Premonition

I woke up a few weeks ago with the strong premonition that Apple had purchased Nissan Motor Corporation. I've had certain of these in the past that have come true. It would be an astounding thing should it come to pass.

A Better Pre-Order Process For iPhone

Yesterday was my first experience with Apple's iPhone pre-order process. It wasn't great. Actually, it was bad. I was up two hours (starting at 2am) and even though I had all my ducks in a row the night before, after two malfunctions it'll be 5 to 6 weeks before I get each of the phones I ordered instead of 1 to 3 weeks (I was delayed an hour before I could purchase one phone, and 4 hours before I could purchase the other). The whole experience makes me wonder why Apple hasn't figured this out in nearly 10 years. Instead of making people go through the whole process all at the same time, this is how I would do an iPhone pre-order:

  1. On the day the new iPhone is announced I would open up a page on apple.com for pre-reservations: people could sign in with their Apple IDs and tentatively select which iPhone they want. This would give Apple a good idea as to the mix of phones to produce to meet demand best.¹ It wouldn't rely on it solely obviously, because people can be fickle, but it could augment their existing algorithms in a significant way I would imagine. All the while people could change their pre-reservations as they wish, and this would give Apple a really good sense of how its messaging and marketing (or media coverage) affects device choices (for example if they see spikes in reservation changes).
  2. One (or two?) days before orders are officially open I'd let people pay for their iPhone (at that point there'd be no going back on their selection obviously). People could take their time, and make their decisions at a reasonable pace, and Apple's servers wouldn't be overloaded. Users would then be directed to virtually reserve their 'spot in line' the following day.
  3. Pre-order day. This is what someone like me would've done. Because I would've already paid for the phone I would've woken up at 2am, rolled over, turned my phone on and hit 'reserve spot in line' (or named something to that effect), and the date my iPhone arrives would be based on when I clicked that button relative to others. Even if server technology isn't sophisticated enough to line up every single order chronologically at that high a volume (because of the time stamp perciseness limitations) groups of clickers could be put into mini-lotteries to be fair to everyone. I'd then get an email confirming my order and arrival date range within an hour or so (seems like reasonable timing).

With this system it's very possible that I would have still had a 5 to 6 week deliver time (though unlikely), however I still wouldn't have been up for more than a minute or two at a potentially ungodly hour (and tired that whole day).

I think this is a far superior system. Part of me wonders if a system like this hasn't been put in place simply because carriers don't have the means to develop similar systems, and Apple doesn't want to necessarily 'steal' pre-orders from the carriers—including that it puts more pressure on Apple to manage higher volumes, and that being head-and shoulders above their partners in this area probably wouldn't be conducive to a good relationships with them, especially since they rely on selling new products/services to customers who visit their sites.

There you have it.

Update: Another, slightly cynical, reason Apple may not want to 'fix' the pre-order process is it generates a lot of buzz when things go crazy on pre-order day.

Update 2: Apple emailed me and said it saw that the process didn't go through properly. Long story short I'm getting my iPhone in November!

¹ Yes, Apple will sell every single iPhone it makes, but that's completely different from matching demand to production. It's all about keeping inventory absurdly low.

 

Machine Learning and Truth

There's a smartphone app some group of people developed. It has technology that knows when a person is lying, just by looking at their face. It has done this by looking at millions of examples of humans lying. It is now accessible to virtually every man, woman, and adolescent in the world. It is 80% accurate, and it is getting better every day.

Ok so I lied. There is no such app. Yet. But it is without a doubt on its way, and it has some really challenging implications. Imagine a high school in which this app is on the phone of every student and teacher.

I think the truth about artificial intelligence is that it's not on a course to enslave humans (as one camp thinks), and it's not just another tool in a long history of technology, like a hammer (as the other camp thinks). It's somewhere in-between: AI will only do what we tell it to do (it won't become conscious in the imaginable future), but there is also a very high chance we will tell it to do things that we do not understand the implications of (which makes it potentially the most dangerous technology in history). It needs to be responsibly developed, and there needs to be oversight.

The mechanism for its controlled development however will come from a place almost no one suspects. And I will leave it at that.

The Macalope

The Macalope is my favorite: 

Really, with everything that’s going on in technology now, complaining about the social effect of losing headphone cables seems like questioning the key in which the band on the Titanic was playing as the ship went down.

“C Major? Really? You’re gonna… no, that’s fine. Whatever. But, for the record, ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ is best in G and I would rather drown than hear it in C Major. So, good timing, I guess.”

A Head Start

I love using Siri, but 70% of the time I'm in a setting where it would be awkward to invoke her because of the social situation I'm in (whether with friends, or at work), so I end up just writing things down instead. It's weird to blurt out things like "Hey Siri, remind me to send out the TPS reports when I get to work tomorrow" at the precise moment the thought comes to you.

Hint: it has something to do with these.

Hint: it has something to do with these.

Here's an elegant solution that, frankly, I'm surprised is not a reality yet: whispering. You heard me right (no pun intended). A personal assistant should be able to understand you even when you speak inaudibly to those around you. How can that possibly be technically feasible you ask? Well there's a piece of the puzzle I'm leaving out because I'd prefer to demonstrate it instead. Try the following exercise:

  1. Right now, whisper something to yourself in a low enough voice that someone standing 3 feet away from you wouldn't be able to hear you.
  2. Ok great, now do the exact same thing only put your fingers in your ears. Aha! You can hear it fairly clearly now!

As demonstrated above, through the use of in-ear Bluetooth headphones like Apple's AirPods, inaudible command recognition should be easy to achieve within the next several years (if it isn't already possible). Consider the following: these headphones are pressed into your ear canal, and should have reasonable access to the same vibrations that your ear has, if not more so because of it's large surface area and the potential inclusion of small directional microphones.

Implementation-wise, after stating your command, Siri could then confirm what you said through those same headphones (and obviously no one would hear the confirmation either). We wouldn't even have to learn a new behavior: we whisper to ourselves constantly when we're trying to think of the right words, or when we read back what we've written (even with people around us).

Whichever personal assistant can take advantage of this method will be head and shoulders above ones that do not, even if other aspects of their function are inferior, because you'd actually use it.

Update: Another thought came to me: imagine how useful this would be if in the course of a conversation you could stealthily ask Siri the definition of a word that was just used.