Enterprise hits and misses – AI hype, retail upheaval and world-changing tech


This week: AI hype and ethics vs automation. Retailers respond to Amazon’s dominance. Emerging tech is about purpose, not convenience. And: a guest whiff.

Happy children eating applediginomica picks – my top stories on diginomica this week

Lead story – Navigating the AI hype – and ethical minefield by Chris Middleton and Gary Flood

myPOV: The AI truth-or-hype circus is in full swing. Diginomica scribes must  apply raised eyebrows and rabid research to reduce the noise, which was Chris Middleton’s aim in Navigating the AI ethical minefield without getting blown up. Middleton works his way through a significant new AI report: “For vendors and their customers, AI is the new must-have differentiator. Yet in the context of what the report calls “unrealistic enthusiasm” about it, the need to understand AI’s social impact is both urgent and overwhelming.

Though it’s not quite enterprisey, the FBI’s fascinating/disconcerting project of analyzing prison tattoos with computer vision shows just how quickly machine learning can cross lines. Middleton warns that the nasty combo of confirmation bias in research and social prejudices are bad ingredients for machine learning. Narrow talk of automation and productivity gains won’t address these issues.

Not that productivity gains are a bad thing, which Gary Flood explores on diginomica/government in Don’t Add Needlessly To The AI Hype – Reform Group.  Personalized services are the appealing side, but as Flood cautions: “Applying AI to public services means applying algorithms to an area of high risk because it will have an impact on people’s lives.”

Ergo, let’s have the productivity and ethics conversations at the same time: during the AI design and policy stage. Bonus: also check Chris’ The rise of the BritBot – UK Robotics Week highlights AI progress.

Other diginomica highlights:

Amazon retail fallout – cautious optimism is the watchword. As the retail industry digests the Whole Foods acquisition with all the joy of a raw kale salad, diginomica’s retail coverage pointed to cautious optimism in Amazon’s shadow:

Vendor analysis, diginomica style. Here’s my three top choices from our vendor coverage:

  • Five takeaways from PepsiCo on moving SAP HR to the cloud – Phil with a fresh SAP SuccessFactors use case. Tips cover everything from leadership to standardization to post go-live. I like PepsiCo’s “fasten your seat belts” line much better than the typical cloud-is-wondermuss platitudes.
  • CustomInk prints better results with Workday – Den with a nifty story of a move from “SME” to enterprise-grade. “QuickBooks to Workday AND replaced HR plus payroll all on one go” – you don’t hear that every day, eh?
  • Nutanix – inside out, not outside in, but heading for invisibility – One of several Nutanix updates, this one from Martin, with Nutanix positioning itself as key to cloud transitions: “Nutanix understands that their legacy of technological debt cannot be wished away and has to be used as their collective start point.”

A few more vendor picks, without the quips:

Jon’s grab bag – I have a stump speech on the need for flexible/continuous learning but never see enough use cases. Mark Samuels has one in Ayrshire College uses virtualisation as a platform for flexible learning. Barb Mosher Zinck accepts no excuses in Stop procrastinating and get moving on video marketing (spot-on, the tools are accessible –  what matters most is the content).

Given I routinely hammer other publications for extravagant headlines, we probably went a bit too far with Can Michael Bloomberg save American cities with data at the core? But – Jerry’s made a good case for Bloomberg’s pro bono efforts to help American cities get up to speed on data services, even if Michael Bloomberg doesn’t (supposedly) kiss babies. Finally, Stuart is at his unsparing best in Europe just made a big protectionist mistake with its latest Google ruling, dishing out “Silicon Envy” and warning against tit-for-tat protectionism.

Best of the rest

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer Lead story – These are the top 10 emerging technologies of 2017
by Oliver Cann, World Economic Forum

myPOV: If you’re like me, you’re permanently bloated and oversaturated all set with “emerging technologies” posts that are breathless advertisements for the smart data machines that will bring us every convenience. That’s why this World Economic Forum tech review is welcome. Their list adheres to that old-fashioned idea that the focus of tech should actually be to solve vexing societal problems, not serve up perfectly-browned toast.

The WEF anticipates tech like “liquid biopsies” (a step forward in the fight against cancer), harvesting clean water from air, genomic vaccines, sustainable community design – with no mention of Facebook, hotel booking apps, intelligent dental floss, planes with standing-only passengers, or pizza drone delivery. Enterprise keynote planners could learn a thing or two from WEF. Would you rather hear a guest keynote on how tech is changing the fight for cancer, or a guest celebrity on “climbing the mountaintop”?

Honorable mention 


Overworked businessmanGood to know: if you’re going to be an insufferable @ssclown on Facebook, you can get your pending acceptance to Harvard permanently revoked. Elsewhere in social foot-in-mouth, sportswriter Andy Gray got roundly spanked for his butt-brained insensitive ill-timed tweet asserting “nobody wants to read anything over 1,000 words.” (A number of talented writers at MTV had been recently laid off). Best part of that spanking: all the data that proved his assertion was wrong, though there are some nuances worth exploring. I might just do that.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Microsoft has an AI chatbot that is as good at being prejudiced as the humans it interacts with (Microsoft’s Chatbot Zo Calls The Qur’an Violent And Has Theories About Bin Laden).

I have yet to hear back from Forrester’s George Colony on my request that he “pass the pipe”:

Anti-whiff: Hats off to Without Bullshit’s Josh Bernoff, who called a whiff on himself in blunt/effective fashion: (I apologize for yesterday’s blog post about Dave McClure). Finally, hits/misses regular Clive Boulton chimes in with a whiff pick of his own, involving the Google News redesign (Google News website gets redesigned, now looks like something from this decade). Many Ars Technica readers objected to the redesign, as did Boulton, who said to me:

Some people, including me are calling this a New Coke. I can no longer read the news. The UX is horrid.

He doubled down:

Perhaps the bigger issue is Google’s ham fisted product management. Den Howlett at Diginomica, as well as the Financial Times, both did extensive beta or shared thinking on major UI/UX changes. Marissa Mayer always used to make incremental design changes on public sites at Google and spoke about why at PARC and other forums. Google News choose a FU approach. Take it or leave it. No persuasion.

What do readers think? I’m not fond of the new design. I find Google takes A/B design testing to a brute force extreme, with a long and tedious history of alienating so-called “super users” like myself that prefer old school layouts I can manipulate, rather than new school mobile simplicity.  Ars Technica reader “wildsman” is thinking along similar lines:

What the hell is Google thinking? This new design looks like Google+ came and threw up on Google News.

Nice note to wrap on – see you next time.

This is a truncated “Jon feels the road burn” version of hits and misses, which by definition excludes some worthy content – from diginomica and beyond. If you read an #ensw piece that qualifies, let me know in the comments as Clive always does.

Most Enterprise hits and misses articles are selected from my curated @jonerpnewsfeed. ‘myPOV’ is borrowed with reluctant permission from the ubiquitous Ray Wang.

Image credit - Cheerful Chubby Man © RA Studio, Happy Children © Anna Omelchenko, Waiter Suggesting Bottle © Minerva Studiom, Overworked Businessman © Bloomua, at the seaside © olly - all from Fotolia.com.

Disclosure - SAP, Oracle, Workday and Salesforce are diginomica premier partners as of this writing.