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Echo Show

The new Echo Show arrived yesterday on schedule as promised by Amazon. My initial reaction was it is a bit clunky in size and shape, but it did not take long for me to become highly impressed. I took it out of the box, plugged it in, selected the WiFi access point, and did the ten minute setup. I started asking questions and Alexa immediately applied artificial intelligence to show me things.

When you ask Alexa something, you don’t get just an audio response, she shows you things: video flash briefings, YouTube, music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and much more. At first, one may reflect on why the new approach is needed when you have an iPhone and iPad. What is different? The answer is it is all hands-free, you just ask. Eventually, we will just think of something and it will happen, but for now, just asking is an upgrade from how we interact with the digital world today.

Echo Show may play a bigger role in my life than I had anticipated. It is a new way to connect. No reaching, no typing, no clicking. I am sure I will be making hands-free audio and video calls from my desk to friends and family who have an Echo Show or the Alexa App. Not sure I will spend much time watching the colorful and crystal clear lyrics on-screen with Amazon Music, but I am quite impressed with the powerful, room-filling speakers with Dolby processing for crisp vocals and extended bass response. That is why it looks a bit clunky, great speakers. The eight microphones, beam-forming technology, and noise cancellation, enable the Echo Show to hear you from any direction, even while music is playing. If you have more than one Echo or Echo Show, you can use them room to room like an intercom.

The subtle but more profound potential of Echo and Echo Show is Alexa’s intelligence (AI?). Every time you say something to Alexa, she gets smarter. She is continuously learning. Privacy issues abound, and some will fear Amazon is creating an overlord. The concerns are legitimate, but the positive impact on education, medicine, convenience, productivity, and quality of life could be substantial. 

Meanwhile, there are so many companies which are clueless about using artificial intelligence  to improve their service. In 2001, I wrote Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can’t Survive Without It, and described how attitude about the Internet was preventing companies from making things easier for people. Fifteen years later, I wrote an update called Net Attitude: What it is, How to Get it, and Why it is More Important Than Ever. I regret to say, while incredible progress has been made, there are still many companies who just can’t seem to get it. I encountered three examples in the course of one hour this morning. 

 Capital One has a very nice iPhone/iPad app. It is easy to use and productive, except for one thing, bill pay. The payees are listed in random order. With 75 or so payees it takes a lot of time to scroll to find the one you want to pay. The app has been this way for a year or so. I have tweeted about it at @askCapitalOne with no reply. I spoke to them today. They said they cannot commit to ever making the payee list alphabetical. Sorting a database is something middle-school kids know how to program, but a multi-billion dollar bank can’t figure it out, or is so benighted, they don’t think it is needed.

UnitedHealth Group, the largest health insurer in the world, sent an email saying an explanation of benefits (EOB) was ready for me to review. Instead of a link to the page with the EOB, the email had a link to the home page. The email had instructions to click on a particular link on the homepage, then to scroll down to the bottom and click on a second link, and then scroll down and look for a third link to search for the EOB. What could they be thinking? Certainly not about a net attitude.

 I stopped by a Rite Aide pharmacy to pick up a prescription which was called in yesterday. It was not the Rite Aide I normally go to, as I am traveling. The pharmacy said they could not fill the prescription because I am not in their local database. They said they had my name and date of birth but their system only allows searching the national database if they have the zip code. The likelihood of searching on my name and DOB and coming up with more than one match is likely zero, and of course, they could have called the doctor’s office to find the zip code.

Amazon, Apple, Google, and some others have a net attitude, and are in a global race to dominate the world of AI. They will make billions on it. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs still plod along devoid of net attitude and AI. The gap between those who get it and those who don’t is growing. Enormous wealth will accrue to those who get it and bankruptcy will face those who do not.