The Triumvirate

gmaWe might like to admit it, but there are basically three big tech companies we will have to deal with for the foreseeable future because they will influence our personal tech choices. You know the three – Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The truth is they have been around for a while and it is more than likely you have one or more pieces of their technology on your computer or in your home.

Google is getting involved in everything from driverless cars to trying to reintroduce an improved Google Glass for the general public. I think they will have to reconsider the price tag though. Apple has their Apple Watch along with a continuing steam of smartphones people line up to get. Microsoft seems to be lagging behind these two, the biggest reason being that they were late to get into the mobile device game.

You should notice that all three companies are more invested in the hardware side of technology than the software or apps. One of the reasons is that many apps require being connected to the Internet, and that is an essential feature of any consumer technology. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept that is making connectivity essential even for the maintenance of home appliances. From a business viewpoint, hardware is where the money is.

The good news in all this is even though these three get most of our attention (and money) the prices we pay for technology have gone down over the years. Smartphones pack in more features with each new upgrade, and storage of our data can be done outside of our computing device to be accessed anywhere in the world. We don’t think much of all of this but at the same time our lives are built around having the technology. It is more than a little weird.

Should we thank the Triumvirate? I’m not so sure about that just yet. Here’s the thing. Their technology has benefitted our personal lives in so many ways. Just considering Google’s search engine, how many times do you use it in a single day and what would you do without it? I think I made my point. We have become dependent on these three companies and in the process have lost something as well.

Do we really know what is being stored on our computers with all their updates? None of the Triumvirate can seem to solve the problem of making our computers secure from hackers and viruses. It’s interesting that these issues are mostly about the software, not the hardware that is their cash cow.

That seems to leave us with the problem of getting quality stuff for cheap, but having to feel less secure about using the devices whether it is a laptop or smartphone. There aren’t a lot of choices for a smartphone operating system, the most popular provided by the Triumvirate. The same with Internet search engines. Then there is the cost, where before our old phones begin to show signs of wear, there is a newer model out that offers greater promise.

As much as I appreciate what they have done for us, I would feel more secure if they focused more on getting things right than moving faster. I realize the profit motive here, but I think most people prefer that their technology serve them rather than the other way around. Maybe it is just me.

AI: It is coming

robotAI is an abbreviation for artificial intelligence, the code that programmers use to make computers think like and then act like humans. One type of AI that made the news a few years ago was a chess program that beat the human world chess champion. (My dad plays a lot of chess, even though he isn’t that good at it.) Now they have built chess computers that are smaller and have the same ability to win against the best human players.

Japan is a country that is doing a lot of cool stuff with AI. They have built robots that can work in hospitals and other robots that will act as a food server. If you follow what the Japanese are doing with AI you will discover some really useful applications that are both practical and innovative. I’m not sure about how much the technology costs or if they have any plans to mass produce some of these robots, but there is definitely a lot of experimenting going on over there.

Not that the United States isn’t doing things. I remember seeing a robot dog built by Google that was being tested. This guy was kicking this metal robot that looked a lot like a dog – four legs and all. It’s not like you would want to pet it or anything, but it definitely looked like a dog. The guy kicked it on its side and it fell over. Then, it got back up on its own using its four metal legs, just like a regular dog.

I don’t know about you, but watching that was really creepy. First, how did they get the robot to act like a dog? But then watching it you started to actually think of it as a dog. Somehow it didn’t seem right for the guy to be kicking it, even though it wasn’t really a living creature. But being American, the dog robot was being developed for military use to carry gear across different terrains. But it shows you where AI is going.

Wounded soldiers who are coming home from war are being fitted with bionic devices that respond just like the actual body part. Some technologies have sensors that detect the muscle movements and so know how to respond automatically. It’s pretty amazing stuff. Of course, it is also expensive, so unless you have a lot of money or can get into a program that will fit you with the device for cheap, it can’t be on your shopping list. Now that I think about it, I hope you never have to decide if you want one or not.

But AI is in many places, especially some of the newer home technologies. If you haven’t heard of IoT, it stands for the Internet of Things. Many manufacturers of home appliances are incorporating this technology that performs computing tasks without human interaction. For example, you might have a thermostat in your home that turns the furnace on at certain times during the day. Now consider an AI thermostat that will start the furnace after you walk in the door, and sets the temperature by reading how cold your skin is. After you warm up, then thermostat sensor reads your temperature again and lowers the heat. You do not need to do anything except install the device.

There is a future of AI, and the biggest companies in the world are starting to make it happen in all of our lives.