First things first

First, a mea culpa: In yesterday's issue, I referred to a Gartner Magic Quadrant without specifying that it was for public cloud storage, not IaaS over all -- a result of me not reading the cited article close enough. I apologize for any confusion this caused, although the change of focus for the MQ doesn't change my analysis of Alibaba's cloud opportunity. For what it's worth, it's moving toward the top-right in the overall IaaS MQ, too.

The biggest news for me today had to be the report that only about 2 percent of Amazon Echo users have made a purchase via the device this year. It sounds like this is in part because they don't trust the device's accuracy, and possibly because they don't even have that feature turned on. If memory suits me (I disconnected my three Echoes last year), that option is buried somewhere in a clunky app, and there's also a real fear of accidental or unauthorized purchases.

But I suspect the real reason, beyond anything to do with the Echo devices or Alexa app specifically, is just that people have decided online shopping is easy enough. At least for now. Sure, it's not as easy as saying, "Alexa, buy me a laptop," but the added inconvenience gets you important benefits such as price comparisons, reviews, specs and, perhaps most importantly, more opportunities to talk yourself out of yet another whimsical purchase.

I really do believe we're going to see consumers put the brakes on their smart device habits pretty soon, or at the very least stop gobbling up every new gadget and feature that's released. Some things just don't need to be automated, especially at the risk of opening up privacy or security risks. Also, I assume there's a limit on people's ability to keep up with a constant stream of new stuff when they've just gotten used to the last new thing. Machines don't care about constant change, but people do.

Doing continuous delivery on your web app is one thing, but trying to do it inside people's homes, on their ingrained habits and household budgets, is something else altogether. It won't make shareholders or investors happy, but it really is OK to s l o w d o w n on smart-home innovation for the sake of innovation. The huge winners in this space will be those that nail the experience of optimizing and automating tasks that people really want help with -- you'd have to pry my not-intelligent Roomba from my cold, dead hands -- not that make it easier to buy more stuff or avoid turning a thermostat dial.

And on a related note, Ford announced on Tuesday that it's rolling out lightweight "exoskeletons" that will help reduce shoulder stress for autoworkers who have to continuously lift their arms above their heads. This reminds me of the podcast discussion I had last year with Brian Ballard of Upskill, about the role of Google Glass and similar technologies in industry. It's possible I'm just being naive, but it appears there's a possible future where rather than spending billions of dollars retrofitting factories and risking economic upheaval by laying off workers, manufacturers spend markedly less money augmenting employees so they can do their jobs better and more safely.

You might also recall that Elon Musk recently blamed an over-reliance on automation for slowing down production, and vowed to remedy it by hiring more people.

I think the moral of the story is that AI (and automation, in general) is a powerful tool, but there are technological, cultural and psychological limitations to its application. We all want to live in a better, safer, simpler world, but rushing to get there before we're ready is a recipe for disappointment and, potentially, disaster.

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