Scaling company culture with AI: an interview with George Swisher, CEO of LiiRN

Can AI help foster cohesive community in an organization? LiiRN thinks so.

Source: Simplilearn

Creating a healthy work environment that scales is something of a holy grail for all growing companies. As internal networks become more dispersed and organizational structures grow more complex, it becomes easier for communication disconnects to occur. How can companies continue to cultivate a shared vision and culture, and give employees a chance to define and improve both? LiiRN CEO George Swisher thinks the answer is AI-driven.

Swisher founded LiiRN, a people-centric, AI-powered transformation software, in 2018. The AI platform has a two-fold purpose: to help leaders make decisions based on employee feedback, and then allow employees to participate in enacting those decisions. The LiiRN platform collects customized survey data on leadership performance and company priorities. The AI synthesizes upward feedback, converts it into leadership performance ratings, and identifies quantitative and qualitative trends and findings to inform decision-making. The platform also invites self-nominated change-agents to shape and drive forward company-wide initiatives.

In an interview with Swisher, he shared how AI can drive rather than reduce personal connection, and help business leaders to listen to and lean on their people.

What problem are you solving with LiiRN?

LiiRN aims to help companies drive change through people versus processes. Many leaders working to design strategy end up working with small populations of people, doing surveys or doing stakeholder interviews. But trying to drive a huge change with the input of a small group of people is a disservice to both the firm and the company. People are fearful of change when they don’t understand it. So a few years ago I thought, what if I had the ability as an individual consultant to work with all hundred thousand employees in real time? The impact would be tremendous.

And so the idea was to launch a software that could do that, that could physically touch people as if it was someone you knew and who understood the big program that was going on out there and help the employee relate. When you drive change from the bottom up instead of from the top down, you avoid the education and awareness gaps that come with large scale change.

Companies can use our technology as kind of a middleware between the leadership and staff, to find the gaps between what leadership thinks and what the people on the ground are actually seeing and thinking. Our voting feature makes people feel like they’re part of the decision-making process. If you can do that for a company, say, that’s 100,000 employees, you’re able to help 100,000 employees feel like they’re contributing to a decision that the leadership is making. You get people who are more empowered, and I think that’s a big emotional feature of how you activate people. It automates some of the change management processes and helps leadership make decisions and investments that their company believes in. With ongoing feedback collection, you can create a dynamic feedback loop, to continually shape the change journey.

What are some of the most common pain points the leaders you work with encounter?

New leadership teams are sometimes nervous to listen to data and to draw conclusions if it can be interpreted in multiple different ways. It’s one of the reasons that we have moved to partnering with consulting firms with expertise in software-based data analysis. We use the data to quantify how many people activate and why. Typically, we see north of 30% of the total population raising their hand to be on a work stream in a specific change management area.

If you have lower adoption, we use the data we collect to understand why. We track when people opt out or say “I don’t understand what you’re asking and talking about.” This feedback surfaces whether the real issue is understanding and awareness, versus the willingness of people to participate. Alternatively, the data can also show if people think the initiative is misguided or has implementation risk. Leaders gain transparency through the software’s data analysis.

It sounds like you’ve found ways for AI to create more human interactions. What are the limitations to leaning on AI? In what ways can AI tools be anti-social, and how do you mitigate those risks?

If you’re going to trust the output of our system, you have to know it’s based on the right input. Potential biases to data come in so many different forms. Ideally, if we look at, for example, who is in the sample population that you’re getting information from, we’d account for any skewing as we analyze it. We have limited control, of which population, the stakeholder at the enterprises chooses to invite into our software. So if they choose to only involve the US population and use that information to influence the way they make decisions for their Asia-based population, for example, that clearly creates a lot of challenges, given the cultural differences. We work to screen out and limit bias with some of our onboarding screens and some of the setup and training that we do. We promote as much as we possibly can an approach of widening the sample size, to make sure that you’re involving as large a population as possible that is as diverse as possible. But there’s definitely limitations to it. It’s hard to solve it when you’re collecting what others choose to input.

Also, if there is a high concentration of a certain demographic in a company, we can’t control for who they’ve hired. So if they’re only getting information from a specific group of people that’s the majority of their population, it clearly sways the input that we’re getting and the resulting outcomes. So for us, I think we’re trying to maintain a middle ground where we highlight who companies are asking for input from and how it impacts the output. 

We’re focused on making our data inputs more comprehensive by integrating with more internal systems in our upcoming work. HR systems can provide added layers of data, like performance management data and learning data; systems like NetSuite provide more business performance data. The more that we can integrate, the more our machines can learn, and the more we can build better cases for the viability of the decision we’re recommending.

Change management in the context of technology often raises the specter of worker displacement. How can technology-based change management tools like yours help us prepare for an unknown future of work?

What I learned personally moving from a tech-enabled service businesses working with big enterprises to being a full software company is that technology isn’t replacing us. There is a fear of tech advancing too fast. But I think the bigger question is how do we reskill and retrain ourselves? And how will we hold the enterprises of the world responsible for managing change? Even if there are people who will be losing jobs, which is never a good thing, we have the opportunity to say, “Well how do we rethink what workers are doing and what new skills they need to adapt? And how can we help them do that?” Yes, we’ve introduced self checkout into the grocery store. But if we’re going to replace those people, what are the skills they have that we can still benefit from? They may be really great at customer service and customer success — can you retrain them to help people shopping inside the store, to create a personalized experience? Flipping the way that you look at it can help people understand the opportunity. Then we all advance. But a lot of companies don’t think that way when they’re developing or implementing automation technology.

It’s a large number within consumer retail and manufacturing — upwards of 70% of some of the largest companies and employers in the world — whose jobs will be automated away in the next 10 years. The magnitude of that is scary. Unless you retrain people to think about it as an opportunity and change the way that they’re actively pursuing alternatives, we’re going to have problems. Being a coder isn’t the answer for everyone.

Shaping community in the age of Facebook: three success stories

 Source: Sagepub.com
Source: Sagepub.com

As American society is increasingly moving from towns to cities, and from meeting face-to-face to meeting on Facetime, we have had to re-imagine community. We are figuring out how to navigate the “iPhone Effect” on our social connections. And our choices about how we engage with others with technology have huge implications. Will our social capital die down as we withdraw from traditional community, as Robert Putnam feared, or will community simply take on a new form? What does it look like to create and maintain a network of reliable peers, to make meaningful connections in new ways that suit our modern context?

Three principles from three places

I have been a part of a few different communities – work, home, and church – and have observed a few features that have made each a place of belonging. I’ll share a story about each, and then explore why these features of community feel increasingly rare.

De-anonymize

It’s wonderful to be loved, but it’s profound to be understood.

— Ellen Degeneres

In hustle-bustle cities like New York, there’s a sense of anonymity as you walk the streets and peruse the shops. You may be having a bad hair day, but you’ll never see those people giving you side-eye again! It can be liberating. And isolating. And so when I walked into Abyssinian Baptist Church, I noticed the immediate difference in the environment. Famous for their role in the Civil Rights Movement, ABC‘s activist roots run deep and were laced through the sermon. But that is not what gave the church a palpable feeling of connection. Rather, it was their ability to lift their community members up and make them known to each other. The head pastor invested a quarter of the service in spotlighting congregation members, asking them to stand and share their two way relationship with the church. The children reading passages from the bible were introduced. A woman who leads a black women on Broadway group was announced and lauded for her contributions. With so many names and faces getting celebrated and supported, it de-anonymized everyone, made me proud of people I didn’t actually know. In other words, I didn’t just connect with the general experience of the church service. I felt I understood some of the people in it, and cared about their well-being.

But this sort of success in fostering connection doesn’t happen on its own. It needs to be deliberately structured into the cadence of community interactions. The next principle and example share a great success story of building relationships in a group whose members were simultaneously complete strangers and close peers.

Build a support system

Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.

— Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Gathering a bunch of people who don’t know each other well in a room, even if they have a lot in common, can often lead to short, somewhat transactional exchanges. Yet that same room of people, with deliberate facilitation, can come alive together and seed the beginnings of lifelong friendships. I saw this arc in my company as we facilitated educator user groups, brought together virtually to develop free math resources online. At the end of the first user group, educators noted that, even with virtual summits and chat room discussions, they felt they’d missed an opportunity to connect more meaningfully with their peers. And so we designed more structured interactions into the next group’s architecture. We created peer pairings for ongoing support. We gave each educator two peer reviewers to provide feedback on the resources they designed. And we scheduled weekly discussion prompts for the chat rooms, giving educators a predictable rhythm of convening to exchange information and ideas. Engagement skyrocketed, and lasting friendships developed.

Providing structure to interactions led to shared expectations about engagement. This organically led educators to invest time into knowledge sharing above and beyond what the program required. Creating availability, it seemed, had been the key ingredient to relationship building. This has proven out in other communities, as I explore in the next example.

Be available

The more we can be in a relationship with those who might seem strange to us, the more we can feel like we’re neighbors and all members of the human family.

— Mr. Rogers

In many buildings I have lived in in New York, I never met my neighbors. My latest apartment is different. There are a number of retired folks who have lived in the building for many years, and they use their free time to be, well, neighborly. They have time to chat in the hallways. They knock on my door if they notice I have a package in the lobby. They offer to dog-sit. In short, they have time for me. And I, of course, have time for them. I offer to plant sit and pick up their mail when they travel. I have their phone numbers and know who their friends are in the building. We’ve inserted a bit of dependability into our network, by taking every small opportunity to be supportive of each other.

Where technology fits in

You may be wondering, why isn’t all of this obvious? Why is it so rare to know and support the people in your social circles in a reliable way? Why do we fail to consistently invest in relationship building?

Many would argue that today’s lower levels of community connection are a continuation of a multi-decade trend. Robert Putnam famously published a macro analysis in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that identified a 58% decline in club meeting attendance, a 43% decline in family dinners, and 35% drop in having friends over between 1975 and 2000. Putnam identified changes in work, family structure, suburban life, and screen time, among other factors, as contributing to this decline in meaningful group relationships.

The solution to help buck this structural trend, according to the tech giants of the 2000s, was technology. Technology was supposed to bring us closer together. Facebook famously claimed that it could expanding the Dunbar number, the number of meaningful relationships a human can maintain. However, it turned out that the Dunbar number didn’t change. What social media has done is bring your outer circle of acquaintances in, rather than strengthening or growing your inner circle. Simultaneously, technology has increased our culture of distraction, competing for attention that could otherwise be focused on our close friends and communities.

If we rule our technology, and don’t let our technology rule us, it can still be a tool that builds community rather than undermines it. Use technology to make yourself available. Use the structure of a WhatsApp group to organize regular meetings. Carve out time in your group gatherings on and offline to hear more about the individuals that make your members. Abandon the convenience of liking a post, and actually speak directly to your friends, be it in-person or on Skype. Reject the loneliness of optionality and anonymity that big cities and infinite online interactions offer. Make your circles smaller and your world more personal.

From disrupting tech to disrupting finance, Apple is leading the way

Apple has been at the leading edge of the consumer technology industry for decades, earning itself a reputation for creating the “new normal” in product areas ranging from personal computers to mobile devices. This week Apple announced a foray into a new category: credit cards. Once again Apple has positioned itself as raising the standards of what consumers can expect in convenience, quality, and security – the Apple trifecta.

Apple has long branded itself as a prescient company, one that knows how to “skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is” – a Wayne Gretzky quote Steve Jobs loved to borrow. This meant defining what consumers want for them more than with them. In the early 2000s, Apple was the first to do away with CD ROMs in favor of USB drives. Consumers transitioned with external CD drives and soon did not miss massive CDs at all – and PCs quickly followed suit. In the last ten years, having a sleek phone that responds to gestures via a touch screen became a standard rather than a luxury, also thanks to Apple’s influence. And now, in a new sector, notorious for high fees, high security risk, and general opacity, Apple is busting up the old model with a clean, user-centric option: Apple is brining virtual credit cards to consumer finance.

Apple has cleaned up several pain points for consumers with the Apple Card in one fell swoop: complexity, hidden costs, and vulnerability to theft. Standard credit cards offer complex points systems, with varying thresholds for earning and redeeming benefits that require a fair bit of math to evaluate the value of. Apple provides a simple, real-time cash back system based on your spending. It also removed ATM and other fees, and is entirely transparent about interest rates. It promotes consumer health by visualizing the distribution of your weekly spend. And because it produces a randomized card number for each transaction, there is little risk of card theft.

Many companies have tried to provide these services in a piecemeal fashion to consumers. While Apple is increasing convenience by bundling all of these services together, the real disruption to the industry is Apple’s challenge to the standard business model of countless fees and selling consumer data. While you may love Mint’s free breakdown of your spending and credit status, you may not love that they package and sell your data to hedge funds. Simple, a banking and budgeting tool similar to Apple Card’s financial management tools, helps consumers contain their spending with recommended spending limits – but it does so at a premium to other banks. Apple is offering more for less: a comprehensive service that doesn’t cost you a pound of flesh or your privacy. Like Apple’s aesthetic, its revenue model is clean, based on simple, low transaction fees.

Much like the CD ROM sunset, there will be a period of transition. For example, hotels will have to figure out how to charge a reservation across multiple card numbers, from the time of booking to the time of checkout. Websites requiring the last four digits of your credit card to validate a transaction will also pose a problem. Yet the alternative is the wildly complex fee system and data selling of modern banks that we’ve all grown to know and hate, limited only by regulatory oversight. Surely Apple’s full service, low-fee offering will be refreshing to consumers. As a non-bank, Apple is unencumbered by bad business model norms, and holds the potential to help the average American reduce its significant debt. With such aligned interests with consumers, Apple’s competitive offering is likely going to create a forcing function for traditional banks to stop milking consumers for all they can and instead pushing them to provide real value to consumers, regardless of income. Apple is well positioned to win consumer confidence and, once again, define a new normal that is higher quality than the dated standard credit card model.

Cheers to the best communicators of 2018

It is immensely human to want to be understood, and a great skill to be able to make oneself understood by wide-ranging audiences. This end-of year post is a hats-off edition for those who take complex, multifaceted topics that otherwise appear unknowable and clearly describe the inner workings of our world in layman’s terms. Four communicators in four fields have been especially influential and necessary.

Four fields have outsized impact on our working present and future: finance, management, science and technology. With the 10 year anniversary of the financial crisis just past, the importance of financial liquidity as the lifeblood of our economy is palpably understood by our businesses. And if strong financial conditions offer a tailwind, good management readies a business to benefit in the near-term. At the same time, science and technology are changing the nature of work day by day. Previously manual jobs like automotive assembly now require a technical literacy that demands that each person arm themselves with the latest technical knowledge. Thus, a knowledge of finance, management, science and technology makes for one capable business leader.

Four experts in these four fields have continually contributed to the public’s ability to grasp big and small ideas with clarity. And the winners are…

Best financial communicator: Felix Salmon of Axios

Felix Salmon’s daily articles on Axios and weekly podcast, Slate Money, complement each other with punchy clarity and practical insights that are both local and global. He speaks directly to the lightly-financially literate American and to the globe, as he covers trends in other large economies as well as struggling economies. He reads what would be tea leaves to most and makes financial indicators approachable. His frequent podcast refrain is to interrupt jargon-laden explanations from co-hosts and say “explain that in English.” Britain-born, he proves we don’t always need to be divided by a common language.

Best management communicator: Adam Grant, author

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist who has written three books on how to drive personal and professional success. Beyond his famed insights from Give and Take, which show that generosity towards others can drive your own success, he’s gone on to create a podcast called WorkLIfe, in which he interviews entrepreneurs, employees, and companies to unearth practical advice to improve our work lives. He is a prolific tweeter and poster on LinkedIn, where he offers bite-sized daily advice for the business leaders of today.

Best science communicator: Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for the better part of 2018, a testament to his famed ability to generate both wonder and create scientific understanding among his audiences. He has a foundational interest in encouraging curiosity and methodical discovery, which makes the everyman feel he or she can, with careful pursuit, know the unknown.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

By Neil de Grasse Tyson

Best technology communicator: Wired, technology magazine

All of Wired Magazine deserves recognition for making complex topics with broad social implications, from the blockchain to ag-tech, easily digestible (no pun intended), with the implications unpacked. Wired humanizes and empathetically portrays the thinking and motivations of the entrepreneurs seeding some of the mega tech trends that are rippling through society.

In summary…

Thank you for an insightful 2018 to the brilliant communicators who have synthesized the most important mechanics and trends in the four fields that are the pillars of modern business. Cheers to you!

Makers, makers everywhere! The top six features of the 2018 Maker Faire

I thoroughly enjoyed my time nerding out at the 2018 New York City Maker Faire. From grooving on the dance floor to cheering on the battlebots, there was fan fair and creativity in the air. The initiatives spanned every size and scale. A 40 foot mechanical clawed arm, controlled with a right-hand sensor-laden glove was picking up a totaled car, not unlike the Blade Runner 2049 villainess directing remote attacks on Officer K. On the other end of the size spectrum, a flexible chip maker, MellBell Electronics, showed how their product could be used in everything from wearables to interactive 2D visuals. There was something for everyone. Below is a short list of some of my favorite Faire features.

Top things I loved about the Maker Faire

 Girls learning how to drill…
Girls learning how to drill…

1. The spike in young girls…

STEM for girls initiatives have visibly turned the tides! Whereas four years ago the Maker Faire displayed a sea of prototypical boy engineers, this year’s Faire had little ladies of all backgrounds, getting hands-on with building.

 …from Disney princesses in work boots. Our 21st century role models have arrived.
…from Disney princesses in work boots. Our 21st century role models have arrived.

2…and the role models there to meet them

Importantly, there was a heroine aesthetic being donned by many of the women instructors. One stand introducing kids to hand drills was run by Disney princesses in work boots. They were aptly named Beauty and the Bolt. Another activity had Princess Leia and Rey leading instruction.

3. The number of Johnny 5 inspired robots

Every anthropomorphized consumer bot seems to look like Wall-E, who had clear influences from the Short Circuit humanoid robot, Johnny 5. I approve of this trend.

4. The Tesla coil made musical

Speaking of the past inspiring the future, oneTesla had the most epic demo of how a Tesla coil can be used to make lightning that both lights a wireless light bulb and plays music simultaneously. It was a light show, concert, and tech demo all in one. I don’t foresee Nikola Tesla’s vision of fully wireless electricity transfer coming to pass at scale, but this is not a bad alternative use case.

 Lightning jumped from the coil on the right to the light bulb on the left, all to an electronic beat.
Lightning jumped from the coil on the right to the light bulb on the left, all to an electronic beat.

5. The next gen 3D printer

It’s nice to see equipment manufacturers beginning to combine capabilities for similar, but equally necessary tools for a makerspace. Specifically, one stand presented a combination CNC-3D printing machine, thus marrying related tooling with distinct software.

6. The sky is the limit thinking

It was fantastic to see the International Space Station represented alongside their many collaborators, including Magnitude.io. Magnitude.io’s prototype smallsats are blazing trails for educational accessibility. Where CubeSats have dramatically increased space access at a reduced cost, thanks to their 10 cm cubic size, Magnitude.io displayed concepts the size of a pack of gum.

 There’s a smaller game in town than CubeSats. Magnitude.io has launched CanSats and is developing even smaller sats.
There’s a smaller game in town than CubeSats. Magnitude.io has launched CanSats and is developing even smaller sats.

The future is happening, and the brilliant minds of all ages and backgrounds present at the 2018 Maker Faire are leading the charge.

From individual to societal data: taking on bigger, badder problems

We have all heard the saying that “knowledge is power”. And in today’s modern economy, data is the new knowledge, which makes data power. We see it evidenced in the collective $1.3T market capitalization of Google and Facebook, whose pixels and cookies track us all over the internet. These massive data collectors began with an focus on individuals. Now, as we collect data about communities, societies, and supply chains, those holding the data will have growing power to impact not just individuals, but whole populations. 

The power of system-level data

Not only are today’s innovators collecting data about individuals, but they are collecting data about populations and processes. For example, Biobot Analytics hopes to transform sewers into public health observatories for whole communities by sampling wastewater from strategic points in a sewer system. Such collective samples can reveal issues as significant as an opioid epidemic, in neighborhoods as small as a few thousand people. Data tracking also promises to improve the fidelity of supply chain processes. Blockchain has been seen as a high potential technology for stemming the circulation of counterfeit drugs as well as upstream labor abuse.

This begs the question, how great is this latent potential? Are we reaching an inflection point where we no longer need to play whack-a-mole, and can finally clean up the messy problems that have previously upended communities, especially in the area of public health?

With great power comes great responsibility

Certainly the intentions of these technologies are to protect citizens, from counterfeit drugs, from themselves in the case of opioid detection. The question becomes how to ensure that the intended benefits manifest and unintended consequences do not.

We have all also heard the saying that power corrupts. Knowing this, we are forced to ask the question, how might the power of data be used corruptly in our own society? If recent technology deployments are any indication (e.g. AI blocking female doctors from the women’s locker room), we must ask, will we ultimately just re-manifest the problems of society using data?

We’ve observed the rise of “Big Brother” social monitoring in places like China, where social infractions as banal as jaywalking are caught by sophisticated monitoring, and have repercussions. Outside of monitoring, we’ve seen the weaponization of predictive algorithms in prison sentencing, resulting in worse outcomes for minorities. 

Given these patterns, we must imagine how cases like opioid overuse detection could be handled in the worst case. If an opioid crisis is detected, how might treatment differ in a poor versus a rich neighborhood? Will the doctors be the police targets in the wealthy neighborhoods, and the residents targeted in the poor places?

Writing society’s story

This — bias perpetuation — does not have to be how the story goes. Data is being used to empower many under-resourced communities. For example, an AI predictive model was able to increase the successful identification of corroded pipes in Flint Michigan from 20% to 97%, enabling the city to afford remediation of an additional 2,000 homes. Data can powerfully determine how we direct our limited resources to otherwise overwhelming problems. 

Knowledge is power, and while deep knowledge afforded by data can help solve problems by exposing them, it does not guarantee that those acting upon them have the best solutions. Impact is dependent on the social systems we operate in — how these analytical tools are used and how their analyses are received. We must ensure that those who can access and act upon community data are as effective at testing their own assumption and biases as they are at pinpointing social problems. 

AI enabled travel is here: 5 ways travel just got easier

All segments of the leisure industry seem to be having the same idea simultaneously – how can they make your travel experience more seamless. We all want to get the most out of each day, and to minimize the decision fatigue that degrades our experiences. Five companies stand out in their moves to integrate technology into a traveler’s day-to-day.

1. Before you go – KLM has your back with its voice-driven packing assistant

Just let service bot BB know where you’re going and when you’re leaving, and she will walk you through packing, piece by piece, equipped with silly pre-programed jokes to let you know bot makers have a sense of humor, too. Enabled by Google Home.

2. When you arrive – voice-driven concierge service in beta testing at Best Western

Best Western is testing out Amazon Dot for customers and staff, to quickly customize in-room experiences, from wake-up calls to room service requests.

3. For work trips – work from the shower

For those on a work trip or who are looking to create on the go, Marriott is beta testing a technology to whiteboard in the shower.

4. Also for work trips – work in a co-working space

Airbnb is offering WeWork day passes to guests.

5. For play trips – wearables making cruise navigation easy

Carnival Cruise has created the Ocean Medallion to provide customized experiences and recommendations based on your profile and location on the cruise ship.

All of these initiatives, striving to make the customer experience frictionless, both expand the customer experience, and more easily open customer wallets to ancillary offerings. I count this as a win-win.

 

Can Walmart beat Instacart?

It’s been fascinating to see Walmart level up from bargain bin to bleeding edge, as they entered the e-commerce race against Amazon. Their acquisition of Jet.com and expansion into e-grocery delivery were only the start. Their latest announcement left me beaming with hope for the future of online grocery shopping, as they step up as that someone to save me from my Instacart woes. This is Star Trek level next horizon tech, deployed for our shopping delight. Drum roll please….select your own produce via 3D imaging!

Okay okay, this may not sound as thrilling to you who have no trouble getting to a supermarket any given day. But if you’ve lived in an urban supermarket desert before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve tried FreshDirect and gotten a bruised $2 tomato. You’ve tried the Instacart route, where they had 90%+ accuracy on your first order, but your second order was half missing or substituted with “equivalent foods”. SPAM IS NOT HAM! GRADE A EXTRA LARGE EGGS ARE NOT THE SAME AS ORGANIC FREE RANGE VEGETARIAN GRASS FINISHED EGGS! AND DRIED CRANBERRIES…well, actually, those are all the same.

I think we all want food to taste good and not be wilted and on its way out when it arrives to our kitchen. When the patent clears and the tech is rolled out, I will be there to test it out, in the hopes that it is the harbinger of a brave new grocery world.

Five favorite robots of 2017

We all know that the robots are coming – in fact, they’re here! From self-driving cars to Alexa, they both take our jobs and improve our lives. Right now we’re in the honeymoon phase where the former situation has not upended New York, so I will share my favorite robots for their success in the latter – incremental conveniences to our busy modern lives. I use the term robot loosely to include technologies that reduce labor.

Most stress-relieving robot: Dyson 360 Eye Robot Vacuum

Dyson has far outdone the Roomba with its 360 Eye Robot Vacuum, with its efficient floor coverage and app controlled system. I come home to a spick and span house every day, even when I was dog sitting a cute but sheddy dog. And you get to name it in the app 🙂 

Most predicted robot: Amazon drone delivery

In their continue quest to own all things logistics, Amazon has already got the downstream operations nailed with their patented drone friendly shipping labels. While drone delivery may sound over the top, it is undeniably uneconomical and slow to ship to a number of rural parts of the U.S. – so this will be a step towards better connecting all parts of the world to modern convenience.

Most user-centric designed ‘robot’: Google/Levi’s ‘smart’ jean jacket

Google and Levi’s have developed a new commuter jacket that integrates with your phone. While you might initially question the utility of talking to your jacket, if you’ve ever been a Citibike commuter trapped listening to a boring podcast, the swipe functionality on this could be a real boost to your West Side Highway bike path experience. Kudos to Google and Levis for rising above the fray (see what I did there 😉 

Most societally enhancing ‘robot’: driver’s ed VR

Imagine if teens could log 50 or 100 hours of challenging driving experiences before ever hitting the road. Aceable’s got our budding teen drivers covered with their VR drivers education platform. I’m not sure if that will help their insurance premiums, but it will definitely help the rest of the drivers on the road!

Cutest robot: TeleRetail driverless delivery

If my driverless delivery vehicles look like the unimposing TeleRetail, then please do send! Only in Switzerland now, and perhaps no match for SUV owning Americans sharing the road, but we can hope.