Round up #157: Subscribe with Amazon, Echo Look, declining e-book sales?

Round up #157: Subscribe with Amazon, Echo Look, declining e-book sales?

Oh, clever, clever Amazon!

Some people are afraid of artificial intelligence, and what it will be able to do in the future. Even famous, tech-savvy people have expressed concerns.

I write about robots in one of my other blogs,

The Measured Circle

I define them there this way:

robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

On the Robot Beat presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.


Artificial intelligence is definitely part of that…eventually, of course, it will be finding new areas, not replacing what we’ve been doing, but complementing our abilities.

The advances are happening quickly. It includes the way Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged (VAMM) Reality works, and it includes self-driving cars. By the way, I have sent notes to newspeople who used to use the term “driverless cars”. That is really a misrepresentation, and is certainly scary. A self-driving car has a driver…it’s just not a human driver. No one would want a car that had nothing driving it at all! I’ve been noticing that I’m hearing “driverless cars” less lately, which I think is a good thing.

There is, though, a big barrier to artificially intelligent robots helping us (even more than they do now) in our daily lives.

It’s not technological: those issues are being solved.

It’s social.

Humans have to accept these AIbots.

Now, I’m used to dealing with that in my “day job”. I’m a trainer, and I train medical people on their software (I do more, but that’s the really relevant point right now).

The hardest part is to get people to want to use it.

I’ve always defined training based on that: changing behavior. Education is part of it (you can’t do something if you don’t know how to do it), but training is much more merely giving people facts.

I remember somebody wondering why I was tired at the end of teaching an eight hour class. “All you do is talk,” they said.

I said, “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to find ten people…just the next ten people you see. I want you to get them all on the next bus which is coming. Some of them don’t want to get on that bus, and some of them don’t want to get on a bus at all. That’s what I do all day: get people on the next bus that’s coming.” 🙂

Amazon has the same problem. They are building some great buses…hey, some of them may even fly! However, the average person may not want to get on a flying bus that pilots itself. 😉

The

Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*).

was a great success, but there was a lot of…discomfort from some folks about having it in the house. They didn’t like a device which could listen to them, and which communicated with Amazon in the cloud. When our adult child visited, we unplugged the Echo.

Listening is one thing, but one rapidly expanding area is computers sensing the world.

That used to be one of the big  labor divisions between humans and computers. Computers couldn’t see (or hear/smell/taste/touch) the world, so that was sometimes our role…data entry into an Excel spreadsheet, for example.

Alexa (the “parse-onality” of the Echo) can already hear us.

Can you imagine how creeped out some people would be if Alexa could see us?

The idea of a computer eye watching you in your home is classic science fiction dystopia stuff.

No question that Amazon would like their AIbots to be able to see you in your house…and eventually, to smell/taste/touch, too.

It can be done…our phones see us often, and some of have computers that do, as well (that’s how facial recognition works, for one thing, but when a phone’s camera autofocuses, it is using a type of vision).

How are they going to get customers to accept an “all-seeing eye” in their homes? How can they not be reminded of HAL 9000…or Sauron? 😉

You make the eye seem innocuous, even silly. You market it to people who are the most comfortable with their tech looking at them.

In short, you have it take selfies. 😉

That’s exactly how Amazon is introducing the

Echo Look

Amazon calls the Echo Look a “Hand-Free Camera and Style Assistant”.

See? It’s just a camera. It’s just an assistant. Nothing to worry about here, folks.

I don’t believe that Amazon has spent all this time and money building a device with depth-sensing cameras and clearly some AI just to have it tell you which is the better outfit of two you already own. Oh, sure, it does what a regular Echo does, too, but so do so many other things now.

They make the point that it’s going to keep learning.

Absolutely.

Let me speculate

It will eventually recognize you…won’t that be nice?

Third parties will develop skills. It could recognize when someone comes in the house it doesn’t know…and take a picture and send it to you. It could yell at the dog  (by name) when it tries to get on the table.

It could inventory items in your home…you know, for insurance purposes.

When you’ve gone shopping and come home, it could say, “Hey, did you have any luck? Show me what you got!”

Robots are rapidly learning to understand our expressions. I fully expect that the Echo Look (or its descendants) will know if you are happy or sad or angry.

Let me be clear: I’m not afraid of this. I want my robots to fully understand me. I’m looking forward to computers that seemingly know what I’m thinking and feeling, and know when to help me and when not to help me.

I get, though, why that makes people uneasy…and based on the introduction of the Echo Look, Amazon does, too.

One more thing: this roll-out is like the Echo was originally: it’s only for

Amazon Prime (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and you have to request an invitation. It will be $199.99…once available.

Maybe Amazon should hire Gloria Gaynor to sing the jingle, “I Will Subscribe” 😉

Subscriptions are already a big part of the Amazon retail model.

We have many in my family, from books with Kindle Unlimited to movies and music through Amazon Prime, magazines and blogs, to everything from dog food to floss through Amazon’s Subscribe & Save programs.

Now, Amazon is opening up offering subscriptions to other people:

https://www.subscribewithamazon.com/

I suspect this may lead to some really bizarre things that no one actually uses…and that should be fun! “It’s the Snail of the Month club!” “Subscribe to Random Word!” “Unlimited Vowels (up to six at a time)”. “One American Coin Each Month…only $49.99!” 😉

More seriously, this and Echo Look show how Amazon innovates…oh, and I suspect there may be some sort of VAMM subscriptions, too. 🙂

Um…CNN? E-books are real books

Sigh.

I’ve always had a problem with people referring to physical books as “real books” versus e-books. The book is what the writer writes (and the editor edits), not the container in which it is purchased.

This

CNN post by Ivana Kottasova

has this provocative title: “Real books are back. E-book sales plunge nearly 20%”.

Really? How did you measure the sales, since so many of them now are done by individuals, often through Amazon (but not always), which doesn’t report sales numbers?

Oh, I see…the publishers’ associations (in the UK, literally the “Publishers Association”, in the USA, the Association of American Publishers). I’ve published books in the Kindle store…and the AAP doesn’t know about my sales. 😉

Another argument in the article is that the sales of EBR (E-Book Readers) are down…again, Amazon doesn’t report those numbers precisely, but even so, e-books are not just read on EBRs. They are read on tablets, on phones, even on laptops and desktops. I’d want data to show that, if, in fact, EBR sales are down, that means e-book purchases are down.

My intuition (and I don’t have the data) is that more e-books are being read than were being read three years ago…counting free ones, of course.

I do have to say, though…decent clickbait headline. 😉 It made me want to read the article…

Gosh, that all sounded too negative for me! I’m going to recommend you read the article…maybe you’ll find it more convincing than I did.

Update: here’s another article, which I think may have a more…informed perspective:

Publishers Weekly article by Jim Milliot: “With E-books Down, E-tailers Are Still Far From Out”

Perhaps read them both, and then you can decide.

If you have an opinion on it, feel free to let me and my readers know what you think about that, or Echo Look, or Subscribe with Amazon, by commenting on this post.

LAST HOURS TO ENTER

I recently concluded a giveaway for

One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

by my sibling, Kris Calvin

and there were ten winners. I’m doing a new one for the same book:

1 winner

Requirements for participation:

  • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
  • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
  • Follow Kris Calvin on Amazon (you’ll be notified when future books are added to Amazon…I think that’s the only contact you get, although I’m not positive)

Giveaway: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/c2fb235f3cf97ced 

Start:Apr 24, 2017 6:06 AM PDT
End:Apr 29, 2017 11:59 PM PD

Cryptozoology A To Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature by Loren Coleman (at AmazonSmile*)

Note: this is the paperback. For some reason, I couldn’t make the Kindle book for this one public (like I could with Kris’ book). I really wanted this one to be public, because the whole goal is to promote Loren Coleman’s medical expense fund GoFundMe campaign. I’ve never met Loren personally, and we have no shared business interests, although we have had some correspondence. I’ve read Loren’s books for decades, and admire how the cryptozoologist/Fortean helps others, including being the Director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Maine (although in so many smaller ways, too). It’s sad to me that someone who has done so much is having trouble dealing with medical expense (due to multiple operations). That doesn’t stop Loren from going to the Bigfoot festival in Willow Creek, California tomorrow, but for people who have enjoyed and benefited from Loren’s work, the medical expenses fund is an opportunity to do a thank you. Literally over 300 people have entered in about a day, and they’ve all tweeted (as a requirement to entry) a link to the fund’s page. I do not ask people to endorse the fund or to ask other people to contribute (or for them to contribute themselves)…I’m just hoping to raise the profile so people who might want to contribute and don’t know about it get the word.

  • Winner:Randomly selected after Giveaway has ended, up to 1 winners.
  • Requirements for participation:
    • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
    • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
    • Tweet a message

Giveaway: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/303e4f5c496116a2

Start:Apr 27, 2017 9:45 AM PDT
End:May 4, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

 * I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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4 Responses to “Round up #157: Subscribe with Amazon, Echo Look, declining e-book sales?”

  1. Edward Boyhan Says:

    The opening sentence in the Washington Post (which Jeff Bezos owns) analysis says it all:
    “Soon, Amazon’s voice assistant will be able to answer your most burning question: Alexa, does this make my butt look big?”
    This is accompanied with a picture of the Look checking out a lady’s nether regions. OTOH the WSJ has this video analysis:
    http://www.wsj.com/video/alexa-does-this-sweater-fit-me-new-echo-look-has-the-answer/0C47855D-F9C3-4897-85FF-257C02523177.html
    Of course the security and privacy paranoids are all atwitter — more geeky publications, however, point out that with appropriate facial and voice analysis software, the Echo Look will provide needed parenting and security protections that the current crop of Echo devices don’t provide (Amazon has apparently separately confirmed that devices will be forthcoming to provide technology that will enable identification of different household members — we don’t want the kiddies buying a nice new Bugatti Veyron do we? :grin).
    Amazon has produced a slickly done minute and a half video:

    that introduces the features of the Echo Look. It consists of 7 or 8 women (and one guy) showing the Look in action. It seems to be very fashion oriented, and most analysts see this as a push by Amazon to increase its presence in apparel shopping (of course :grin!) through its fashion vertical.
    However, the WSJ writes: “Amazon’s plans are likely much broader than offering fashion advice, experts say. Potential applications range from becoming a virtual home-fitting room to a communications and security system for companies—all ways to more deeply integrate the company into consumers’ lives”
    I have requested an invite (and Amazon has acknowledged same), but given its focus on the distaff set, I’m not hopeful that the requested invitation will be forthcoming. I do so want to be woken up every day by Alexa, brush my teeth, get dressed, and have Alexa say: “Boy, Ed, today you look absolutely fabulous” — just the right pick me up to get the day started (:grin).
    On a more serious note the Look adds a depth sensing camera, and LED lighting to the Echo’s far field microphone. This will presumably in the future enable the Look to create “sophisticated 3d maps of rooms, objects, and people”. I can imagine Amazon using some of the sensing technology used in their Go store (to see what’s in your shopping cart) to keep track of objects you’ve placed (or stored) in your bedroom. “Alexa, where’s my [phone, kindle, keys, doctor folder, etc.]”. Corporations and home owners could use this technology to provide building security, alarms, etc.
    On the downside, the Look does contain a speaker, but it’s apparently on a par with the speaker in the Echo Dot. Apparently, the Look will not have the capability to connect to an external speaker via Bluetooth, or an audio cable (:boo). Oh, and the camera is only 5MP (:doubleboo).
    But come on; Let’s get real: for our selfie absorbed culture, the Look is just what the doctor ordered (:grin).
    For a more technical look at the Look (:grin) take a look at this ArsTechnica article:
    https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/04/amazon-latest-echo-product-is-a-hands-free-fashion-camera-and-virtual-stylist/

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Yes, I agree with most of that, although I think they are underestimating the capabilities and the Trojan horse nature of it…although, it actually would be full of gifts (that you purchase). 😉 The depth sensing has another obvious use: room mapping for Virtual/Augmented. People are buying sensors for their VR headsets now…this could make that unnecessary.

      Well, I’m going to look a bit foolish if Amazon doesn’t get significantly into VAMM (Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged) Reality this year, huh? 😉

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        It’s early days yet for virtual/mixed reality technologies. I’m very high on the potential, but there are big problems with batteries, and on-board processing capability. I’m not very interested in MR/VR devices that need to be tethered to a computer.

        As to Amazon: I’m just not sure that’s where they are focused these days which on the consumer side is all about Alexa, and on their business side it’s all about logistics and AWS. I think it might be more likely for Amazon to pursue AR/MR in their distribution network, and maybe by providing developer support services in AWS, and let 3rd parties develop the end user devices and applications.

        On the consumer side thus far from where I sit MR/VR real applications seem to be mostly about games.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        Where you are on VAMM (Virtual/Augmented/Merged/Mixed) Reality is about where I was several months ago…before I got my Samsung Gear VR, I think. 🙂

        I used it pretty much every day…and I’m not tethered. It used to overheat fairly quickly, but that appears to have been fixed (or greatly ameliorated) with the last update. I do some gaming on it, but that’s by no means my biggest use. That would be watching videos, mostly Netflix and Hulu. I do other things with it as well, including meetings/phone calls, but that’s why Amazon can’t ignore it, and they aren’t likely to have someone else develop and market Prime Video capabilities.

        I’ve also actually used it therapeutically in a couple of cases (with augmented reality and different types of vision correction), and I showed it someone who is researching it for use for balance rehab (and there has been some work done in that area already).

        I wouldn’t use a VAMM device that was tethered, at this point, but that stage won’t last long for casual use (serious gamers and simulators may need it). Also, increasingly, shopping will happen in VAMM space, and Amazon won’t drop that ball, I believe.

        We’ll see what form it takes, but I do expect Amazon to do something big VAMM this year. I think branded hardware is perhaps the least likely: apps, definitely, an “appstore” and/or a subser (subscription service), maybe…and that “Echo with a screen” and the Echo Look can get involved.

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