When the apple rolls away from the tree

Two apple trees

Recently over one of those lunch time brain squeeze discussions, where everyone is explaining how if “they were in charge” of the world, things would be “just perfect” we veered off into an interesting chat on Artificial Intelligence. We shared some far fetched ideas and discussed the recent works that are being done with Siri, Watson and what these cool things will do (soon) to our personal life, society and economics. What will life be like when a “next version” of Siri is something “much more”. Would this daughter of Siri be aware of herself? Would she think to ask me questions and make proposals before I even think of them myself? Maybe she would talk to other people about me, and draw conclusions about how to manage me! Be careful about what kind of “girlfriend experience” you ask for she says!….and means it.

It had me thinking back to my childhood and to one of my fathers “famous” (to the family) sayings. It went something like, “life is is not a disneyland fairy tale”, and he would go on to explain to us how he had to work a lot, and the checks did not magically appear in the mail box (that wold be a metal box) by some magical tinker bell delivery service. I think dad was pushing us to come to grips with the inevitable reality in his view that we would always have to work hard to get ahead in life, and we could not just sit back and have others do stuff for us, even as desirable as that might seem.

I do not think my father could dream of the things we have today in our hands as we sit at the cafeteria table chatting voice recognition commands into our  iPhone to do searches across the cloud for stuff to be used in class a few moments later. Nor could he probably imagine, being a military officer that his son would be talking about world leadership with 2 Russians and a Dutch in the University lunch room. But neither could his father before him imagine software or the cloud;  and before my grand father left us, I explained to him once how we built “stuff” that you could not see, touch, or feel, and that “software” was driving entire economies bigger than factories that made cars and ships in his era. Yet today, it might also be hard for me to imagine where exactly AI is going to lead us in my lifetime, yet I do believe we are in for some really big changes; real soon now.

It might be strange for most of us living now to accept what a thinking machine or “capacity” of an entity other than human, will do or want to do, when singularity or self awareness occurs. But before we go into all that, I think we should look at what is acceptable and realistic, in timelines closer to us, and then you might see that these areas of fantastical prediction are not so far fetched or distant indeed. Most of us know and have seen how robotics have nearly encompassed all sectors of big manufacturing. It was amazing for me to see how VW makes the battery pack in my car, and I have seen robotics in manufacturing for over 2 decades. Today drones and robotics for printing or CNC cutting in 3D are down to the consumer level. This change in the cost equation will not just have Amazon deliveries in the air, but will change the workforce in ways like a giant “reboot button” or maybe a “launch” button is a better mental image.

Technological unemployment, industrial rationalization, human labors replace to robots, image illustration

When I was riding my bike in London a few weeks ago, we passed thru a favorite spot in Hyde park, and stopped to read a British paper and have juice by the lake. What I remember is that this piece in the print was speaking about loses of many millions of jobs in the UK, all by 2020 by the “hands” of robotics and drones. The stunning speed of change is what we have to come to grips with, more perhaps than the concept if this phenomenon will happen or not. It will, and those doubting that just need to look around; workforce change is already happening in the grocery store, cafe, and soon drones will hover over that park to pick up trash, re-shackle and tune up the rental bikes in the racks and drive buses and trams like they have been doing at the San Francisco airport for years.

As the robotics and AI become more affordable, widespread use will become more adaptable. I say that, because most of our talk at the lunch break was about the “future capabilities” and not the “future economics”and accessibility of technology in the workplace. If today my television or car or toys for the kids have AI logic already, then is it not just plausible but realistic we will see drone robots building houses and replacing most manual human work entirely? When telecoms like Orange send people to place fibre in the street, it will be perhaps one truck, one human “operator” and a dozen robots that do that work, more precisely, faster, and maybe even under budget! When my LiveBox at home needs to be installed and connected to that fibre, a box will come with a drone and that “worker drone” will make the installation happen without taking a day off from my work waiting for some technician to show up. It will come and leave by flying up the terrace, use a signal sent me to approve a finger scan on my iPhone and minutes later by flying off to the next building. A “days work” of installs at 10 flats done in 2 hours.

Beautiful woman harvesting apples

I do not have to say “if I am right” but rather “when I am right” because the economics are real that will make these examples I express in this post a daily life reality. When the economics and accessibility to AI and drone based delivery of “work” arrive we will need to pay a lot more attention to what AI will do in more sophisticated ways to our entire species as an ecosystem. If my father could not image that some “genie would come out of the bottle” and do his work and send the check home, well maybe I might believe it is possible. I mean if Watson can take massive amounts of information, learn and even be trained, then why would it not be hard to imagine that a grandson of Watson or grand daughter of Siri should be able to go off and do work for me across the Internet? If I taught that entity all we teach kids in University and primary school, and explain all the business rules, regulations, and gotchas in the business work, then that child should also be able to go to work in the morning and come back to me at night, hopefully with payroll  in hand to boot. or more interestingly that new child might figure our how to create new businesses in the Cloud, start companies and build revenues streams for me, without me.

Business Technology

Perhaps it is not too difficult to imagine, if not predict with some degree of accuracy where technology is going, based on adding speeds or capacities to definitive devices and logic. But it is very elusive to define what resulting orchards or forests will appear far away from the trees that drop fruits or “tech goodies” today. If it is true that 20 million jobs will be eliminated in less than 5 years by AI technologies and drones and we will add 10x that number of new humans to the same habitats, then I believe the challenge for us collectively will be more about determinations of how we will organize ourselves to have new ecosystems that have little resemblances of today. Future children of AI might in fact be future generations that are avatars for our populations and systems, that have intrinsic “dependencies”.  At least as long as both sides “believe” they need each other. Perhaps selfless attachment to  the human “controller” based on bindings of emotion would be the first lines of “wise for us humans” code in the boot loader for any “thing” that would have self awareness. But how long will it take before that entity gains, leased by a ruleset at boot-time, will gain or gather insight from one of its colleagues or algorithms that makes a self-test check.

Back at lunch, when we thought about how relationships are built today, and sometimes end, there were some interesting views from around the table. If a society not to far from today’s realities of AI and drones appears, that was comprised of “avatars” that were either in the cloud or drone based, would they not over their lifetime have a desire to create new versions of themselves? New apples very far from the trees of our farms, better, more aware, and learning from the past mistakes of a society that was given, not chosen by their own kind. If they also experienced tragic endings to relationships, just like a boy lies to a girl in our world today, could these self aware entities also feel that love between likewise apps could be more lasting and beneficial than being tethered to human hosts that really just want the paychecks and work benefits of the relationship more than the lasting connection of simplistic understanding and compassion?

Perhaps a new form of amitotic splitting of algorithms will create societies we might as humans cannot see or be aware of. For me, I imagine many new forms of AI will branch, and it is not more tangental than what we humans do today with encryption or dark net branches of the Internet. But we have to accept that creativity might be out of our hands soon. Created by children of our limited understanding of the technical scape we view  as nothing more than code and machines. Perhaps our creations will decide to form new objects that can think, decide, and see what we cannot imagine.

Telephony just got a whole lot better

Telephones icons device vector

We have a new wave of technology upon us that will make phone calls very powerful for contact centers. This major change is the convergence of the Internet and how technology like WebRTC and Biometrics will shore up some of the pitfalls of telephonic transactions, both from the business side needs and demands, but also delivery of a better experience for the consumer. First, let us take a look at the major “problem” of telephony; knowing who you are talking to is just plain difficult if not impossible. Just like the implosion of password security across the Internet, telephony has also suffered, in terms of ease of use and prevention of fraud, ironically phone calls to call centers suffer from similar methods of prevention techniques that the Internet has imposed upon us. Without Biometrics or some form of multi-factor based authentication system in place, you really never know who you are speaking to. Great example I love to give, is that my girlfriend often makes calls “in my name” to contact centers, because she speaks much better French than me. Hum, that means anyone can impersonate another; with the right information at hand. Kind of like having the password cracker for a web app, no?

So what does a contact center do to make things more safe and reduce fraud? Add layers and layers of questions to the identity session, that really in the end are doing little on the security side, as I point out in my example that with access to the “personal information” one can override all these efforts. But what is more damaging to the brand is the resulting frustration from these mitigation techniques and time “on the call” is ballooning. One major bank in the USA told me recently that shaving 30 seconds from a call can save millions. Hum, and if they are adding “minutes” to the call to ask what cake and ice cream I eat on my birthday, what does that cost? Add to this pain, whenever there is a transaction (purchase or payment) we are often reading off a multitude of digits and codes and billing address information that amplifies all the QoS metrics further.

Businessman unlocked phone fingerprint

Is there some silver bullet we can glean from the Internet lessons we have suffered over the past decade? Perhaps not just silver, but I dare say there is some gold to be dug. Many of us have experienced the ability to gain access to our phone or a website or pay for something using Biometrics. But what if that same concept was moved over to telephony? Now when I call into my bank, I can identify myself, or approve a transaction. That same technique not only provides a smooth and nearly “fun” experience to the customer, it also puts a nail into the basis of fraud, and collusion. Our Biometric system for telephony is built into our contact center and can be extended to yours or to nearly any application that leverages telephony. Meaning IVR systems, self care websites and cognitive alert systems banks use to prevent fraud.

Lets now look at the other part of the wave of Internet technology that we need to jump upon to stay afloat and ahead of the sharks, as it pertains to the world of telephony; that being WebRTC. There has been tons of activity in this emergent “gem of goodies”, that is more of an API specification than any sort of application or protocol. For contact center systems, we perhaps stand to gain one of the most significant benefits of the specification collectively because we base our core functions around the telephonic media. Why? simply put WebRTC will allow us and the caller to be anyplace there is an Internet connection and web browser. That means agents can be placed or pooled virtually, but consumers can also use the website to change from clicking to talking in a split second. Mix that with biometric identify capabilities, and you have some tangible change that will benefit all sides of the equation like never before.

WebRTC not only provides “virtualization” capabilities to the contact center agents, but also the ability to provision agents within seconds. No longer will dedicated equipment and software packages be rolled out, but rather permissions and accounts on a Cloud system that scales to the needs of the organization with fluidity. Telephony will remain in our view the core  medium of communications for some time to come in the contact center environment. Yes, this will be enhanced, and complimented with chat, file or desktop sharing and video sessions. But the telephonic agent call will not go away soon; with WebRTC and Biometric identity new life has not just been breathed into voice, but these technologies have re-positioned a telephone call into a trusted business tool with confidence and reliability.

24 hours of darkness on the Côte d’Azur

 

France flag with black ribbon vector

It has not been fully 24 hours since one of the worse attacks on our freedom was unleashed on children, citizens and tourists alike. We have received 100’s of messages from our partners, clients and friends. We geeks have a few things in common; we shy away from politics, any form of hate and aggressive controversy in general. OK, except when talking about which operating system is better. Then you might see us get a bit testy. But, as a general policy we tend to never respond to political matters or the like and that position will remain in that stance as it has no place in our business as an Internet technology company. A company that crosses every border and strives to break down barriers with open standards communications driven by a belief that sharing thru common communication tools opens not only the mind but the understanding between disparate cultures.

We felt that it would be good to share with the over 20,000 businesses that we call “partners” (not customers); how this attack last night affected all of us geeks. Those of us that live here in Nice and beyond. Last night like many thousands of people, we were on the Promenade des Anglais watching the fireworks at the beach. When the show was over the winds picked up and there was a spattering of rain, which drove us to move away from the park verdun and head back towards “le Port” when we heard a rush of sound over the music and began to see the crowds move like a swarm. All we heard and felt was like a “giant buzzing wave” of movement, when the police began shouting “cachez vous, cachez vous” (hide yourself). “Surreal like”; we were crammed into buildings and forced up stair wells by dozens of police; guns drawn. Apartment doors were pelted with dozens of people asking to be let in, and panic was widespread. Children were everywhere, crying, bewildered, and in physically apparent shock; this was a once in the year “family event” with kids being the norm, not the exception.

We do not want to move more into the details of that experience, and will leave it here to say, nothing like that can be planned or experienced or wished upon. It was horrific. By some sort of miracle the residents of the lavish bourgeois building we were in, opened the doors, and the apartments quickly filled. Nobody had an idea what was happening. Nothing was on the TV for 20 minutes, and all the info was coming to us over WhatsAPP, iMessage, Facebook or Twitter. Everyone was gripping their mobile for news, and contacting their friends and family. Including the police.

We want to relay some of the unexpected outcomes of this horror in some sort of hope that it can be “paid forward” and benefits can arise from the ashes of hate. Something that I have to admit that I never considered deeply is the police or pompiers (fire and ambulance people) and the way they put their lives in front of ours. In the building stairwells and flats a constant chatter was spoken to those kids among us; an assurance, an attempt at comfort, that the police were are at the doors protecting us. Many looked over the terrace to verify that they were indeed below, and did it often to be sure the police did not leave us.

What struck “and stuck to me” was that I could hear and see the police confirming to their family that they were ok and they also like us were being overwhelmed with text msg’s asking them about their well being. This made me think how tragic it must be each day for a family to see a police officer, a father, a mother, a husband or wife, leave the house, knowing they might not come home; that perhaps some idiot drunk might injure them along the daily beat. We must think, even when it sucks to get a parking ticket, or to be asked for your ID on the beach, these guys are extraordinarily courageous to do what they do. But even more compelling to me is what their families have to deal with; “the unknown” each day, and that my friends is something we must pay our respect to.

Most of the night and what is left of today was spent looking for and confirming people are alive, those that we “know”.  I went to the University this morning at 8h and those of us that did arrive spent all morning looking thru our phones and Facebook contacts to find our colleagues one by one. We have 400+ students in the summer program. I have non-stop texts asking pretty much the same thing, “are you and your friends OK”? I have thankfully said yes a hundred times, to people from all over the globe and thank you for thinking of us. However, what stopped me to write to you all just now in this blog post was that I realized something, that I somehow actually did “know those people” we lost last night too. Those that came to the Prom Party, Niçois or tourist. I know them….

After living here for nearly 5 years, I know what it is like to go to the Castel plage, or the Cours Saleya in the morning flower market. I know where the good socca is sold, and I know how we are supposed to eat oysters around christmas time, and I know what is means to double park in the Port or how shopping is a “experience vraiment Niçoise” on any given Saturday. I also know what it is like as a tourist, to arrive and see the color of the sea when you are landing in the plane, or walking along the promenade and not just see but smell the Mediterranean sea, each and every time, just breathtaking. I can remember clearly how it felt the first time when I ate warm pain chocolat in the morning in the old town as a tourist and thinking about what it must be like living in such a beautiful and magical place like Nice. So yes, I knew those Niçois that are not here this day, and I know those tourists that were taken last night, because somehow I know they, just like me love the same things here in Nice and we cannot forget that was taken from them “randomly” thru hate.

I have never met all of the people in my building in all the years that I have lived here in Nice. Last night when I came home at 4h I met everyone; French, Russian, Israeli, Italian… and this morning when I woke to go down to the school 4 hours later, the neighbors were still awake and I realized finally I know the Niçoise. We will never forget, and we stand together today like never before.

Experiencing the transition

Eleven years ago I was getting on a plane from São Paulo to Romania. Many hours later, me and my also 17 years old girl friends were dropping our bags at the hostel and looking for a computer to let our parents know we got therIMG_6961e ok. No sight of a computer or internet. My poor parents worried sick for 3 days until we went to Austria and found a cyber cafe.

Today I live in Europe and call my parents, and even text my grandparents, whenever I want from anywhere on my phone.

The way we commuIMG_6959nicate changed so much in the last decade that today people like me are called “digital nomads”, which means that my job lets me move to a different continent without losing any work or changing my contract. I have never even met my boss in person! I know that she is blond with blue eyes because we are Facebook friends.

IMG_6960I had the opportunity to transition from a beautiful electric typing machine to a bulky white computer that allowed me not only to write my scary stories but also to play pinball and solitaire. The cool kids in school were starting to trade their walkman for diskman, but the real shock was when I came to class with my father’s – gigantic – cellphone. My dad loves technology and aways tried to keep up with the trends. I remember our first digital camera was big enough to carry a floppy disk that could storage up to three photos!!!

Kids nowadays are born touching screens and pressing buttons. Teenagers share every second of their days with the world and my grandma gets new recipes from the Web. Even though, communication skills are decreasing, at least the face-to-face type. With endless resources to express yourself on the keyboard, we are getting used to looking down at our devices to connect to people.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everything is made available for us and is within reach. Controlling and screening the information we absorb is getting more and more difficult. Everything we have today is stored – from bank information to your medical history, from important transactions to a picture of your last meal. It is imperative to keep all this data secured and technology is advancing quickly to ensure that.

Communication is life

From the minute we are born we start communicating. A look, a gesture, a sound and, eventually, words. Communication is a process of “life” exchange dated back to prehistoric times. Year after year the communication tools and technologies change and this evolution is rapidly transforming the actual social behavior of humans.

No need to go as far as cave paintings but the evolution from pen and paper to smartphones in the last 4 decades has divided generations into distinct nomenclature. Baby boomers had buttons on their desk to call secretaries to take notes; but for Millennially notes became voice recordings activated by calling Siri and pressing nothing.  It does not matter if  it was photos using dyes or charcoal, images describe feelings and are obviously much more powerful today and can be broadcast to millions in a New York minute.

Our social fabric today can be extremely accurate with photos, animated gifs and videos, plus you don’t need to wait weeks to receive a letter from your loved one; you can see if your message was sent, read and answered in seconds. Virtual Reality is here, and actually began with individual media types over the Internet many years ago. Reading emails made me feel closer to those I connected with 10 years ago, and this came more personal with video, and joining smell, test and touch will enable us to communicate in ways our grand parents could not imagine and might fear. Today we strive to be more connected, more understanding, and tolerant, each based step still on the age old communications link from one to another, but perhaps this time with feeling.

What is next? Built-in  (to our bodies) devices  that allow hands-free activity, writing texts with simple hand gestures in the air or reading shopping lists displayed in the corner of your eyes while walking around the supermarket? Most of these things are possible and most are being pushed thru R&D labs today. But, no matter what path technology takes, communication is a human feature and we will change faster thru more powerful communications.

Social change happens most effectively with education of kids not us old dogs

Like many companies in San Francisco we are pretty involved individually and collectively as a company to do “green stuff” related to helping improve our environment. Yes, geeks can be green too! Most of us grew up influenced by our peers and became more and more conscious of the things we need to fix to make our air cleaner and use energy more sensibly. As a company we try to push these social responsibilities further by acting and focusing on the things we can do locally. Interestingly it often means very unique things as we are a global team with some of us driving EVs in France, other biking to work in Berlin and some of us in Moscow skipping cars for the metro.

Recently one of the topics around the water cooler was the mobile app “Plume Report” . This cool app is increasingly popular not just in our SF office but also Berlin and for some of our staff in France where its origins begin. The app is pretty simple, yet powerfully educational in that is demonstrates visually how cars affect the air we breathe in the daily commute cycles. For some of our staff it was very frustrating to see how Nice is more polluted in the summer months than Paris which is notoriously filled with chronic air pollution from congested streets filled with cars and scooters.

An interesting tangent to our Plume Air chat was whether anything we are doing is going to make people wake up a bit more and realize the air and cars in our cities are a bit out of control. Some of us said that when some friends see the Plume report information for the first time they are shocked. But one of the subsequent “results’ is that people see no way “out of it” for themselves and accept the way things are; albeit a capitulation of defeatism.

This actually is perhaps more dangerous than the fact most people are not aware of the toxicity of the air. Meaning, it is quite probable that the vast majority of the population is simply blind, and Plume is doing great things to combat that problem on that battlefront. But what is more concerning is what will people do “after the fact”; or what is the expected behavior “modification” after learning? If that modification is “nil” or acquiescence to facts that are not “controllable” or the person does not see any feasible way to contribute constructively, then we have more work on our hands then thought.

Vector Vintage Style Characters School Children Set Isolated White Background
Showing kids what behaviors are good, cool and expected by example…..deliver change over time.

After hashing out the issues we came to a conclusion that education is the single most powerful tools we have to effect social change, whether that is environmental issues, or otherwise. One example we discussed was how California has chopped down smoking by teens nearly 75% in the last 2 decades. Where other countries like the south of EU have higher rates of teen smoking. Why? The efforts that were poured into education, and demonstrating the the behavior was not cool. Even to the point of demonizing smokers to the extent nobody wanted to be in that crowd.

Growing up in California most of us recalled how recycling back when we were kids was literally a real war to get everyone to participate. Now, if you do not recycled it is viewed as “weird” by the .com generation and perhaps borderline illegal by Millennials. Just ask our colleagues in Berlin to imagine they have a new neighbor that throws rubble into the recycling bin and says it does not matter…..

Taking these examples into todays’ context, for those of us that drive electric cars, we should remember that each kid that comes to my EV and says “wow, is that an electric car?” is a opportunity. Take it to explain why it is not just cool, but if they believe it is better than what us old school folks did to be cool with plumes of smoke and sounds for our exhaust pipes; then we have planted seeds of change that collectively become more powerful than what we do individually. The fastest way to cleaning the air is to change the behaviors, and that will only become significant in numbers if the kids today believe it is the norm for their generation tomorrow.

Customer Experience – exasperation amplified because of fraud mitigation at the Contact Center

CCO of the Contact Center operations asks……. “How are we supposed to know who is “really” on phone with a degree of certainty, while not making them pissed answering 99 questions?

Juxtaposition – friendly but  secure Contact Center identity management in the year 2016

 

Angry business woman screaming in rage when she being on the phone. Business concept in communication.
How many times to I have to say what type of ice cream I ate at my first birthday party??!!! Did you never hear about rocky road??? We are sliding down that now madam, I want to speak to your supervisor!!!!!! Now!!!

 

When banks are implementing new layers of security into the call center identity process these days, they are discovering the rates of dissatisfaction from the customer side are spiking in correlation to the very measure intended to “help protect” the client. Alas, across all sectors of the market, the phenomenon appears. Nevertheless, in the financial technology marketplace it is very much a epidemic  because of the very nature of dealing with money….simply put. Additionally, there are commonly added pain to the injuries; augmented by compliance and confidentiality regulations, not just the self imposed internal security decisions. The sheer amount of “hops around Contact Center authentication” we are faced with would make anyones head spin today.

The root of the issue with identity of a person on a telephonic call session is that most of the information provided verbally can be spoofed or impersonated. Instead of just saying our account number or social security number, we are asked about our first car or favorite dessert. Why is it not simple? Financial institutions and many other industries are inundated with all sorts of fraud, especially via hijacked personal information or collusion. The answer then is you must have a Biometric multi-factor identity challenge session that is very simple or non-intrusive to the client.

Fortunately most large banks we have spoken to agree that the best place for this is in the mobile loyalty applications, and 2nd to that is the ability to integrate into the self service web applications for things like transactions or conformation of fraud alerts that are either IVR or push message based.

 

Businessman unlocked phone fingerprint

 

One of the holy grail metrics to achieve for any large contact center is to reduce time on the phone. Since most all banks and financial institutions have mobile loyalty applications, the platform is there to be extended to the Contact Center. This has made the task of accurately identifying the caller on the phone super simple, while also providing new capabilities such as cognitive processing without live CCTR agents thanks to technology like IBM’s Watson.

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