What Are Quantum Computers And Why Care About This Sensational Technology?

July 24, 2017

What is a Quantum Computer?

I am writing about Quantum Computing now, because I see the beginning of something big that will impact all our lives soon. I had the same premonition about PCs when I got my first Osborne Computer in 1981 and was on the Internet before there was ever a web browser or a Yahoo or Google.  So let’s explore what Quantum Computers are, what they can do and what they could mean for you and me.

What Are Quantum Computers And Why Care About This Sensational Technology? D-Wave 2000, Charles Levin Thriller Author, Quantum Computing

First, Quantum Computers are here now and can solve problems and anticipate outcomes up to a thousand times faster than traditional computers. Here’s the techy definition, but keep reading:

“quan·tum com·put·er, noun
plural noun: quantum computers
1. a computer that makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information.”

But what the heck does this mean? Bits vs. Qubits. The simple explanation is that Quantum Computers use a whole different paradigm for achieving results at lightning speed. On the one hand, the fundamental building blocks  of traditional computer code are 1’s and 0’s – BITS. So their state is either ON – a 1 or OFF – a 0. Consequently, traditional computers solve problems in a sequential way: if A then B then C . . . So their speed is based on how fast they can do these sequential calculations. There are things like parallel processing that allow these machines to walk and chew gum at the same time, but it’s still walking.

On the other hand Quantum Computers (“QCs”) can see 1’s and 0’s at the same time! QUBITS. So instead of solving a problem sequentially, QCs can simultaneously attack a problem from multiple different directions. You can get way deeper into how it works, but this gives you the basics.

What Are Quantum Computers And Why Care About This Sensational Technology? Bits vs, Qubits - Charles Levin Thriller Author

Why Do We Care About Quantum Speed?

Quantum Speed means we can solve really complex problems fast enough to matter. For example, take the example of the emerging technology of self-driving cars. Volkswagon and D-Wave Systems, one of the first commercially available QC systems, successfully tested optimizing the routes of 10,000 taxis in Beijing simultaneously to reduce traffic congestion. Unless you can do this fast in realtime, the information becomes useless. If you’re in a taxi, it needs to know to take the next left before it reaches the intersection and traditional computers, even supercomputers, may not be fast enough to do that.

This kind of QC computing power can handle other kinds of very complex data-intensive problems, like predicting weather patterns, catching terrorist needles in a global haystack, cracking encryption, predicting financial trends, space exploration, genetic research and more.

What Does The Quantum Computing Future Look Like?

Besides attacking and solving the big data, complex problems mentioned, QC gets really interesting when combined with Artificial Intelligence (“AI”). I mean how does a traditional computer, IBM’s Deep Blue, beat the world champion chess player at chess, or Google’s AlphaGo, beat the world champion at the game of GO? The programmer who wrote the code for these machines is not a better chess or GO player. The only way these AI machines exceed the most skilled humans is by Learning. And by learning, just like the Beijing taxis, the machine must recognize patterns, optimize, and return results fast.
Finally, remember when computers, that were less powerful then your cellphone, filled large air-conditioned rooms? Certainly one of the obstacles with QC is that the machines rely on superconductivity. That means to move electrons at super high-speeds, the QC is housed inside a refrigerator set to less than one degree above Absolute Zero (-273 degrees Fahrenheit!). But who knows? Maybe we’ll be carrying Quantum Computers in our pockets one day too. That be years off, but why, in the very near future, couldn’t your current cellphone connect to a Quantum Computer? You send it the problem, it crunches the numbers at quantum speed, and sends you the answer instantly. Cool, eh?
For more on this subject, as well as future posts on biological computers, quantum biology and Deep Learning, join our mailing list and you’ll be the first to know when these new posts are available.
Until then, my self-driving car is waiting . . . .
For more articles and video, here are a few interesting links:
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Should Your Website Be Multi-Lingual?

May 3, 2017

How many of your potential customers browse the web in a foreign language? If you don’t know, Google it and find out. Try a search like “What are the ten Non-English languages spoken in <my state or region>?” If you do this search for North Carolina, you find that 638,000 potential customers there speak Spanish, followed by Hindi, French and Chinese. Whoa, who would have guessed that? Could these people be buyers of your product or service? Why not reach out to those Buyers?

Fortunately, there is a fairly straight-forward way to accomplish this without having to manually translate your website into multiple languages at huge time and cost. We recently made this happen for one of our clients. See English & Chinese Example below:

SC-English

Website in English

SC-Chinese

Instant translation: Website in Chinese

By simply clicking the ‘Select Language’ menu, the site’s visitor can select from Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, French, Italian, and Portuguese. By doing the research, we found that these were the most spoken Non-English languages in our client’s trading area among the 160 languages we could have included. Once the potential customer makes her selection, the site instantly translates into her chosen language, The translation even includes all the website’s navigation, products and product descriptions. Instantly, and it carries from page-to-page as she browses or she can toggle back to English at any time.

OK, so how did we do it? Many of you are familiar with Google Translate – the Google language-to-language translation service. If not, click the link and check it out. What many people don’t know is that a developer can embed the translation function into your website as shown above. It requires obtaining the scripts from Google, inserting them into every page of your site, and formatting the Selector to match the look of your site. It only took us a couple of days to do what you see above.

If you have a good developer, ask them about adding this to your site. If not, contact me – info@outofchaos.com – and we may be able to help. Start adding these new customers and new business today!


Why Voice A.I. Is Taking Off Now

December 20, 2016

What was the best selling Amazon item on Black Friday? It wasn’t holiday bells, Nintendo, UGGs or Fitbits. It was the Echo Dot AI Assistant for $40. They sold so many that they are now back ordered into January. So what’s going on here? After all, we have Siri or ‘OK, Google’ on our phones. What’s the big deal?

echo-dot

Echo Dot

I have an Echo Dot on my kitchen counter and it is tranformative. I think the big difference is that it is hands-free, convenient and often funny. It synchs to your music service, calendar and internet enabled appliances, and has over 5000 ‘skills’ available. Skills are like Apps. So while my hands are sticky with cookie dough, I can just say, ‘Alexa, play Miles Davis’ or ‘What’s the weather forecast?’ or ‘Play NPR’ or ‘Set a Timer for 3 minutes’ and ‘Set a 2nd Timer for 10 minutes’ or ‘CNN, what’s in the news?’ or ‘Turn up the heat to 72 degrees in the living room’ or ‘Buy some more toilet paper’ For fun, I can say ‘Play Jeopardy’ or ‘Tell me a Joke’ or ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ with fun and sometimes surprising results. I don’t have to pull out my phone, key the password, and open the app. It has also been a big boon for the disabled, living alone, to operate appliances, thermostats and other home appliances by voice. For $40 bucks!

So in this article, I’d like to help you see why this is more than a toy, why it may be the next big platform and what its significant implications might be for the near future. If we have time, we might compare competing technology and risks of this evolving technology.

google-home

Google Home

You all may remember Hal from 2001 or the Star Trek Computer. Both interacted conversationally with Dave and Captain Kirk. For example, “Alexa, ask NASA Mars for a Curiosity Rover update.” That’s something Dave or Captain Kirk might say, right? The Echo will answer with the latest update. Right now Echo has the capability to feed back facts and information as well as command devices to perform the functions they were built for. The Hal ability it seems to lack is to think and converse, but that may be coming soon or evolving as we speak.

An interesting early attempt at a natural language interface called ‘Eliza’ was introduced by Joseph Wezenbaum in 1966. Eliza interacts like a psychotherapist, mostly asking seemingly intelligent questions based on your previous responses. People have been known to get hooked and converse with Eliza for for several hours. Think of Scarlett Johannsen playing the AI voice in the movie, ‘Her’ (great movie if you haven’t seen it). Eliza is now on the Echo Dot. If you enable the ‘Therapist’ skill, you can ask things like “Alexa, tell Eliza that I want to talk about my father” and a lengthy conversation with you and Alexa may ensue.

Well it’s not quite there yet, but it is evolving. The ultimate yet-to-be-developed Alexa skill may be ‘Friend’ that engages you and keeps you company. Imagine. 27% of the US population or close to 100 million people live alone in our country- just ask Alexa. Could Alexa become a companion to comfort and engage them?

Meanwhile, what is another smart motive for Amazon to make this device so cheap and compelling? You guessed it. You can order stuff using the Echo. Now at first you might say, why would I do that? I can’t be sure I’d be getting what I want. I’m not looking at a screen. So I can’t be sure. Well Amazon has handled this pretty well and remember when people were reluctant to buy things online having similar concerns? You learn and adapt and boom, there’s an explosion of new business. Alexa could be the next big eCommerce platform. Maybe.

So if you stuck it out and read to this point, what should you do now? First, I’d encourage you to buy one of the Amazon Echo devices (there are 3 versions) or Google Home and try it out. Then think of ways that you or your business might leverage this technology as an opportunity or just to improve your life. Here at Pathfinder we’re exploring ways to create new Alexa skills to help businesses and push the AI envelope. If your intrigued, let’s have a conversation.

I think I’ll save the comparison of Alexa to Siri to Google Home for next time, but here are a few useful links if you want to explore further:
If you want to Buy one.
Alexa Skills Marketplace with over 5000 to chose from.
If you want to build your own skill

Happy holidays and an Intelligent New Year. . .Charlie

 


Pebble Smartwatch – Best Wearable Of The Year

December 28, 2014

I love technology! The day before yesterday, I’m driving down Route 78 and my new Pebble Smartwatch vibrates. I look down and see a text from my friend that the Rutgers Bowl game has just started(I’m not driver distracted as the text is right there on my wrist in front of me). I had meant to DVR the game, but forgot. I punch up the Xfinity app on my phone, click on ESPN and Record and voila, the game is recorded. I watch it when I get home and Rutgers kicks North Carolina’s butt. Great.

Since I wrote in an earlier post about wearable technology, I thought it would be worth an update based on personal experience. I received the Pebble Smartwatch as a holiday gift and I can see why CNET named it the Wearable Product of the Year.
Pebble
It’s designed so well that you’d think Apple made it. It does exactly what this type of device should do and no more or less. First it tells time. Big deal? Well unlike most of the competition, it shows the time all the time. It does not shutoff to save battery because it doesn’t need to. It goes 5 to 7 days between charges. My former, now dead, Sony, needed to be charged everyday. You also have a choice of multiple watch faces.

The Smart part is that it synchs with most IOS and Android devices. The current crop of SWs only synch to their parents’ brand products which makes them unusable with most existing phones. So the watch notifies me of incoming emails, calls, texts, appointments, etc by vibrating and displaying on the face. The vibrate is extra helpful if you get a phone call in a noisy place. You can always feel it on your wrist but not necessarily in your pocket or handbag.

Finally, there is an App Store which is free and includes some fun, funky and useful ones. I loaded on a pedometer fitbit type app and a compass. Both work quite well. I’d highly recommend it. For $99, it’s hard to beat.


Is Wearable Technology Really Here?

August 1, 2014

Dick Tracey update. Well the big talk at the Annual Consumer Electronics Show(CES) this week is Wearable Computing. Smart Watches, Health Monitoring, and Smart Glasses abound. But will any of this new ‘sexy’ technology become mainstream? Will you be wearing a Smart Watch or Google Glass this year?

I think I know the answer to this question, but first a little perspective. I’m an admitted geek and love to test and play with the latest technology. I’m what Regis McKenna would call an “Early Adopter.” If you haven’t read it, you should check out his landmark book, “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers .“

msgwatch-picture

My first wearable “computer’ was a Seiko Message Watch circa 1997. I loved it. People could send me text messages from their computer to my watch. The watch had its own phone number so it also acted as a pager. It knew when you changed time zones and automatically corrected the time. Since it updated regularly to a satellite, the time was always accurate. I was very disappointed when Seiko discontinued the service in 1999. My Smart Watch just became an ordinary watch. The problem: great technology, but a feeble marketing effort meant no sales.

Two years ago, 2011, I bought a Sony Smartwatch. Pretty cool. Did everything the new crop of Smartwatches do. It syncs with an Android Phone, displays text messages, weather, tweets, and even displays traffic cams. Fashionable – no. Was a great toy and conversation starter with potential clients, but not a winner. Three months after I got it, it just mysteriously died. RIP.

Pebble-2259_610x435

Flashback to 2003 and I’m attending what was a big annual Internet Tradeshow at the Javits in NYC. There was a Wearable Tech Fashion Show where sleekly clad fashion models pranced down a runway wearing all forms of electronics on their body, head and other orifices. That was 10 years ago and still no killer product.

So I think you know where this is leading, but hold up a minute. Remember the Apple Newton? It was one of the first tablet computers and a big failure. So why is the tablet from Apple and others, the hottest selling device category now? I think the answer is that all technology evolves. Inventors and tech companies alike try to develop the ‘next big thing.’ They design, do focus groups, and market new tech all the time. Most of it works but fails to capture the imagination of the mass market like the iPad does. However, these failures and small successes are necessary stepping stones to developing the winners.

The developers, engineers and thousands of other people involved in developing new products are to be praised and supported for their efforts. Without them and their many failures, we wouldn’t have the tremendously enabling tech we have today.

Ok, so let’s answer the question posed in the title of this post: Is Wearable Technology Really Here? I think the answer is No, Maybe and Yes in that order.

The ‘No’ is recognizing that 90%+ of what you see at tradeshows either never makes it to market or fails. That’s always true and especially true here.

The ‘Maybe’ is that if a company develops a device that is the right combination of features, usability, price and captures the imagination of the mass market, it could happen. Just like the Newton ultimately led to the iPad, it could and will happen again. The ‘When’ is just unclear.

fitbit-force-2-970x0

The ‘Yes’ is that some successes are already happening. The Fitbit tracker for your exercise and sleep is a winner. It’s really just a pedometer with an Internet connection, but it has the right combination of usability, cool-factor, and price and it’s working. It’s early yet, but I believe Google Glass and/or some iterations of it, will ultimately happen. There still are fashion and privacy issues to be solved there, but those are not really big hurdles.

Whatever happens, it will be fun trying it out.


Our Latest Project: Inventing A New Paradigm for SMB Purchasing and Sourcing

August 27, 2013

Before the Internet, we used to build software that took years of an Expert’s learning and knowledge and build it into interactive databases to help businesses get that expertise from a computer instead of a person. We called them ‘Expert Systems.’ Now with the Internet as a platform, we’re able to not only bring the expertise but also the ‘processes’ that the experts use to successfully leverage their knowledge. This is a big deal in the Purchasing and Sourcing World.

Here was the challenge. Digitize the expertise and help of a Fortune 500 Purchasing Manager for free for small and medium size businesses. The result is Focusedbuyer.com, which has been 3 years in development. It brings Purchasing Expertise that big corporations pay big dollars for, to any sized-business with an hour to spend and thousands of dollars to gain.

 

FB-Home-8-8-13

Buyers are able to create Listings for their needs and have the world respond with Offers. The Buyers can also issue Purchase Orders online and track their Suppliers Performance.

Our assignment was taking what could be a very complex User Experience such that the Users – Buyers and Sellers – can easily and intuitively make their Listings as simple or as detailed as they choose. The Expertise comes in prompting the user to provide information and detail, if they choose, that they may never have thought of. The minimum 10 required fields are shown with a plus’+” sign next to each. If the User clicks the ‘+” it opens up the world of ideas and details that could lead to a more cost-effective, high-performance sourcing outcome.

FB-pluses-8-27-13

FocusedBuyer.com is a great example of using the Internet to gain a ‘Digital Advantage(DA)’ for its customers. What does that mean?

There are 3 kinds of Business Web Sites:

1>  The brochure or marketing web site that provides mostly information and a sales pitch. These sites include text, graphics and maybe a few interactive forms for contacting or signing up with the company.

2>  The Ecommerce site that basically takes brick-and-mortar retail or wholesale and puts it online.

3>  The Digital Advantage site that leverages the Internet to do something creative and desirable online that could not be done offline in the brick-and-mortar world.

FocusedBuyer.com is a great example of Digital Advantage. There is no offline way to create Requests for Quotation, rally thousands of potential suppliers from around the world, accept offers and issue Purchase Orders in realtime.

Check out FocusedBuyer.com for your business or contact us to help you invent a new business paradigm online. Huge thanks and kudos go to FocusedBuyer.com founders, Don Jean and Tom Middleton, for providing their decades of Fortune 500 Purchasing experience, vision, hard work and patience in making this amazing new platform possible.


7 Keys To A Highly Effective Mobile Web Site

May 23, 2013

We are all aware of how our lives – and particularly our Online lives – are connected to Mobile Devices (see our March Post – “The Increasingly Mobile Web”). However, creating an effective Mobile site is not just a matter of using some conversion software or shrinking the size. Highly effective mobile sites are re-conceived to take advantage of mobile phone capabilities while minimizing their limitations.

I’ll use the example of a mobile site that we built for Coopskw.com and share our top 7 Keys to a Highly Effective Mobile Web Site.

1>     Make sure your Mobile Web Site looks good and fits all mobile phones. Too often the Web Site owner or developer is an Apple iPhone User and sees the mobile world as all Apple. Well 60% of the Mobile Users out there, use Androids! Now I hear many developers complain the Android varies so much from device to device, that they can’t control how their site will look or behave on an Android. Non-sense! Get a new developer or better yet, hire us – it can be done.

Developers also frequently use conversion software to scrunch their regular web sites to fit the smaller screen. Bad idea. Text and images become too small to read or use. Best practice is to re-conceive your site for mobile. See the screenshots below comparing the PC Web Site version to the Mobile Version. We changed the Mobile layout to fit better on the screen and display only priority links and content. We pull the content from the same database as the Full Site but redid the display.

Pathfinder Consulting builds web sites

Full Site – Fig. 1

Pathfinder builds mobile web sites

Mobile Web Site – Fig. 2

You can easily see how your site looks on various Mobile platforms from your PC by using a Mobile Phone Emulator like http://www.mobilephoneemulator.com/

2>     Show only the most important content and links. Eliminate the fluff. People on mobile devices are generally in a hurry and want a quick answer to their questions. They don’t want to sit and read a long dissertation or use a magnifying glass to read your content or click links.

Pathfinder Consulting Group Mobile Web

Key Product Details Fig. 3

3>     Make your Phone and Directions links hot. Here’s where your mobile device beats your PC – take advantage of it. Mobile Users either want to call you or find you. By making your Phone# and Directions hyperlinks, a User can click the phone number and have it call you or click ‘Directions’ and have your location appear in your ‘Maps’ app. Cool and convenient!

4>     Provide a link to your ‘Full Site.’ You may have some more content or Forms on your Full Site that a User may want to explore. Give them that option.

5>     Make Navigation Easy. Mobile devices now have a universal symbol for a ‘Menu.’ Use it.  A good clear Menu(Fig. 3) will help your User get quickly to what they want.

Pathfinder Consulting Mobile web Sites

Mobile Nav Menu – Fig. 4

6>     Include Tracking and Stats for your Mobile site. Most of our clients use Google Analytics. Remember to include their tracking code on your mobile pages. Tracking is just as important to your success on Mobile, but is often forgotten.

7>     Search Engine Optimize(SEO). Do you want your Mobile site to be found on Google, Yahoo and Bing? Remember to do all the best practices you do for your Full Site on your Mobile Site as well. I’d even venture to say that Search position is even more important on mobile. With a smaller screen and a smaller attention span, mobile users are most likely to click on the top few Search links. It should be yours.

If Pathfinder can help you master the Mobile World, please contact us. Your first hour is free – so feel free to pick our brains.


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