Dispatch from CES: Giant TVs, Obsequious Gadgets, and Artificial People

I’m fresh from a couple of days wandering the halls of the Consumer Electronics Show, affectionately known as CES — the annual conference that descends upon Las Vegas in January and proffers the latest in technological solutions to improve every aspect of our daily lives. This is my first time attending the world’s biggest technology conference, where 4,500 companies this year are vying for the attention of 180,000 attendees, according to my Uber driver.

As I made my way through the crowds at the massive Las Vegas Convention Center and other conference venues, I tried to get a sense of the common themes defining consumer innovation as we begin a new decade. 

Making Human Connections in the Age of Automation

The end of the decade marks a challenging time for marketers as they attempt to envision the next 10 years. At the turn of the 2010s, no one could have envisioned the advanced AI-powered marketing and campaign automation tools that are available today. 

Despite access to smart technology, modern marketers still must balance multiple factors to create business value for all stakeholders, including eliminating boring, ineffective ads, grappling with the automation myth, embracing the data privacy age, and maintaining ethical AI practices. 

Companies Are Struggling to Manage IoT Data. Here’s Why

The devices around us are getting smarter. From the consumer’s perspective, that means refrigerators are sending notifications when the milk is running low, and thermostats are turning down the temperature when there’s no movement in the house. Businesses are relying on the data generated by connected devices to improve algorithms and make their existing products even smarter, but collecting and managing large volumes of data is creating a new set of challenges.

Globally, the IoT market is expected to reach $212 billion by the end of this year. With the worldwide number of IoT-connected devices projected to top 43 billion by 2023, the challenges associated with managing large amounts of data in real-time are growing at a rapid pace.

Retailers Wooing Holiday Shoppers Try AI On for Size

What if e-commerce retailers could use technology to replicate the role of the in-store sales associate, providing people at home with the type of personal attention that really drives sales?

Technology vendors are working feverishly to make that a reality. Using artificial intelligence and voice assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, and Siri, online retailers are beginning to imagine a world where shoppers can ask their voice companions for recommendations on product fit or gift suggestions in specific price ranges. There may even be a time, not too far in the future, when shoppers can get personal feedback during try-ons inside their own closets, thanks to “smart” mirrors and other virtual reality technology.

Consumerizing AI to Drive Stickiness and Usability

Organizations investing billions in enterprise software realized the obvious: that easier-to-use technology was not only more scalable internally, but that it delivered better ROI. Accessible platforms could be optimized faster and were “stickier” across teams. This gave way to the consumerization movement in IT and enterprise. 

As we head into 2019, the enterprise’s consumerization is well established. Yet when it comes to AI, which will see over $235 billion in investment by 2025, this idea of consumer-like UI has largely fallen by the wayside. 

That has to change.

5 Predictions for Mobile Technology After the Mass Adoption of 5G

The new 5G standard for phones is just starting to make a splash. There’s a lot to do in the development department and lots of equipment installations necessary before everyone can enjoy 5G hyper speeds.

While there are some predictions on the transition from the current 4G LTE dominance to 5G, nobody really knows how long it will take. But what happens once it does and 5G is the new standard? 

Here are five most likely to happen scenarios that await us in the near future.

Strategy for Bolstering Brand Safety Online Combines AI, Human Linguists

Despite promises that they would do better, platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and others are still struggling with the issue. Brands don’t want their ads appearing alongside extremist content and hate speech, but flagging every piece of content that could be considered inappropriate is not an easy task.

The challenge has opened the door for a new industry of “authenticators,” which use technology to help brands avoid inappropriate content online. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, these technology providers are usually able to evaluate the quality of an ad impression in real-time and help their brand clients avoid anything that could be considered inappropriate. Or at least, that’s what the goal is.

Google Revises Policy Asking Users for Permission to Listen to Their Assistant Recordings

The fact that this was an open practice that at least some consumers simply did not understand they were either opting into or automatically participating in points to calls for greater transparency and regulation. Google says it “fell short” of its “high standards” on the issue, but legislation like Europe’s GDPR, CCPA, and legislation in some 10 other US states indicates those standards may be imposed on tech companies by government agencies going forward.

online privacy

Is Consent Enough to Make Audio Recordings Safe for Human Processing?

Recently, a number of high-profile tech firms have been uncovered permitting human employees to access private conversations consumers believed were only processed by AI.

Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa have all been placed in the limelight, and now Facebook has also come under fire for letting human employees access sensitive personal conversations for transcription purposes.

In the case of AI assistants, private conversations are primarily harvested from consumers who own and use their devices directly. However, there is an emerging body of evidence that these technologies are also harvesting secondary persons’ conversations — completely unknown to those individuals.

retail store

How Retailers Use AI, Mapping to Boost ROI on Store Remodels

Walmart, Walgreens, and Sephora are all using artificial intelligence technology to improve the retail experience. While the majority of use cases for AI in retail have focused on enhancing the shopping experience for customers, forward-thinking analytics firms are innovating and developing new uses for their existing AI technology.

The analytics firm Fractal Analytics is pushing forward in the retail space with its own solution that relies on AI to forecast the cost of retail store remodels, as well as determine the ROI from large-scale renovation projects. Although Fractal works solely with Fortune 500 companies, the solutions it is developing could be adopted more broadly throughout the retail space.

How to Identify and Connect with Your Ideal Podcast Ad Audience

While just over half of Americans have listened to them, podcasts are finding new audiences every day. U.S. advertisers spent $479 million on podcast ads in 2018, up 53% year-over-year; that figure is expected to hit $1 billion in 2021. And those people who do listen to podcasts listen to them a LOT. Podcasts are the number one audio source by time of consumption among podcast listeners, and weekly listeners consume an average seven podcasts per week, according to Edison Research.

Podcast advertising is rapidly evolving, as are podcasts themselves. It’s no wonder, then, that advertisers could use help identifying the right podcasts for their products and connecting with podcast audiences. Here’s what you need to know about podcasts and their audiences to find the right home for your podcast advertisements. 

Phone-as-a-Service?

It’s becoming clear that we’re headed toward a new vision for our devices: the Phone as a Service (PaaS). Yes, sounds crazy, but look at the parallels between your phone and how/why other “X”s have become services:

X-as-a-service (XaaS) is delivery of X directly via the internet, eliminating the need to use and manage multiple and independent solutions on locally hosted devices, right? So, PaaS is the delivery of personalized media via the phone, eliminating the need to use and manage multiple and independent, locally hosted apps. We’re already seeing that happen.

Data Trends with the Highest Impact In 2019

At the beginning of the year, we like to take time and speculate on which data science trends will make the biggest splash in the year. Now that we’re entering the second half of 2019, it is a good time to take a look at our initial assumptions regarding these trends and re-evaluate each one’s impact on the industry.

The Deceptive Arguments Amazon Uses to Shirk Responsibility for AI

In a recent column, Recode founder and New York Times columnist Kara Swisher cut to the core of what would seem to be concessionary calls for regulation from Big Tech firms, summarizing their attitude like this: “We make, we break, you fix.” She’s right, and with Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook doubling their combined lobbying spending from 2016 to $55 million in 2018, it is worth taking a closer look at the kinds of arguments the companies are trotting out to avoid responsibility for the outcomes of the technology they produce and sell. We should be particularly concerned about the arguments tech firms are making about AI, which is already remaking our society, replacing steps in crucial human decision-making processes with machine-generated solutions.

For an example of how tech firms are attempting to get away with peddling potentially dangerous AI-based tech to powerful entities like law enforcement agencies while accepting minimal accountability, consider Amazon’s Rekognition.

July Focus: Retail Transformation in the Amazon Age

Street Fight is rolling into July with the monthly theme Disrupting Retail: a look at how retail continues to transform, driven by competition from Amazon and key trends like “retail-as-a-service.”

But why is this important to Street Fight (and to you)? As we continue to evolve the definition of “local,” one key component of its market opportunity is offline brick-and-mortar shopping. After all, about 90% of all U.S. retail spending, to the tune of about $3.7 trillion, is completed offline in physical stores. And that’s usually in proximity to one’s home (thus, local).

Consumers Welcome Some Automated Business Messaging, But Humans Must Tag Along to Help

More than half of consumers are frustrated by customer-service situations in which they can only interact with automated agents, and nearly one in five even reporting feeling angry in those situations. That’s per a new survey of U.S. consumers conducted by The Harris Poll and commissioned by call tracking and analytics firm Invoca.

Heard on the Street, Episode 28: Location-Based Survival of the Fittest, With Gimbal

According to Gimbal’s SVP of location platforms Adrian Tompsett, the key to the location business is having a long-term and holistic view of customer value. That means using location intelligence to go beyond just triggering promotions to increase the customers’ basket size, instead using the technology in ways that will provide additional value in the long term.

How to Use Facebook’s Simplified Campaign Structure to Your Advantage

It’s a brave new advertising world. The algorithms are taking over, whether human advertising managers like it or not. Our best bet is to understand how the algorithms work and to give them the freedom, the data, the budgets, and the creative assets they need for optimal performance.  The Facebook algorithm will take away budget lever from humans when Campaign Budget Optimization becomes mandatory in September 2019.

Walmart Tests Out the “Future of Retail” in Long Island Store

There’s no time for the future of retail like the present. That is the motto at Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab, a live experiment in AI-driven shopping experiences that is now open to the public at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Levittown, NY. 

How Emerging Technologies Allow Businesses to Merge Their Digital and Traditional Marketing

New technologies (and new spins on old ones) are the modern company’s ally in merging digital and traditional marketing. The brands that find a sensible balance between the two are the brands that will outperform the competition. Let’s take a look at four major examples of innovation in this arena.