AI, Chatting With Lightbulbs and iPad Miracles

Philips Hue Signe light strip floor lamp

We tend to focus on the irritating, silly problems of new technology because, well, it amuses us. But the other side of the coin is that problems get resolved, and what we’re left with is a wholesale cultural change. And when that happens, no amount of lingering cynicism will prevent things from becoming as they never were before.

Philips Hue Signe light strip floor lamp

As an example of that, I’ll point to this CNET article. “AI means your children will talk to your lightbulbs, Amazon says.” Don’t laugh. This has import.

[Swami Sivasubramanian], the vice president of Amazon’s machine learning efforts has a 3-year-old daughter. With Amazon’s Echo smart speakers, powered by Amazon’s Alexa voice control technology, she turns on the lights and listens to ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ being sung …

‘Now she doesn’t even look for switches,’ Sivasubramanian said. ‘When we go to a hotel, she actually says, ”Mommy, Alexa isn’t listening to me.”

Now you may dismiss this story as an edge case because of Mr. Sivasubramanian’s motivations, expertise and position an Amazon. But history has shown that technology starts off like this but eventually goes mainstream.

This link reminds me of a story, years ago, about a tech journalist. He had very young daughter who was well familiar with her iPad but not with paper magazines. One Sunday morning, his daughter was trying to pinch-zoom a photo in a magazine and cried out: “Daddy, it’s broken.”

Today we take iPads for granted. But it’s really a miracle of tech evolution that we’ve seen mature in just over a decade. Expect the same from AI.

More Debris

• A lot of fuss has been made about Google’s Call Screen for the Pixel smartphones. Apparently, Apple has been thinking about all this, but in a slightly different context. “Apple wants your iPhone to warn you of spoofed calls.” So far, the tech is only in the patent stage, but it does illustrate the difference in thinking between Google and Apple.

Telemarketing is a big business in the U.S., even though consumers hate it. And so an effort by Google to outright kill an established business, overnight, will probably run aground. But a phone scam, that often invokes call number spoofing, is illegal. And that problem can be tackled by the technology in the Apple patent that Cult of Mac describes.

• There have been lots of reviews of Apple’s new iPhone XS and XS Max. But my perennial favorite comes from Anandtech. This site really digs into the hardware and showcases an awesome comparison chart with specs seldom seen elsewhere. See:

Here, NN refers to a Neural Network standard of performance. These are terrific articles. Make a pot of tea. A big one.

• Dan Moren at Macworld thinks Google has developed some hardware that introduces features we would welcome in Apple products. “3 features Apple should borrow from Google’s latest hardware.” For example,

Google’s Pixel 3 … eschews a second rear-facing camera. But it does include a second front-facing camera for the purpose of taking wide-angle selfies. This is, admittedly, a brilliant choice.

And who, if it isn’t Apple, is more into selfies?

Apple Watch Series 4
The new intelligent guardian. Image credit: Apple.

• Finally, we at The Mac Observer have been monitoring our new Apple Watches (Series 4) to determine if we can get all-day, all-night battery life. That would allow sleep monitoring. Ben Lovejoy at 9to5Mac has also been testing and has this report. “Apple Watch Diary: Battery-life is now good enough for sleep-tracking plus all-day wear.

My own very preliminary testing indicates about 1 percent battery drop per hour. But the battery is new, and I haven’t had a chance to put the watch through a variety of power hungry tasks. I will continue to track my AWS4 battery performance.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week followed by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

One thought on “AI, Chatting With Lightbulbs and iPad Miracles

  • John:

    Interesting reads. Shockingly, let me begin with a comment on the CNET article regarding AI. And yes, I recall that same article you cite about the fellow whose child tried to pinch and zoom a magazine photo.

    Technology has always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with culture; the two interacting in a (generally) positive feedback loop in which culture inspires technology which then influences culture which in turn inspires and influences yet newer technologies, or at least incremental technological transformation. We have also witnessed negative feedback loops, although these have occurred generally when the technological products have had perceived deleterious effects on human well-being and survival. One example is nuclear power, both fission and fusion, with their commingled promises of survival and destruction. Due to the latter, the application of products to the former have been mired in controversy, not to mention imperfect execution notably with respect to safety protocols, and remains a technology (nuclear power) not fully exploited.

    Returning to the positive feedback loop between technology and culture, it should be noted that this loop, to mix a metaphor, is nonlinear (I know), neither is it intuitive and therefore easily predictable. Most of the futurist forecasts of which I am aware prove, with notable exceptions, to be woefully off to the point of comedic embarrassment in retrospect. This is true not only for the predictions about useful applications (1950s projections of smart homes that would relieve ‘the house wife’ of common chores, and provide her with more time to… play Bridge!), but dystopian predictions as well.

    The limitation to predicting future applications of an emerging tech, and its impact on society is our observational event horizon. What many futurists overlook is the interaction of these two creative forces, technology and culture; and when these interact, their creative influence bends the arc of progress, including both technology and culture, in new directions, away from and beyond our flat, linear projections of use case in the present inertial culture. Take the smart phone. Our Star Trek inspired vision of it extended to a simple portable handheld telephone. As transformative as that might be to lifestyle, and even culture, and as close to prediction as it came to the impact of simple handhelds in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it did not begin to describe the effect of the iPhone and its many Android imitators, even in its original version in 2007. Not even the iPhone’s creators anticipated how this device would be used, notably the rise of third party apps that would come to define not simply the smartphone experience and use case, but would help to elaborate the ecosystem that would characterise a computer/digital world and way of life beyond the PC. This was not one person’s vision, but a collective journey undertaken by disparate contributors, who together, contributed to this novel delta – a journey that continues today with related spinoff wearable tech.

    I submit that the same will apply to AI, whose use case, in the near term, is likely to settle around, among other things, coordinating and operating equipment that imperil human safety, like automobiles and other modes of transport, with the dual objectives of safety and efficiency. And while we and our descendants will certainly talk to AI, the overwhelming majority of AI’s conversation will be with AI. This will have enormous public health and safety value, and these systems will be prioritised for hardened security. As for home appliances, I suspect that the use case will remain spotty so long as the products are uncoordinated and the security continues to be weak to nonexistent, with little to no oversight or regulation to insure a minimum acceptable security standard. I could be wrong.

    As for the Series 4 Apple Watch, while I’m as pleased as can be with mine, an admitted limitation is battery life. I’ve conformed my use to this limitation by charging mine every night. I’m somewhat surprised that there is not more of a market for an extended battery watch case (wearable) to extend battery life by hours if not days. Even during long haul flights, I have to recharge my AW, along with iPhone. Given the device’s popularity, perhaps external batteries will emerge as a growth industry.

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