The new Echo Show 10 is a landmark device that asks as many questions of us as we will ask it.

If you ask Alexa her birthday, she’ll tell you it was 6th November 2014, some 3 years after she was conceived. She came into the world with ears (7 microphones) and a mouth (two speakers), somewhat disembodied in a 9.25” tall metal cylinder. Then, in mid 2017, in the Echo Show, she opened her eyes (well, eye — a single 5 megapixel camera) to facilitate video calls and also brought a screen, together with the ability for her to show us answers, not just speak them to us. In late 2019, she gained the amazing ability to identify objects shown…


Amazon, Day 1 and the Pigouvian Problem

Traditional retailers are calling loudly for a levy on online sellers — a so-called Amazon Tax. Many of these retailers should instead be hanging their heads in shame and hoping their Boards don’t fire them, or indeed that the shareholders don’t remove the Board.

The last 20 years have seen sweeping changes in consumer habits and technology but shockingly little change from traditional retailers. Amazon has grown relentlessly into a giant, but it hasn’t happened overnight. There isn’t a retailer on the high street who hasn’t had time to react. Most have chosen not to react enough or not at…


Any novelty associated with online meetings has long since passed and so too has our excuse for poor use of these now vital communications platforms. As we approach the first anniversary of the mass migration of meetings, sales calls, conferences and interviews to Zoom, Teams and Meet, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in how they are used by many people.

Given that most people were suddenly thrust into the global home working experiment with no training or advice, most of us have been taking the approach of adapting on the fly. …


Retailers’ increasingly complex relationship with automated shopping

There’s a famous scene in the original Star Wars movie where the bartender tells Luke “We don’t serve their kind here”, pointing to his droids (top). In The Mandalorian, set about 10 years later, the bartender at the same location is a droid (bottom):

Images: © Lucasfilm/Disney


Everyday Transcription — what if voice stops being ephemeral?

Most recent emphasis on privacy in the Internet age has revolved around face recognition and protection of personal data. But revolutionary improvements in speech recognition mean we need to reconsider how we feel about this technology too.

While it’s been possible to record voice for decades, it’s only recently that it has become possible to transcribe it into text in real time at scale. Think about that — it’s now feasible to instantly convert all spoken word, live or recorded, into a permanent, searchable index of what has been said. …


The vital role of simulators in creating and assessing self driving cars

I played Flight Simulator on a Commodore 64 when I was young. My plane crashed (a lot!) but it didn’t matter because it was just a simulator. The game tested my flying skills by arbitrarily changing the weather or having an instrument fail so I could learn how to react to unusual circumstances. Now the same principles are at the heart of the trillion dollar self driving car goldrush.

Despite the billions of dollars already invested in the effort to create self driving cars, the consensus among experts is that we are still years away from widespread deployment of verifiably…


Believe What You Haven’t Seen

I keep the top row of icons on my phone for apps that I cannot use. Why allocate such precious real estate to services not available where I live? Primarily to remind me that change is coming, even if I can’t quite access it.

One of the most frequent sentiments I encounter when I write or present about imminent new technologies is disbelief from people who haven’t seen it in action. But it’s very dangerous to dismiss technologies just because you haven’t seen them personally. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed that “Every person takes the limits of their own field of…


Driverless cars need all the sensors they can get — cost and style don’t matter (yet)

Self driving cars are not beautiful. I mean that purely aesthetically. Creating safe self driving cars will be a beautiful achievement, but the plethora of sensors protruding from otherwise sleek vehicles rankles with our expectations of smooth, clean car designs. From an engineering perspective, though, they are very beautiful — as part of one of the most advanced fields of development challenging human ingenuity to, and sometimes beyond, its maximum capacity.

No missing the sensors atop this prototype car!

Sensor Fusion

Sensors are key to self driving cars. Without some combination of radar, sonar, lidar (Light Detection and Ranging — a sensor that uses a pulsed laser to measure distance…


Data Everywhere — cars that watch (out for) you

After Part 1 looked at potential changes to speed the arrival of Robocars and Part 2 looked at the autonomous vehicles we’ll see before driverless cars, Part 3 continued the series by looking at how the incumbents are preparing. Part 4 examined whether those developing driverless cars should consider working together to make progress faster. Part 5 now explores the data and privacy considerations.

When you consider data in the context of self-driving cars, it’s easy to think of it purely in terms of the data the car gathers through its various sensors, interprets, and uses to determine its (hopefully…


Conflicted Disruptors

After Part 1 looked at potential changes to speed the arrival of Robocars and Part 2 looked at the autonomous vehicles we’ll see before driverless cars, Part 3 continued the series by looking at how the incumbents are preparing. Part 4 now examines whether those developing driverless cars should consider working together to make progress faster.

While the myriad teams testing self driving cars on the streets of the US (currently over 80 different companies) may frequently claim an altruistic motivation to improve road safety, the startling amounts of venture capital they are devouring suggests a very singular focus on…

David Kerrigan

Thoughts about technology and society. Author of five books: details at https://david-kerrigan.com

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