Disruptive Innovation

MIT researchers trained AI to write horror stories based on 140,000 Reddit posts

3 November 2017

From Quartz:

Sometimes the scariest place to be is your own mind. Or Reddit at night.

Shelley is an AI program that generates the beginnings of horror stories, and it’s trained by original horror fiction posted to Reddit. Designed by researchers from MIT Media Lab, Shelley launched on Twitter on Oct. 21.

The team behind Shelley is hoping to learn more about how machines can evoke emotional responses in humans. “The rapid progress in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has people worried about everything from mass unemployment to the annihilation of the human race at the hand of evil robots,” writes researcher Iyad Rahwan by email. “We know that AI terrifies us in the abstract sense. But can AI scare us in the immediate, visceral sense?”

Shelley, named after Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, is interactive. After the program tweets a few opening lines, it asks people on Twitter to continue the story, and if the story is popular, it responds to those responses.

Using information from 140,000 stories from Reddit’s r/nosleep, Shelley produces story beginnings that range in creepiness, and in quality

. . . .

[S]ome of Shelley’s stories contain dread of a more existential sort:

I started breathing heavily, and waited for whatever it was to happen. I never saw it, because it drove me insane, I couldn’t move. All I could do was stand there, wide eyed, and stared at the wall, screaming at the top of my lungs, but the words were loud and I couldn’t take it anymore.

Link to the rest at Quartz and thanks to HG for the tip.

What to expect from the new Digital Book World

19 October 2017

As background information, the Digital Book World Conference has been sold to Score Publishing. This post is written by the CEO of Score.

From Talking New Media:

We live in a world where everyone individually, and every organization collectively, is a publisher. Whether it’s full-blown books, or case studies and white papers, or long-form content on the web, audio content like audiobooks and podcasts, multi-modal content like interactive books and mixed-media works, and much more. We’re a publisher nation.

Digital Book World has a rich legacy of influence and impact. We will be making a variety of changes that will seek to build on this foundation of success.

In the weeks and months to come, we will be reaching out far and wide to partner with anyone and everyone we believe has value to the vast community of publishers. Expect to see some surprising and valuable alliances as we re-tool DBW.

. . . .

Publishers right now are trying to decipher how best to bring existing content into a world where people interact with computers with their voice first, and keyboards and screens second. Amidst a raft of technologies impacting old media and new media which we’ll explore at Digital Book World, this sea change to voice computing – yes, led by Amazon – will sit front and center.

Link to the rest at Talking New Media

PG has attended an enormous number of conferences and conventions, including many gatherings of lawyers and technology folk.

He has received valuable information from the legal gatherings although most of his continuing legal education these days is online, usually in the form of recorded talks by lawyers and panel discussions of lawyers provided at various physical conferences and gatherings. Speakers are almost universally comprised of a few highly-specialized attorneys. Some of these sessions are provided entirely online with no associated physical gathering.

Depending upon the technology, there is often a lot more show instead of just telling at technology conferences. For example the Adobe MAX conference, sponsored by the creators of Photoshop, Lightroom and a zillion other products focused on visual creativity is happening right now.

Suffice to say, the visuals at the Adobe conference are more interesting than a table with a white tablecloth behind which a few men and women in business dress are sitting, which is the typical visual element at virtually all lawyers’ conferences. 99% of Powerpoint presentations in such settings are boring and the rest have goofy animations, transitions, etc., that a 14-year-old could improve.

However, major keynotes and new product announcements – typically the biggest draws at a tech conference – are usually streamed live and recorded for later viewing at no cost. For PG’s level of engagement with Adobe, those provide all the information he might be seeking plus much more without attending the conference.

PG has attended a handful of conferences for authors/publishers and, based on that limited experience, suggests that these conferences are visually and structurally, very similar to legal conferences (and even worse than some legal conferences). He hasn’t seen anything like the show Adobe presents.

The reason that the Digital Book World conference has been sold by its prior owner is that conference attendance fees plus fees charged to vendors to set up booths, tables, etc., don’t cover the costs of putting on a conference. PG won’t bore you with the details, but costs are substantial, particularly if the conference takes place in a serious conference setting like San Francisco, New York or Las Vegas.

Most of the revenue a conference like Digital Book World will receive likely comes from attendees who aren’t paying their own way, like publishing executives and employees, plus the afore-mentioned vendors who want to sell products and services to publishers and, to a lesser extent, authors.

What the sale of Digital Book World tells PG is that the complacency of traditional publishers toward ebook sales means those publishers have less interest in cool new ebook technology. At a fundamental level, a publisher needs to convert an electronic manuscript into an ebook and send the resulting file to Amazon, Apple, etc. That conversion probably takes place at the same time the physical books are typeset and is a low-cost offshoot of that operation. That’s pretty much the end of modern digital technology in their operations.

The idea that large publishers would be interested in cool new types of ebooks supported by innovative tech was always a long-shot. Remember, publishers are run mostly by English majors and accountants. Any tech innovators who might have mistakenly believed they had a potential career bringing publishers into the digital age have left for greener pastures by now.

PG says a technology conference for traditional publishing is on about the same level as a technology conference for beekeepers.

 

Is This The Death Of Retail As We Know It?

2 October 2017

From Seeking Alpha:

The tremendous ructions occurring in the retail industry continue and are gaining momentum at a tremendous pace as Amazon and the rapid growth of e-commerce progresses. Already the number of bankruptcies in the retail industry for 2017 thus far have exceeded all of 2016 and there are signs of more to come.

Indeed, even retailers typically perceived to be resistant to the disruptive influence of Amazon and the rapid growth in popularity of e-commerce have proven vulnerable.

The Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett considered by many to be the world’s greatest investor also chose to weigh in on the debate earlier this year, stating at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting:

The department store is online now, . . .

There are a range of signals which indicate that it is only going to get worse for traditional bricks-and-mortar retailing which makes it foolish for investors to consider investing in the industry.

. . . .

North American retailers are filing for bankruptcy at a record rate this year. According to industry data over 35 retailers in the U.S. alone have filed for bankruptcy this year with some of the standout names being Toys R Us, Payless ShoeSource and Radio Shack. It isn’t the first time for Radio Shack, it filed for bankruptcy protection just a little over two years ago because of similar problems including a challenging operating environment, rising competition and dwindling sales.

. . . .

The bad news doesn’t stop there, many major department store chains focused on cutting costs by reducing their operational footprint through store closures because the unprecedented competition created by e-commerce and Amazon has left very few other options.

One-time industry leader Sears is aggressively closing stores in a desperate bid to survive. The embattled retailer closed 180 stores during the fiscal year 2017 and plans to close another 150 by the end of its fiscal third quarter which amounts to roughly 10% of its remaining Sears and Kmart locations. For the second quarter revenue fell by a deeply worrying 23% year over year while comparable store sales declined 11.5%.

. . . .

Department store chain J.C.Penney which saw second quarter comparable store sales slip by 1.3% year over year doesn’t appear to be much healthier. It has also embarked on an ambitious restructuring strategy which involves closing 138 stores over coming months.

. . . .

Long-time industry stalwart Macy’s is also planning to close 88 stores and layoff thousands of employees.

. . . .

According to the report grocery shopping’s transition to online will occur at a far more rapid rate than other industries that have already done so such as banking or media because of a greater acceptance of e-commerce among consumers.

Younger, newer and more engaged digital shoppers adopt digital technologies more quickly, and will hasten the expansion of digital grocery shopping further.

. . . .

In a stunning revelation of just how fast e-commerce sales will grow, the National Retail Federation has forecast that as a proportion of total retail sales they will expand by 8% to 12% annually. This is around three-times greater than total retail sales, indicating that e-commerce’s share of total retail sales will grow at a rapid clip.

. . . .

For the reasons discussed investing in bricks-and-mortar retailers is becoming increasingly unappealing and risky. The depth and breadth of the industry’s transformation coupled with rapidly changing technology as well as an increasing appetite among consumers to accept technological changes places almost every bricks-and-mortar retailer under threat.

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

PG notes that some of the recent discussions about Barnes & Noble on TPV, have tended to focus on physical bookstores vs. Amazon as an isolated battle.

As indicated by the OP here and in many other posts on TPV, the movement from bricks & mortar to online sales is a megatrend affecting all sorts of different retailers. If people buy children’s clothing online instead of going to Target and small appliances online instead of going to Sears and office supplies online instead of going to Staples, why would books be any different?

There is one additional factor that does make books special, but not in a way that benefits Barnes & Noble and other physical bookstores.

PG is not aware of eclothing or eappliances, but he and many others are regular consumers of ebooks.

Due to a combination of disastrous decisions by management and incredible ignorance of ecommerce and all other things internet, Barnes & Noble squandered the opportunity to leverage its brand and relationship with millions of longtime Barnes & Noble customers into a dominating online store for ebooks (very high profit margins once properly-designed infrastructure is in place) and physical books.

Competent management of any b&m bookstore chain should have looked at ebooks as a wonderful source of increased revenues and profits. Instead of supporting a business structure to deal with thousands of poorly-paid store employees managed by hundreds of not much better paid store managers, a relative handful of well-compensated technical, design and marketing employees located in one place could have generated expanding revenues with consistently higher profit margins.

PG appears to be suffering from an attack of run-on sentences today, so he will stop. The blindness of the entire traditional book business to the opportunities for online sales, particularly of ebooks, is prime fodder for dozens of business school lectures, case studies and discussions for decades.

Google Offers Hand to News Publishers

2 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Google is rolling out a package of new policies and services to help news publishers increase subscriptions, a move likely to warm its icy relationship with some of the biggest critics of its power over the internet.

Google said it will end this week its decade-old “first click free” policy that required news websites to give readers free access to articles from Google’s search results. The policy upset publishers that require subscriptions, believing it undercut their efforts to get readers to pay for news.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., said it also plans tools to help increase subscriptions, including enabling users to log in with their Google passwords to simplify the subscription process and sharing user data with news organizations to better target potential subscribers.

With billions of people using its search, YouTube and other web properties, Google has an outsize influence on a wealth of industries and modern society.

. . . .

The new publisher rules are good news for the print industry, which has largely struggled to convert its business model to the internet as print advertising sales have plummeted in the digital age. Google and Facebook dominate the internet ad industry, and news organizations are increasingly reliant on those two tech giants for web traffic. Google says it drives 10 billion clicks a month to publishers’ sites.

Some newspapers even asked Congress this year to exempt them from antitrust laws so they could negotiate collectively with the tech giants.

. . . .

“We really recognize the transition to digital for publishers hasn’t been easy,” Google Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler said in an interview. He said a strong news industry boosts the utility of Google search and helps Google’s ad business, which sells ads on news sites. “The economics are pretty clear: If publishers aren’t successful, we can’t be successful.”

. . . .

Kinsey Wilson, the former executive editor of USA Today who now advises New York Times Co. , said publishers must be careful about letting Google be the middleman to its readers. “Google can remove some friction,” he said, “but publishers have to stay vigilant.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

B&N didn’t have the culture or financing to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google

22 September 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

During its annual meeting held Tuesday morning at its flagship store in New York City, Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio supported its new CEO, Demos Parneros who was named to his current role in April.

During the meeting, Riggio called Parneros “the perfect fit” to help the company grow its top line and improve profits. Observing that Parneros “has brought lots of energy to the company,” Riggio said he is looking forward to watching the executive over the next few years, noting that Parneros shares his vision and will revive B&N “store by store.”

. . . .

Riggio also assured shareholders that B&N is no longer in the tech business. While the Nook e-reader and e-books will remain a part of the company’s offerings to customers, bricks and mortar stores will be its focus. Riggio explained that when e-book sales began exploding several years ago, B&N felt it had no choice but to enter the digital market. In retrospect, Riggio said, B&N didn’t have the culture or financing to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google.

Instead, according to Riggio, B&N will focus on its physical stores and will partner with technology companies to keep a presence in the digital space. “There is no business model in technology” for B&N, Riggio acknowledged.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG says the Nook business was doomed from its earliest days. The big reasons are:

Riggio didn’t want to pay for top online talent.

This was evident from the first time PG visited the Nook Store. Poorly designed and poorly executed. And it never really changed.

Real tech talent is rare and in great demand. In the beginning, for the right money, skilled tech people would have gone to work at Nook, but Barnes & Noble wanted to pay bookstore salaries.

PG has no idea if Nook tried to hire really good talent at the right price after it became clear that the Nook Store was a disaster. Unfortunately, by that time, serious tech talent wouldn’t have come regardless of salary because nobody wants to clean up someone else’s mess and a line mentioning the Nook Store would have been deadly on the résumé.

Besides, nobody would have believed Barnes & Noble stock options would ever make them rich at that point.

The Nook Store set ebook prices at a level designed to support the print book prices in its stores.

One of PG’s least favorite things to hear during a product planning meeting is, “We don’t want to cannibalize our existing business.”

The problem is that, if your business is cannibalizable by you, it’s cannibalizable by somebody else. Jeff Bezos has always been a happy cannibal.

Low ebook prices combined with instant availability fueled Amazon’s early dominance. Over time, by cultivating successful indie authors, in part by using Kindle Unlimited, Amazon has added tens of thousands of high quality titles that Riggio couldn’t sell if he wanted to.

Amazon vs. Big Bookstores and Big Publishing is going to be a classic business case used in MBA programs around the world for decades to come. Brains and speed beat money and size once again.

What the “Book People” Won’t Tell You: Print is Dead

18 September 2017

From The Digital Reader:

I have been writing about industry trends in bits and pieces in each news story, but it has been a long while since I last pulled everything together, took a step back, and told you what I see.

I can sum it up in a single sentence: The major publishers are dead because they bet against digital, which is the future.

The thing about the major publishers is that they thought they could make the market go where they wanted.

They didn’t want ebooks to cannibalize print sales, so they conspired with Apple in early 2010 to bring about the Agency model. Then they doubled down on their bet with Agency 2.0, and hedged that bet by sabotaging subscription ebook services like Scribd and Oyster by saddling them with nonviable business models.

It is now 2017, and book publishing is in the later stages of a transition to digital.

. . . .

The major publishers bet against digital, and they continue to do so, and it is going to kill them in the long run. In fact, we can see them die bit by bit. First they dropped mid-list authors, then they started dropping best-selling authors.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG thinks the illegal collusion between the big publishers to force Amazon to set higher prices for ebooks was an important milestone on their path to suicide. They got together in various New York restaurants to engage in face-to-face groupthink.

Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

The Publisher Defendants sold over 48% of all e-books in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2010. The Publisher Defendants along with Random House Publishing are the six largest publishers in the United States (collectively the Publishers) and are often referred to as the “Big Six” in the publishing industry. In 2009 Amazon.com Inc. had nearly 90% of the e-books industry. Amazon charged $9.99 for certain new releases and bestselling e-books which helped make it the market leader in the sale of e-books and e-readers with its Kindle.

Amazon’s price point caused discontent among the Publishers. The Publishers believed that the low price point was a problem for their sales of more profitable hardcover books. Approximately every three months, the CEOs of the Big Six would meet in private dining rooms in New York restaurants “without counsel or assistant present, in order to discuss the common challenges they faced, including most prominently Amazon’s pricing policies.” The Publishers used several different strategies to fight against Amazon’s pricing point, including selling e-books for the same price as their printed version through a continued wholesale model and “windowing” new releases. Windowing is a tactic that would delay the release of books to their e-book form for a certain window of time.

. . . .

Amazon sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission complaining about the simultaneous nature of the demands for agency model agreements from the Publishers who had signed with Apple. By March, Amazon had completed agency agreements with four of the five publishers. During the negotiations over the agreements, the publishers would talk with each other and share information about what Amazon would concede with each. Apple was closely following all of this progress and Cue was in contact with the publishers. Following Amazon’s move to agency amounted to “an average per unit e-book retail price increase of 14.2% for their new releases, 42.7% for their NYT Bestsellers, and 18.6% across all of the Publisher Defendants’ e-books.”[2] The Publishers also raised the price of some of their New Release hardcover books so as to move the e-book versions into a correspondingly higher price tier. Amazon saw Random House (who for the moment had not joined Apple) e-book sales having an increase of 41%. Two studies showed that the Publishers who moved to agency model sold over 10% fewer units at major retailers. In contrast, other publishers’ sales increased 5.4% in the same period. In January 2011 Random House also moved to the agency model and raised the prices of its e-books, and then experienced a decline in its e-book sales. This allowed Random House to join the iBookstore.

. . . .

Beginning on December 8, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, contacted the Publishers to set up meetings for the following week. During the meetings Cue suggested that Apple would sell the majority of e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99. Apple also adopted the agency model which it used in its App Store for distribution of e-books. This let Publishers control the price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission. Apple also set up price tiers for different books. Apple also included a MFN clause in their contract with the Publishers which allowed for Apple to sell e-book at its competitors’ lowest price.

. . . .

On the day of the launch, Jobs was asked by a reporter why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”[2] By stating this, Jobs acknowledged his understanding that the Publishers would raise e-book prices and that Apple would not have to face any competition from Amazon on price.

This collusion between the top executives of five out of the (then) six major US publishers to destroy Amazon’s pricing model for ebooks helped accelerate the development of anti-Amazon/anti-ebooks groupthink throughout Big Publishing.

Later, when the Justice Department charged these publishers with illegal anti-competitive behavior and publicly humiliated their management by requiring an admission of guilt and forcing monetary settlements, the anti-Amazon/anti-ebook sentiment blossomed into something of an industry-wide psychosis.

Publishing couldn’t live without Amazon and hated the company even more for their dependence upon it.

When Borders, the second largest bookstore chain in the US, went bankrupt in 2011, that shocking event should have set alarm bells ringing in CEO offices of every publisher.

The second-largest bricks-and-mortar customer for every major US publisher had just imploded. Perhaps it was time for some new thinking? Would the future be a lot different than the past? What a silly thought.

Borders would have been happy to sell its assets to virtually any willing purchaser, but smart money was not interested. Neither was dumb money and about 650 retail bookstores in the US just disappeared.

At the time of the Borders bankruptcy, reporters and business writers (often relying on traditional publishing sources) concluded that Borders had made a big mistake by working with Amazon to sell ebooks. On the other hand, Barnes & Noble was brilliant because it had spent lots of money to build up its Nook business as a viable competitor to Amazon’s Kindle.

Amazon Derangement Syndrome was running rampant through the publishing business and that, combined with widespread ignorance of technology among management, blinded them to a simple fact that was evident to anyone with an ounce of internet savvy: Amazon was much, much better at selling books (and a lot of other things) online than Barnes & Noble and the gap between the two organizations was growing at a rapid pace.

The traditional book industry and its convoy of pet pundits have not gotten any part of selling online right for well over ten years and show no indication that anything is going to change in the next ten years (to be clear, PG is not predicting that Big Publishing has ten more years ahead of it).

Barnes & Noble is running on fumes. Whether it continues to sink into the sunset or suddenly implodes won’t impact the overall trajectory of the retail book business. It’s dying. At this point, even if Barnes & Noble were able to hire talented management, PG thinks it’s too late for that to make a difference.

When Barnes & Noble is gone, what’s left for legacy publishing? A bunch of mom and pop bookstores. There may be some fancier moms and pops in Manhattan and Washington DC, but they’re all small businesses with tiny profit margins.

PG ran out of time before he could bloviate about traditionally-published authors heading for the exits and hedge funds taking over management of the gazillion legacy publishing contracts which represent the only value of Big Publishing.

Building our new house

13 September 2017

From Medium:

I was struck by Jeff Jarvis’s recent polemic, ‘If I ran a newspaper…’ published on Medium.

In it, he quoted an unnamed editor’s description of the predicament he — and many of us — find ourselves in:

“We have two houses. One is on fire and the other isn’t built yet. So our problem is that we have to fight the flames in the old house at the same time we’re trying to figure out how to build the new one.”

He was, of course, describing the rock-and-a-hard place dilemma that’s beset legacy media brands for more than a decade now: We know print is declining fast, and the future’s digital, but the problem is most of our revenues are still in the former, and the latter will never generate the money we made back in the day.

I’ve lived in this cleft stick for most of my career. The legendary ‘tipping point’ is still talked about hypothetically years after it should have become a reality for more of this country’s legacy media — particularly in the regions. The tipping point comes when your digital revenue growth offsets your print revenue decline. Rather than waiting reluctantly for it to happen — or indeed trying to postpone it — we should have been doing everything to make it happen on our terms. Unfortunately, I think the industry dragged its feet for too long.

. . . .

We announced this week that we are creating a new, standalone and sustainable digital business that could be a model for similar enterprises across the UK and beyond.

At the heart of the new operation is a digital-only newsroom forged from the team that has made BirminghamMail.co.uk the fastest-growing regional news website in the UK for much of the past year. Thanks to my team’s efforts, we reach more than 50% of Brummies every week, and now we want to reach even more with our new approach.

At the same time, we want the new model to be completely self-sustainable, achieving a profit driven by programmatic and solus digital advertising, and not over-dependent on print upsell from legacy clients. There’ll be whole new revenue streams, too.

The new newsroom will be more than digital-first; it will be digital only.

. . . .

When you lose pounds in print, you only ever get pennies back online / we’ll never make enough money to have a newsroom as big as it was ten years ago.

True(ish), and true. Sadly, we know the future requires the business to be leaner and more flexible than we are now, and despite years of seemingly endless restructures and job losses, we will have to make further reductions. We are building the new model by asking the question: “What size newsroom can we afford, given what we know about our current and future digital scale, how much programmatic revenue we get, and how much new digital revenue we think is out there in the market?”.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says the OP describes a constructive way to deal with disruptive innovation. “What would my business look like if I was starting it from scratch today?” It’s a much better management strategy than, “How can I preserve my existing business when the economics of the market it serves have completely changed?”

The more common strategy of downsizing, then downsizing some more, then further downsizing is self-defeating in the extreme.

  1. Employee morale tanks and stays tanked with deleterious effects on the enterprise.
  2. Talented new people who might like the idea of working in a particular business stay away because of justified skepticism about the long-term future of the business and a rational desire to avoid a sinking ship.
  3. The talent level of new hires is lower than that of veteran employees.
  4. Existing employees who can leave do leave, taking their experience and abilities with them.
  5. The percentage of staff who stay with the business because they can’t get a job elsewhere skyrockets.

PG considers himself typical of many traditional readers of printed newspapers.

Growing up, he pretty much read every newspaper that arrived in his home cover to cover every day. When he commuted to work by train, he bought and read one newspaper in the morning and another in the evening.

(Yes, my young friends, in large cities, some newspapers published every morning and others published every afternoon. Chicago had four major daily papers, two morning and two afternoon, plus at least a half-dozen other dailys devoted to particular audiences, African-Americans, for one example.)

When he didn’t commute via mass transit, PG had at least one daily newspaper delivered to his home, usually two.

A couple of years ago, PG observed many issues of the two daily papers he received were piling up, largely or completely unread. He stopped The Wall Street Journal, but still pays for access to the entire digital edition.

At first, he kept his subscription to the local daily paper because he has always wanted to support local news organizations. However, when a week or two would pass without him reading any physical papers, he quit renewing that subscription as well.

Perhaps based upon years of habit, PG’s delivery person has continued to drop the local daily on his driveway, despite PG not having paid for a subscription for several months. PG has wondered if the paper’s management is trying to artificially pump up its subscription numbers.

Why you’ll wear a body camera

4 September 2017

A number of years ago, PG remembers reading a science fiction story about a future in which a large percentage of the population wore body cameras.

From TechConnect:

InfoTrends says people will take 1.2 trillion digital photos this year. That’s 100 billion more than last year and nearly double the number taken as recently as 2013.

The rate at which photo taking grows is currently clocked at a whopping 100 billion per year – that means each year humanity takes 100 billion more photos that it did last year.

I think that rate is about to accelerate. And the reason is wearable cameras.

As the cost goes down, quality goes up and ease of use improves (through miniaturization, better software and better batteries), wearable cameras will become more compelling.

These will arrive in the form of clip-on cameras, smartwatch cameras and cameras attached permanently or temporarily to glasses, including smart glasses.

. . . .

Just a few years ago, nobody could have predicted or imagined what’s now acceptable public behavior with a smartphone camera. People shamelessly pose and posture in public for selfies without embarrassment. They take pictures of their food and drinks in restaurants. They take selfies in the bathroom mirror.

. . . .

It turns out that the location of a wearable camera makes all the difference for how it’s used.

Badge-style clip-on cameras are acceptable for “lifelogging” applications – jogging your personal memory about places you go and people you meet. But they’re horrible for “photography.” Because the physical cameras move around, sit at odd angles and aren’t directly controlled by the user (they tend to shoot photos at intervals, or take video), the pictures are universally bad, save that one odd lucky shot.

Wrist-worn cameras are best used as expedient replacements for smartphone cameras – group shots, vacation snapshots and selfies.

As Google Glass wearers learned, eyeglasses-based cameras can take amazing photos. They point the camera where the user is looking, and show a first-person, this-is-what-I-saw picture, which can be photographically compelling.

. . . .

Smartglasses will use camera electronics and lenses as much for data gathering as photography. Images and video will be processed for object and face recognition and this data will be fed back into the AR application. Looking at a table with a goldfish bowl on it, an AR app will know that a virtual kitten can stand on the table but not the bowl, and a virtual shark can swim in the bowl but not the table. In AR, cameras aren’t for photography.

Other applications will capture photos or video all day, and process it through artificial intelligence systems to provide extremely good data on activity, behavior and environment.

Best of all, photography can be retroactive, either as photography or as data.

For example, instead of taking pictures of their food while they’re eating it, consumers can just tell their virtual assistant at the end of the day: “Post a picture of that pie I ate.” A.I. will reach into the recorded video, grab the best still shot of the pie and post it online. From a data perspective, we’ll ask that same assistant: “How many slices of pie did I eat last year?”

. . . .

The co-founder and CEO of Shonin, Sameer Hasan, told me wearable cameras will be initially focused on quality control and documentation, medical applications and security. They’ll be immediately usable for “instruction and demonstration, live entertainment and news reporting.”

Wearable cameras will enable AR to “process video information in real time and instantly provide the wearer with analysis and recommendations based on what the camera is seeing,” according to Hasan.

Link to the rest at TechConnect

As PG remembers the scifi story, the ubiquity of video recording devices were a great assistance to the totalitarian government that collected all the video.

A Neural Network Wrote the Next ‘Game of Thrones’ Book Because George R.R. Martin Hasn’t

3 September 2017

From Motherboard:

Minutes after the epic finale of the seventh season of Game of Thrones, fans of the show were already dismayed to hear that the final, six-episode season of the series isn’t set to air until spring 2019.

For readers of the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series on which the TV show is based, disappointment stemming from that estimated wait time is laughable. The fifth novel in seven-novel series, A Dance with Dragons, was published in 2011 and author George R.R. Martin has been laboring over the The Winds of Winter since, with no release date in sight. With no new source material, producers of the TV series have been forced to move the story forward themselves since late season 6.

Tired of the wait and armed with technology far beyond the grand maesters of Oldtown, full-stack software engineer Zack Thoutt is training a recurrent neural network (RNN) to predict the events of the unfinished sixth novel. Read the first chapter of the book here.

“I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones, the books and the show,” said Thoutt, who had just completed a Udacity course on artificial intelligence and deep learning and used what he learned to do the project. “I had worked with RNNs a bit in that class and thought I’d give working with the books a shot.”

. . . .

“It is trying to write a new book. A perfect model would take everything that has happened in the books into account and not write about characters being alive when they died two books ago,” Thoutt said. “The reality, though, is that the model isn’t good enough to do that. If the model were that good authors might be in trouble. The model is striving to be a new book and to take everything into account, but it makes a lot of mistakes because the technology to train a perfect text generator that can remember complex plots over millions of words doesn’t exist yet.”

. . . .

“I start each chapter by giving it a prime word, which I always used as a character name, and tell it how many words after that to generate,” Thoutt said. ” I wanted to do chapters for specific characters like in the books, so I always used one of the character names as the prime word … there is no editing other than supplying the network that first prime word.”

George R.R. Martin isn’t going to be calling for writing tips anytime soon, but Thoutt’s network is able to write mostly readable sentences and is packed with some serious twists.

Link to the rest at Motherboard

PG predicts AI-written books will be common within two years.

He doesn’t know if they will be very good, but it will be interesting to watch the technology develop.

PG also predicts that AI-written books won’t put good human authors out of business.

Never say never’ to Alexa on Kindle

26 August 2017

From iNews:

The Kindle was Amazon’s first standalone product, marking a departure from its online bookstore strategy and into the world of consumer electronics. While the company has never officially announced sales figures, its success paved the way for the release of the Fire tablet, Fire TV Stick, ill-fated Fire Phone, and wildly successful series of smart speakers: the Dot, Echo, Tap and Show, and smart camera Look, all of which Limp watches over as senior vice president of Amazon devices and services.

. . . .

As the Kindle become the go-to term for an e-reader, the Echo, according to Limp, who is in London to visit Amazon’s vast new Shoreditch offices, “kind of invented a new category”. The voice-powered smart speaker, controlled by artificially intelligent digital assistant Alexa, went on sale in the UK last year and is capable of setting timers, browsing the internet and even telling jokes through the cloud, meaning it gets smarter over time. Such is Alexa’s ubiquity, people have started calling Echos ‘Alexas’.

. . . .

What sets Amazon apart from other consumer electronics companies is its desire to “do more than just make a gadget, and by gadget, I mean things you would buy and most likely put in a drawer a few months later,” Limp says, explaining that for people to keep using an Echo, it must constantly evolve to stay relevant and useful.

. . . .

“Our view is that these AIs need to work together. If we get to a world where there’s just one of them, that’s not good for customers,” Limp says. “You want to have the ability for AIs to collaborate, and certain AIs will be good at some things, and others will be better at others. When you use Alexa to order a pizza from Dominos, that’s invoking another AI that [is] an expert in pizza.”

. . . .

AI is “foundational” across all of Amazon’s departments, not just consumer electronics, he says, adding that children born today “will never remember a world when they weren’t able to talk to their house and the things around them – and that’s the way it should be.”

Link to the rest at iNews and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

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