- A writer working as a chatbot designer discusses the challenges of humor, developing a digital personality, and the pitfalls of gendering AI assistants like Alexa and Cortana.
- Panasonic is looking to fuel Tesla's vision for a clean energy future by investing $260 million in a factory focused on photovoltaic products in Buffalo, NY.
- U.S. officials say that a Russian hacking operation was able to get very close to the electrical grid via a Vermont based utility company. Infrastructure experts have been talking about the vulnerabilities of the grid in the U.S. for many years, but congress has been slow to fund projects designed to "harden" the grid with additional security technology. News like this may expedite such projects moving forward in 2017.
- Facebook acquired The Eye Tribe, a Danish startup that has developed eye-tracking technologies, presumably to build a version of it into future virtual reality offerings via their Oculus hardware platform. For a company that derives growth from selling the eye-attention-time of users to advertisers, the possibility of having more detailed information on where exactly someone's eyes are at a given point or what emotion their face is revealing is of huge interest. Advertisers would love to have a more complete picture of viewer sentiment, and if Facebook can offer that it gives them a serious advantage over other platforms. How people would feel about their smallest movements being tracked and used for opaque marketing purposes is less straightforward.
- Coca-Cola decided to shut down its Founders program that collaborated with startups and provided investment. We predict that many large corporate innovation projects rolled out in the last several years will see cutbacks or total shuttering in 2017, as the model has seen limited success. As with any product or organizational initiative, it's crucial to understand the "why this, why now" and when incumbents began chasing after startups it seems that few really knew how to generate meaningful results for themselves or the companies they were funding. On the other hand, organizations built from scratch to work with startups seem to be hitting their stride and expanding: hardware programs like Bolt, Highway1 and HAXLR8R, or the cleantech incubator Greentown Labs. In our opinion, most large corporations are better off tapping into these smaller, more agile groups instead of building their own internal programs.
Roadmapping the Future:
- What futurists do, and why demand for their ability to prototype possibilities is rising.
- India's Prime Minister is pushing for broader adoption of a digital payment app to replace cash in that country, which is feeling the crunch of cash shortages and discontinued currency notes. Big policy changes that affect a country's culture (of privacy, payments or property) often get implemented during a crisis when options feel limited and acting quickly seems essential to avoid catastrophe. Once one country adopts an entirely cashless economy, others will surely follow the lead, as it tends to have some real advantages for governments in terms of tax collection and detecting criminal activity. But a cashless future isn't a guaranteed improvement for everyone: turning financial transactions into information has all kinds of privacy implications for the average citizen, and could give autocratic regimes even more powers of control by keeping them connected to the movements of purse strings at a household level.