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If The Shoe Fits: Tech And Responsibility

Friday, May 12th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAlthough I rarely get comments, I would really appreciate any insights you can offer on this subject.

KG sent a press release he thought would interest me; it should interest you, too.

The Montreal-based artificial intelligence startup Lyrebird today unveils its voice imitation algorithm.
With this innovation, Lyrebird is going a step further in the development of AI applications by offering to companies and developers new speech synthesis solutions. Users will be able to generate entire dialogs with the voice of their choice or design from scratch completely new and unique voices tailored for their needs.

First, a quick story.

Years ago a friend got in trouble when someone spoofed his email, catfished him and made a bomb threat to a local school.  Fortunately, he was able to prove it wasn’t him.

It turned out that it was a kid who was mad at his teacher.

People are catfished all the time. Usually it’s not a big deal, but sometimes, as with my friend, potential repercussions can be very serious.

Nobody likes being catfished, but think of the damage that could be done using Lyrebird’s algorithm.

How could you explain a threatening or obscene phone call in your voice?

Lyrebird talks about benign uses, such as “personal assistants, for reading of audio books with famous voices, for connected devices of any kind, for speech synthesis for people with disabilities, for animation movies or for video game studios“ and shows off audio examples, including Donald Trump.

Now think what the outcome could be from a highly inflammatory call to Kim Jong-un mimicking Trump’s voice.

Tech people talk all the time about how they are “changing the world” and making it better, but they seem far more focused on enhancing their personal brand and making money, while turning a blind eye to any potential negative effects.

Are they truly amoral?

Or do they even owe humanity at least some consideration of the possible negatives?

What am I missing?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Change the World — or Yourself?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/inspiyr/9670184989/The entrepreneurial mantra that weaves through every startup vision and recruitment effort focuses on how X product/service will change the world.

This particular passion applies whether it’s a cure for cancer, a big data application, a new messaging app, social network or dating app.

How does one truly change the world?

Or is it a phrase with no real meaning?

Even if one does change it does the change make the world better?

Better by what yardstick and whose standards?

Change isn’t always a positive.

What is your responsibility if you do change it?

In his graduation speech at USC, Larry Ellison said, “You will change the world and the world will change you.”

For better or worse, change is the only true constant.

Flickr image credit: Inspiyr.com

Entrepreneurs: Juicero — Innovation for the Rich

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Juicero

Have you heard about Juicero?

A Silicon Valley-style solution for eating healthier.

“Today over 90% of Americans fail to consume the recommended servings per day,” founder and CEO Doug Evans wrote in a Medium post to unveil Juicero. “We call this the Produce Gap, and though there are many causes for it — from how food is marketed and subsidized to where it’s distributed — one of the primary reasons people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables is that they see it as inconvenient. … And that’s what Juicero is all about. We’ve made it our mission to help people attain optimal health by making it easier for them to consume fresh raw foods in the most convenient way possible.”

And it does for a mere $700, plus whatever each juice packet costs (one packet = one glass of juice).

Entrepreneurs love to talk about changing the world and some actually do make a difference, but this isn’t going to help those in need — it’s a product for the haves.

The goal is to bring the cost down to $200, plus packets, which still requires a considerable amount of disposable income.

Those involved are a who’s who in the Valley.

He had a lot of help though from some Silicon Valley greats who weighed in on the design, including Apple’s Jony Ive along and famed tech designer Yves Béhar. The years spent perfecting it have been supported by venture capital that’s approaching $100 million from top tier investors like Artis Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Thrive Capital and Campbell Soup Company, among others. The co-founder of smart thermostat Nest, Matt Rogers, is a Juicero investor and board member.

The ultimate juicer for the 1%, in other words, for themselves.

Talk about self-indulgent masquerading as public interest.

Maybe someday a model will emerge for the next 25%, but products like these will never change the real world or the health of the rest of us.

Image credit: Juicero

If the Shoe Fits: What are You doing?

Friday, February 12th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

 “I look back on my career and I didn’t change the world as an entrepreneur; I did as an educator. So I’m a little wistful. Now, my charge for twentysomething entrepreneurs is, do you want to be known as the guy who makes the next porn app or fart app or do you want to put men on Mars?”Steve Blank

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn light of Blank’s question above, you might want to take time to ask yourself ‘what am I doing’?

    • What value am I adding to my intrinsic worth as a human being?
    • Does my product/service make even a tiny portion of the world a better place in any way?
  • How will my kids describe/explain me to their kids?
  • What legacy will I leave behind?
  • How will I be remembered?
  • Will I be remembered?

Now write down your thoughts/answers.

Reread them over the next several days/weeks.

If you don’t like the profile that emerges it’s time to pivot your life.

Not randomly, but with the same consideration and planning you would use to pivot your company.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Amazing Augmented Reality

Monday, December 28th, 2015

I’m not sure how many people are reading blogs this week, so, to be honest, I didn’t want to “waste” my wisdom (that’s a joke).

Instead of a Monday Golden Oldie, I thought I would share something I learned this weekend that shifted an attitude I had.

I’ve read a lot about virtual reality and the changes it will wrought.

But most of those changes seemed to be in areas that seemed frivolous, such as gaming.

Additionally, I couldn’t see people running around with VR headsets in the real world; perhaps in classrooms…

And I didn’t have much (any?) sense of ‘augmented reality’, other than the meaning of each word, or how it differed from virtual reality.

Then I saw this video from Magic Leap and at least part of the hoopla made a lot more sense.

Even I think it’s pretty cool.

Maybe it will even be used for more weighty things than games.

Entrepreneurs: Medical Breakthroughs

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Cerviscope

Cerviscope

Not all entrepreneurs start companies and develop apps, just as most world-changing breakthroughs are not software-based.

Many of the most inventive idea that will affect millions of people around the world are being done in giant corporations, academia and non-profits.

This is especially true when it comes to medical breakthroughs that are truly the stuff of humanity’s dreams.

20 years ago Dr. David Walmer went to Haiti to help paint a church. What he saw was so appalling he spent the next twenty years developing the CerviScope, an affordable tool to diagnose cervical cancer.

In the United States, cervical cancer is considered a preventable disease. “You have 10 years to detect this disease before it becomes untreatable,” Walmer says. “And it’s easy to detect. It develops on the outside of the cervix, which you can see.”

For those who watch Gray’s Anatomy this story about using modified HIV may seem a bit familiar.

There was nothing else to try. Nothing except a crazy experimental treatment never before given to a child: Blood was taken out of 6-year-old Emily’s body, passed through a machine to remove her white cells and put back in. Then scientists at the University of Pennsylvania used a modified HIV virus to genetically reprogram those white cells so that they would attack her cancer, and reinjected them. (…) [When the reaction almost killed her] Doctors gave Emily a rheumatoid arthritis drug that stopped the immune system storm–without protecting the cancer. Emily awoke on her 7th birthday and slowly recovered. A week later her bone marrow was checked. Emily’s father, an electrical lineman named Tom Whitehead, remembers getting the call from her doctor, Stephan Grupp: “It worked. She’s cancer free.”

Another approach is to tweak the body’s own immune system to stop cancer.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute sequenced the genome of her cancer and identified cells from her immune system that attacked a specific mutation in the malignant cells. Then they grew those immune cells in the laboratory and infused billions of them back into her bloodstream.

Yet another effort uses genetically modified bacteria to target a specific protein found in most brain cancers.

The vaccine, known as ADU-623, uses a genetically modified version of the bacterium listeria monocytogenes — the bacterium that in its native form causes the listeria infection — and a specific mutated protein found only in cancer cells, said Keith Bahjat, a researcher at Providence Cancer Center in Portland. The protein used is found in more than half of brain cancers (…) The idea is to provoke an immune response to the bacterium, assuming the immune system will then also target the proteins found in the cancer cells. The goal is to wipe out the pieces of tumor that are so intertwined with brain tissue they cannot be completely removed by surgery.

Also to be noted, cancer diagnostics are going to the dogs.

Tsunami, a regal-looking dog with attentive eyes and an enthusiastic tail wag for her trainer friends. University of Pennsylvania researchers say she is more than 90 percent successful in identifying the scent of ovarian cancer in tissue samples, (…)  The largest study ever done on cancer-sniffing dogs found they can detect prostate cancer by smelling urine samples with 98 percent accuracy. At least one application is in the works seeking U.S. approval of a kit using breath samples to find breast cancer.

Pretty cool, and a friend/researcher in the industry tells me that rats are used to do diagnostic testing of sickle cell anemia.

On another front,  paralysis isn’t being ignored, either, leading to an amazing discovery.

But now, scientists are developing technology that can read signals directly from the brain and restore motion to a paralyzed hand — no healthy spine required.

Last, but not least, a look at how dentistry has seen the light in a way that could change a lot more than tooth replacement.

A Harvard-led team just successfully used low-powered lasers to activate stem cells and stimulate the growth of teeth in rats and human dental tissue in a lab. (…)  The ability to naturally regrow dental tissue could transform dentistry, making it possible to regrow teeth instead of replacing them with a substitute like porcelain. But even more amazingly, once it’s better understood, this same technique could potentially be used to heal wounds and regenerate bone, skin, and muscle.

Truly amazing, life-changing innovation happening in our lifetime.

Flickr image credit: Family HM

Entrepreneurs: Graphene will Change the World

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/10296922025Ever noticed that most discussion and commentary about entrepreneurs center on innovation and little-to-none of it will, in fact, change the world.

Mostly they are about finding and rating personal and businesses services, locating partners, whether for hook-ups or long-term, and other such weighty matters.

Additionally, other than the bio-X stuff, innovation is dominated by software.

But software, including the giants like Facebook and Google haven’t fundamentally changed things as much as is stated—and both could be easily replaced relative to something as basic to our modern civilization as silicon.

Is there anything happening that does have the potential to fundamentally change our world?

Yes, there is and its name is graphene.

The American Chemical Society said in 2012 that graphene was discovered to be 200 times stronger than steel and so thin that a single ounce of it could cover 28 football fields. Chinese scientists have created a graphene aerogel, an ultralight material derived from a gel, that is one-seventh the weight of air. A cubic inch of the material could balance on one blade of grass.

Graphene is transparent, conductive, flexible and inexpensive.

The heavy lifting to develop graphene and uses for it is being done by old people in stogy, non-entrepreneurial companies, such as IBM, Nokia and SanDisk and especially Samsung along with a number of universities, with nary a twenty-something in sight.

Because the electronics industry so invested in silicon (software, including the cloud and apps run on hardware) it’s doubtful they will move quickly to embrace Graphene, in spite of its ability to truly revolutionize the entire industry.

Not so the Gates Foundation, which already paid to develop a graphene-based condom that is thin, light and impenetrable.

If your dream is to truly change the world, whether now or later, consider graphene.

Who knows, your idea could lead not just to a new company, but to an entirely new industry; not to employing a few thousand, but to jobs for millions.

Flickr image credit: Duncan Hill

Transformation

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/davemedia/5860181742/

 Cut through all the noise about how fast the world is changing, how to stay competitive, constant learning, retraining, etc. and one message comes through loud and clear.

Whatever the entity or organization he/she/it needs to know how to transform in order to stay relevant.

Transformation is a must whether you’re a bookstore or an author who believes there’s a need for them.

A men’s retailer, a woman’s or the mannequin supplier dealing with human non-uniformity.

Or a record store.

Not just relevant, but happy.

A person growing or a person doing a 180 pivot.

Whether entity or organization transformation is accomplished by changing MAP (mindset, attitude philosophy™).

But transformation itself starts by choosing to do it.

Flickr image credit: DaveHuth

Entrepreneurs: Cause + Laughter + YouTube = Money & Change

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

In a world that constantly chatters about the importance of authenticity what’s a good recipe for staying authentic and enjoying a high level of creative freedom while making a giant difference by shaking up the establishment and still be able to pay the bills?

Ingredients

A group comedic actors, scriptwriters and directors in their 20s to late 30s

Add a wicked, satirical edge.

Mix well.

Post on your own YouTube channel.

Watch the money and changes roll in, although the money comes faster.

(Be sure to turn on Closed Captioning if you aren’t fully bilingual in Spanish.)

Any question why more than five million people have watched this?

YouTube credit: portadosfundos

Entrepreneurs: To Change the World

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/3054804054/As you might imagine, I do a lot of reading about innovation, new products and startups.

I have to say that too many are mind-numbingly boring and irrelevant when considered in the long-term—or even the shorter-term.

Whether it’s the (supposedly) hottest in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley (AKA NYC) how many do you think will matter three or four years from now, let alone in a decade or more?

Many of them sport pedigrees from Tech Stars, Founders Fund, 500 Startups and Y Combinator, which only goes to show that, as with education, graduating from a top-ranked institution doesn’t assure meaningful success. (Be sure to read the comments and you’ll see my disdain is shared by many.)

Now compare them with the startups incubated, nurtured and seeded by Rock Health and Fledge.

Rock Health looks for “Big ideas executed by smart and driven entrepreneurs, to really move the needle in healthcare.  Ideas should be addressing large problems in the system, with a business model that is sustainable and scalable.”

Fledge looks for “…companies looking to address the needs of increasingly health, environment and sustainability-conscious consumers in a variety of ways.”

Granted the ideas on Fledge are hyper-local and may not  be world-changing at first glance, but if locally applicable iterations spread across the globe then world-changing they would be.

I’m also fully aware that many of the startups I shrug off will make money and be acquired, but it’s doubtful they will make history—even as a footnote.

If you plan/want to found a company why not look for a real need as opposed to a faux one and develop a product or service to address it; the same thing applies when choosing a place to work.

That’s how you change the world.

And just for fun take a look at products you couldn’t live without—from penicillin to Post-its to pacemakers—that all came about because of mistakes, accidents and carelessness that didn’t go unnoticed.

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Questions? Email or call me at 360.335.8054 Pacific time.

Flickr image credit: cambodia4kidsorg

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