Thoughtful bits is a monthly summary of technologies and solutions that may have an significant impact on business or society. My hope is this information will help you understand the possibilities of what can be achieved and inspire you to expand your expectations and solve hard problems.

Thoughtful bits is posted on the 8th day of each month. The list of technologies and solutions will be short for two reasons: the focus will be on what’s potentially impactful (there may not be a lot to share); and keeping the list to a minimum will reduce clutter and allow you to think more deeply about the content provided (less is more).

If you have technologies or solutions you would like to share, leave a comment. Your contributions are welcomed!

Enabling Technologies

  1. HTTP/2
  2. Qualcomm Zeroth

Potentially Impactful Solutions

  1. Avere
  2. Icetope
  3. Sumerian Capacity Planner
  4. Vivaldi Web Browser

Thought Provoking Points of View

  1. Digital Transformation – The freedom of speech in the online world continues to be a tricky issue. Autocratic regimes and technologies that promote information democracy (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) simply don’t mix. Russia’s most recent law that requires all Russian content to be stored in Russian data centers is an attempt to control the flow of information and will be a challenge for multi-national companies operating in the region. This article paints a picture of the challenges with web freedom and how the technology companies are responding. We are living in a global connected world and should be mindful of the power we have in social media. And, how that power is perceived by regimes around the world.
  2. The Future of Productivity
  3. Tim Berners Lee Article

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Enabling Technologies

1. HTTP/2

What is it? In 2008 Google began to develop their SPDY protocol to increase web performance. SPDY became the foundation for HTTP/2 (Hypertext Transport Protocol) and is a replacement of previous HTTP versions (e.g., 1.x). HTTP/2 achieves improved web performance by changing how HTTP works on the network and does not impact other aspects of the protocol such as methods, return codes, etc.

The key change in HTTP/2 is the establishment of a single connection rather than multiple connections across multiple domains. Multiplexing requests improves performance and eliminates blocking (one request takes a long time increasing latency). Another change is binary formatting of data on the wire. Binary representation makes it easier to determine frame start and end, removing complexity from the protocol improves performance. Of course there are other changes in the protocol, these changes can be referenced in the links below.

The design constraints associated with the development of HTTP/2 are described below. This doesn’t represent the comprehensive list, the intent is to communicate the material constraints.

  1. URLs and URIs must not change
  2. Must be backward compatible with previous HTTP versions
  3. Preserve the paradigm of client issuing a request to servers over TCP
  4. Eliminate (as best as possible) optional parts of the new protocol. This constraint was a hold over from the Google SPDY team.

What’s the value? The value of HTTP/2 is improved web performance. The downloading of images and other content can be significantly improved. This demo is a good example of potential performance benefits associated with HTTP/2. Of course some disagree with the benefits of HTTP/2 and time will tell if the benefits are real (outside of demos).

Where does it apply? HTTP/2 applies to all consumer and enterprise applications hosted on HTTP/2 compatible web servers.

When will it be commercially available? The HTTP/2 draft has been submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Products have already begun incorporating HTTP/2. Twitter is an example on client side, Twitter and Mozilla (Firefox) are examples on the client side. Please reference this link for the known list of HTTP/2 compatible software.

Reference Links:

Technical Reference – HTTP/2 Reference Page, HTTP/2 Explained Document, Architecting Websites for the HTTP/2 Era, HTTP/2 Expectations, SPDY Reference

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2. Qualcomm Zeroth

What is it? Zeroth is a hardware and software based cognitive computing platform developed by Qualcomm. In layman terms cognitive computing is the ability to solve problems that require human brain using computers. A simple example in today’s world is self-driving cars – cognitive computing plays a large part. Let’s get back to Zeroth, the platform includes a “Neural Processing Unit” (NPU) for mobile devices that senses, analyzes, and takes action. The NPU capability is enabled by a SnapDragon 820 processor. The purpose of the solution is to bring cognitive computing to the mobile device rather than depending on the cloud.

What’s the value? There are several cognitive computing platforms today, so what makes Zeroth different? The existing cloud platforms (e.g., IBM Watson) are cloud based. Zeroth brings this capability down to the mobile device thereby eliminating the security risk of the cloud, reducing the time needed to get an answer (potential delay associated with cloud), and eliminating the dependency on the network.

The platform opens the door for applications that help better the lives of individuals. Below are a few simple examples of the power of the platform.

1. Individuals with sight disabilities will be able to use this platform to help navigate as they walk from point a to point b. Sure, there are navigation apps to tell them when to turn right or left. Zeroth will enable them to use there mobile device to sense the terrain and let them more easily navigate sidewalks under construction or more easily determine if the intersection is clear for crossing. It will also allow them to identify people they know in the crowds.

2. Traveling internationally can be a challenge because you can’t interpret the signage. The mobile computing platform in your pocket will interpret it for you and make suggestions. Years ago I was in downtown Frankfurt trying to find a good place to eat and couldn’t interpret the signage. Of course I resorted to getting recommendations from people on the street. How would Zeroth help in this situation? It would interpret the signage and give suggestions based on my likes and dislikes. Who needs to talk to people 🙂

3. Device authentication can be simplified as face recognition becomes more of a reality. And by the way, the platform can identify changes in your appearance to determine if health related issues exist (e.g., change in skin color, signs of melanoma).

These examples can become a reality with the Zeroth platform. Again, the power is brought to your mobile device rather than residing in the cloud.

Where does it apply? The Zeroth platform will enhance the experience for all consumers. Those with disabilities or senior technology users may benefit more from capabilities such as automatic photo adjustments or auto-sensing.

When will it be commercially available? The SnapDragon 820 will be made available to mobile device companies in the second half of this year. The Zeroth platform may be available to consumers late 2015 – my bet is early 2016.

Reference Links:

Non-Technical Reference: Qualcomm Zeroth Platform, Zeroth VideoQualcomm Cognitive Computing Presentation, Forbes Qualcomm Zeroth Article, All Web News Article

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Potentially Impactful Solutions

Please note, this is not an endorsement of any products or services. The content is intended to provide background information and raise awareness. Your research and analysis should determine if the solution solves a real business problem in your environment.

1. Avere

What is it? Palantir is an open and extensible data platform that focuses on speed, agility, and scale to solve hard problems. There are two main components to the platform: data fusion and analytical applications. The data fusion layer provides for the integration with data sources – access, ingestion, transformation, and secure management of the data. At this point analytics can be applied to answer the hard questions. An intuitive user interface is provided to enable the user to answer any question using natural language queries (no SQL development).

What’s the value? Palantir is a powerful platform that presents data in a way that enables humans to analyze and solve hard problems. Its openness allows it to be used with any structured or unstructured data source. Its extensibility enables any type of analytics ranging from data correlation to complicated quantitative analysis. The value is not only the platform but the speed in which the problem can be solved – weeks rather than months or years.

Where does it apply? The platform has a large presence in government agencies, legal research, and the financial industry. Palantir has been used to track terrorists, identify fraud, and provide analytics for insurance carriers (list not all inclusive). It’s truly a universal platform that provides value to any industry, not just limited to the three areas above.

When is it commercially available? The platform has been available since 2004. You may ask, why include this technology in the post? After all it’s been available since 2004 and not new technology. I’ve been following Palantir for quite a while and very impressed with the company and their innovative approach to technology. Their objective is to “make people better at their most important work”. This statement alone makes Palantir a company that is worth doing business with.

Reference links: Palantir, Palantir Technologies, Unlocking Secrets If Not its Own ValueTechCrunch Article, History of Palantir

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2. Icetope

What is it? Humin is a mobile app that replaces your contacts application on iOS and Android devices. It accesses the calendar, contacts, email, and social network accounts (Facebook and LinkedIn) to create context for each interaction.

What’s the value? Today’s contact applications are single purpose and don’t provide context. They serve the basic purpose of making a call or pulling up contact information but they don’t help to deepen connections. Humin enriches connections with your contacts by making relevant information (e.g., last interaction, where you met, what are they passionate about) intuitively available during the interaction. How many times do you search for email conversations you’ve had with a person before you call them? Having the information handy simply saves time. 

Let’s talk about concerns. My initial concern was privacy. Do I trust Humin with my information? Fortunately Humin passes the data accessed (email, Facebook, and LinkedIn) to your device and doesn’t store it on their servers. I’ll research the privacy of this application in more detail to understand what information is accessed on the phone and source systems, and how the information is used.

Where does it apply? The application is useful for all mobile phone users. Sales personnel will find the application most useful. Sure there are other applications available to improve interactions (e.g., Refresh). Unfortunately those applications are more intrusive and raise privacy concerns.

When is it commercially available? Humin is available for download. The application does have a few bugs (e.g., periodic hangs, etc.) so you have to be a bit patient. Over time these bugs will be addressed and the application will stabilize.

Reference links: Humin, New York Times Article

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3. Emotiv

What is it? I admit this has a far fetched utility value, for now. Emotiv is a wearable that measures, observes and images the brain. There are two wearables products, EPOC and Insight, that use EEG (Electroencephalography) to capture the data. EEG is an alternative to FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Why EEG? The intent is to provide a lower cost option and get it in the hands of many, thereby driving innovation more quickly. The downside of EEG is that it doesn’t capture as much spatial data. It attempts to compensate for this shortcoming by collecting massive amounts of temporal data.

What’s the value? There are many areas of value for this technology ranging from understanding and improving cognitive health to enhancing experiences of systems we interact with. Below are a few examples of tremendous value.

  • The ability to detect a decline in neuroplasticity (brain’s ability to adapt to changing environment) and take corrective action. Understanding the aging effects on the brain in near real-time is truly powerful.
  • Understand thoughts and reactions without questioning. Have you ever been approached to participate in a market study? Rather than fill out a survey they can use Emotiv to capture your brain activity as you observe or test the product. (I’m oversimplifying because some learning of brain activity may be required upfront.)
  • The elimination of input devices! Video games will be an entirely different experience without controllers.

Admittedly some of the possibilities are creepy, but as society progresses the creepiness factor decreases. Over time society will become more accepting of these technologies. Will we reach the point where man and machine are one? Maybe the singularity effect will happen sooner than we think.

Where does it apply? All industries should take note of this technology. As it matures it will change how we interact with systems, engage with each other and manage our mental health.

When is it commercially available? The EPOC is available now with Insight becoming available mid-February 2015. This technology has been in development for years (2006 – 2007 timeframe) and is finally beginning to mature. An SDK is available for partners to develop commercial applications.

Reference links: Emotiv, Emotiv Interview, Product Description Video, National Geographic Article

Technical Reference: Emotiv Wiki

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Posted by Karl

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