless world look like?  In this Ted Talk, transportation geek Wanis Kabbaj broaches that topic and thinks we can find inspiration in the genius of our biology to design the transit systems of the future.

Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017


Well, it looks like the preview I shared last week wasn’t that far off the mark, although some analysis was lacking.  So, without further ado:


As I’ve noted, the Gartner Symposium is underway this week in Orlando, and David Cearley, VP of Research, has identified what he (and Gartner) believe will be the top ten strategic technologies that have the potential to be significantly disruptive over the next five years.   These break into three themes (intelligent, digital, and mesh) and are just beginning to break out of an emerging state.   Some old ones from previous years are still on the list, some new, expected ones appeared, and then there are a few unexpected surprises.

To quote Cearley “Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology trends for 2017 set the stage for the Intelligent Digital Mesh.  The first three embrace ‘Intelligence Everywhere,’ how data science technologies and approaches are evolving to include advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence allowing the creation of intelligent physical and software-based systems that are programmed to learn and adapt. The next three trends focus on the digital world and how the physical and digital worlds are becoming more intertwined. The last four trends focus on the mesh of platforms and services needed to deliver the intelligent digital mesh.”


Trend No. 1: AI & Advanced Machine Learning


Well, not really the T-800, however artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced machine learning (ML) are made up of technologies and processes like deep learning and neural networks. What began as algorithms to automate manual tasks, borrowing from advanced statistical techniques, has developed into a broader framework and architecture that learns like a human might, and can use historical data to predict the future.

Applied AI and machine learning (ML), which include technologies such as deep learning, neural networks and natural-language processing, can also encompass more advanced systems that understand, learn, predict, adapt and potentially operate autonomously. Systems can learn and change future behavior, leading to the creation of more intelligent devices and programs.

Examples include eye-gazing technologies in retail stores and sensory data from smartphones that create propensity-to-buy models. Organizations seeking to drive digital innovation with this trend should evaluate a number of business scenarios in which AI and machine learning could drive clear and specific business value and consider experimenting with one or two high-impact scenarios.

Cearley noted, “Applied AI and advanced machine learning give rise to a spectrum of intelligent implementations, including physical devices (robots, autonomous vehicles, consumer electronics) as well as apps and services (virtual personal assistants, smart advisors). These implementations will be delivered as a new class of obviously intelligent apps and things as well as provide embedded intelligence for a wide range of mesh devices and existing software and service solutions.”

Trend No. 2: Intelligent Apps

Intelligent apps, which include technologies like virtual personal assistants (VPAs), have the potential to transform the workplace by making everyday tasks easier (prioritizing emails) and its users more effective (highlighting important content and interactions). Using AI technology, app and service providers will focus on three areas — advanced analytics, AI-powered and increasingly autonomous business processes and AI-powered conversational interfaces.  The virtual personal assistants, or VPNs, will make tasks such as scheduling meetings and managing emails and other messaging much easier. VPNs and virtual customer assistants (which promise to enhance customer service and sales) should transform work and the how firms are staffed.

By 2018, Gartner expects most of the world’s largest 200 companies to exploit intelligent apps and utilize the full toolkit of big data and analytics tools to refine their offers and improve customer experience.

Trend No. 3: Intelligent Things

New intelligent things generally fall into three categories: robots, drones and autonomous vehicles. Like intelligent apps, intelligent things could not exist without AI or ML. As intelligent things evolve and become more popular, they will shift from a stand-alone to a collaborative intelligent things model. However, nontechnical issues such as liability and privacy, along with the complexity of creating highly specialized assistants, will slow embedded intelligence in industrial IoT and other business scenarios.  Intelligent things will leverage AI and ML to interact with humans and surroundings. Prominent examples are self-driving cars, drones, the artifacts that will increasingly make up the smart kitchen and smart home. Gartner predicts that these will increasingly be woven together into a fabric that will enhance our lives.  What the future of interconnected devices will be in the home and our lives has been envisioned for more than a decade and we’re now getting to a point where the technology is catching up to that vision.


Trend No. 4: Virtual & Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) transform the way individuals interact with each other and software systems, deriving visual aspects from the digital mesh. For example, VR can be used for training scenarios. AR, which enables a blending of the real and virtual worlds, means businesses can overlay graphics onto real-world objects, such as hidden wires on the image of a wall.  Cearley says, “The landscape of immersive consumer and business content and applications will evolve dramatically through 2021. VR and AR capabilities will merge with the digital mesh to form a more seamless system of devices capable of orchestrating a flow of information that comes to the user as hyper-personalized and relevant apps and services. Integration across multiple mobile, wearable, Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor-rich environments will extend immersive applications beyond isolated and single-person experiences. Rooms and spaces will become active with things, and their connection through the mesh will appear and work in conjunction with immersive virtual worlds.”

Trend No. 5: Digital Twin

Within three to five years, billions of things will be represented by digital twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system. A digital twin operates at the intersection of metadata, condition or state, event data, and analytics. Using data provided by sensors, a digital twin creates a software model that understands its state, responds to changes, improves operations and adds value. Digital twins function as proxies for the combination of skilled individuals (e.g., technicians) and traditional monitoring devices and controls (e.g., pressure gauges). Their proliferation will require a cultural change, as those who understand the maintenance of real-world things must collaborate with data scientists and IT professionals who utilize digital twins.

Cearley predicts that within the next half decade, hundreds of millions of things will have digital twins. They will be used by enterprises to plan for equipment service, to operate factories, to predict when equipment will fail, to improve operational efficiency, and to aid new product development; they will become smart controls and monitoring for the operation to an ever increasing extent.

Trend No. 6: Blockchain

This one isn’t a shock as much press as we’ve seen this past eighteen months.  Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger in which value exchange transactions (in bitcoin or other token) are sequentially grouped into blocks. The “blockchain” term is hyped to include a loosely combined set of technologies and processes that variously spans middleware, database, security, analytics/AI, monetary and identity management concepts. Blockchain and distributed-ledger concepts are gaining traction because they hold the promise of transforming industry operating models in industries such as music distribution, identify verification and title registry. Bitcoin, however, is the only proven blockchain, and the majority of blockchain initiatives are in alpha or beta phases.


Trend No. 7: Conversational Systems

Conversational user interfaces (UIs) can range from simple informal, bidirectional conversations such as an answer to “What time is it” to more complex interactions such as collecting oral testimony from crime witnesses to generate a sketch of a suspect. Conversational systems utilize conversational UI, but not necessarily as the exclusive interface, enabling people and machines to use multiple modalities (e.g., sight, sound, tactile, etc.) to communicate across the digital device mesh (e.g., sensors, appliances, IoT systems).  Speaking of, there was a head-to-head between the Google Now Assistant released with the Pixel and iPhone’s Siri.  Apple has a lot of catching up to do.

Trend No. 8: Mesh App and Service Architecture

The intelligent digital mesh will require changes to the architecture, technology and tools used for solutions. The current solution is the mesh app and service architecture (MASA), a multichannel solution architecture that supports multiple users in multiple roles using multiple devices and communicating over multiple networks. These are apps and services architecture that are more loosely connected rather than linear, monolithic designs.  However, true digital businesses will need to come up with a more effective solution due to the MASA’s challenges.

Trend No. 9: Digital Technology Platforms

Digital technology platforms are the building blocks for a digital business and are necessary to break into digital. Every organization will have some mix of five digital technology platforms: Information systems, customer experience, analytics and intelligence, the Internet of Things and business ecosystems. Companies should identify how industry platforms will evolve and plan ways to evolve their platforms to meet the challenges of digital business.

Trend No. 10: Adaptive Security Architecture

The evolution of the intelligent digital mesh and digital technology platforms and application architectures means that security has to become fluid and adaptive, and the combination of the digital mesh with digital technology platforms creates a bigger attack surface for bad actors. Security in the IoT environment is particularly challenging. Security teams need to work with application, solution and enterprise architects to build security into the overall DevOps process to create a DevSecOps model.  As Cearley notes, “the IoT edge is a new frontier for many IT security professionals creating new vulnerability areas and often requiring new remediation tools and processes that must be factored into IoT platform efforts.”

This week’s TED talk involves a wearable bioelectronics monitor that could allow doctors to monitor patients at home with the same degree of accuracy as they’d get during their stay at a hospital, a direct application of several of the technologies outlined by Gartner.

Preview of Gartner’s 10 Strategic Tech Trends for 2017 + more


While the “official” tech trends for 2017 won’t be announced until the Gartner Symposium next week, I was able to track down a preview which I’ll share later – we’ll see how accurate they are.  But first, some of the news from this week:

Bill Gates has some thoughts on how he thinks the public and private sectors needs to interact with one another when it comes to innovation and as well where he thinks we need to be focusing our efforts to innovate.

ING, a major Dutch lender, has plans to replace 5,800 jobs with machines as part of what they calling a “digital transformation.” A few years back, it was posited that the banking industry was ripe for “computerization,” and now ING and others (including Commerzbank in Germany) are making good on those predictions.  Along with that is this article from HBR on three ways work can be automated and this other one on how technology will replace us all.  Oh, and it’s obviously not just happening in banking today – take a look at the latest eBay acquisition.

As I’ve noted before, Facebook decided to fire its human news editors and The Intersect has done some initial tracking and analysis to prove that since that change, Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news.  No real surprise there, given the level of maturity of AI and how far machine learning needs to come, but still a fair warning for those who rely on social media or entertainment mediums for their news.

Speaking of AI, Deepmind, a world leader in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact, has a post this week about some recent work they did around creating a differentiable neural computer.  Their hope was to create a learning machine that could organize information into connected facts and then use those facts to solve problems, which they were able to do.  Then there’s this article on how vector space mathematics helps machines spot sarcasm.  Next thing you know we’ll have Deep Thought at our command. But don’t worry, it hopefully won’t destroy the world.

I honestly don’t even know how to correlate this next article to anything fantastical in the world simply because it seems so incredulous – I tried to make a correlation to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Men In Black, but I’ll just leave this here: apparently the tech industry is becoming ever more consumed as to whether our existence is actually an algorithm.  Follow on to that the desire of two tech billionaires to destroy the universe.  While we’re talking about destroying the universe, take a moment to read this summary of The McFuture podcast’s interview with Jeremy Rifkin, as well as this piece on the future of cities.

Given all the news about cutting cords the past few weeks, Business Insider decided to outline how we can expect to see wireless technology evolve over the next ten years.

Wondering where the top talent in the tech industry will land next?  Fast Company has a good overview of past trends and what we can expect for 2017.

Apparently, at Gartner’s recent event in Cape Town, Stephen Prentice gave a preview of the expected trends for 2017.  As you recall, between 3D printing and machine learning, there was a robust list of predictions last year (which I revisited a few weeks ago).  While the preview of 2017’s trends features some of the same entries, there are a few new ones as well:

Conversational systems

Prentice says that conversational AI systems will form part of the so-called “Digital Mesh” – along with the next two entries on the list.

Prentice noted that there are expected to be at least 25 conversational AI systems by 2018, citing examples already such as Siri, Cortana and Amazon‘s Echo.

“These are generation one systems… They don’t always sort of seem to understand properly, what we say. But like all technology, it’s going to improve and it’s going to improve very rapidly,” Prentice explained. He adds that we could see these systems not only comprehending what we say, but what we mean.

Augmented and virtual reality

The past 12 months have seen virtual reality and augmented reality make headlines, such as Oculus Rift and the Gear VR for the former and Pokemon Go for the latter. Prentice expects this to continue its growth.

“The mobile phone, given its location-based capabilities, its cameras, its inertial sensors and so on, is becoming a very powerful tool for augmented reality,” Prentice elaborates. He adds that distracted smartphone users are even getting guidance in the form of “traffic lights” installed in Sydney pavements.

As for virtual reality, Prentice notes that we’re seeing more powerful VR headsets, being used for everything from immersive experiences, molecular modeling, and healthcare therapy.

Digital twin

“Every physical object in this environment is going to have a digital equivalent. As we do things to the physical object, the data from that is being collected… and that’s being replicated in a digital equivalent,” Prentice explains. However, Prentice says that over time, things might flow in the other direction (i.e. manipulation of digital objects having a real-world effect).

Prentice gives the example of having one wind turbine in the real-world, but using the digital world to test the effect of having many wind turbines. He also cited NASA testing new technologies as one example of the digital twin concept.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

“If you asked me for a personal point of view… which one stands out as the most significant, the most disruptive, I would have to say… it’s machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence,” Prentice elaborates.

“Over the last couple of years, and largely due to the impact of machine learning technologies, we’ve seen artificial intelligence give us capabilities, achieve things that, even a couple of years ago, we would’ve said were impossible,” he adds. He cites the example of DARPA’s autonomous vehicle challenge from just a decade ago, taking place in a desert and seeing many cars failing. And now the likes of Google and other companies are testing self-driving cars on public roads.

“The imminent expectation is that self-driving vehicles will be commonplace – not the majority – by the middle of the next decade.”

Prentice says that AI systems tasked with doing a specific thing are reaching a point where they can often be better than humans. But there are still reasons to use humans instead.

“In some cases, they’re (the AI system) is expensive. In some cases, it’s just a lot easier to have a person doing it. In some cases, there are regulatory reasons,” the Gartner analyst says.

Intelligent applications

When you combine AI and machine learning with applications, you get intelligent applications, Prentice explains.

These applications come in a variety of forms, such as robots, drones, chat bots/Siri/Cortana, smart sensors and smart appliances.

One specific example cited by Prentice includes a machine that visually analyses burger buns to improve quality.

Another example was the use of IBM’s Watson as a virtual advisor at Memorial Sloan Kettering, helping doctors determine treatment for cancer.

Intelligent things

“One of the challenges, in fact, is when we try to forecast the number of intelligent things being connected to the network, the reality is the vast majority of them have not yet been invented,” the Gartner representative noted. “They’re in categories that we don’t even think of.”

Some examples of intelligent things include intelligent MRI scanners and stethoscopes. The former could adjust settings based on the patient’s dimensions and details, while the latter is able to detect minor variations in vitals.

Adaptive security

This was one of the trends predicted for 2016, but Prentice says that this will continue to occur next year. He adds that adaptive security will entail the use of AI to help identify threats.

“Let’s be quite clear: the cyber threat is growing all the time. The more devices out there, the more weak points there are,” Prentice says.

“So this is an arms race, and it’s an arms race that, I have to say, the good guys are never going to win. Because the bad guys have access to exactly the same technology as the good guys and they don’t feel compelled to comply with the rules and regulations…”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as Prentice points to the auto industry’s recent focus on security as an example of manufacturers prioritizing the issue.

Blockchain and distributed ledger

“Blockchain is one of these things that’s at the peak of hype,” Prentice notes, before adding that it was providing a “decentralized, secure ledger of transactions”.

“It’s about adding trust, in an automated sense, into what is an otherwise untrustworthy environment,” he says, before stressing that it wasn’t “irrevocable”.

What about businesses wanting to use Blockchain technology? Prentice says you should be investigating the technology now.

“But at the same time, anything you do today… you should be expecting to replace in 18 months’ time.”

So if the technology is going to be changing that rapidly, why not investigate it later?

“That is an option, but we don’t believe that it’s a smart option. This is going to be an important technology, gaining some understanding into what it can do and how you might apply it, is going to be important,” Prentice explains.

Mesh app and service architecture

Gartner sees a future of “mesh type things, cloud-based servers… a lot of bots… small chunks of code… linking together in a variety of different ways”.

Prentice says that this type of architecture will allow for a different level of flexibility and faster development pace.

Digital technology platforms

When talking about digital technology platforms, Prentice said there were several main areas to take into account. These were internal systems (such as accounting systems, traditional IT), customer-facing systems (CRM, social media, websites) and the internet of things. And all of these systems will feed you or your company with intelligence.

Prentice also suggested a future where smart AI bots will become the customer. “My bot is going to be ordering products and services from your bot. So a lot of your customer relationship management is going to be turned on its head,” he added.

Prentice cautioned businesses against building an entire ecosystem of digital technology platforms on their own, calling on firms to find a “one-stop” solution instead.

Last this week is a TED talk by Jim Hemerling that speaks of five ways to lead in an era of constant change.  He contrasts the difference between how we view self-transformation versus organizational change – one we get excited about, the other we dread.

This Week in Google, Disney as a Service, Toward a constructive Technology Criticism + more

A photo by Kristopher Allison.

Google unveiled its full line of products for the fall this week, with everything from a new phone (Pixel) to an Alexa competitor.  It looks as though Google Home will give Amazon’s Alexa a run for its money, however, the more interesting piece is the release of Pixel.  What with Samsung rushing to production on the Note and subsequent exploding phones (there’s even a hack that lets you turn Molotov into Notes in Grand Theft Auto V) and Google’s forays into the space in the past, it makes sense that Google would want to provide what appears to be the best mobile phone released this year without any crud wear from the manufacturer. I doubt it’ll have any impact as phone makers want some of the ever-spreading Android ecosystem, but it’d be interesting if Samsung took the route of Lenovo with Microsoft when Lenovo announced this week that they’d not make a windows 10 Phone.  All that said, Stratechery has a good dive into what’s behind the release of Pixel.  That said, the way Google (or, actually, Alphabet) wants us to leverage their technology means a continued erosion of privacy.

So what happened when a global software company scoured its salary data to determine if there was gender bias its compensation model?  Well, SAP did just that, and no surprise, they found that of the 1% of all employees that were underpaid, 70% of them were women.  So they fixed it, increasing the salaries of all underpaid employees, to a total additional cost of about $1 million annually.

Ever wonder how countries like China or Russia are able to control the internet?  Quartz explores that question in detail for you, using the Arab Spring to demonstrate.

Bloomberg thinks that Jack Dorsey is losing control over at Twitter, and they make a good case.  After a year of trying to reimagine the product, little growth has been achieved.  On the flip side of that, says Vox, are Wall Street’s unrealistic expectations for Twitter.

HBR gives us a brief history of augmented reality this week, and for those of you who’ve ignored post after post about it because I’m boring, give them a read.

I wrote of Mark Zuckerberg’s recent trip to Nigeria, but Backchannel has the story behind it and what both he and Nigeria got out of the visit – Nigeria got much more than they could’ve dreamed.

There’s an amazing essay this week from Aeon about the United States Founding Fathers and how today we tend to treat them as though they were holy relics versus the revolutionaries they were.

Redef has an in-depth look at how Disney is closer than ever to achieving Walt Disney’s 60-year-old vision, turning itself into Disney as a Service.  There have been hiccups on the road, for sure, but Disney is closer than ever to being a company that sells entertainment ecosystems.

Most newspapers in the country seem to have been behind the times and scared of technology and its impact on the medium.  The New York Times, on the other hand, has embraced it and is thriving for it.

Being first to market with an idea typically costs more and also give you first-mover advantage.  The problem is that others get to see your successes and failures and capitalize on them.  Sometimes you have enough momentum and early adopters who are loyal to win the market, other times, especially if you are arrogant by nature, you can get your legs cut out from under you.  Uber has had some pretty staggering losses to date and still seems to be the dominant force.  It also has any number of companies, like Lyft and Juno nipping at its heels. Oh, and the Freakonomics podcast this week is about how Uber is an economist’s dream.   Three guesses as to why …

A few articles this week about startups and Silicon Valley; the first is one about how non-tech companies are getting tech-frenzied by San Francisco.  Another is about how Silicon Valley punishes innovators who don’t embrace the liberal agenda by a buddy of mine, another on the easy way versus the best way to build a startup, and the last captures why startup hubs outside of Silicon Valley are built to last.  Oh, and you know one thing Silicon Valley hasn’t been able to disrupt?  Craigslist.

John McAfee was in the news this week, although not for anything as flamboyant as you’d think – he was at a local Home Depot and saw that some hackers had exploited a security flaw on a fridge to get the touch screen to display pornographic material.  There are challenges with new technology like that often, and even more so with old tech and the doors left open for cyber attackers.

We’ve seen a lot of technology disruption in the past twenty years, this week Vox argues that we’ll see a whole lot less over the next twenty and why.

Another trip of articles on Artificial Intelligence: first from Wired on how to steal and AI, second from Forbes on how Baidu is benchmarking hardware for deep learning, and last from Venture Beat from a panel on how AI can help out the C-suite.

If we’re going to discuss AI, then we should discuss Data as well, and TechCrunch does so this week in an insightful way.

So last week Elon Musk laid out his plan to colonize Mars, and perhaps you think you’d like to go.  Well, The Verge went to the trouble of outlining both the level of training that might be needed and whether or not, truly, “anyone can go” as long as they are will to face a “really high” risk of fatality.

Theranos was in the news again this week, laying off 40% of its staff.  Read the letter from Elizabeth Holmes explaining why and take from it what you will.  To me, we saw the beginning of the end weeks ago, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Even as we see more and more of a move towards using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to help our world evolve, The Guardian this last week made the point that we’ll need human input in this world driven by algorithms, and outlines from their point of view as to why.

If you hadn’t heard, most information security folks are telling people to delete their Yahoo mail accounts this week after it came to light that Yahoo has been searching user emails with impunity.

Finally this week is a 30,000 plus word scholarly article assessing the current state of technology coverage and criticism in the media and elsewhere, and some ideas of how to move that discourse forward.  I share it not because I expect you to read it word for word, but take a moment to glance through the executive summary and then the ideas the author has towards how to salvage criticism of technology and the strategies for doing so constructively.  My hope is this will help you cut the wheat from the chaff when reading the many articles that come across our desktops every day when it comes to technology.

Oddly, both my nine and five-year-old this week came home talking to me about how they got to code this week.  I’m not surprised by the nine-year-old, as she went to a computer science camp this summer (and had a blast making her own games), but the five-year-old had me pleasantly surprised.  I later learned that what her school called “coding” wasn’t exactly, but it brought to mind again that we need to be encouraging our children, including young ones, to learn to code.  This TED talk with MIT professor Mitch Resnick talks about the benefits of doing so.

Musk’s Plan for Mars, Computer Chips that can Reprogram Themselves, How Goldman Sachs lost $1.2B of Libya’s Money + more


There’s quite a bit that’s reported on in a week, and when one misses a week because of a stomach bug, well, it leads to an even longer list for all of you.  I do hope to shift to more evergreen material in the future as time allows, but that said, here’s the round up for the last few weeks:

First, Elon Musk is at it again, this time with travel to Mars.  For the low-low price of $200k (later to be reduced to $100k), you can travel to the Red Planet.  Musk hopes to have the space program up and running in the next ten years “if things go super-well.”  Key to the success of this program?  Reusable rockets.  Ars technical notes that this is either a moment of audacity, madness, or brilliance, or perhaps all three for Musk.  CNET looks at the ethical questions around building a city on Mars – and they do make a reference to Space Jam in the process.

If you recently updated your phone OS, you likely had thirty-six pages of terms of service to read through, and it’s likely you didn’t bother.  Heck, I didn’t either.  There are some funny stories out there of companies and developers hiding jokes into their terms of service to highlight that no one ever reads them, but Quartz this week digs into how terms of service are actually changing ownership rights in a way that many of us don’t realize.  A good example of that is how John Deere owners can’t legally fix their own equipment, they are required to take it to a John Deere certified mechanic (at quite the price difference over a local shop).

Ever wondered how equity compensation works at a startup?  Fortune covers that here.

The Federal Reserve has failed, despite its best efforts over the past twenty year and three administrations, to stabilize inflation at the targeted 2%.  In the past four years it has stayed well below that, which those of you who studied economics at some point will realize speaks to a major issue in our economy: wage stagnation.  Don’t take my word for it, though, check out what Time said on the issue in 2015 and how New Constructs thinks the root of it is the Internet Economy.

As we’re on the topic of the internet, it seems that the police are raiding houses based on IP addresses … but the only issue is that sometimes those addresses can be spoofed or point to the wrong place.  Fusion had a piece a while back on a farm in Kansas that has the unfortunate fate of being the default address for MaxMind, an IP address tracker, for any IP address they couldn’t map.  MaxMind says its IP geolocation is inaccurate in the United States 12% of the time. That’s a bit more than a standard deviation, but there are extra steps the police can take, like seeking out additional information about who actually owns an IP address from an Internet Service Provider.

As a tag along to that, Venture Beat has a great article this week on how machine learning can help the security industry.  ML has been used successfully for implicit authentication, and if it lives up to the hype, it should be an excellent tool for addressing authentication-based hacks in the future.

Did you know that women launch more than half of all internet companies in China?  I certainly didn’t, and this article from Bloomberg explores the how.

Brexit hasn’t been as much of a headline of late, but The Guardian had a great article on the orchestrator of the movement and the long road he slogged.

Well, it seems the whole E-Waste recycling thing may be a sham (I don’t think this is really a shock to anyone), and Motherboard does a great job of digging deep into how the current system works and what the actual net value of many of those recyclable parts is.  That said, some good news to follow on: a UC Irvine Doctoral student accidentally invented a battery that lasts 400 years.  Seriously.  Four hundred years.

One of my oldest friends works for Illumina and so I’ve been hearing about their tech for a long while.  Fast Company has a good long read about the company this week – if you’ve ever looked at finding out who your ancestors were via genetic testing, they’re the ones who sell the machines that do the analysis.

Speaking of machine learning, one of the issues we face is the implicit gender bias that is created by our language and society and then can impact the results of even a simple search.  A group of researchers trained a machine learning system using Google news stories and then asked the question “Man is to Computer Programmer as Woman is to X.”  The answer the system came back with was homemaker.  This study revealed the bias that can be programmed into a newly created machine learning system based on the inputted data.  The team of researchers ended up having to (and were successful at) explicitly remove gender stereotypes from the embedding the machine learning algorithm was using.  This also speaks to why the AI that Microsoft unleashed on the world months ago went so hilariously awry.

Microsoft had a couple of interesting articles come out about it this week, including one about how Nadella thinks AI will transform Microsoft and another about computer chips that can reprogram themselves on the fly.  There’s a lot of hype around AI this year, so the latter article is more interesting to me for a few reasons: for one, it captures some of the culture that existed in Ballmer’s day at the reigns of the company and highlights the stark contrast under Nadella’s leadership.  Another is that the chips in question, FPGAs, let engineers build chips that are faster and less energy-hungry than an assembly-line, general-purpose CPUs, but customizable so they handle the new problems of ever-shifting technologies and business models.  Oh, and Microsoft also just announced yesterday that they are merging the Research, Bing, and Cortana divisions to create a 5000 person strong AI division.

Five thirty eight has a good piece this week on AI and bots, and it’s worth looking at just for the opening paragraph … you’ll see why.

Did you know that over 50 million people under the age of 21 are on the app and the app has over 11 million uploads a day with a user base of 120 million worldwide?  The New York Times had a good piece on the app recently, but Vice has a better one out this week, explaining both the popularity of the app and its potential impacts in the 13 – 24 demographic.

Remember Google Glass?  It’s likely that they were simply ahead of their time as I think we’ll see the how we use computers change drastically over the next ten years (especially with VR), but they failed nonetheless.  Now Snapchat is getting into the eyewear business, and there are varying opinions on whether they’ll see success.   Techcrunch spoke to the hopes and headaches of Snap, Inc.’s new frames, and Stratechery had a good piece this week on the future of wearables as a while.

Speaking of Google, they who shall “do no evil” have a plan to try and take down Amazon’s Echo that will be unveiled next week called Google Home.  It’ll be interesting to see if they can catch up where Amazon is so clearly in the lead.

HBR has a good overview of the platforms that are effectively disrupting businesses today.  Many of them won’t be a surprise to any of us, but what’s interesting is that the authors posit that it’s not traditional business being disrupted by platforms, but businesses which already play on a platform (albeit antiquated in some cases).  This leads to the conclusion that even platforms that are seeing success today can be disrupted and changed even further.

There’s a trio of articles to do with bandwidth and data speeds this week worth a read: Who Cares About 5G Wireless?  You Will, Why is America’s Internet So Slow?, and Teleportation across Calgary marks ‘major step’ toward creation of ‘quantum internet’.  That’s right … teleportation.  What’s most interesting is that in order for us to realize the full potential of the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality, how devices connect online we’re going to need a completely different way for those devices to do so, and with how the world is still going more and more mobile (even with odd claims that the mobile phone is dead out this week), that change is likely going to have to be on the order of the creation of the internet at Darpa or the iPhone by Apple for us to realize that potential.

Moving on to culture and values, there’s a great piece from GeekWire about how Zillow created a culture around six core values that empower employees and then another on how Warby Parker is getting better results by reducing managers’ control over their workers.  It seems that WP is taking some advice from GitHub.  Oh, and another one about Tower Paddle Boats, where the CEO made a commitment to five hour work days for his employees, and his employees have made up for that change by a marked increase in productivity.

There was also a bit of news in the past few weeks after the Federal Government released its thoughts on autonomous cars, leading to The Atlantic to remark that we’re entering a new era for the automobile, strategy+business to comment on the auto industry’s real challenge, the New York Times to state that in backing autonomous cars, the Fed has told automakers to figure it out, and last from O’Reilly their thoughts on how AI is propelling autonomous cars and what that means for the future of transport.

Bloomberg has a phenomenal, in-depth article into how Goldman Sachs lost $1.2 Billion of Libya’s money, but it’s interesting not just for the details of the deals that went awry, but also for how the article sets the stage and presents the history leading up to the deals as well.  All in all, well worth the long read.

No Ted talk this week, instead take seven minutes and watch Musk’s presentation on how we build out a space exploration program that will take us to Mars.



Uber’s Driverless Cars go live, Apples, Apples everywhere, Revisiting Gartner’s Top Ten for 2016 + more


As we get close to Q4 in 2016 and the release of Gartner’s Top Ten Tech Trends for 2017, I thought it’d be good to take a look back at what they predicted for 2016  to refresh our memories plus share a few articles from the world this week.  First, the news:

Uber is now letting riders experience their autonomous cars in Pittsburg.  This article highlights what the experience is like – while the writer felt safe for most of his drive, he was glad he could override the technology a couple of times as well.  It’s pretty cool to see the technology being leveraged, including LiDar on every vehicle.

The income and poverty report for 2015 came out this week, and good news: we’re as rich as we were in 1998.  Aside from the cheeky and insightful analysis from the New Yorker, there is good news in the report, although tempered.  I’ve not had a chance to finish it yet, but you can find the entire thing here if you’d like to dig in.

I, apparently, need to get a job with Wells Fargo … well, no, I don’t because I missed the window to cash in on a $124M bonus package for defrauding customers, costing the company a nearly $200m fine.

Microsoft beat Facebook in, of all places, Github with open source code submissions.  Why is that a big deal?  Well, this is the company that, under Gates and Ballmer, tried their hardest convince CIOs that open source was rife with issues.  Well, under Nadella that has changed.

There are two articles worth a look this week from HBR: to succeed in tech, women need more visibility and how cybersecurity is every executive’s job.  Definitely take the time to read the first article, as it points to an ongoing epidemic of sorts for tech companies: the highest-profile losses in tech are those at the senior level. Women at these levels “often are less satisfied with their careers, perceive that they are unlikely to advance at their current organizations, or believe they must change jobs in order to reach the next level.”

A round up of some Apple articles for the week: first, I’ve downloaded iOS 10 and between the price of the 7 for lack of innovation and some of the “features” of that new OS, it might be enough to push me off the platform, but at least I was able to get it to install.  Next, apparently the “boys” of 1 Infinite Loop are rethinking autonomous cars.  I used quotes there because then there’s this piece on leaked emails that shows how Apple is still a sexist and toxic workplace for women.  There are a few others, including how Apple will leverage ear buds to make Siri smarter, that the age of Apple is over, and what’s next for Apple now that smartphone sales continue to decline, much less stratechery’s look at beyond the iPhone.  But I feel like I buried the lead there – Cook may be much admired, but there’s critical work to be done at Apple to get rid of the “bro” culture that we thought was only an epidemic as Unicorns.

There’s a good piece this week about the state of computer science education in the United States.  While it’s important to look at how primary education is filling the pipeline of secondary education in computer science (and, thereby, industry), we also need to face the reality that we’re moving towards a degree-less future in development in part and figure out how to enable future success without straddling another generation with unnecessary debt.

Tesla and Elon Musk have been in the news of late (what with the acquisition of Solar City).  Curious about the future of the company?  Check it out here.  Hint: we’re back to autonomous cars.

For those afraid of AI, Venture Beat has an opinion piece this week about how it can actually save us from future stock market failures.

Now for Gartner:

Gartner defines a strategic technology trend as one with the potential for significant impact on the organization. Factors that denote significant impact include a high potential for disruption to the business, end users or IT, the need for a major investment, or the risk of being late to adopt. These technologies impact the organization’s long-term plans, programs and initiatives.

The top 10 strategic technology trends for 2016 are the device mesh, ambient user experience, 3D printing materials (hmmm), information of everything, advanced machine learning, autonomous agents and things, adaptive security architecture, advances system architecture, mesh app and service architecture, and IoT platforms

 The Device Mesh

The device mesh refers to an expanding set of endpoints people use to access applications and information or interact with people, social communities, governments and businesses. The device mesh includes mobile devices, wearable, consumer and home electronic devices, automotive devices and environmental devices — such as sensors in the Internet of Things (IoT).

While devices are increasingly connected to back-end systems through various networks, they have often operated in isolation from one another. As the device mesh evolves, we expect connection models to expand and greater cooperative interaction between devices to emerge.

 Ambient User Experience

The device mesh creates the foundation for a new continuous and ambient user experience. Immersive environments delivering augmented and virtual reality hold significant potential but are only one aspect of the experience. The ambient user experience preserves continuity across boundaries of device mesh, time and space. The experience seamlessly flows across a shifting set of devices and interaction channels blending physical, virtual and electronic environment as the user moves from one place to another.

 3D Printing Materials

Advances in 3D printing have already enabled 3D printing to use a wide range of materials, including advanced nickel alloys, carbon fiber, glass, conductive ink, electronics, pharmaceuticals and biological materials. These innovations are driving user demand, as the practical applications for 3D printers expand to more sectors, including aerospace, medical, automotive, energy and the military. The growing range of 3D-printable materials will drive a compound annual growth rate of 64.1 percent for enterprise 3D-printer shipments through 2019. These advances will necessitate a rethinking of assembly line and supply chain processes to exploit 3D printing.

 Information of Everything

Everything in the digital mesh produces, uses and transmits information. This information goes beyond textual, audio and video information to include sensory and contextual information. Information of everything addresses this influx with strategies and technologies to link data from all these different data sources. Information has always existed everywhere but has often been isolated, incomplete, unavailable or unintelligible. Advances in semantic tools such as graph databases as well as other emerging data classification and information analysis techniques will bring meaning to the often chaotic deluge of information.

 Advanced Machine Learning

In advanced machine learning, deep neural nets (DNNs) move beyond classic computing and information management to create systems that can autonomously learn to perceive the world, on their own. The explosion of data sources and complexity of information makes manual classification and analysis infeasible and uneconomic. DNNs automate these tasks and make it possible to address key challenges related to the information of everything trend.

DNNs (an advanced form of machine learning particularly applicable to large, complex datasets) is what makes smart machines appear “intelligent.” DNNs enable hardware- or software-based machines to learn for themselves all the features in their environment, from the finest details to broad sweeping abstract classes of content. This area is evolving quickly, and organizations must assess how they can apply these technologies to gain competitive advantage.

 Autonomous Agents and Things

Machine learning gives rise to a spectrum of smart machine implementations — including robots, autonomous vehicles, virtual personal assistants (VPAs) and smart advisors — that act in an autonomous (or at least semiautonomous) manner. While advances in physical smart machines such as robots get a great deal of attention, the software-based smart machines have a more near-term and broader impact. VPAs such as Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri are becoming smarter and are precursors to autonomous agents. The emerging notion of assistance feeds into the ambient user experience in which an autonomous agent becomes the main user interface. Instead of interacting with menus, forms and buttons on a smartphone, the user speaks to an app, which is really an intelligent agent.

 Adaptive Security Architecture

The complexities of digital business and the algorithmic economy combined with an emerging “hacker industry” significantly increase the threat surface for an organization. Relying on perimeter defense and rule-based security is inadequate, especially as organizations exploit more cloud-based services and open APIs for customers and partners to integrate with their systems. IT leaders must focus on detecting and responding to threats, as well as more traditional blocking and other measures to prevent attacks. Application self-protection, as well as user and entity behavior analytics, will help fulfill the adaptive security architecture.

 Advanced System Architecture

The digital mesh and smart machines require intense computing architecture demands to make them viable for organizations. Providing this required boost are high-powered and ultraefficient neuromorphic architectures. Fueled by field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) as an underlining technology for neuromorphic architectures, there are significant gains to this architecture, such as being able to run at speeds of greater than a teraflop with high-energy efficiency.

 Mesh App and Service Architecture

Monolithic, linear application designs (e.g., the three-tier architecture) are giving way to a more loosely coupled integrative approach: the apps and services architecture. Enabled by software-defined application services, this new approach enables Web-scale performance, flexibility and agility. Microservice architecture is an emerging pattern for building distributed applications that support agile delivery and scalable deployment, both on-premises and in the cloud. Containers are emerging as a critical technology for enabling agile development and microservice architectures. Bringing mobile and IoT elements into the app and service architecture creates a comprehensive model to address back-end cloud scalability and front-end device mesh experiences. Application teams must create new modern architectures to deliver agile, flexible and dynamic cloud-based applications with agile, flexible and dynamic user experiences that span the digital mesh.

 Internet of Things Platforms

IoT platforms complement the mesh app and service architecture. The management, security, integration and other technologies and standards of the IoT platform are the base set of capabilities for building, managing and securing elements in the IoT. IoT platforms constitute the work IT does behind the scenes from an architectural and a technology standpoint to make the IoT a reality. The IoT is an integral part of the digital mesh and ambient user experience and the emerging and dynamic world of IoT platforms is what makes them possible.

I was in the midst of a conversation with a colleague yesterday when we both noticed an ant on the wall next to us.  We both watched it for a few moments before I “helped” it to the ground so it could get where it was going faster.  It reminded me of this TED talk by Deborah Gordon where she explores how ant life provides a useful model for learning about many other topics, including disease, technology, and the human brain.

Math is Racist, The End of the Bossless Workplace?, The Robot Economy + more

A photo by Steven Wei.

There are a trio of interesting articles to challenge ourselves with first this week: first from Cathy O’Neil via CNN (and other sources) about how math is racist and algorithms and big data are helping to perpetuate the poverty gap.  From targeted advertising and insurance to education and policing, O’Neil looks at how algorithms and big data are targeting the poor, reinforcing racism and amplifying inequality in her new book “Weapons of Math Destruction.”  Second up is one where researchers found that when artificial intelligence judges a beauty contest, white people win.  The why and the how behind racial preference is being programmed in to the AI platforms is what’s interesting.  Those first articles and the thought process that follows then brings into question the last, or at least, the real impact that artificial intelligence has on customer service – there is a great deal of potential, for sure, but companies have to be wary that their AI doesn’t then created a different, biased experience based on race and gender.

Vanity Fair this week has an exclusive look at how the Theranos house of cards came tumbling down.  It’s a story of silos and secrecy, among other things, and how silos and secrecy got in the way of any defense Theranos and Holmes, the founder, could mount.

Speaking of broken cultures, Inc. has an article this week about startup culture being broken and what to do about it now.

While there is some question as to the all-powerful nature of the mighty Blockchain, this article from Bloomberg unpacks what magical properties it might have.

With the Rio Olympics having come to a close, we get to the real question of the day: if we were to hold the Olympics of Programming today, which country would win and what would the US’s medal ranking be?  You’re likely not surprised to discover it isn’t even close to the top ten.  Not that it needs reinforcement, but we need to add coding to the curriculum earlier in the US.

While Uber is dominant by a wide margin in the US market, there are others out there seeing success in Europe and elsewhere, like Gett, an Israeli ride sharing company that looks to strengthen its hold on Europe and slowly make its way into the US.

As we awake to news of an earthquake off the shores of North Korea, it might bring to mind “the big one” we all fear – most people think of the San Andreas fault or if you’re from the Midwest, like me, the New Madrid fault line.  The New Yorker has an article on another: the Cascadia subduction.  It’s a really well written piece with a good look at the science and impact of that big one.

Many of us have heard about the “great experiment” at companies like Medium, Zappos, and GitHub in holocracy, where an organization is completely flat and there are no leaders.  There are champions and detractors alike, and one of those champions was Chris Wanstrath of GitHub, which started as a bossless culture in 2008 but who two years ago gathered the employees of his software startup to inform them they were all getting bosses.  That said, GitHub still pushes the traditional structure and is experimenting as they can and holocracy at Zappos has for all intents and purposes failed – just ask those leaving the company.  The obvious bigger question lies around how big is too big for a completely flat structure and when do the benefits get outweighed by the faults?

Popular Science does a great job profiling Chris White, the man who lit the dark web, this week, and how data mining is helping cops bust open online human trafficking.  On the subject of online predators, if you’re a parent (or not), take the time to read this article about the subject from the Washington Post.

There’s a pair of articles this week from Bloomberg about the state of the world economy this week: first, how manufacturing and now services are signaling fractures in the US economy and then how Saudi Arabia is on a cost-cutting spree looking to cut $20 billion in projects this year due to slow economic growth and low oil prices.

John Kotter’s name comes up frequently in the world of business and with good reason given his impact on how we run organizations and get organizations to change.  Organizational change management can be a tough nut to crack even when you have intent about it (and organizations fail to change when they ignore it), and this week strategy+business asked Kotter what his required reading was when it comes to change, and the list is short but insightful.  Also from s+b this week is this article on fostering online trust.

Well, the unthinkable has come to pass: the FCC has abandoned the set top box in favor of apps.  It’s not a surprising shift, just surprising that a government entity is an early adopter of sorts.  This shift should be a boon for consumers and cable providers alike.  Time will tell.

So, headphone jacks.  That seems to be the big news everyone is taking away from the Apple event Wednesday and with good reason.  While there are proponents and detractors, one of the bigger complaints is how one can’t charge their phone while using corded headphones.  Maybe Apple is becoming a company focused solely on increasing revenue and not innovation anymore, but recall that when the original iPod came out it didn’t work with most headphone because the jack was set so deeply in the device.  That changed, and it’s likely that wireless charging is what we can expect with the iPhone 8.

Ransomware continues to be an epidemic, but enSilo has a plan that should eliminate 70% of those attacks – learn more from Fortune.

There’s an interesting article from Fast Company about how Microsoft is trying to find and hire autisctic coders.

Last this week is an opinion piece this week outlining how the robot overlords aren’t, in fact, bearing down on us nor will the implementation of robots lead to mass unemployment as some naysayers have claimed.  While an opinion, there is plenty of data to back it up through the article.  Thea reality is that the robots are coming and we need to start planning and training our workforces now to avoid the feared obsolescence of the future.  Along with that, The Guardian explores how our three life stages will not survive much longer.

Speaking of progress, the politics around any progress brings about risk in many ways and on many levels.  Instead of avoiding that risk, however, journalist Jonathan Tepperman says we might even want to think riskier. He traveled the world to ask global leaders how they’re tackling hard problems — and unearthed surprisingly hopeful stories that he’s distilled into three tools for problem-solving featured in this TED talk.

Transportation as a Service, Apple vs. the EU, Delta gets smart about luggage + more


Last week there was a bit a news around Uber losing a bit of money in the first half of 2016.  This week, news came out about Google’s own efforts to undercut Uber in San Francisco in the ride-sharing game leveraging its Waze app.  That goes a ways to explain why David Drummond exited from Uber’s board, and this week Stratechery has a great article on the evolution of transportation as a service.  Mind you, Google would be wise to focus on first/last mile issues like Uber and Lyft, and at the same time might not avoid “doing evil” in that pursuit.

Speaking of cars, did you know that earlier this year for the first time the net adds of connected cars surpassed that of smartphones in the US.  This all points to how connected cars are going to become revenue machines, or so says TechCrunch, and I think they’re on to something.

If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m a bit of a geek and I like learning about obscure or trivial things.  I like it when writers connect disparate concepts in new and insightful ways.  While these aren’t obscure, this article from Business Insider that walks through the seventeen equations that changed the world was right up my alley.

If you hadn’t heard, there’s a strike today in India which has shut down most of the country.  The strikes were driven by the belief that Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, is pursuing anti-labor policies.  Entire cities have been shut down, with transportation and banks hit hardest.  On top of that, add this article about how Tata and Infosys are starting to feel the Brexit heat and you start to see the potential storm that could hit India’s economy.

There was a great interview this week from recode with Quip CEO Bret Taylor, not just because it explores his belief that companies die when they are afraid to fail, but also for his statement that you have to aggressively recruit a diverse workforce from the start or you will fail at employee diversity.  Popular Science has a piece this week that speaks to hiring diversity in Silicon Valley as well.

I gave an overview a while back on artificial intelligence and the difference between narrow and general intelligence.  The reality is we just don’t know how far we are out from having AGI, which is likely the next internet or iPhone level innovation.  The New Yorker’s Om Malik explores the hope and hype of AI this week, and the thing that struck home for me most was this “computers do the best they can (that is being consistent, objective, precise), and humans do our best (creative, imprecise but adaptive).”  That’s the best description I’ve heard of the disconnect, and the reason why even when we achieve AGI the human race is so interesting – because we’re imprecise but adaptive.

Along with that is this article on how Facebook is trying to catch up with Google in open-sourcing AI code and then an inside look at how artificial intelligence and machine learning work at Apple.

The first software startup was founded in 1892.  Well, not really, but that kind of hyperbole catches the eye, doesn’t it?  Well, GE is that software startup, and while they just started their push to be competitive with Google and Microsoft a few years ago, they’re serious about it, to the tune of billions of dollars and thousands of people.

Speaking of click bait and hyperbole, ever wondered how government agencies can hack into your smartphone?  Well, here’s a story of how hackers from the NSA got caught doing exactly that.

You may have heard the news this week that the EU has levied a 13 Billion Euro tax on Apple for back taxes.  Apple’s response?  That the EU can either have their back taxes or jobs, but not both.  Robert Reich explores why it is so difficult for governments to stand up to Apple (and others), while The New Yorker walks through how Apple created Ireland’s economies, “real and fantastical.”  If you are wondering how Apple and others avoid paying taxes, Wired has you covered, while 9to5 Mac discusses how tone deaf Tim Cook’s response to the findings are.

There’s an interesting question that keeps popping up: why is consumer tech ignoring baby boomers?  While millennials are an important market share, the people with the money are their parents, and yes, millennials may end up inheriting a gob smacking amount of wealth, it seems short sighted to keep ignoring a generation with money to spend today for the generation that will spend money tomorrow.

Mark Zuckerberg is not a happy man this week.  You’ve likely heard about the latest SpaceX rocket explosion, and that that rocket had a Facebook satellite as its payload.  Apparently, Zuck is “deeply disappointed” that the satellite was lost, although likely not because of the $195M price tag.  Nope, it’s more to do with his mission to bring internet access to Africa, and his belief in Nigeria’s tech industry.

Did you hear the one about Amazon leasing its own fleet of airplanes?  What about the drones (even pizza delivery!)?  To date Amazon has been great business for UPS and FedEx, but the times they may be changing.

Here’s an interesting fact for you this week: 90% of software developers live outside of Silicon Valley.  It only makes sense when you think about it, but often we don’t.  What about this: in five years, the Midwest will have more startups than Silicon Valley.

So, oddly, airlines are finally catching up with warehouses and supply chain management in that Delta is using RFID tags to track baggage.  The eventual hope is that RFID tags will be incorporated into luggage at manufacture so that we, the consumer, can register our bags ourselves to take that burden off the airlines, but we’re a bit away from that.  It’s nice to see that at least one airline is finally catching on.

We all have biases, conscious or sub, and when we do become aware of them, then we face the challenge of overcoming them.  In this TED talk, Vernā Myers looks closely at our attitudes towards out-groups and how we can move towards the groups that make us uncomfortable.

VLC, interscatter communication, and Wi-Fi: what’s next?, Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication, How (and why) to Set Up a VPN + more


That may be one of the nerdiest post titles yet, but here we go …

As Google Fiber rethinks its approach to rolling out ubiquitous, high-speed internet access, it seems a good time to take a look at what technology options are out there aside from Wi-Fi given the current limitations of that technology.  Visible light and interscatter communications are both new technologies that are showing promise for a variety of reasons, although when I first read about VLC I have to admit I had a second of “but the lasers will melt my eyes.”  Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched all of Stranger Things this last week.

The Boston Globe (Go Red Sox!) had a great article this week on staying ahead of technologies curves; the article is more about who is keeping us on track when it comes to staying on the right side of technology versus the nefarious side and the Office of Technology Assessment.

Have you ever thought about how trust affects economic prosperity?  I mean, there has to be a belief in the strength of the dollar to keep us away from hyper-inflation as we moved away from the gold standard decades ago.  It makes sense that part of the reason why the developed world has been sustainable is because we trust the strength of those economies, while the failure of Brazil, Russia, India, and even China to take off to the extreme expected in that famous Goldman Sachs BRICs report might be because we, as a world, don’t trust those countries governments.  Tim Hartford explores trust in the Airbnb age and what it means with regards to prosperity.

One would expect that given Amazon’s dominance of eCommerce over the past fifteen years that the data collected from all those transactions would fuel an AI beast never before seen.  True, but their newest AI, DSSTNE, has only been in use since 2014 and holds much more promise given how successful Alexa has been and while the drones are coming, it appears they might be delivering pizza first.

Did you know that Uber lost $1.27 billion dollars globally in the first half of 2016?  And while Uber had a profitable first quarter in North America, in its quest to corner the ridesharing market, it lost $100 million domestically in the second quarter.  This is driven by steep price discounts and promotional fares for consumers that are subsidized by Uber’s investors as it tries to dominate the market (and drive Lyft out of it) while it figures out a business model.  What’s clear is that the current ride-sharing model isn’t sustainable, the question is can we get to autonomous vehicles fast enough for either company to survive.

Speaking of autonomous cars, there’s two articles this week of interest: one about how the co-opting of dedicated radio airwaves that would enable vehicle-to-vehicle communications, technology that has the potential to greatly reduce the number of accidents and deaths caused by them on an annual basis and another on how automakers are approaching a “fork in the road” when it comes to autonomous car design.   Curious about how the radio spectrum is auctioned off and how economists saved it from anarchy when it first become an open market?  Read about it here.

Curious on “what’s next” from an innovation standpoint? MIT Technology Review profiles 35 of the top innovators under 35 in this article.  It runs the gamut from robotics to sweatbands that monitor your health.  Oh, and there’s also their ranking of the 50 smartest companies for 2016.

Just as we learn more about how AI is being used at Apple, the Wall Street Journal walks us through how China is ramping up and investing in AI.

I posted a couple of articles by Alex Danco last week; here are the follow up articles on the paradigm shift machine (driver culture to car culture and in a world of energy mainframes).  Oh, and along those lines, there is no tech industry.

Ever heard of Fordlandia?  If so, you can explore other lost cities here.  If like me you hadn’t, check out the story behind it here.

I’ve posted a few articles about how individuals can use social engineering to both hack into your home system or steal your identity, but the reality is there are completely legal ways for someone to find out who you are and exploit that information that don’t involve breaking the law to that point.  There’s a series of videos on YouTube where a user does exactly that, and this interview discusses where those holes are.  One of the first things you can do is set up a virtual private network (VPN), which is a method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like WiFi Hotspots and the Internet.  PC World has a good step-by-step guide to help you set one up or you can use a site like

I feel like a broken record on blockchain, but this week’s TED talk from Don Tapscott does an excellent job of breaking down the technology and clarifying how it works.  Tapscott has authored or co-authored 15 books about various aspects of the reshaping of our society and economy.  Give it a watch.