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The Age of Alexa

 

As a birthday gift for my daughters, Flora and Cora, their grandfather purchased for them an Amazon Echo (aka “Alexa”).

If you’re not familiar, the Amazon Echo / Alexa is a voice command controlled free-standing computer (with a nice speaker system to boot!) that links with your wireless network. Measuring some 9.3 inches with a circumference of 3.3 inches, Alexa can just about fit anywhere. In addition, it looks attractive (in a manner of speaking) and readily plugs into a regular wall outlet for power (it connects to your wireless network; no wired connections are required). With some adjustments and minimal amount of programming (took me all of 15 minutes to get it going) you’ll be able to give direct voice commands. Alexa can either answer your inquiries or (depending on your set up) control the lights in your house, control your thermostat, give you automatic news and sports updates as well as tell you the weather, your commuting time or even where the nearest restaurant (down to the type – Belgium ale house, Indian, Chinese, etc.) is to your house.

But doing a little research and experimentation, Alexa can do a lot more – and not just for your home (more on this in a moment).

As an old-timer, I’m amazed at this recent technological development if for no reason than I can appreciate what’s involved. First off, I’ve been working with voice command / recognition software since it first came out back in the 1990’s: things have come a long way. Used to be you had to spend about an hour just to ‘train’ the software/computer to recognize your voice (what with your inflections, accents, voice idioms, etc.) and then more time spent on getting it to do what you wanted it to do – open files, do basic computer commands, etc. And even then, it was rarely perfect: if you were hitting 95% accuracy, you were down great.

With Alexa, there was no hesitation: no training. Alexa was out of the box and running down the road in mere minutes.

Damn; that’s powerful.

No matter who you are, so long as you speak the language that it’s set for, it’ll respond. So literally out of the box, I and both my daughters were taking and using Alexa. Even now, my guests – upon visiting – now ask Alexa for the weather or for sport scores, along with local news as a matter of course, just as they would ask anyone else.

But aside from Alexa being able to give you a host of information – such as cooking recipes, bartending (excuse me, “Mixology”) recipes for drinks or for random facts (‘on this date,…’), with some adjustments and hardware / interface additions, Alexa can water your lawn, control /monitor your house alarms.

Sometimes, amusing situations can arise – such as when my younger daughter asked “Alexa: how old is the Earth?”

Alexa replied “The Earth is 5.35 Billion years old.”

“I knew it! Those people who keep saying that the Earth is only 7,000 years old don’t know what they’re talking about!”

So it’s all fun and games, right?

Not when you check out the IFTTT page for Alexa (IFTT – “If / then” user programming routines). Alexa comes with an ability for folks to program basic interface commands enabling users to link Alexa to various apps and also create routines. Want something done automatically? With a little bit of simple programming, anyone can make their Alexa do things automatically and with a mere voice command.

The potential for Alexa can go beyond just a cool item for the average household: the potential for business applications is also well worth considering. Aside from stock indexes, one could create business services and routines both for the average user and for the business / service end of things. Already, there are ‘recipes’ for users to link to their Evernote and Todoiast, along with dictating short emails (sending them out) or dictating voice message for your Skype. As one example, I can set up and schedule calendar events on my Google calendar just by using my voice – and it’ll appear on all of my calendars (phone, computer, etc. simultaneously).

I would not be surprised to see businesses – especially those who profess the notion of being ‘lean and mean’ – installing Echoes in their offices as means to better streamline operations (not to mention that Echoes could also be of good use for non-profit and governmental agencies as well).

In a manner of speaking, although this is not exactly new technology, the way it’s being recast is nothing short of remarkable. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Echo came from Amazon. After all, as I had previously written, Amazon and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been quietly working together for seveal years now, with Amazon’s in-house computer network now being the repository of the CIA’s records – and ground zero for a development project based in Vancouver, Canada for true AI (Artificial Intelligence) development (https://shockwaveriderblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/the-cia-and-jeff-bezos-working-together-for-our-the-future/) utilizing quantum computing. Feel free to read my past posting on this subject matter: it’s well worth the read and helps one to better appreciate what’s taking place now.

I cannot help but wonder if Alexa is but one minor result  / spin-off from that ongoing effort. And granted, Alexa may sound awesome and smart, but it’s certainly not about to pass the Turing Test.

If Alexa is any indication, we are indeed entering a new age  – the Age of Alexa.

New Future Careers (A Slightly Cynical Overview)

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For quite some time, I’ve been reading a number of reports, white pages, books, blogs and whatnot about the future state of work. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s pretty much a crap shoot however you look at it. And so, like many others, I’d figure I’d give my insight into the future career development trends.

It used to be that there would always be jobs that could be considered ‘safe’ and ‘stable’. No more. With the constant and exponential advance of technology now becoming so prevalent, what were once considered safe careers are going to require – at the very last, some major revamping on some folks part, while other careers are going to – within the next 10 or 20 years – simply disappear. So how can you tell where things are going to go? What’s a good job to have now that’ll be there later on? Kind of a silly question when you think about it, especially when you consider that on average, a person can expect to hold anywhere from 3 to 5 CAREERS, let alone more than a dozen jobs – at a minimum – given today’s economy.

So,…

Want to know what jobs are really going to be hot? Where you should look to catch the next wave? Look no further and read here!

Let’s look into the crystal ball to see the future (we’re talking about 10 to 20 years; any more and it gets tricky).

And please, try not to laugh too hard, get shocked or disgusted: this is merely a ‘suggested listing. Take it or leave it as you please.
Professional Assassin

It’s a rough and tumble world: hiring somebody who can make ‘incidents’ look like accidents will truly be irreplaceable. This kind of work can be applicable to both the private and public world. Fort example, as elections become more demanding and costly, removing pesky political candidates seeking ‘meaningful’ change can be irritating if not upsetting to your electoral base; make it look like a heart attack or a car accident.

Similarly, working for that promotion can be so much easier when your competition suddenly chokes on their morning muffin or has that sudden heart attack at their local coffee place. When you think about it, if you could ‘eliminate’ your competition at the cost of a year’s salary knowing that you’ll be able to get it all back – and more – within two years (and depending on your career track, maybe even move up higher in the food chain) maybe the ROI (Return On Investment) is something to consider. Just remember to ask yourself if you can live with yourself afterwards and deal with the morality later on.

Unlikely to happen? Well, think again. Statistically speaking the U.S. national homicide solution rate is around 50%. In others words, on average, 1 out of 2 homicides goes unsolved. The figure varies from start to state, so before you think that folks are going to get caught – well, yes, there’s always a good chance as not everyone can go out and commit a ‘successful’ murder: but surprisingly, the odds do favor folks more than many realize: http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2013/01/rates-of-unsolved-murder-by-state.html

And please spare me your shock: assassins over the course of the centuries have often been employed and extensively used. In some time periods, it was often de’rigor (witness the Italian Renaissance of the 1400’s) as assassins were not so much used just for killing, but also for defense against possible options of entry, methods of poisons or other dangers. Sometimes the best defense is hiring those who know the inside tricks: who better to know a professional than another professional?

Law Enforcement / Criminal Intelligence

With the sudden expansion of assassinations, who else better to solve murders than a detective?

But criminal intelligence will be much, much more than just detectives solving crimes. With the rising influence of the Internet and crimes being committed long distance and across boundaries, having an innate sense of patterns coupled with a strong knowledge of the law and technology / database processes will be fundamental in this growing job field. Having good shoes can always help, but more and more it will more a matter of professionals able to research, review and seek out information online and from a wide variety of sources (in addition to good old fashion direct contact) – and often all done at the convenience of a computer terminal.

The good news what with folks turning more and more to computer usage and the growth of the Internet, law enforcement agencies are better able to share information and with some good old fashion sleuthing and persistence, you could be one of the good guys who gets the bad guys.

Research Analyst

Along the same lines, Research Analysts will become very useful for journalists, attorneys, people seeking electoral office or other gig level professionals. Knowing the dirt on your opponents, seeking market opportunities and potential patents and licenses to exploit will be invaluable in the coming 21st century. Likewise, publications seeking to do a story will need background and having somebody on hand to do just that – whether it’s the office intern trying to make a name for themselves.

Social Media Expert

You are only as good as your reputation and word – and given the prevalence of the Internet, how you appear on Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. ultimately impacts your business and your professional standing. Having the expert(s) on hand to help guide you through the jungle of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) will become important as there are a number of routines, services / website worth focusing on (and others that are on the way out) as well as ‘tricks’ you need to know to have a positive impact. The good news is that SEO’s are becoming more common, and with that, more career opportunities are starting to open up.
Writers – Creative

Nothing can readily replace good, creative writing (but then again, there’s also television, so it evens out). Fact is, the most despised, abused and neglected part of many marketing, film or other work involving a mediocrum of creative work is that of writing. Still, if you can live at shit wages and live the life of a professional dealing with routine neglect and abuse, there’s a future in here – somewhere, I’m sure but don’t ask me; I still haven’t found it.

Artists – varied

Ditto for graphic artists, although now it helps to have a good computer / graphic design background if you’re going to have any sort of ‘serious’ career (although I’m not sure a lot of artists are going to be happy over this. I sometimes wonder what would Picasso do with an Apple,…?).

Alternate Energy Professionals

Whether you’re a salesman selling solar panels or a journalists writing about new energy trends, having a good knowledge of alternative energy systems will be a crucial skill in the coming decades. Knowing the cost effectiveness of various energy processes, how they actually work and where each energy system would be most effective and applicable will be a vital role throughout the world, regardless if you’re looking into credential or commercial applications. many lesser developed nations are turning to alternative energy solutions owing to the greater return on investment that alternative energies offer and the ease in which they could be installed. In some instances, military forces worldwide are looking into this function as operations become more far-flung and with rising logistical challenges, having a self-sufficient force in the field can offer a serious tactical advantages.

Nurse

As the population grows and ages, the need for professional care takers will be needed, whether at the home (for the few select ones) or for larger medical institutions. This will become even more acute as universal health are grows and service demands rise. In addition, rising violence in some locations may offer greater need for emergency staff capable of assistance that could save lives, especially with those assassins and crazed morticians running about.

Morticians
Speaking of morticians,…

Somebody has to bury the bodies; as the population grows so too does the demand for burials. Granted, it ain’t your grandfather’s mortuary service anymore and morticians are now being franchised ala McDonald’s, but still the skills will come into ever greater demand in the coming decades. Thing is, however, it’ll likely evolve into a ‘cut throat’ business so I’d be careful about hanging out with morticians after work.

Non-Profit Professionals

As governments become more and more stretched to the limits of spending, social gaps are growing and with that, having the skill set of non-profit management will become more prevalent and necessary.

Non-profits increasingly carry the load of many governmental agencies, as governmental agencies increasingly sub-contract out what normally would be covered by governments. Thus, having the ability to fund raise, effectively manage and maintain cost-effective non-profit service and keeping those costs down will be vital skills to have in the continuing century as public service weakens even as public needs continue to rise.

Mercenary

In today’s world, security is becoming paramount and possessing the skills to kill (aside form being that of an assassin) will become ever more needed. Whether you’ll wind up with a Blackwater (now known “Academi”) subsidiary or working as a security guard for some corporate entity, having muscle on hand is always good for some folks as there are a lot of weird and dangerous people out there (perhaps including assassins or hungry morticians).
Jobs that are on the way out:
Programmer

While it is good – if not important – to understand programming, owing to the number of programmers found throughout the world the cost/value ratio of programming is dropping. To be certain, it will always be vital to have on hand good / expert programmers, but increasingly, as with any over-flooded market, having too much of a skill set is bound to thin things out and thus, unless you’re really good with solid experience, changes are you’re going to find it hard to get by on just being a programmer alone.

Add to this how many HR departments really don’t have a clue what it is they’re looking for (Java script? Are you f**king serious?) along with now many programming jobs being simply ‘off shored’ for pennies to the dollars (witness the story of the gentleman who offshored his work to programmers while still collecting his salary and making a profit in the process – that is, until his HR found out and gave him a test for his programming skills, which he failed and was promptly fired).

Financial Analyst

For those of you who despise Wall Street and their minions of money, you can cheer; soon, many of these so-called financial whizzes will find themselves on the receiving end of pink slips. What’s replacing them, however, may be even more scary: computers.

Wall Street is fast becoming a land of algorithms and high-speed / power processing. Much of what financial analysts do today on Wall Street can – and in many instances already are – being replaced. If you’re a financial analyst reading this, better sharpen up your resume or learn about computers while you still can. So now we can look forward to getting endless emails about potential investment opportunities as you face your home foreclosure.

Attorneys

Increasingly, attorney’s are a dime a dozen. Granted, nothing can replace a ‘good attorney;’ but as computers and advanced legal services go online with computer algorithms, you’re really not going to need as many attorneys to conduct legal review and/or research. Utilization of the law requires much more than just key words or phrases; legal analysis is a tricky realm to navigate but increasingly, it’s being mapped out and navigated (some have even suggested that in the coming 10 to 20 years, it may be a big as nearly 9 out of 10 lawyers today will no longer find work!). Word to the wise: IBM’s Watkins (http://www.ibm.com/cognitive/outthink/).

In time, the cost of having access to an advanced legal service is going to be more cost-effective than maintaining legal experts on staff. Soon, even many in-house secretaries and paralegals may soon themselves facing new and uncertain futures owing to templates and online services replacing much of what is being done in-house, along with Siri-like secretarial assistants and document imaging / file management systems. Still, somebody has to make the coffee and clean the office dishes (wait a minute; that’s why we have unpaid interns!).
Knowing the direction of trends and where things are going is something that the graduating class of 2025 (if not sooner) had better keep in mind as clearly things aren’t what they used to be. Change doesn’t have to be bad; just to be willing to see change and to adjust for it is, as Charles Darwin pointed out in his “Origins of Species”, necessary for survival.

That and a twisted sense of humor.

The War on the SEO Front

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Silent and deadly, they work.  Relentlessly; non-stop and without rest.

They are international – or they could be local and/or regional.

The Robots. The Scammers. The Haters.

These are but a select few of many variations inhabiting the realm of social media; and they are rarely – if ever – your friends.

In time, as your social media presence grows so too does attention to you and who you are. Sometimes, it could be mass marketers looking to expand their client base – or they could view you as somebody to sell possible leads, franchise opportunities or market specific services such as business associations based upon your religious or social beliefs.

On the flip side there could be scammers, creating false personalities and attempting to learn more about you so as to steal from you. This is nothing new and often happens on such sites as LinkedIn or Facebook, whereby a picture of somebody is uploaded and a false identity complete with schools attended, places worked and personal interests – all of it created to lull you into joining and linking up with them. Once done, they now have better access to you and your social sites, finding out more about you and your associations and connection and in time, depending upon their interests, gaining more information to steal from you and/or use aginst you.

Other times, some will even go so far as to create a mirror site of yourself, sneaking in and getting the acceptance and connections from your friends and contacts without their knowing it’s really not you they’re talking to. This happens more often than many realize; next time, be on the lookout from folks who send out notifications about somebody doing this kind of identity theft.

And then there are the dedicated few – the angry ones or outright vicious mercenaries – the Haters. The Haters are out to destroy you and your reputation. Sometimes it’s all part of a greater scheme – say, corporate warfare. Dragging somebody or an entity into the mud with false statements and innuendo, even going so far as to create entire fake news sites and (sometimes) utilizing them to nefarious ends – and perhaps under the banner of ‘satire’ (one such classic site is that of “abcnews.com.co”. To many internet uses, it would appear to be the site of ABC News but in fact is not, and often it’s satire has resulted in some interesting results: witness the false news report about the NCAA pulling out of North Carolina). Other times it could be candidates and groups of angry people who are attacking public figures during election cycles, or professional associations not happy with their workplace bosses and place of employment.  Another classic example is the now infamous “whitehouse.com” (and not the “Whitehouse.gov”) – with people clicking on it thinking they’re going to the Washington, D.C. White House, only to find they’ve been re-directed to a porn site (as of this writing, this is no longer the case).

But other aproaches impact in other ways – witness, for example, “Tmobile”. Type “Tmobile” in a Google search sometime and see what happens: you’ll get, at the top of the list, a site known as “http://tmobile.pissedconsumer.com”, complete with a litany of complaints and attacks against Tmobile Corporation.Whoever manages and owns the domain and website cannot be readily found as the domain where this site resides is held by a ‘proxy’ – under a privacy cover.  And what’s more, they not only have the “.COM”, but also “.NET”, “.ORG” and “.INFO”. Which may, in part, explain why this specific site has a 94% SEO ranking: it’s popular and thus it will continue to have a high ‘hit rate’. But unfortunately, it cannot be good for business with Tmobile and to many, it’s not going to be easy to find out who’s sponsoring this site for all anyone may know, it may not be a group of unhappy consumers, but could be managed by one or more of Tmobile’s competitors.

One can only imagine how some folks at the Tmobile Corporation feel.

Now take this example at a more personal level.

Say you undergo a bad divorce, a dispute with a business partner or you’re involved in a nasty lawsuit. What better way to get back at somebody and hurt them but to attack their online reputation with negative information, malicious websites, or even go so far as to create other false sites with the intent to state negative or satiric news (sometimes the worst thing you can do to somebody is to mock them)? Think about it: what better way to help influence a future trial date but to get some negative information about your legal opponent?

Not to sound paranoid, but it happens more often than people realize – and it’s very, very easy to do.

What to do?

  1. Your best defense is a good offense. Get your name and positive reputation out there before others do, but also take control of your name – specifically, domain names. If you’re “Joseph Smith” then depending on who you are or what who you do, it may be worthwhile to spend the couple of dollars to get your name with a .COM, .NET, .ORG and a .INFO. Doesn’t mean you operate a website on those domain names (although it couldn’t hurt); what it does mean is that you’ve secured your name for yourself, and not for somebody else to obtain and go about dragging your name in the mud.
  2. Continue practicing good SEO by posting things about yourself on a regular, constant basis. Content is kind and the more you put out about yourself, the better control you are of your own reputation (for more on this, see prior postings on this subject).
  3. Don’t connect with just anyone; choose your connections wisely. See who your potential connections are connected with. Confirm they’re real; sometimes doing a reverse picture lookup is a good idea: confirm that there are indeed a real person, and not just someone else’s pictures.
  4. Get into the routine of checking up on your various sites and posting new items. Don’t get carried away: just 15 or 20 minutes a day is usually good for most people. (for larger entities, you may want to consider contracting this work out to SEO professionals. Rates can vary, but you’d be surprised how cheap this can be).

There are many other approaches, practices and routines; we’ve only just skimmed the surface.

An ounce of prevention is worth several  pounds of cure. Depending on your needs and concerns, spend some time setting up your plan and your approach – and get to work. The time, planning and effort you spend securing your internet reputation now will more than pay you back in dividends.