Mike Elgan

About the Author Mike Elgan


Smartphones make people distracted and unproductive

Silicon Valley is draining away the economy’s most precious resource for its own benefit.

OK, I’d better explain that.

The economy’s most precious resource is human attention — specifically, the attention people pay to their work. No matter what kind of company you own, run or work for, the employees of that company are paid for not only their skill, experience and work, but also for their attention and creativity.

When, say, Facebook and Google grab user attention, they’re taking that attention away from other things. One of those things is the work you’re paying employees to do.

As a thought experiment, imagine that an employee who used to pay attention to your business eight hours each day now pays attention only seven hours a day because he or she is now focusing on Facebook during that last hour. You’re paying the employee the same, but getting less employee attention for it.

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How smart cities like New York City will drive enterprise change

Everybody talks about smart cities, but few are doing anything about it.

New York City is an exception. It’s in the early stages of an ambitious project to blanket the city with ultrafast Wi-Fi via smart kiosks, which will replace obsolete public telephones.

These kiosks are the work of a Google-backed startup called Intersection. The company has already installed around 1,000 kiosks, and aims to install more than 6,000 more, Intersection Chief Innovation Officer Colin O’Donnell said in an interview this week.

colin o'donnellMike Elgan

Intersection Chief Innovation Officer Colin O’Donnell on stage at Cannes Lions on June 18, 2017.

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Avoid the mouse trap: Old habits wreck new tech

Don’t look now, but your desktop user interface dates back to the Nixon administration. Is it time to upgrade to the next UI?

New technologies revolutionize business. And big shifts like artificial intelligent (AI) virtual assistants and augmented reality seem to have gone from “someday” technologies, to “happening right now.”

These technologies are expected to transform business for the better. And I believe they will — far more than we realize. These new systems come with powerful new user interfaces. There’s just one problem: People don’t like new interfaces — and cling to the old, inefficient ones.

It’s not a theoretical problem. Global business has lost productivity on a galactic scale because of our failure to or inability to switch to the best interface.

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Why total bans on remote work don’t remotely work

Are remote workers more productive? Or are they just slacking off?

Three years ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously banned employees from working remotely. Earlier this year, IBM did the same thing, forcing remote workers to start showing up at the office.

The most popular justifications for such a policy are efficiency and collaboration — especially collaboration. The idea that employees from various groups should randomly encounter each other, brainstorm and collaborate is practically a Silicon Valley religion.

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We need virtual assistants that talk to each other

Everybody talks about (and often to) the Big Four virtual assistants — Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant. But many other companies are working on virtual assistants, too.

Huawei is working on a virtual assistant for the Chinese market.

Samsung offers Bixby on its Galaxy S8 or S8+ smartphones.

Voice recognition giant Nuance offers an enterprise ready virtual assistant called Nina, which specializes in knowing the limits of A.I. and kicking queries over to a team of human assistants when necessary. Nuance this month announced a Nina “skill” on Amazon’s Alexa platform.

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Yes, Apple is building a car

The experts say Apple’s self-driving car project is canceled, delayed or converted into a software play. They’ll also tell you that cars are a weird business for Apple to be in.

The experts have it all wrong.

Apple is going pedal-to-the-metal on building a car and for good reason. Here’s why.

Talk about titans

Steve Jobs wanted Apple to make an “iCar.”

The late Apple founder and CEO wanted more than that, according to J. Crew CEO and chairman Mickey Drexler, who served on the Apple board from 1999 to 2015. Jobs wanted Apple to reinvent the automobile industry.

The idea of an Apple car was considered crazy talk — until word leaked about a secret Apple initiative called “Project Titan,” which reportedly involved more than 1,000 engineers.

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How the Amazon Echo Look improves privacy

Look! A new Amazon Echo!

The Amazon Echo Look is like the original Echo, plus a camera.

The $200 device delivers the Alexa virtual assistant. But the camera is optimized for helping you choose clothing to look your best when you get dressed.

The Echo Look is a camera for your bedroom. As such, it’s being widely slammed as a massive invasion of privacy.

But this view is wrong and based on a provably false assumption.

I’ll tell you exactly how the Echo Look actually improves privacy. But first, let’s take a closer look at the Look.

Alexa as fashion consultant

The Echo Look is shaped like a oversized pill — a cylinder with rounded ends that appears to be about half the size of the original Echo. It sits on a stand or mounts to a wall.

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OK, Google, let’s put the new voice ID everywhere

Google Home knows who’s talking.

When each recognized user speaks Home’s wake words — which are “Hey, Google” and “OK, Google” — Home now switches to that person’s account to give personalized information.

This is a huge deal, a technological marvel and a major leap forward in human-machine interaction.

It’s also a cautionary tale about the downside of overzealous concern about privacy.

How Google Home knows you’re you

Google Home is a virtual assistant appliance similar to the Amazon Echo that runs a version of the Google Assistant. Assistant is also available in Google’s Allo messaging app.

Google Home now supports up to six users for a single device.

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Honesty is not the best privacy policy

Digital privacy invasion is more than a theoretical or actual threat to our freedoms. It’s also a huge distraction.

Take MIT genius Steven Smith. He’s recently taken time away from his specialties of radar, sonar, and signal processing at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory to automate the pollution of his family’s web traffic with thousands of arbitrary searches and sites.

His code essentially lies about internet activity to whomever is listening.

The software is an artful liar. According to a piece in The Atlantic, Smith’s algorithm uses web activity-spoofing software called PhantomJS to conduct searches in a way and on a timeline that mimics normal human online behavior.

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The laptop is dead

You may never buy another laptop.

Ten years ago, laptop sales overtook desktop PC sales to become the dominant hardware platform for computing. Now smartphones are about to do to laptops what laptops did to desktops.

But wait, you may ask. What’s wrong with laptops?

Apple has run out of good laptop ideas

For the past decade, Apple has led and dominated the laptop market with design and innovation. The company has been moving toward better quality, so-called “Retina” screens. Apple’s keyboard designs and unibody aluminum construction have been heavily imitated. The company used to dazzle the industry by sweating the small stuff, like the MagSafe power connector and lights that shine through aluminum.

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How YouTube TV will kill cable

Don’t look now, but cable TV’s days are numbered. Google announced this week a new live TV service called YouTube TV.

Critics are panning YouTube TV as lackluster and overpriced. But I think it’s going to change everything.

Google says YouTube TV will be rolled out “soon” and gradually, starting in major markets and later expanding to other cities. (Sorry, world. YouTube TV is U.S. only.)

Google did not specify which cities or when rollouts would occur, but it hardly matters. U.S. residents can sign up immediately even if they live outside one of the designated cities. Simply choose one of the markets where YouTube TV is available. Local programming will be from that market, not yours.

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