Property Insurance Drones? A Breakthrough In Innovation!


Today when we hear about drones we are likely to think of military drones flying around the Middle-East, tracking down and taking out terrorists. Drones have just as many legitimate civilian uses. The explosion in the number of civilian drones started when photographers realized that drones could give them once-in-a-lifetime shots of famous landmarks. An amateur photographer might spend days trying to get just the right angle for a unique photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building, waiting for that brief moment when the lighting is just right! But once you’ve used a drone to zoom in from above, and circle around, you see all sorts of new possibilities, even for the most photographed subjects. Once you go drone, you just can’t go back!

It’s not that photos of building and landmarks have never been taken from above landmarks. Photographers have been taking aerial photographs since they could first get cameras into the air. However, until recently, aerial photography was almost exclusively the domain of the professional photographer, with an assignment that could pay to rent a plane or helicopter. Non-professionals could still take great aerial photos, but these were mostly happy accidents. A chance happening where a photographer was in just the right place at the right time. Cheap drones let every photographer take to the air, whenever they want. More recently, whenever you want… after you fill out some paperwork, and not near any public events.

Still, most of the time, most of the skies are open to the public. Even drone purists admit that an unlimited number of unidentified drones competing for space near national monuments is a bad idea. Drones can cheaply deliver new functions. For example, as the evidence for Global Warming continues to pile up, so too does storm damage to coastal cities and communities. Assessing the damage, so that victims can be quickly paid by their insurance company, is often time-consuming, delaying payments. Drones can help insurance companies speed up the process of assessing and paying for property damage.

In a storm-damaged area,  property needs to be inspected at once. Foundations may be cracked, or roofs may be blown off. Walking abound on the ground some information, getting a clear top-down view of a home is vital. Going up and down on a ladder, or getting a full 360 view of the property is time-consuming. Careful assessment of moderate damage, especially to the roof, can make assessments dangerous. Damage to other parts of the building, partially uprooted trees, and other dangerous conditions make progress on the ground difficult. Owners may have evacuated a storm area, making it difficult for assessors to get access to multiple properties. The entire area may not be accessible from the ground if local roads are flooded or blocked. Drones can fly over these obstructions, and collect needed information.

Even without advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, simple remote controlled drones with high-resolution cameras can quickly and easily survey an entire neighborhood. HD video has given way to 4K (4 x HD resolution), and even higher 3D resolutions are available. Some systems put together 10 4K cameras into a ball-shaped holder, creating a 40K system that stitches together all of the images into a single nearly 360 3D stream of video. The resolution is so high that you can do a quick grid pattern fly over across a damaged area, and then sort out critical information later from the high-resolution images. Drones will revolutionize the work of the 300,000 claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators employed in America today.

The idea of a claims adjustor in the sky isn’t just fantasy or a clever idea for some time in the future. Allstate insurance has started to use drones to examine property damage, outside of San Antonio, Texas. A recent storm did a lot of damage to the roofs of homes. Using a drone has proven to be faster, safer and more cost effective. As a bonus, the firms that manage the drones convert the images into 3D models that provide a better way for property owners and insurance companies to visualize the extent of the storm damage.   

Getting to your home and accurately assessing the damage after a storm is time-consuming and sometimes risky. That delays the policyholder from getting paid and starting to rebuild their home.  If we continue to see “storms of the century”, that cause unprecedented property damage, the insurance industry needs a more efficient way to quickly assess large numbers of houses. The combination of drones and high-resolution photography sounds like just the right solution. At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today and I’m sticking with it!  

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Robotic Reporting… The Tipping Point​



A robot used words from this article to create this word cloud!

For the past several years robots have quietly infiltrated newspapers and magazines, slowly replacing reporters. Sounds like the plot of a “B” movie? Maybe, but robots have learned how to write like humans, how to do research on the internet, and are becoming a part of the regular publication process. There are robots among us, and they are taking over… our jobs! Now, the takeover is about to go into high gear!

The idea of robot writers has been around for decades. After all, many forms of popular literature follow simple formulas. Take romance novels. A college professor, Robert James Waller, taught his students that romance novels follow a simple formula. Waller wanted to prove this to his students and spent one summer writing, “The Bridges of Madison County”. It became a top selling romance novel, and later a top grossing movie.

A year later (1993), the next obvious step was taken and a computer wrote a romance novel in the style of Jacqueline Susann, a top-selling romance novelist. The book was readable but never became a best seller. Nor has any robot written a top-selling book. However, computers have been successful at writing news stories. For example, PR Newswire writes thousands of short (2-3 paragraph) stories about how well publicly traded corporations performed this quarter. They look something like, “Company X has released its quarterly financial results, declaring a dividend of $0.15, exceeding analyst predictions by 20%”, and so on.

Before this task was automated, PR Newswire had three problems. First, reporters hated this work; it was boring. Second, while thousands of publicly traded companies need stories written every quarter, reporters are often called away to work on more urgent stories; not all financial reports were written (or written on time). Third, when writing repetitive stories that have a lot of numbers, human writers tend to make a lot of mistakes and need to write retractions. Robots took over 2 years ago. Now 100% of the stories are written, on time. With no mistakes.  Just in case you’re wondering, no editor has yet managed to hurt a robot’s feelings with last minute assignments, or boring tasks.

Strangely, robots have been amazingly successful as sports writers. They have also solved an old problem. There are always more sports events than reporters. National newspapers can cover major games, but no newspaper has enough reporters for EVERY game.  Not just major and minor leagues. What about college or even high school teams? How much coverage do women’s professional sports get? Emerging sports, such as eSports (electronic gaming) are ignored. Yet, eSports have huge cash competitions (up to $20 million grand prizes), sell out stadiums (45,000 seats in Seoul, South Korea) and have massive on-line viewership (32 million viewers for a recent competition).

Robot reporters are so fast and cost effective, they can write stories for “micro” audiences too small to justify a human writer. Consider a high school volleyball team. All of the team members, faculty, friends and family might total just 100 readers. No professional publication could justify the cost of a reporter (and publication costs) for this audience. Yet, a robot could cover every game.

If the mother of a volleyball player reads the New York Times, she would tag her subscription with her interest in local stories about volleyball. Larger events (a college game?) might show up in the custom print version of the NYT, and the high school game might would show up in her digital version. Robots can provide this customization all news, not just sports. Local political news, economic issues, weather, and other stories that impact just a small group that are ignored today could be written by robots. Robots can also run user forums and write custom letters to answer individual user questions. Robots can make the news more personal.

Newspapers and magazines are desperate for some way to stop the slide in readership and revenue. Customized news may be their best hope. It so happens that two enormous opportunities have arrived for robot writers… the 2016 Olympics and the Presidential Elections!

I’m writing this blog just after the close of the 2016 Olympics. If you closely followed the games, you may have heard about the Washington Post (WP) using robot writers, from it’s homegrown “Heliograph” project. Heliograph robots will write simple stories, mostly Tweets, and social media, supplementing their team of sports writers. No one expects any of these stories to win a Pulitzer prize, but by relieving their reporters of the duty to issue Tweets, Heliograph allows human reporters to make better use of their time, on higher value stories.

In the last few years, social media has often been humiliating for reporters. Professional reporters are supposed to be first on the scene for news stories, but some random guy with a cell phone usually gets out the first Tweet, Facebook comment, or Pinterest photo. Of course, that “random guy” might misspell a name or report the score wrong. A professional reporter has to get it right the first time… even when a delay of a minute or two means that you send out Tweet #1,000 rather than Tweet #1.

Speaking of sports events that don’t get enough coverage, the Paralympics will start in Rio on September 7th. The Paralympics is the world’s biggest international competition for athletes with physical or mental disabilities. It receives far less coverage than the Olympics, even though there is as much drama and as many record-breaking performances.

Consider the infamous Oscar Pistorius, a legless runner whose top speed in the 100m sprint is just a second behind Usain Bolt. Looking for human interest? The Olympics banned nearly the entire Russian track and field team. In the Paralympics, EVERY Russian team has been banned. Other athletes have faked disabilities in order to win gold medals. The Paralympics has incredible stories to tell. There just aren’t enough reporters to tell these stories.

Of course, if you live for scandals, few events can stand up to the Presidential Election! Political coverage faces the same challenges as sports. Every publication will cover the Presidential race. Senators? Sure. Congressmen… yeah. But state politicians? City officials? When the elections end, how many reporters will be left to cover local political beats? At most newspapers today, the answer is… unfortunately… just about none.

Associated Press and Forbes use robots to produce quarterly financial statements. The Washington Post is all-in on robotic reporting. Forbes Magazine printed at least a few software generated articles. A reporter at the LA Times created, “Quakebot”, to monitor for seismographic data and automatically generate stories after each earthquake. The L.A. times printed at least one Quakebot story. Interestingly, Quakebot was based on an earlier L.A. Times “bot” that writes stories on homicides.

The L.A. Times’ parent company, TRONC, owns The Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Baltimore Sun, Sun Sentinel and Hartford Courant. released a video that explains their new digital business model. They plan expands the use of robotic reporters and uses Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to research stories, and manage marketing. Machine Learning will be used to analyze the behavior and reading habits of consumers, increasing engagement. A.I.’s that provide real-time analysis of reader data could easily move from supporting editorial decisions, to making them. Could a robot editor be in the works?

Imagine that a TRONC A.I. manages editorial and marketing decisions. Editorial decisions would be data driven, market data driven. The A.I. monitors trending social media stories, reads competing publications, predicts which stories will be popular, polls readers, and determines where there are (profitable) publishing gaps.

Editorial decisions and marketing would be different sides of the same coin. TRONC’s video is clear that their FIRST stories need to pay the bills; only after expenses are covered will their newspapers have resources to write other stories (that address social justice, or win a Pulitzer, etc.). If robots don’t already work for your favorite publication, they will be soon. Print and news media need something new to lower their costs and stop the erosion in readership. Robots will not just cut costs, they might bring back readers. The number of reporters will shrink as robots take over the management of social media, but research, marketing, and even editorial functions are under just as much cost pressure and will also see some automation.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the headlines about the robot revolution… will be written by robots? Probably! One thing is sure, more of the content you see in newspapers and magazines will be researched, written and marketed by A.I.s. There will be displacement in employment, but we may also enter a golden age of customized news. That’s my Niccolls worth for today, and I’m sticking by it!

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UBER’S Latest Pilot Offers Free Rides

File illustration picture showing the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign

Photo: All Rights – REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files

Robots have arrived and they are sweeping citizens off of the streets of Pittsburgh! No, they didn’t arrive by flying saucer, these are UBER driverless cars, and a ride in a robot UBER is FREE! By the end of the month, UBER will launch its pilot program in Pittsburg. When you order a car, you decide if you want to try one of their 100 robot cars. Depending on demand, you may get a robot car or a regular car. If you do get a robot car, your ride is on UBER. Free taxi rides? Resistance really is USELESS!

Traffic laws vary from location to location and most are unclear on how to deal with driverless cars. That’s why UBER’s driverless cars will each have… a driver. For decades it has been legal to turn on cruise control and other “assistance” features. At least as long as there is a driver in the car. The latest car driving software is considered an extension of cruise control. Turn on all the options you like… as long as a driver remains in the car. But, remove the driver and who has legal responsibility? If there is an accident or a law is broken, does the ticket go to UBER or the car manufacturer? Who do you sue?

Today, it is illegal in all 50 states to drive without car insurance. But today’s insurance contracts don’t have clauses for driverless cars or are written so that it is not clear if they allow driverless cars. For a pilot, UBER can self-insure or negotiate a special agreement with just one insurance company. A national agreement with every insurance company will take more time.

The “driverless car with a driver” model will undoubtedly be used throughout the pilot, but it will still address two important issues. First, the public will become familiar with robot cars, and see they really do work. Second, UBER will collect enough real world data… up to 500,000 hours of driving data every month… to perfect the software their latest acquisition (Otto) provides.

UBER also announced a $300 million partnership with Volvo, to develop new driverless cars. Not surprisingly, the Pittsburgh pilot will use Volvo SUV’s that are fitted with special sensors and upgraded software. Soon, though, a driverless car will look very different from today’s vehicles.

As driverless cars evolve, the steering wheel, the driver’s seat and other features that are needed for a car to work, will no longer be needed. Removing this equipment allows manufacturers to dramatically redesign the car interior. Should all seats face each other? Do buyers want their car to be a conference room on wheels, with a work table? If buyers want a quiet work space, driverless cars might work best as electric vehicles. Autonomous cars may spawn a new category of car.      

Which explains this week’s Ford announcement. Ford said that it will release its own fleet of autonomous cars by 2021. If Volvo is releasing an autonomous car NOW, how can Ford wait until 2021? The answer is that Ford is talking about a different type of vehicle. The 2021 target is for a consumer level vehicle, the complete redesign we just discussed, without a steering wheel or driver’s seat. The Volvo will, obviously, still have the old equipment. Other firms may show up in the near future that offer autonomy retrofits to existing vehicles. However, because some journalists confused these two types of vehicles they misunderstand how quickly self-driving cars will impact employment. Let’s set the record straight!

Here’s the misunderstanding. If Ford releases self-driving cars in 2021, then by 2025 there should be many self-driving cars. So, a lot of cars and trucks and other vehicles will convert by 2030. That gives us 15 years to absorb the changes this technology brings. This is a reasonable schedule,based on 20th-century assumptions. Especially the assumptions of how quickly “Detroit” (remember when that meant the car industry) can adapt and put out a new type of car.

However, all of those numbers are about consumer cars.  Consumers are interested in self-driving cars but are not demanding it. Still, fewer consumers have a clear vision of what makes a great self-driving car. Firms that employ professional car and truck drivers will make use of these cars when they arrive, but they are not waiting for these vehicles. By the time Ford sells its first “true” self-driving car, most professional driving jobs will have been replaced by robots.

Companies like UBER and Lyft will be first movers, doing whatever they can to adopt autonomous cars. There is a massive financial advantage to eliminate the cost of drivers. There is also the matter of UBER’s losing battle to classify drivers as “non-employees”. UBER attempted to settle the matter for $100 million, but that has been rejected by an appeals court. The pilots started in 2016 will expand in 2017, and may involve more than taxis and private cars.

After UBER? Big trucking firms cannot hire enough truckers, and the gap is growing, driving up wages. In order to keep up with the work, overworked drivers are making bad decisions that burn more fuel, cause excessive wear and tear on the vehicles, and cause sometimes fatal accidents. These companies are VERY motivated to get driverless vehicles on the road.

Without the cash reserves of UBER, trucking firms will rely on a combination of retrofitting some trucks, while replacing the oldest vehicles with the latest autonomous trucks. Expect transportation firms to fill the “driver gap” with thousands of autonomous trucks in 2018 and 2019.

Then there’s Fedex and UPS. Eventually, Amazon and other Internet merchants may steal work from trucking firms when air-drones are available, but let’s assume that we still have a few years before that happens. By 2019, if not sooner, some changes will have been implemented to traffic laws and insurance. Not every vehicle will be autonomous, but package delivery services will have pilots underway and some of these vehicles running on live routes.  

Small and medium sized companies will still own millions of old style trucks and company cars.  These firms may continue to use these cars, buy their own driverless cars, or… order vehicles from UBER on demand. Making a large number of consumers and small businesses give up their dedicated vehicles for shared vehicles on demand is a HUGE part of UBER’s $60 billion valuation. It’s hard to predict how this will impact employment in America, but it will certainly speed up the movement to replace drivers. By 2019, every small business in America will be at least thinking about whether they should replace the company truck.  

In 2016, robots will drive real passengers around Pittsburgh before the end of the summer. After that, it’s just a question of how quickly autonomous vehicles spread through the US, and the world. Ford’s target of 2021 for a self-driving car is reasonable, but not groundbreaking. When Ford is ready to enter the autonomous car market, it is likely to be crowded with Ford’s traditional competitors, as well as new players (such as Apple and Google). And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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Robots, Outsourcing, & The 2016 Election

2016 Elections

Future generations will look back with disbelief on the 2016 Presidential elections. It is historic not only because the Democrats have a woman as their candidate, but also because the Republicans have the Trump as their candidate. Love him or hate him, Trump has made this the most closely covered election of all time. Daily reporting is filled with political mistakes, gaffs, non-sequiturs and nearly unprintable accusations. Yet, there are real political issues on the table. What is truly surprising, is that in between the sniping, big labor issues are on the top of the list of issues for both parties.

For years, if not decades, labor has been on the backburner in American politics. Since NAFTA was passed in 1992, globalization… expanding global markets by bringing down tariffs and barriers to international trade… has bee the expected sure for all labor ills. The theory was that poorly paying jobs would migrate to low paying countries, while high-income countries would replace these positions with new high-paying jobs. The theory is simple, just not very accurate.

Overall, world income has improved. Beyond that, there is little agreement as to what Globalization is doing to America and to the world. Globalization has brought new profits and money into the US, but reduced taxes on the wealthy and greater use of offshore tax shelters has kept new wealth concentrated in a relatively few hands. Globalization achieved the goal of expanding the economy, but the combination of automation and offshore workers (and a collapse of the global economy) greatly reduced the bargaining power of workers, undercutting the mechanisms that previously “spread the wealth” in America. As a nation, America has prospered, but the gap between the very wealthiest and the least educated, lowest paid American’s has widened. In both parties, this gap is a core driver of the most dedicated segments of the electorate.

Globalization achieved the goal of expanding the economy, but the combination of automation and offshore workers (and a collapse of the global economy) greatly reduced the bargaining power of workers. The mechanisms of capitalism that previously “spread the wealth” in America, were undercut, if not simply eliminated. As a nation, America has prospered, but the gap between the very wealthiest and the least educated, lowest paid American’s has widened. In both parties, this gap (real or percieved) is the core driver for the most vocal parts of the electorate.

There have always been, and always will be, a degree of inequity in the economy o even the most egalitarian nation. The current movement can be traced back to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in 2011, the “One Percent” movement that continued growing in the following years, the rise of Bernie Sanders in 2015 and finally the adoption of One Percent rhetoric in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Platform. Trump has different supporters, with different issues, but the underlying demand to solve the new inequality is pretty much the same.

Clinton and Trump use different language when they talk about most issues. Certainly, they have different experiences with labor policy. Yet, both sides have at least partially abandoned their party’s positions and have developed startlingly similar views on labor and outsourcing issues. For the first time in a very long time, both the Republican and Democratic candidates are largely in agreement about what we will see in 2017.  

Globalization: Clinton and Trump both say that mistakes were made with the NAFTA agreement in 1992. They also agree that the 21st-century equivalent… the TPP… is flawed and should not be approved. Clinton might change rather than outright reject TPP, but Trump supports reject the agreement in full. That’s a very, very difficult pill for Republicans to swallow. Globalization has been their economic cornerstone for the last 30 years.   

Minimum Wage: Clinton and Trump both agree that wages are too low. Clinton originally supported an increase to $10 per hour, and more recently moved to adopt Bernie Sander’s $15 per hour position. Trump originally rejected a Federal minimum wage increase, but later moved to $10 per hour, with the provision that the state (rather than the Feds) should enact that change. Before the election, Trump’s position may evolve further and merge with Clinton’s proposal. Clearly, supporters on both sides are pushing their candidates to improve working conditions for America’s lowest paid workers.

However, we are at an inflection point in labor. Outsourcing and new automation technologies are ready to replace domestic workers. Many entry level positions… such as fast food workers and cashier operators… are teetering on the edge of automation today. Many employers say that a higher minimum wage would immediately force them to replace workers with automated kiosks. Of course, still more employers and experts say that these jobs will eventually be automated regardless of the minimum wage.   

Outsourcing: Trump has gone as far as to say that he will stop all outsourcing, which is a 180-degree turnaround from his party’s former position. However, he hasn’t laid out how this would be accomplished. Clinton, seems generally opposed to outsourcing, but has been far less vocal and in the past has stated that the US has benefited from outsourcing.  

A.I.s & & Robots: Neither candidate seems to be aware of the looming disruption from the latest automation technologies. This disruption will impact the U.S. economy during the next Presidential term, and continue through at least the following term. Experts tell us that these technologies will impact the America’s workforce harder than all previous outsourcing. On the positive side, these technologies might take work that was previously offshored and return it to domestic shores. However, when work returns to America, it will return to a “lights-out” factories with few employees.

Self-driving trucks, lights-out factories, and robots replacing humans in the most dangerous jobs in America will be a massively important issue for Trump’s supporters, even if they don’t know it yet. Still, barely a word has been said by either candidate on their plans to deal with this issue. Both parties may avoid developing a position for this election, but the next President of the United States will be faced with the impact of new technology as soon as 2017.  At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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The 2016 Gold In Outsourcing Goes to…

Olympics 1960

For decades the Olympics were dominated by the U.S. and Russian teams. Lately, China has successfully fought to stay in the top 3, dominating weightlifting, diving, and gymnastics. China just might finish with the most gold medals in 2016. Meanwhile, the competition for the top spots in outsourcing hot! Which countries are on the rise? Which are winning the most contracts? Let’s take a look and see who will win the Gold in Outsourcing!   

The two nations that dominate the competition are India and China. Since the start of the 21st Century, both countries have been battling it out for the offshoring Gold. In this case, that “gold” isn’t just the top position. The global market for just IT outsourcing is estimated as being worth between $100 and $300 billion dollars. Now THAT’S real gold!

That’s also a pretty wide band of estimates. What do the judges have to say about that? Well, the IT outsourcing market is one of the most developed, existing long before outsourcing was a “thing”. It’s not just one market. Instead, there are multiple overlapping markets: pure outsourcing, jointly owned outsourcing programs and every other model you can think of. It is like comparing sprinting to marathon running, and deciding who you should keep on the list of top contenders. In any case, it’s a very big and growing list.

Here’s a list of some of the top contenders in outsourcing today…     

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: India takes the Gold. China takes the silver, performing just slightly behind India. After that, the Bronze is open. Malaysia, Thailand the Philippines or Vietnam might take the Bronze, but Brazil is also a contender. Brazil also has two special advantages for US projects. 

First, Brazil has many time zones that match the US, making day-time support far easier than it is for Asian competitors. Also, few of these countries have developed a late night culture. In India, even after decades of outsourcing, few people want to work late at night due to lack of transportation and places to eat. Women find it even harder, because of cultural resistance to women working at night. The cultural similarity between the US and Brazil can overcome many of the traditional drawbacks of offshoring.

MANUFACTURING: China wins the Gold hands down! But… the competition is tight for the silver and bronze. Countries like Vietnam are draining away outsourcing contracts from China by offering workers with even lower wages. Even China is now outsourcing a growing amount of its own work to Vietnam.

China’s greatest advantage is not that they are the biggest manufacturing outsourcer, it is that they are the world’s biggest manufacturer. This combination makes them an incubator for new ideas in manufacturing technology. To keep both titles, China needs to move from manufacturing and assembly work that uses the lowest cost workers to being manufacturers of high-end work that produces the world’s most productive workers.  

CALL CENTERS: The Olympic games have changed over time. New sports were added, and outdated competitions were removed. Baseball, club juggling, and tug-of-war were once top Olympic competitions. Call centers may go the way of Olympic tug-of-war, as automation enters its final stage. 

In the 1980s, technology replaced operators with “Press one for this and two for that”. That tech was replaced (and supplemented) with offshore operators, and then sales and support teams became part of these offshore centers.

Today, the technology in a call center starts with a computer that engages users in spoken conversations or text. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) then takes over to understand what the user wants and uses a database of information to provide an answer (and more A.I. to go beyond simply regurgitating a set answer). 

By the next summer games in 2020, most offshore call centers will either have shut down or will develop a plan to shut down. The call center as we know it will soon be just another set of applications running on a server.

KNOWLEDGE WORKERS: Knowledge workers are sort of the Triathalon athletes of outsourcing. The triathlon covers the major forms of human powered movement: running, swimming, and cycling. Knowledge work covers the major forms of business decision making: analysis (legal and financial), argumentation (selection of the best options), and writing (news articles, legal documents, industry studies, management reports). 

Unlike previous waves of outsourcing, knowledge workers are higher paid positions, often including lawyers, financial analysts, bankers, reporters, managers, and writers. The Gold medal goes to… Artificial Intelligence and robots! Which country will win this competition? It m not be any country. Instead, this technology allows you to outsource from any location.

Work may return to the US, but knowledge work positions may be converted into a service. That service could be performed by traditional outsourcing firms, or a new generation of service providers may arise to perform this work. The replacement of knowledge workers is a tremendous outsourcing opportunity, but it is also a potentially disruptive technology that may shake up outsourcing.      

The players are out in the field and they are about to blow the starting whistle! Do you know your players? Have you chosen your winners? Some competitions are easy to call, and different specialties have some very strong players, but the rise of new technologies is slowly eroding the advantages that individual countries used to have. 

Competitions will always have winners and losers, but soon we may stop counting the winners by country. And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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The 2016 Summer Outsourcing Olympics!

Olympics Rio

Every four years athletes from around the world gather to compete and, the best of the best are awarded medals for their efforts. In the summer games, we find out who can run the fastest, jump the highest, lift the most weight and throw and kick the farthest. There are individual contests and team events, but every nation wants to share in the glory when their citizens win a medal or set a world record.

In the world of outsourcing, it’s not that different. Just like the Olympics, we’re all out there competing and every outsourcing team is willing to do whatever it takes to come out on top. However, when it comes to ahhh … enhanced performance… outsourcing and the Olympics part ways. Olympic contestants are tested daily to make sure that they aren’t using any artificial enhancements to boost performance. In outsourcing, we’ll use every tech booster we can get!

The 2016 Olympics started off with the greatest number of expulsions due to performance boosting ever, with 100 Russian athletes banned. Almost certainly, other athletes will be banned before the Olympics conclude. Newer drugs keep being developed and new techniques are found to beat the latest tests. There’s even talk about easing up on testing since some techniques, like storing and re-using your own blood, aren’t exactly “artificial” boosts.

It used to be that countries had natural advantages in specific sports. Countries with a lot of snow often dominated the Winter Olympics. European countries dominate equestrian sports. That’s not surprising given that these events are based on European traditional competitions. But, when an individual or a team that was not a top contender suddenly starts winning all of the gold medals, well…  the judges get suspicious. 

While it makes a lot of sense to ban boost in the Olympics, in outsourcing it makes sense to use as many new technologies to boost performance as possible. If it’s manufacturing or credit card processing, automation makes outsourcing work better. Now, with the latest forms of automation and artificial intelligence, the natural advantages of each country may not be as important. The latest technology is upsetting the “natural order” of outsourcing, as new contenders can adopt technology that makes them dramatically more productive. Or, work that was once assumed to stay offshore forever… like heavy manufacturing… may be returned to domestic shores.

Who’s going to win the Gold, Silver, and Bronze in the outsourcing Olympics? Come back and get the latest results on the competition, and let’s see if there are any new world records or upsets. At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today!


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It’s A Pokemon World

PokemonI don’t want to play Pokemon GO. Really, I don’t. As a confirmed geek I have some interest in any tech. Pokemon GO is the first Augmented Reality (AR) game that is an international hit, so I am a tiny bit interested. Mostly, I write about A.I. and robotics, especially autonomous cars, and I’ve been wondering if popular AR apps are going to be the next big cause of auto accidents. And that’ show I ended up meeting friends at New York’s Central Park to play “GO” in the rain.   

We met just across from the entrance on 59th street, by a big gold statue of a man on a horse. The statue is on an island in the middle of traffic, and today it was standing room only as hundreds of people wandered on and off of this tiny island. Why the crowd? Because this was where beacons were dropped, to attract Pokemon monsters, the little critters that everyone runs around trying to capture. Deeper into the park, there are more  beacons. The goal is to capture a lot of Pokemon, and later train them. All of this running around gives you points, pretty simple!

Looking around in every direction, there are GO players as far as the eye can see. These players, shall we call them, “Go-Nuts”, are mesmerized by their phone screens, wandering unsteadily through traffic and occasionally doing a fist pump (must have caught something good). My first thought is, “Whooeee, someone is gonna get killed!”  

Surprisingly, no one (that I know of) was injured. You can see how AR to play in parks. Even though GO is mostly about walking around, a lot of articles are pointing out the health benefits, and the opportunity to socialize. The next hit game will probably move it up a notch and have some running and jumping. Considering that when Central Park was first built, the BIG activity of the day was the Promenade. You would get dressed in your best clothing and walk up and down, in areas meant for walking up and down. That’s the Mall through the Bethesda Terrace, should you feel a Promenade coming on. Just the same, I think you’ll prefer Pokemon GO.    

Well, by the late afternoon, thunderstorms had soaked the park, but the Go-Nuts wouldn’t leave.  I’m told that GO has monsters that only show up at night, so the game is aware of day and night. Maybe the next upgrade will weather forecasts so that Go-Nuts can, you know… get out of the rain?  

When will motorists start playing AR games? Wouldn’t that be incredibly dangerous? YOU BET IT WOULD! Drivers have used every type of app while driving, so AR will be next. Think back to when cell phone first became affordable. Everyone was driving and talking on their phones. After years of debate, legislation was passed against using your phone while driving. When texting became big, people drove and texted, leading to deadly crashes. Then it was selfies while driving. AR will be the next in a long list of driver distractions that eventually led to fatalities. Even if drivers are banned from using AR games, players on foot will be a terrifying new addition to neighborhood traffic.

Pokemon GO has been so successful that the value of the parent company, Nintendo, rose $17 billion in value in just over a week. The success of GO will lead to a flood of new Augmented Reality apps that blend computer data and images with the real world around us. AR is a new distraction for drivers that will lead to new accidents and almost surely, new fatalities. At least, as long as humans are behind the wheel.

Distracted driving is a killer… literally. We keep coming up with new ways to distract ourselves, and the price of distraction is very high when it comes to driving. Little by little our cars are becoming robots, and 2017 could be the watershed year when autonomous cars make a real impact on impact on the number of traffic accidents. American’s are now so distracted, tired and in a rush that we really do need games like Pokemon GO to relax. But not when we drive! We need to support the legislation needed to allow cars to be fully autonomous. We’ll all be a bit less stressed, and fun summer fads won’t turn into tragedies. At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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