Five positive hi-tech resolutions for 2018
Revolutionary ideas always seem to be just around the corner in the hi-tech world, and yet, at times a few subtle changes could make a difference in our everyday life
di Carolina Milanesi* / la Stampa Tecnologia
My personal hi-tech bucket list for 2018 is likely to be very long, but I can summarize it in five fundamental points: more diversity, more technology for the greater good, a virtual assistant really able to communicate, more “smart-ready” devices and solutions and an end to all passwords.
I’m quite prepared to sound like a broken record, but when it comes to "diversity" in the hi-tech sector as far as female and ethnic presence are concerned, too little has changed, and I intend to continue to talk about it until we see significant changes. It's true, in 2017 many more women have taken the stage during hi-tech shows and events. Surely this must be considered a step forward, you might say. Not really. Most of those women were usually invited by a male superior (often older), to give a simple demonstration of the product. There were some exceptions, of course, like Angela Ahrendts during the recent launch of the iPhone and Julia White at Microsoft Ignite. However, one simply has to look at those events on Twitter and see how much attention was devoted to their clothing to realize just how far we still have to go. Diversity in the technological field should reflect the diversity found also in corporate “control rooms”, and should not be aimed solely at illustrating the annual reports on rising female presence in companies. Large corporations should seek this diversity shaping a more inclusive and less elitist future. An awakening of consciences and a renewed awareness in favour of diverse leadership in the sector is my first hope for 2018.
For the greater good
I have seen many extraordinary innovations capable of improving the lives of people suffering from chronic illnesses or just making the place we live in more user friendly. From 3D printed artificial limbs, to medicines delivered with drones, wearable devices able to reduce tremors not to mention apps able to show the world around us: the number of companies engaged in producing products and services for the good of society are many indeed, and yet we see that, more often than not, technological innovations are used to make the lives of those who already have much, a lot more comfortable. Although some may conclude that this is none other than the reflection of what the hi-tech sector is mostly focused on, I sincerely hope this may be just a communication problem. It is much more engaging to talk about a gadget that allows you to take the best selfie ever, than a smartwatch that helps people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders to sleep at night.
I would really like to know more about what hi-tech companies are planning to do in 2018 to help solve the world’s problems. Some of these innovations come directly from start-ups, and therefore need to receive the widest possible acknowledgement, with dedicated spaces in specialized conferences, interviews in the most popular podcasts and greater press coverage. Greater awareness of what good can be done with technology might do more than improve and save the lives of many, it could even inspire a growing number of young men and women to follow their technological vocation in an attempt to do good to others and not just to become millionaires at the age of 20 years.
A virtual assistant able of communicating
I have used nearly all existing virtual assistants launched on the market. When and how I use them depends greatly on where I am and what I am doing. Despite the fact that many virtual assistants are actually able to do what they promise, there is one thing I sincerely detest: a near total absence of context. All big companies tell us that if you ask their virtual assistant what is the weather like in Turin and then ask for information on things to do there, there is no need to repeat the name of the city to get a reasonable enough answer. However the truth is that in most cases this just isn’t true. If I ask Siri "tell him, see you soon", while responding to a message from my husband, it will re-write the whole sentence word by word, rather than just "see you soon".
In addition, I don’t see why, in 2018, I still need to adapt to the understanding and processing mechanisms of voice commands. I mean, I really wish I could talk like I usually do. And when they are not able to understand a request, it would be great if my assistants could use artificial intelligence to understand what I meant based on my previous requests. Instead of answering me with an obscure and unrelated word, they might try to guess one that is closest to my way of speaking. I do not expect to enjoy a ten-minute conversation with my virtual assistants. I simply wish that my digital interlocutor would stop sounding like little fish Dory in Pixar films.
Artificial intelligence is everywhere. Or so we are told. Even Meccano has started to advertise new toys "equipped with artificial intelligence". However, most of what we would like to see moved by artificial intelligence shows very few signs of any brain activity. If artificial intelligence in specific applications can be considered quite common, context-aware AI devices compatible with multiple and truly customized devices are still moving their first steps. I also have the impression that we are focusing far too much on developments that will take place in the next five years, neglecting to consider what could be done now. Self-driving cars are perhaps the best example. We are so enthralled by the prospect of not having to drive that we end up losing sight of what we can already do with the technology at our disposal.
In 2018 I would like to see cars that are an extension of an equally connected home. For those who are forced to drive every day, their car is an attachment of their home. Some even end up spending more time in the car than at home. It should come as no surprise then if I would like my car and my home be able to exchange information about my day, my musical preferences, what I like and do not like. I do not expect my car to be able to tell my fridge to prepare a glass of wine to comfort me after a particularly stressful trip. But I do expect that my car can autonomously control my home’s lights and thermostat as I'm about to arrive. And my virtual home assistant, upon realizing that my car is approaching, should be in the position to ask me to identify myself, then open the garage door and transfer any phone call in progress or the radio program I’m listening to, to the domestic network.
Another example: our homes are often connected but not necessarily smart. Last week I had to change the SSID of my Wi-Fi and reconnect all my devices. Now, why it is not possible to share the password after setting the first device remains a mystery to me. It should not be that complicated. If my iOS 11 iPhone can share the password of my Wi-Fi network with my iPad or a guest's Apple device, why shouldn’t my smart home devices be able to do the same?
No more passwords
If you have ever tried Apple's Face ID, Windows Hello or Samsung's iris scanner, you'll probably appreciate the efficiency of these new features. Face ID, in particular, can make you forget that your face has just unlocked your phone. These new forms of recognition systems, along with the growing need to protect an equally growing number of sensitive information, legitimizes the desire for a more practical system compared to the old passwords. In 2018 I would really like to be able to use my face, iris or my finger in as many situations as possible, and looking at the speed with which system developers have adopted the Face ID system rekindles my hope that soon enough we will be able to do away with passwords. However, I have a feeling that my hopes might go unfulfilled, just as in the case of a unified Wi-Fi connection for all my devices. Not because of technical limitations, mind you, but because of the usual territorial wars between producers and the limitations imposed by several platforms.
* Carolina Milanesi works as an analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc. She deals with hardware and services as well as software and platforms. She was previously responsible for KantarWorldpanel’s research programs and Vice President of Gartner’s Consumer Appliances Research. Her articles are often found on Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, and is often a guest on the BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox and NBC News and other television stations.