The Public Relations Strategist

Forward Thinking: Tech Predictions; Communication Habits

April 24, 2017

Machines Replace Artists, Chips in Our Brains and Other Tech Predictions

In his 1990 book, “The Age of Intelligent Machines,” Ray Kurzweil foresaw the internet’s widespread adoption, wearable devices, the cloud, and the ability of artificial intelligence to beat the world’s best chess players, which happened in 1997.

As Inc. reported, Kurzweil, now director of engineering at Google, offered some unsettling predictions about the future of art, storytelling and creativity at the South by Southwest conference on March 13. Computers are already writing stories, composing music and painting pictures, and Kurzweil predicts artificial intelligence will eventually do those things as well or better than humans can.

“We’re making progress, but we’re not there yet,” he said. Someday, handheld devices will be obsolete and a chip in our brain’s neocortex will connect us directly to the cloud, Kurzweil believes. “We’re going to make ourselves more intelligent by merging with A.I. We’ll have more potential ways of sharing language.” Having a computer inside our head instead of in our hands is “not an important distinction,” he said.

He envisions the ability to put on a virtual reality headset and experience a story through the eyes of its protagonist. He also predicts that dead people will be resurrected as virtual reality characters. By feeding an A.I. system photos, videos and audio recordings of a person, we’ll be able to create avatars of them. Kurzweil said he’s already building an avatar of his father, who died decades ago.  — Greg Beaubien

Why Cleveland Indians Manager Terry Francona Is a Great Communicator

In high-pressure periods of business, it’s important to keep things loose and light around the office. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who took his team to the MLB World Series in 2016, knows this as well as anyone.

A profile with Francona in The Ringer on March 21 discusses how the manager uses media interviews as opportunities to shift the attention onto himself and away from his stressed-out players.

For instance, during a World Series press conference last fall, Francona told a story about consuming 17 popsicles in the clubhouse and then almost getting sick later that night. Another playoff press conference included a tale about losing a tooth midgame after chewing too much gum-wrapped tobacco. A third found him recapping a nightmare about breaking his ribs after falling asleep on a remote control in his hotel.

Though seemingly silly and frivolous, Francona’s interview tactics are “undoubtedly strategic,” says Ringer writer Katie Baker. “[They’re] meant to shield his players from any more pressure than necessary. After all, riffing on his own lack of sleep could help spare his players from fielding questions that might keep them up at night, too.”  — Dean Essner

Employers Are Tracking Workers for Their Communication Habits

To better understand the social dynamics of their offices, employers are now tracking the day-to-day conversations of their workers, a recent Wall Street Journal article says.

Managers at companies such as Boston Consulting Group and Microsoft now comb through employees’ emails and chat logs, while also tracking their face-to-face interactions. The hope is that by observing and mastering office communication habits, managers may be able to cut down on time-consuming meetings, vague emails and useless training sessions.

The data gleaned from these shadowing sessions actually helped BCG, who had 20 percent of its roughly 500 New York workers wear trackable ID badges, design its new office. After the six-week trial revealed that people who stopped more often to chat with random colleagues spent, on average, five fewer hours in long meetings — BCG suspects the time difference meant commingling workers were spreading news and updates more efficiently — the company added a lounge area that serves free breakfast and lunch to boost employee interactions.  — D.E.

The Emotional Impact of Owning a Business

By 2019, Richard Branson’s Virgin America will no longer exist. Alaska Airlines recently acquired the airline brand for $2.6 billion, and they plan to fully integrate both companies under the Alaska name.
To say goodbye to his employees and customers, Branson wrote a heartfelt letter on his website in late March that also included some nuggets of wisdom about the emotional toll of the entrepreneurial world. Here’s what we learned:

Crying is OK. Branson admits to weeping after making some tough business decisions. “I shed tears over selling my beloved Virgin Records for $1 billion,” he wrote. “Many tears are shed today, this time over Alaska Airlines’ decision to buy and now retire Virgin America.”

Never stop inventing. While Branson’s letter is mostly a eulogy for Virgin Airlines, he also talks about his many business plans of the future, which involve ships, hotels and space tourism. “As an entrepreneur’s brand, Virgin is always starting new businesses. And we will not stop,” he said.

Enjoy the whole ride. Despite the pain associated with ending Virgin America, Branson is mostly focused on the triumph of just growing the brand in the first place. “With a lot of things in life, there is a point where we have to let go and appreciate the fact that we had this ride at all,” he wrote.  — D.E.

Don’t Schedule Your Meetings Around Clock Conventions

Most meetings are scheduled in 30- or 60-minute chunks. However, following such clock conventions can lead to extra time at the end, which can lead to awkward, superfluous conversation when your employees could be back at their desks and producing. A recent article in Inc. titled “9 Things Good Leaders Never Do When Running a Meeting” calls this “bigger house syndrome.”

“After you buy a bigger house, you somehow manage to fill it with furniture, even though you don’t need any more furniture.” Instead, the article suggests scheduling meetings based around what needs to be accomplished, rather than keeping with the tradition of round number periods — like 9:30-to-10 or 11-to-12.

If a talk will probably last 12 minutes, then time it for exactly 12 minutes. And besides, you can always pick a nice, familiar digit to finish on if need be. “Consider starting a 12-minute meeting at, say, 9:18,” says Inc. writer Jeff Haden. “Then it can still end on a round number, and the people who crave convention can feel like their world still makes some sense.”  — D.E.

Can the Email Monster Be Tamed?

When he realized that reading and sending emails was consuming more and more of his time, Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University, looked for a way to make the task less stressful.

As The Atlantic reported on March 8, Ariely discovered that every new email message, whether urgent or worthless, warrants an immediate ping — and people have a hard time ignoring messages as they arrive. Such interruptions cause stress and undermine productivity. 

In a survey he conducted for Duke, Ariely found that about one-third of email messages didn’t need to be seen at all, and only one-tenth were considered important enough to read within five minutes of receiving them. So he created an app called Filtr, which lets users determine when an email will appear in their inbox, based on the sender. Emails from family members arrive immediately, for example, while newsletters appear all at once, at the end of the day.  — G.B.

Digitization Is the Future, Says Former Cisco CEO

John Chambers, former CEO and current executive chairman of networking company Cisco Systems Inc., has an urgent message for investors and business leaders: Digitization is the future.

Speaking at MIT Sloan in March, he criticized the United States for remaining the only major country without a strong digitization plan. “The world will go digital: It will transform health care, enable people to live longer, and be a huge disruption to society,” said Chambers, who is personally invested in Pindrop Security, a phone fraud-fighting startup based in Atlanta. “Either you disrupt or you get left behind. There’s no entitlement just because we led before.”

Chambers also touched on his dyslexia and the importance of mentorships during the talk, as well as the lessons he learned after Cisco’s ill-fated $590 million acquisition of the Flip camera, which ended manufacturing in 2011, two years after it was purchased from Pure Digital. “When you get outmaneuvered, you need to self-correct, or can it and move forward,” he said.  — D.E.


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