Mike Elgan

About the Author Mike Elgan


Smartphones make people distracted and unproductive

Silicon Valley is draining away the economy’s most precious resource for its own benefit.

OK, I’d better explain that.

The economy’s most precious resource is human attention — specifically, the attention people pay to their work. No matter what kind of company you own, run or work for, the employees of that company are paid for not only their skill, experience and work, but also for their attention and creativity.

When, say, Facebook and Google grab user attention, they’re taking that attention away from other things. One of those things is the work you’re paying employees to do.

As a thought experiment, imagine that an employee who used to pay attention to your business eight hours each day now pays attention only seven hours a day because he or she is now focusing on Facebook during that last hour. You’re paying the employee the same, but getting less employee attention for it.

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How smart cities like New York City will drive enterprise change

Everybody talks about smart cities, but few are doing anything about it.

New York City is an exception. It’s in the early stages of an ambitious project to blanket the city with ultrafast Wi-Fi via smart kiosks, which will replace obsolete public telephones.

These kiosks are the work of a Google-backed startup called Intersection. The company has already installed around 1,000 kiosks, and aims to install more than 6,000 more, Intersection Chief Innovation Officer Colin O’Donnell said in an interview this week.

colin o'donnellMike Elgan

Intersection Chief Innovation Officer Colin O’Donnell on stage at Cannes Lions on June 18, 2017.

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Avoid the mouse trap: Old habits wreck new tech

Don’t look now, but your desktop user interface dates back to the Nixon administration. Is it time to upgrade to the next UI?

New technologies revolutionize business. And big shifts like artificial intelligent (AI) virtual assistants and augmented reality seem to have gone from “someday” technologies, to “happening right now.”

These technologies are expected to transform business for the better. And I believe they will — far more than we realize. These new systems come with powerful new user interfaces. There’s just one problem: People don’t like new interfaces — and cling to the old, inefficient ones.

It’s not a theoretical problem. Global business has lost productivity on a galactic scale because of our failure to or inability to switch to the best interface.

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Why total bans on remote work don’t remotely work

Are remote workers more productive? Or are they just slacking off?

Three years ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously banned employees from working remotely. Earlier this year, IBM did the same thing, forcing remote workers to start showing up at the office.

The most popular justifications for such a policy are efficiency and collaboration — especially collaboration. The idea that employees from various groups should randomly encounter each other, brainstorm and collaborate is practically a Silicon Valley religion.

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We need virtual assistants that talk to each other

Everybody talks about (and often to) the Big Four virtual assistants — Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant. But many other companies are working on virtual assistants, too.

Huawei is working on a virtual assistant for the Chinese market.

Samsung offers Bixby on its Galaxy S8 or S8+ smartphones.

Voice recognition giant Nuance offers an enterprise ready virtual assistant called Nina, which specializes in knowing the limits of A.I. and kicking queries over to a team of human assistants when necessary. Nuance this month announced a Nina “skill” on Amazon’s Alexa platform.

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Yes, Apple is building a car

The experts say Apple’s self-driving car project is canceled, delayed or converted into a software play. They’ll also tell you that cars are a weird business for Apple to be in.

The experts have it all wrong.

Apple is going pedal-to-the-metal on building a car and for good reason. Here’s why.

Talk about titans

Steve Jobs wanted Apple to make an “iCar.”

The late Apple founder and CEO wanted more than that, according to J. Crew CEO and chairman Mickey Drexler, who served on the Apple board from 1999 to 2015. Jobs wanted Apple to reinvent the automobile industry.

The idea of an Apple car was considered crazy talk — until word leaked about a secret Apple initiative called “Project Titan,” which reportedly involved more than 1,000 engineers.

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How the Amazon Echo Look improves privacy

Look! A new Amazon Echo!

The Amazon Echo Look is like the original Echo, plus a camera.

The $200 device delivers the Alexa virtual assistant. But the camera is optimized for helping you choose clothing to look your best when you get dressed.

The Echo Look is a camera for your bedroom. As such, it’s being widely slammed as a massive invasion of privacy.

But this view is wrong and based on a provably false assumption.

I’ll tell you exactly how the Echo Look actually improves privacy. But first, let’s take a closer look at the Look.

Alexa as fashion consultant

The Echo Look is shaped like a oversized pill — a cylinder with rounded ends that appears to be about half the size of the original Echo. It sits on a stand or mounts to a wall.

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Virtual assistants: They’re made out of people!

When users first try virtual assistants (like Siri, Google Now, Cortana, M or Alexa), they’re struck by the idea that they’re talking to a computer, rather than a person.

That much sounds obvious. In reality, however, the responses from virtual assistants are far more human than most people assume. In fact, every response is carefully crafted by a person or a team of people.

What you get as a response to your question or request to a virtual assistant isn’t what a real-live person said. It’s what a team of people believe a real-live human being could or should say.

Some replies are constructed from prerecorded words and phrases — the sentences are pieced together by software to answer some arbitrary question — and others are written as full sentences or paragraphs. Let’s take a look behind the scenes and see how this works.

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