Reducing E-Waste: Where We Stand Today

Photo of trash can full of e-waste.I have seen the future and I am not sure I like it. Recently I wrote about modular electronics and was hopeful we could reduce electronic waste, or e-waste, by retaining smartphones, tablets, and laptops longer and replacing only small broken or outdated components, such as memory or a screen. Although I am still hopeful for the future, I think that we have a long way to go to clean up the waste we have already generated. I was out and about yesterday and came upon a shop propping its door open with a Sony VAIO laptop. If laptops can be used as doorstops, then perhaps we have too many of them on this planet.

 Current State

According to Earthfix, 1.4 billion new phones are produced each year. Unless they are for new consumers, that means 1.4 billion are also discarded. In a recent article on PBS NewsHour, Jim Puckett, activist and head of the Seattle based Basel Action Network, led an investigation into the electronic recycling industry. Partnering with MIT’s Senseable City Lab, his organization planted tracking devices in 200 pieces of non-functioning electronic waste. They deposited the devices at recognized recycling centers and then followed the trackers to see where they ended up. To their surprise, more than a third of the devices ended up in Asia, most in Hong Kong. Instead of being dismantled and recycled in America, they are being shipped whole to Asia where there are far fewer safety and health regulations. They can be dismantled more cheaply because the methods are crude and dangerous.

While we can pride ourselves on the fact that our electronic waste did not end up in our landfills, we are transferring at least some of the recycling problem to less developed countries. Part of the reason for this is falling steel, gold, plastic, and copper prices. It is more difficult to recoup operating costs for a recycler so they sometimes shift the burden and sell the waste to others who can do it cheaper. What if we didn’t generate all of this electronic waste in the first place?

Future State

I am excited about the possibility of modular electronics and hope they lead to a smaller amount of electronic waste. Europe leads the world in regulations requiring manufacturers to take back and recycle their old products. Despite that diligence, a Newsweek article last year claimed that only one-third of Europe’s e-waste goes where it should and a lot of it ends up in Africa. The United States ships our problem to Asia and Europe ships theirs to Africa. We are both shifting the burden to those less equipped to deal with the problem.

In the U.S., several states have passed laws similar to those in Europe that require manufacturers to create or support outlets that take back end-of-life electronics. While this is a good first step, I think we need to go further. We need to try and find assembly methods that make products easy to disassemble and recycle at the end of the product’s life. While working for Hewlett-Packard a number of years ago, I came up with the idea to manufacture printer shells out of macaroni so that when the printer reaches its end of life, you just pop off the shell, throw it into a pot of water and you have dinner. My idea was not embraced but I still think it is a good one.

Thoughts

Electronic waste and our current recycling methods are a big problem and they are only getting bigger. I would love to hear your thoughts on ways to tackle this. Perhaps together we can come up with a solution.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Life Logging: Tracking Nutrition

INutrition tracking.n 2014 I wrote on the quantifiable self and posited that maybe we are tracking and logging our personal activities too closely. With fitness trackers we count steps taken and calories expended and sleep gained. These devices log spent energy, but what about calories taken in? I have been thinking lately about the technology around intake nutrition tracking as a complement to activity tracking. There are some interesting developments and some devices that seem like technology for technology’s sake and not a meaningful contribution towards tracking our health.

Molecular Scanning

Molecular level scanners are being developed that allow consumers to determine the nutritional components of their food. Tellspec has created a small spectroscopy scanner that is paired with an analysis app to give you a breakdown of the food you are consuming. A beta version is shipping now and the full version will be available in August or September 2016. According to the Tellspec website they:

“combine spectroscopy, bioinformatics techniques and learning algorithms to analyze consumer foods at the molecular level. The three-part system includes the Tellspec’s food sensor, a cloud-based patented analysis engine and a mobile app that work together to scan foods, identify ingredients and provide details about the food scanned.”

This is a great development for diabetics, allergy sufferers, and for those wanting to watch their intake more closely. It can also educate all of us on the ingredients in our food. I will watch the developments of this product.

Liquid Nutrition

Just as Tellspec is developing food scanners, others are developing methods of scanning drinks for their ingredients and nutritional value. Mark One is developing a smart cup they call Vessyl that will detect the components of the drink inside. Through Bluetooth technology, the cup will send the nutritional information to an accompanying app and will record the cumulative nutritional information as well as warnings of non-healthful components in the drink. The final Vessyl is due to ship in late 2017 after some delay due to sensor technology development. In the meantime, the Vessyl Pryme is available to remind you when you are fully hydrated.

Social Nutrition

There is also a social aspect to nutrition in the need to have support for your nutritional goals or limitations. To that end, there are websites such as glutenfreesingles.com. There is also the more generic singleswithfoodallergies.com. This is an example of technology that can bring together people who share nutritional goals. Perhaps the folks who meet at these sites can soon use their food and drink scanners to compare their personal health information.

Thoughts

For people with food allergies or illnesses that require monitoring of food intake, these technologies are a great step forward in allowing them to live life more fully. For people trying to live a healthier life, I also applaud these developments and hope they come to market soon. For those few who obsess over every calorie, I think that these tools might fuel their obsession. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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E-Waste and the Future of Modular Electronics

Modular cell phone In a recent article from National Public Radio, the authors pose the question “If I told you there was a way to keep using your phone forever, would you want to?” Interestingly, the response was split: some would gladly keep their phone and others really do want to upgrade every year or two. The authors of the article focus on electronic modularity or in this case, cell phone modularity. This is the idea that a phone or other electronic device can be upgraded not by discarding the entire phone, but only the portion that is lacking. The upgrade may mean more memory, a better or additional battery, a higher resolution camera, or a new screen. Technically it is possible to build a modular smartphone now, but of course that would mean that the device manufacturer would have to accept a lower revenue stream. I think that the good folks at Samsung and Apple would be hard pressed to buy into that idea. Let’s explore current efforts with modularization and pose the same question: “If you could keep your phone forever, would you do it?”

Phonebloks

Dave Haakens has started a web site called Phonebloks to promote the concept of modular phones. He is not building the actual phone itself but is hoping to inspire someone else to pick up the torch and run with it. He believes, and rightly so, that we are filling our landfills with e-waste such as discarded electronic devices that have become obsolete. Technically and physically they are still sound, but were tossed aside because someone wanted the newest model or an operating system upgrade left the old phone underpowered. A modular phone would eliminate both of these examples of e-waste. The only thing discarded, or hopefully recycled, would be the small module being replaced.

LG G5

LG has created a new phone with replaceable modules called LG Friends. Current modules include an enhanced camera and replacement batteries. LG promises to release more friends in the future. While this design does not provide for every module to be replaced, it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Puzzlephone, Fairphone, and Project ARA

A recent Tech Times article highlighted the difference between some of the platforms that are available or will hopefully be available soon. The Puzzlephone will be available in September and is split into three components, the display, the processor, and the battery, along with other electronics. You can replace only one of these components when they die or are underpowered. The Fairphone is available now and every component can be swapped out including the processor, the camera, the speaker, and the display. Project ARA from Google is currently only a concept but they hope to work with developers to create replaceable modules other than the traditional brains and the heart. Google has promised to release a prototype later this year.

The Plumbing Store

I look forward to the day when I can walk into the phone store and pick up a module, regardless of the phone provider, and it will work seamlessly with my phone. When I have a plumbing leak, I don’t replace all of the plumbing in my house but simply go to the hardware store and buy a replacement pipe the length, diameter, and material that I need. It doesn’t need to match the brand of plumbing that is in my home because the plumbing industry long ago agreed on standards. I look forward to that same ubiquity and modularity in the electronics industry.

Thoughts

What do you think of modular phones? Would you keep your current phone forever if you could replace just the individual components as they failed or became obsolete? Would the green factor of not having to replace your phone be a deciding factor? Personally, I like the capabilities and form factor of my current phone and I would hang on to it. Let me know your vote. In a future blog post I will focus on modular laptops and tablets.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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The Flipped Classroom: Trends in Higher Education

Photo of man flipping pancakes.In the world of higher education there is a trend towards a flipped classroom. In this educational model, prerecorded lectures are viewed or heard before coming to class. The actual class time is spent on group projects and interaction with the professor. The learning and testing takes place outside of the classroom, and the lecture hall or lab is used for reflection, discussion, and hands on learning. I want to explore how we use a flipped learning style in AIM and where I think the concept is headed. Is it a fad or is it here to stay?

Flipped Online

Because the AIM program is online, we have no physical space. We prepare lectures and readings ahead of time and those are available to students at their convenience. That part is similar to an onsite flipped classroom environment. We differ from a traditional flipped classroom because our discussions and meetings are also online, enabling us to maintain our “anytime, anywhere” learning model that fits the schedules of working adults who are distributed around the world. The discussion topics are designed to be relevant to the lectures of the week and useful to students in their present careers. In courses I teach, we often end up discussing details of particular tools that are effective to each student or management techniques that students might be struggling with. Because my students are all mid-career professionals, they share experiences that can help other students; the students get not only my expertise and experience but also that of other professionals. Being able to apply this wisdom could be worth the price of the course in saved consultant fees. Of course, we sometimes veer off topic a bit, like the time we had a lively discussion on who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman. There must have been a Hollywood executive in that class, as evidenced by the new film that asks the same question.

New Classroom of the Future

Unlike AIM, many classes still meet in a traditional classroom or large lecture hall. If flipped learning becomes standard, how would you design the next generation classroom? No longer will you have all 20 or 100 or 500 students focused on one lecturer. You need a space where teams can work and individuals and groups can move about from one station to another. With the lecture they have already viewed in mind, the students are ready to discuss the topic and debate and explore available options, whether they are in earth science or information technology. The classroom can become a rich environment for exploration and testing of new ideas. The instructor now becomes a facilitator instead of the lone knowledge keeper. Large theater style lecture halls are not conducive to this new flexible learning so we need to start rethinking the layout and flow.

Thoughts

One of the great things about flipped learning is that it gives a student time to process and ponder new knowledge and consider how they can personally apply that information. They can then test their thoughts with others who have come up with similar—or wildly diverse—ideas. Together they learn and grow as a team and as a class.

Let me know your thoughts on the flipped classroom. Is it here to stay or is it just a fad?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Weather or Not: The Technology Behind Weather Forecasting

Photo of weather satellite orbiting Earth.A recent paper published in Nature shows a correlation between the surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean and US east coast temperatures. The hypothesis is that sea surface temperature anomalies called the Pacific Extreme Pattern can predict east coast temperatures and rainfall up to 50 days in advance. In order to make meaningful and current predictions, this means that the data needs to be collected real time, which requires devices that can measure and transmit. This is a great example of Internet of Things thinking to be able to gather and utilize data without sampling by humans, especially in the middle of the ocean. I wondered about other weather activities that were being assisted by technology, so I did some research.

Radar

Radar has been used for many years to predict weather. Radar works by sending out radio waves that bounce off of dust, precipitation, or ice particles in the atmosphere. By measuring and comparing the strength of the signal going out and the return signal, forecasters can see the location and intensity of an oncoming storm. Simple radar, however, leaves meteorologists blind to the actual shape of an object being measured so they cannot differentiate between a raindrop and a hailstone. Dual polarization technology helps give that raindrop shape so that forecasters can better predict what is coming and what the precipitation rate will be. Another technology being tested is phased array radar. Traditional Doppler radar systems scan the skies in slices until they have scanned the entire atmosphere. This takes four to six minutes. A phased array system sends out multiple signals simultaneously and can scan the atmosphere in under a minute. This could make a big difference when providing storm warnings.

Of course, all of this probing and sampling generates large amounts of data so the meteorologist also needs to rely on his friendly information professional to sort it and create visualizations that convey the information.

Satellites

Forecasters also rely on satellites to monitor weather patterns around the globe. This provides a wider view of the weather and can predict movement with greater accuracy. A new satellite, called a Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series or GOES-R is set to launch this year on October 13. According to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “The weather imaging capabilities of GOES-R are like going from a black and white television to HDTV.” This will expand our ability to monitor and predict weather.

Computer Modeling

Computer models are a mathematical way of predicting the future based on what has happened in the past. In terms of weather, a model can forecast actual conditions based on patterns that have already occurred. The more historical data is available, the better the potential forecast. Your friendly television meteorologist uses a combination of computer models and current weather patterns to predict tomorrow’s weather. As noted above, these models require an information professional to sort the data and eliminate anomalies that would give false predictions. Because of the large amount of past data available, some of this modeling is done on supercomputers that can process the information quickly and efficiently.

Thoughts

There are a lot of exciting developments in meteorological science and we are getting better at accurately predicting the weather and providing more lead time in front of damaging storms such as tornadoes and hurricanes. With this work we should be able to predict with better accuracy whether to leave the house with an umbrella or get to the nearest storm shelter.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Accessibility Through Technology

Photo of assistive device on a computer keyboard.In previous blog posts I talked about ways technology assists different people. Lately I have been thinking about how technology enhances accessibility. A number of breakthroughs in the last few years allow alter-abled people to participate in activities many of us take for granted. I will highlight just a few products and I hope that you will share others that you are familiar with.

Lights, Camera, Action

Sony introduced Entertainment Access Glasses in the fall of 2012. Regal Cinemas placed them in theaters nationwide in 2013. This is a wireless device that connects to the digital server and projector. The glasses aid hearing impaired patrons by projecting closed captioning using holographic technology and aid the vision impaired with an audio assist function.

The Access Glasses look like normal glasses, although larger, but they broadcast closed captioning in the wearer’s field of vision. The wearer gets private assistance without disturbing other theatergoers. I know people who use this device and it really does help them to take part in social gatherings such as a night at the movies. This also sets the theater chain apart and allows them to attract additional customers for a small investment.

Classroom Accessibility Technology

There are several products that help low vision students in the classroom, but Dolphin SuperNova integrates a number of technologies into one package. It can be a screen reader with audible voice; it can magnify a screen; and it can connect to an interactive whiteboard in the classroom linked to a student’s laptop, allowing them to magnify text or employ the screen reader to deliver the information audibly. This is a great way to assist low vision students. Of course, as an instructor I need to be diligent in designing lessons and material that can be interpreted by screen readers and magnifiers such as SuperNova.

Low Tech Assistive Solutions

There are some decidedly low tech aids for young people with sensory processing issues or autism or attention deficit disorder. It is difficult to sit still in a classroom when learning is interrupted by the need to move. Therapy Seat Cushion is an inflatable cushion with soft rubber spikes on one side so children can sit in one place but still get the sensory stimulation they need. It allows the child to focus on their learning and not on their need for movement. It can also be overinflated to create an uneven surface for balancing. Similarly, the FootFidget is designed to allow a child to move their feet quietly. I know several adults who could benefit from these products so I am not certain they are just for kids. These are great solutions that fill an often overlooked need.

Thoughts

These are just a few products that allow people with different abilities to thrive in and enjoy their world. I would love to extend this topic to future posts so let me know what accessibility products you are excited about.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Why You Need to be a 5 Tool Player to be Successful

MultitaskingThe following guest blog is provided by alumni Thomas Failor, who is speaking from the perspective of an IT practitioner. AIM graduates practice in a wide variety of disciplines, both technical and non-technical.

You might think that when you graduate with your AIM degree, you’ll be working in a purely IT role, either in engineering, IT development or service delivery, or otherwise focused on a single thread type of task. You also might think that you’ll only work in a technical role or never have to talk to pesky customers again. But that’s not always the case.

With the professional baseball season just underway, I am reminded of an analogy between sports and business that I’ve found valuable. Most companies, even very large ones, expect a knowledge worker with an advanced degree to be what in baseball is referred to as a “5 Tool Player.” In the big leagues, a 5 Tool Player can hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, throw for distance, and field the ball. The broad technology field is no different. Here’s my take on the 5 Tools you need to thrive on the technical side of business.

To be a 5 Tool Player in IT or elsewhere, you must be able to listen with intent, advocate for your customer, consult, collaborate, and communicate, both internally and externally, to be effective.

Listen with Intent

This is pure Steven Covey and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Don’t listen with the intent only to reply. Stop trying to think up your next reply while your associate is still speaking. It’s a challenge, but it’s so much more effective to listen with the intent to understand than just to come up with an answer quickly. Try counting to five before you answer, and preface your response with a validation of the other party’s statement, like “You bring up a good point” or, “That’s a great question.”

Advocate for the Customer

Some people refer to this as the “Voice of the Customer” or VOC in Six Sigma. After you listen with intent, you need to express the VOC or advocate for your customer to get your project done, solution approved, capital expenditures funded, or what have you. Promoting understanding and empathy by advocating for the customer makes you much more effective, (especially in the eyes of the customer), but also demonstrates to the teams you collaborate with your understanding of requirements when it comes time to dig deep into a project. If you fail to listen, you really can’t advocate and you waste business cycles trying to get things like requirements approved and your project moving forward.

Consult

Flex your technical muscles, and provide advice and solutions sets. This is usually the part of our work that we love the most but get to do the least. The truth is that the other 5 Tools get you to your consultation role more effectively. Consulting isn’t all about what you know. Often it’s about providing a range of solutions as a set of choices to your customer. In general, I’ve found that customers hate to be “sold” but they love to “choose.” (Credit: Jeffrey Gitomer)

In offering multiple consultative choices, you increase the likelihood that your customer will choose one of them and thus move your project/process/program forward without delay.

Collaborate

Play nicely with others. One of the pitfalls encountered by some brilliant technical people is that they’ve spent much of their career “heads down” perfecting their craft. Surely that’s important, but if you aren’t able to work with diverse groups with widely ranging technical skills, you only make more work for yourself. Project managers and program managers who may not have a technical background likely depend on you to translate and communicate with your friends on the development/engineering team and drive issues to resolution. I do this type of work every day. If you are able to gather stakeholders, project managers, and solution providers in a room and act as a collaboration facilitator, your work gets done more quickly and you’ve made allies for next time.

Communicate

This is the Achilles heel of many technical practitioners. If we can’t convey our analyses in writing, pitch an idea to an audience without reading 20 slides of PowerPoint word-for-word, or expectations with a customer, you’ll likely be less effective. Don’t depend on your manager or the department extrovert to communicate for you. Speaking and writing effectively are learned skills. Being able to communicate an idea clearly gets your budget approved, a new headcount, more servers, etc.

I have to use the 5 Tools every day to be effective in my work as the liaison between IT and the many needs of the business. It’s all very good to be a highly technical player, and if you work specifically within software development, networking, or security you may be able to get by without work days like mine, but it’s not very likely. Businesses depend on technology leaders to deliver technology solutions, but they also depend on you to be a 5 Tool Player.

 

Thomas Failor photograph.Guest blogger Thomas Failor (’14) is a senior program manager with T-Mobile in the In-Store Technology and Front Line Systems group, part of the Sales Operations Center of Excellence.

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Facing Digital Disruption

Image of airplanes in formation, one plane climbing straight up. In a recent Accenture report, 24% of surveyed CFOs believe that their company will cease to exist in its current form due to disruptive competition. Fifty-eight percent think their industry will be disrupted and 41% believe more than half of their competitors will disappear. The telling statistic, however, is that only 6% are preparing for the anticipated changes.

As I prepare to teach the summer AIM course Creating Business Solutions with Technology, I have been thinking a lot about disruption, particularly digital disruption. I define this as the forces of change, either within or outside the organization, which cause us to operate differently. Sometimes these are slight process changes or adjustments, but sometimes they completely change the way we do business and the way we serve customers. If only 6% of CFOs are preparing for these changes, I hope more CIOs and CEOs are planning ahead.

That’s Not How We Used To Do Things

Particularly for the IT department, technology changes are coming at a rapid pace. We need to become more efficient and deploy our resources and talents differently than ever before. No longer do we have a room full of hardware that we keep locked away from mere mortals. Our hardware and applications are now in the cloud and we are tasked with being service managers instead of systems or software managers. Because of the advances in networking, security, storage, and processing, our jobs have changed dramatically. At least they should have changed. If we are still doing our jobs the way we were 10 years ago, then there is a software or infrastructure service provider that would love to take our business.

Business Changes

Think about some of the things that you do differently as a consumer and you can begin to understand what businesses are facing in the way of new and different competition. The last time I went downtown to visit a travel agent was 10 years ago. I can’t think of the last time I phoned a hotel call center or front desk to make a room reservation. I do it all online. Sometimes I don’t even stay in traditional hotels but prefer a service like Airbnb. Taxi and even rental car services have been disrupted by new business models from companies such as Uber or Lyft. Tesla is threatening to disrupt the traditional dealership model by selling cars in small retail storefronts instead of huge showrooms with massive inventories supplied by the manufacturer. Not surprising, in a number of these disruptions, state legislators are trying to protect business as usual. That’s not how we do things around here, they say.

I send fewer letters than I did even a year ago. It is much easier to write and pay bills online. Mobile and online banking has disrupted the traditional bank downtown. I am sure that you can think of a lot more changes in your own lives due to advances in technology. These are the changes businesses need to grapple with or they risk becoming obsolete.

What To Do

Here are three steps that Accenture recommends to prepare for digital disruption:

  1. Conduct scenario planning to highlight areas of the operating model or current cost structure that need to be transformed.
  2. Create and implement an action plan to redefine your cost base with digital at the core. This is specific advice to the CFO, but applicable to all.
  3. Live and breathe customer obsession. Create strategies throughout the entire organization that focus on the customer first. What would make their lives easier and their transactions more efficient?

These strategies will help to ensure that you will be a viable competitor for the foreseeable future.

Thoughts

Let me know your thoughts. How has technology changed the way that you do business? How do you think things will be different five year from now? Are you ready?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Robots Among Us

Road sign: Robots Ahead.I grew up watching robots on television, among them B9 from “Lost In Space” and Rosie the Robot from “The Jetsons.” I thought such humanoid robots were already in use or at least were just around the corner. Such was the power of television working on a young mind. Here we are decades later and while we have utilized industrial robots for many years, the development of a humanoid robot is still in its infancy. What exactly do humanoid robots look like now and how close are they to the ideal Rosie? More importantly, how will we react to these machines as they come close to replicating or surpassing human capabilities?

From NAO to Pepper

Aldebaran, a French company that is now a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Softbank, first created the NAO robot in 2006. This humanoid robot was designed to educate students at different levels. In primary education, they work well with young learners and even learners with disabilities. They can help teach simple skills, such as counting or the ABCs, and are encouraging without judging. NAO can be used with secondary and even university students to introduce programming and robotics. This is a very real way to get feedback on successful coding and motion engineering projects. Working with this robot could stimulate the visual, auditory, tactile, and even kinesthetic learner.

Pepper, also from Aldebaran, is billed as the “robot that understands your emotions.” Pepper has multiple microphones and high definition cameras in order to make sense of its surroundings, plus an array of sensors and fine motors. It is programmed to perceive and analyze emotions and to get to know a person. It has been used to work with children and adults with autism to help them develop coping mechanisms and understand their own emotions when working through problems. It also comes with a built in tablet so that it can convey its own emotions. It has a wireless internet connection so it could be a Siri or Alexa substitute, providing information in android form instead of a smartphone or speaker. Pepper has motion sensors and collision detection systems so it could be programmed to vacuum the house or walk the dog. Just remember to dress it in a raincoat before it goes out.

Human-Robot Interaction

The Aldebaran machines are cute and they promote social interaction but there still seems to be a general angst towards functional robots, particularly those that take on humanoid form. A recent Discover magazine article speculated that the stigma stems from science fiction stories, or even the old “Terminator” movie series, about robots that suddenly take on very dark and dangerous human thought. Another concern is that robots will take over our jobs as opposed to simply assisting us with difficult and dangerous tasks. Some industrial robots have already done just that and there is fear that it will continue. Google reportedly has decided to sell its 2013 Boston Dynamics acquisition, partly due to social reaction to their humanoid robot development. There appears to be a very fine line between cute, helpful robots and threatening robots.

Thoughts

I would love to hear your thoughts on humanoid robots. Can we overcome our fears and social stigmas to welcome them into our environment, or have we created an artificial intelligence that is too close to human thought and emotion? I think we need to face the challenges, real or perceived, before we can move on and figure out how to improve our own productivity and human existence. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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March Madness Apps 2016: Technology to the Rescue

Basketball bursts through cell phone.As I write this blog entry, the NCAA basketball tournament is just getting underway. My Ducks are a number one seed as the men’s Pac-12 champions so I will be watching their progress closely. This is the time of year that information technology departments send out their obligatory “don’t stream basketball games over the company internet” message. So, what is a die-hard bracket watching basketball fan to do—take a two week vacation from work? Is there another way to keep up on the drama and still be a productive worker?

NCAA March Madness Live

I was at a technical conference last week during the final games of the Pac-12 championship. People were streaming or monitoring the score of the game on tablets and smartphones. I learned that NCAA March Madness Live is a free app that allows users to live-stream games. The added tournament bracket also provides the schedule, scores, and stats, reporting the action via video highlights and photos.

ESPN Tournament Challenge

For bracket-building, this app shows the entire live bracket and lets you make your own picks, which you can then share with your friends. This app provides alerts to keep you updated on the status of your bracket. This is an easy way to build and monitor the office pool.

Fanatic

If you are traveling during the tournament but you want to root for the home team, there is the Fanatic app. This is a free app available for Android or iPhone devices. It can connect you to fans of your team in the area, including information on nearby sports bars loyal to your team. It also lets you invite friends to watch the game with you, and can help you plan a party if you’d rather watch at home.

TuneIn Pro

While not just for March, this app allows you to find and listen to hundreds of radio stations so that you have your ear buds in and still appear to be working although you are listening to the big game. If you can multitask, this may be your best option for getting through March with your job intact. You can configure channels so that you can easily find relevant content for sports or other entertainment.

Television

You can watch games on television with apps available for Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire, and Apple TV. Of course, if you are not taking two weeks off to watch the tournament and you are heeding the advice of your friendly IT person about office streaming, you can always record games to watch AFTER work. Technology has given us a lot of options.

Thoughts

In a recent calculation by consulting firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, the lost productivity due to March Madness could equal $1.9 billion. I am not encouraging that number to go any higher but I have given you some options for tracking the progress of the NCAA tournaments without using all of the company bandwidth and your time.

Do you know of other apps that keep you connected and informed? Which team do you predict will win the final game on April 4? For me, it’s the Ducks all the way.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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