This just came out in the news today, which I saw through the Mashable feed. Google’s AI Assistant is really learning how to interact using natural language in a big way. The future, if it’s not now, is coming very soon!
If this is truly working, and I’m guessing it’ll be available to the public soon enough, it’s going to be kicking the back end of Siri and Alexa and Cortana. I’ve used Siri for a while now, and it’s not perfect, but it’s okay–it’s gotten better over the years. Alexa has been a bit of a disappointment to me–Siri can usually do better. With mixed results from those two, I haven’t really ventured into trying Cortana, but I’m willing to bet that it’s still not as developed as the Google Assistant.
How does this affect technical communicators? Big time. From what I can tell, this is about the chatbots and machine language learning that’s been talked about recently. But at the same time, it affects how we communicate through rhetoric or voice. Sometimes we take actual speaking for granted, and it’s when we try to describe something that one sees clearly that it becomes difficult. Or, sometimes we can write it out well, but can’t explain well in voice. This means that plain and very clear language is going to be helpful going forward as we develop the content for these AI assistants that will be developing.
Soon enough, we’ll be talking to HAL or to our starship’s computer with ease.
What do you think about this development? It’s exciting to me–enough to make me want to purchase a Google Assistant! It definitely raises the bar for Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, for sure. Let some healthy competition begin! (And more tech comm jobs associated with it!) Include your thoughts below.
RJ’s argument was that while mobile was the wave of the future, he felt that the Surface was not a mobile product. Since the Surface still ran full programs rather than streamlined apps, it really didn’t qualify as a mobile device, despite its tablet-like form. His argument was that the industry needs to learn to streamline code to make lighter programs for heavy duty use so that mobile can become more prolific.
My argument at the time, more or less, was that while I agreed with his thinking and supported more use of mobile, I didn’t think it was going to happen anytime soon because PCs enabled people to use more powerful programs that tablets just couldn’t handle. I supported the idea of cloud technology, which was just barely emerging at the time, but I knew it wasn’t there yet. Only when cloud technology could catch up, I contended, then we could start making a bigger move to mobile devices as our primary work tools.
Well, here we are, four years later. Have we made huge strides in moving more to mobile? Yes and no.
More tablet-like devices have been created in these four years, and the main leaders in this arena, Surface and iPad, have made improvements over the years. Surface has its standard version of the device, as well as a “Surface Pro” and “Surface Book”. iPad has developed its competition creating iPad Pro, but the various MacBooks continue to be the competition for the Surface Book.
Surface’s OS is still the same thing that runs on laptops, namely full versions of Windows 10. Windows 10 runs regular, full version programs, but it also runs on apps that can be bought through the Microsoft Store, including many cloud-based apps such as Microsoft Office 365. But, it’s still a really flat PC in a tablet format. People still use it like their PC, running more powerful programs in it, and use it as a laptop, just smaller. It’s certainly more portable than a standard laptop, but as laptop design gets thinner and thinner, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Additionally, the price tag on the Surface is still pretty high. To get a powerful enough machine that can create and edit video, you’d pay somewhere around US$3000.00+ for a Surface, when you could get something just as powerful in another brand of laptop for less than half that price (like I did for my current laptop).
iPads, in the meantime, have become more robust, and while still more dependent on cloud-based apps such as its own Work suite and it does run the cloud-based Office 365, other apps like Adobe’s Creative Cloud aren’t the same. There are Creative Cloud apps available for iPad, but they are still the watered down versions of them, and not the full versions that can be used on a laptop. Even though Adobe claims that Creative Cloud is cloud-based, it’s only cloud based insofar as it will save your work in iPad to your storage within Creative Cloud, but that’s about it. iPads have definitely been a frontrunner in promoting cloud-based storage, but running robust apps that are memory-intensive isn’t part of its anatomy.
Still, with these minimal advances, they are still steps forward in the right direction. For example, I do used Office 365 or iWork on my iPad when I help my son write up his homework assignments, and I can store them on my OneDrive or my iCloud. If he’s working on a bigger project, he can use PowerPoint or Keynote on my iPad, save it to OneDrive or iCloud, and then continue working on the project using my laptop or his desktop. Cloud-based storage, and some other cloud-based apps have definitely gotten better, for sure. I like this ability to switch from my laptop to my iPad to work on low-impact project, like doing my son’s homework.
It looks like the PC versus tablet/mobile wars will continue to rage on for a while. I don’t think they’ve gotten that far in four years, but the few improvements made have certainly been in the right direction. We’re not quite there yet. I think RJ’s original thought that all apps need to be streamlined for mobile use was a great observation then, and it’s still one that needs to apply now. If we are truly going to move towards the mobile age, bigger steps have to be made. These are steps forward, for sure. I think more has been concentrated on mobile phones, to be honest, since more people own them. And that seems appropriate. I don’t bring my iPad or my laptop with me everywhere, but I bring my phone everywhere. Then again, I’m not working on HTML code on my phone, so there has to be some sort of balance at some point.
Mobile devices are becoming more powerful all the time, but it looks like we’ll have to be a little more patient before we see another big leap with technology. I know there are some “big” announcements from Microsoft and Apple about these tablet products sometime this week, but I’m not holding out for any big advances, even though they are certainly overdue.
What do you think? How will this lack of technology development–or the future of mobile technology–help or hurt tech comm? Include your comments below.
This article, posted originally by Microsoft Careers on Twitter, excited me. I could related to this article on so many levels, especially with the non-disclosure part, and the tracing my route before I got there. I did that yesterday with my son for school. We were allowed to come in a day early, see his schedule, and do a dry run of his day, meeting the teachers one-on-one rather than a busy, hectic, first day with all the kids. Thank goodness we did that–his bus never showed up, so I had to drive him to his school, and he was a half an hour late. At least he knew where to go. Even on the way home, I knew that a place where I may be interviewing was nearby, so I passed by on our way home, just so I knew where to go when the time comes.
Microsoft really did an excellent job with this article, and appropriately told the good and the bad of being an autistic employee. Autistic people usually are very good with technical things, so naturally a fit with Microsoft makes sense. The method they use of letting the candidates hang out and help for a few weeks before the real interview is something I wish all employers did with employees. I know I’d benefit from it, for sure! I hope that other companies adopt similar plans for autistic workers, whether they are coders or tech writers or anything else. It gives me hope that my son has a chance to get into a job that can be fulfilling to him, if he chooses (he’s more of a computer hardware guy, but still–there’s a need for guys like him, too, at a place like Microsoft!).
Read this, and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Last week, my son celebrated his 14th birthday. He only wanted one present to mark the occasion, namely a gaming computer. Now, this is something that he’s been pining for months now. Originally, he wanted something in the $3000 range. Um, no. I wouldn’t even spend that much on myself, if I had the funds or the need. He only uses his computer for entertainment, whereas his dad and I use ours for both entertainment and business. Over the months, we told him that he had to get the price significantly down on the parts for the gaming machine he wanted to build, and eventually he figured out that he didn’t need the Bugatti (one of the fastest street cars out there) version of a machine, but a Ford Mustang level of speed was fine. Thanks to Ed Marsh of ContentContent, we found a place called MicroCenter that sold parts so that my son could build his new computer, and the sales guy helped us not only find all the parts, but also helped us find parts that were better and cheaper than some of the parts my son had chosen. As a result, before tax, my son’s new system cost $8 less than his budget. He was pleased.
My son and husband spent the weekend building the machine, and setting up the system. It’s still not perfect, as some of the components won’t work until he can upgrade his OS to Windows 10 next month, but it’s still an improvement over the machine he had. He’s thrilled with his new machine at this point. My husband and I felt that there were some good lessons learned with this birthday gift, which was that he learned to work within a budget, he learned teamwork as he built it with his dad’s help, he learned some patience (not much–he was anxious about it for a few months) in receiving it, and he gained some confidence that he actually knew what he was talking about when he’d talk to the sales guy. Perhaps this it the start to some career skills that will serve him later (he’s only in 8th grade right now).
Coincidentally, I got a new laptop myself. Unlike my son, I spent more money on it because I do use mine for business purposes quite heavily. Since I’m trying to move data from a Windows 7 machine to a Windows 8.1 machine…well, the transition hasn’t been so smooth. I’m doing it little bit by little bit. The Windows Easy Transfer was not cooperating in any way, no matter how I tried. Some things have ended up working out more easily, like having the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to download programs to the new computer. Other ones…not so much. I’m still moving my own documents and content over as well, and there will need to be some tweaking done as well. It gives me a chance to clean up some of the data on my old computer so as not to mess up the new one too much.
During the process, I kept thinking, “Gee, what would someone who doesn’t have a lot of know-how about these systems do this process, if it’s like this for me?” Between my husband and I, who aren’t hardware/software experts, we still have a better clue than most people on how different software and systems work on a Windows computer, at least. Between us, we’ve been in the IT business in one form or another for 35+ years, so you’d think that we’d have some idea of how this stuff works.
This all lead to me thinking about the technical abilities of my family. My paternal grandfather, who lacked a formal education, was someone who should have been an electrical engineer based on his work and hobbies. He was a natural at that stuff. My brother inherited that mind too, as he is an architect. I was the other “tech” in the family. My father in law is a mechanical engineer, and my husband’s undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, even though he is a computer and web developer now. So I supposed it was inevitable that it would be part of my son’s genetic code (get it, code?). 😉
I started thinking about it more deeply in terms of how this technical ability has helped my own career, and how it has related to technical writing and technical communication. After all, “technical” is the big modifier when describing these professions. How many of us are actually “technical” in what we do? We probably need to better define “technical” first. Do we mean that we understand the finer details or writing or related work (like web design, etc.) that we can be more “technical” than the average person? Or do we mean that we understand and work with technical content, which requires a higher level of knowledge on less than average topics? In my mind, it’s both. You could be one or the other easily, but probably the best technical communicators are a bit of both.
Is this something we take for granted? Perhaps we do. That’s something that we should change, and I think there’s been a movement within the technical communications field to embrace that. We have a special set of skills that many people don’t have. Many can write, and many can be technical, but not many can be both. You have been gifted with “The Force”, so to speak, so it’s your responsibility to use it for good like a Jedi Knight, and not turn to the Dark Side.
Today, I tuned in to listen to the Windows 10 event that was to promote more about the upcoming new OS that many are anticipating will be a big improvement over Windows 8 and 8.1. While I’m a huge fan of iOS products like iPad and iPhone, when it comes to my laptop, I’m a devoted PC gal who would much rather use the Microsoft operating system and tools. I suppose it’s because this is what I’ve been used to for 20-plus years, and it’s easier for me to adapt those changes, and more of the tools I like to use are available for PC use. Yet, while I’m usually a relatively early adopter with many things, I’ve been very hesitant to adopt Windows 8 or 8.1. There are some improvements with Win 8.1, but when I first encountered Win 8, I balked. So, time will tell what happens once we all get our free upgrades to Win 10 (which is great–it’s going to be free for the first year of availability to Win 7 users like me, and to Win 8/8.1 users). There was a set of business apps called Surface Hub that looked good that combined OneNote with a digital whiteboard and provided new sharing capabilities for workgroups and meetings. I could see the practical uses for that in my own work right now. The new browser called “Project Spartan” looks incredibly promising as well, based on some of the new functionality that will be forthcoming.
But what REALLY caught my attention in this event was the introduction of a new device that Microsoft introduced. I think it was a bit of a surprise to see this, but it is a sign that Microsoft means business, and to me, it’s a positive sign. Microsoft has created a new device called the HoloLens. And from what I could tell, HoloLens is everything that Google Glass wishes it could be. While the viewing apparatus used is certainly more…clunky looking…than Google Glass, everything else about it (and why it’s probably still clunky looking) is what it has going for it. There are no wires, no synching it with your phone–it is an autonomous device unto itself. The connection with today’s Win 10 event is that it will run Win 10, but it showed how people can interact with the world around them, and still use the holographic tools around them to merge reality and virtuality. It’s difficult for me to describe, but the 3D imagery used was fantastic, and they showed several applications of how it could be used more practically with other people–including those who don’t have a HoloLens.
I think the biggest difference of all–other than the fact that this is a device that acts on its own, with its own processors among other things, is that unlike Google Glass that was being promoted as a device that could be used as a tool and for everyday use, HoloLens seems to be promoted solely as a tool. Now, it can be used for gaming and such, but the tool applications were what really made it stand out more than anything. My husband and I were using Skype and exchanging comments while watching the live streaming video, and when we were commenting about the differences between HoloLens and Glass, his comment was, “…but this is built as a tool.. you can see the size. It’s not meant as an accessory.. it’s actually a tool.” He’s exactly right. This isn’t a novelty item with potential for greater capability. It has the greater capability, but it’s not an accessory.
I don’t think this is the type of thing that I need right now, even when it comes out. I don’t have any practical application. But I could see how this could be used in several years once the components do become smaller and I can use it as an accessory. (Give it time!)
What do you think? Do you think this is the next step of merging the virtual world with reality? Sure looks like it to me. Post your comments below.
Update: When I mentioned the new HoloLens to my son, he asked me, “Are you sure they aren’t just ripping off Oculus Rift?” Good question. I don’t think so, because HoloLens lets you see through to what’s actually around you, whereas Oculus Rift is contained in its view. Tell me what you think.
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