AI disruption and jobs

Fascinating interview with Andrew Ng, Baidu’s chief AI scientist (via The Ringer).

About Andrew:

A former AI researcher at Stanford, Ng is best known for spearheading the Google Brain initiative, an ambitious artificial-intelligence project that helped advance Silicon Valley’s understanding of deep-learning techniques. Instead of being programmed to respond to specific actions, a deep learning system is fed massive amounts of data from which it is able to discern patterns over time, loosely mimicking how the human mind absorbs information. Ng’s system at Google famously figured out what a cat looks like after scanning millions of online images.

Worth reading in full for his views on how AI will displace jobs, what that really means, and how we can prepared for it. Here’s a taste:

Do you think there could be a point when politicians or the general public will be actively hostile toward AI research and view it as a threat to their livelihood? How do we avoid that kind of outcome?

AN: One thing that concerns me is when AI researchers whitewash the issue. I think there is a temptation to pretend the issue is the specter of these evil AI killer robots. It’s a PR distraction from the real issue, which is job displacement. I think that researchers have a responsibility to talk about the real problem and be honest and transparent about what might need to happen and also to contemplate solutions — which I think is providing [for] the education of communities as well as the support so that every person has an equal path to doing equal work.

Snapchat Surgery

When I initially read about a surgeon using Snapchat Spectacles to livestream a surgery I was ready to take the piss. But it actually turns out to be fascinating. And useful – all his students could watch it on their phones.

Here’s the another he’s done – with context – which he posted on YouTube:

How scientists use Slack

Not using Slack yet?

If not, why not.

Here’s how a science lab uses Slack to replace email and increase collaboration.

When geneticist Daniel MacArthur checks into his lab, the first thing he does is fire up Slack, a workplace messaging app. In the system, he zips through the hundreds of messages and files left in different channels by the lab’s 23 scientists — some reporting on their projects, others requesting help. The lab’s members have posted more than 400,000 messages on Slack since April 2014 — a rate of nearly 500 per day. For MacArthur, who works at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the tool has rendered irrelevant many of the ways that his lab previously used to communicate about papers and projects — especially e-mail.

Worth a read for all the different processes they’ve now replaced with Slack.


Troy Hunt on looking after conference speakers

A thoughtful post from Troy on ways that some conferences mistreat speakers.

Reading through the post and the comments was an eye opener to me – for all his items (except perhaps 3 and 7, see below) – I was surprised that things like this still happen at commercial conferences. Admittedly my experience of conferences lately has been Inbound – which is at the premium end – the way they treat speakers is excellent.

However, a few thoughts related to:
3. Sharing slides
One thing that can provide tons of value for attendees is slide decks. Perhaps it’s different for largely demo driven talks (which Troy’s would mostly be), but in many cases making slide decks available afterwards is a quick and easy way to save attendees frantically scribbling notes during your session, allowing them instead to stay focussed on your speaking. There’s a relief when a speaker say ‘don’t worry about taking notes of the resources, they’ll all be available in the deck afterwards…’

If the sessions is recorded and made available afterwards, that’s even better, but is often not an option at smaller conferences. Also, there’s usually a delay of at least a week or two after a talk while they are produced – something else making the slides immediately available overcomes.

7. Covering Travel and Expenses
This is an interesting one. For drawcard speakers (and Troy is certainly one) this is of course to be expected. And in many cases the headline speakers are paid appearance fees on top. That’s all totally fine.

However, there is an interesting discussion to be had at the lower end of the speaker ladder. For an unknown speaker, getting in front of an audience, and paying for the privilege of doing so may well be a good investment.

Also, compare it to exhibiting at a conference or tradeshow.

As conference sponsorship prices increase, it may actually be a lot cheaper to pay all your own expenses in exchange for getting a conference ticket and the chance to speak to a room full of interested attendees…

Black Friday Buyer’s Remorse

Is it just me, or does it seem as though for every one amazing Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer you receive there’s two that give you buyer’s remorse: you purchased it previously and now you have an email slapping you in the face offering it for up to 80% less than you paid.

Case in point: I purchased a HubSpot theme for $1200 earlier in the year. This morning I received an email promoting* it was on sale for $200.

It’s interesting to take stock of your feelings when this happens. Even though there was no way I could have known about this earlier in the year, I now feel as though I’ve been unwise with my money. I’ve wasted money. I’ve made a bad decision. And I now also have a negative association with that company – since they are the one who has elicited this response.

That’s just one (but the largest) of many experiences my Inbox has given me this Thanksgiving weekend.

I suspect many companies and brands do themselves a longer term customer satisfaction disservice, in the chase for short term profit.

Here’s a quick rule to perhaps embrace:
– if you are offering a consumable item (ie one that a person will likely buy many times) then offering a discount is fine
– but if it is a single purchase item, then offering a discount is potentially alienating your previously happy customers.

Let’s end buyer’s remorse.

Your 80% discount offer hit me right here

* And to make matters worse the email wasn’t even personalised – at a minimum they could have acknowledged I was an existing customer, and perhaps suggested I could now purchase the theme again for another site. Even something as simple as better messaging could have softened the negative experience.

Public transport

Every time I see a bus packed with people, I say a silent thank you to all of the passengers.

I can’t help but think of this comparison:

Car versus bus versus bike
(via: Going Car Free)

Taking public transport, even when it’s crowded, or rainy, or hot is a valuable contribution to society. If only more people did it when possible (I totally get that it’s often not feasible).

We don’t need more roads, we need more public transport. It’s been said many times.

Which is why when I see suggestions like this (that has been massively shared on social) I shake my head – all that design and initiative wasted as they try to solve the effects of the problem and not the problem itself:

Podcast intros need to die

When Die Hard 2 came out all those years ago, one of the wonderful things it did was skip the opening credits and just got straight into it.

Opening credits though are still very much the norm, and although they can occasionally be a key part of the experience (eg James Bond credits) usually they are just annoying. Who wouldn’t choose to skip the credits if they were given the choice?

Podcasts it seem are a similar situation. Most podcasts insist on having opening (and closing) jingles/credits/annoyances.

There’s a few wonderful exceptions – Exponent and The Talk Show come to mind – but for the main shows have 30 seconds (or more!) of time-wasting self promotion that has everyone either enduring or frantically skipping through (I’m definitely the latter).

Why do podcasts have these jingles/credits? Perhaps a first impression of an episode with a professional sounding jingle will improve the perception it gives. But I doubt it. And it definitely wears off quickly if you hear it every episode. It adds no value to the listener.

I’m fine with a closing call-to-action or a request to leave a review. But to waste 30 seconds of a listener’s time with (usually) terrible stock music and annoying voiceover is a strange practice. And yet almost everyone does it. Why?

I’d love it if a popular podcast tested this. They’d create a new podcast that had exactly the same content but without the jingle/intro/outro. And they simply let listeners decide. I’d bet a cap full of cash that most listeners would switch over to the intro free version in a heartbeat.

Or would they? When Ian and I were starting HubShots one of the things I felt strongly about was having no intro. I wonder if it is has helped us or hindered us?

Ghostwriting thought leadership

A good piece by Lauren Ingram (at least I assume she wrote it :) on whether we need to start getting more transparent about the ghost writing that goes on in corporate content strategy.

As you probably know much of the ‘thought leadership’ content produced by CEO and higher management in big enterprise is ghost written, often without any input or even signoff from them before it is published. This typically happens in blog posts on the corporate’s own site, but can also extend to guest posts on other sites, as well as publications and industry magazines.

It’s kind of an accepted practice these days, but is it time to rethink this. Lauren notes:

Let’s look at academia, where using someone else’s writing is absolutely off limits. If you’re caught paying a shady essay mill to write your paper, you’ll probably be suspended and may face expulsion. You didn’t do the research. You didn’t write the paper. Your academic reputation would be in tatters.

Somehow, these consequences don’t apply in a professional setting. Instead, if you pay someone to write your professional guest post, your reputation could be bolstered instead.

Personally I think people are generally happy with the idea of a ghost writer – but the question Lauren raises is whether the ghost writers deserve some of the recognition:

When some celebrities sign book deals for memoirs, co-writers are included in the byline, just in a smaller font. It might seem strange at first, but why couldn’t bloggers use this same system? Or at the very least, put some sort of disclosure at the bottom of the story to acknowledge the name of the person who actually wrote the post.

In much the same way as a Prime Minister’s or President’s speechwriter(s) may themselves receive accolades – is it time we moved to a similar model for our thought leadership writers?