Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is….

on December 20, 2017
Reading Time: 5 minutes

It is the season and as I think I have been pretty good this year, I thought I’d come up with my Letter to Santa. There are a few things on the list but when it comes to tech it comes down to five things: more diversity in leading positions in tech, more tech for good, a true conversational assistant, smart today and the death of passwords.

More Diversity in Leading Positions in Tech

I might start to sound like a broken record when it comes to diversity in tech. I have talked about women as well as racial diversity  Yet, not much is changing and I will continue to talk about it as long as it takes to really see significant change.

In 2017, by and large, we have seen more women on stage at tech events. Surely that is progress, I hear you say. Well not quite! The great majority of women we saw on stage were invited on it by a more senior, often older, male colleague who gave up his spot for them to do a demo. There have been some exceptions of women owning the stage of course. The two who come to mind are Angela Ahrendts at the iPhone launch and Julia White at Microsoft Ignite. You only needed to follow those events on Twitter and the focus on their outfit to understand how much more work we have to do.

Diversity on stage should reflect diversity at the decision table of these company, a diversity whose sole purpose is not to make the diversity report published every year look better. Corporations should be seeking such a diversity to make sure they do not have any blind spots when it comes to shaping our future, a future that we should be more inclusive not elitist.

This awakening is what I what I want to see in 2018. A sense of purpose in wanting to relate to as many people as possible by hiring and empowering a diverse group of tech leaders.

More Tech for Good

I have seen great tech innovation helping improving life for a variety of people who face challenges either due to the environment they live in or due to their own health. From prosthetic 3D printing, to medicines delivered via drones, to wearables that help reduce tremors or apps that help you see the world around you, there are many companies working for social good. Yet, we hear far more often about tech innovation that makes the life of the wealthy and fortunate even better.

While it might be easy to come to the conclusion that this is just the reflection of what tech is focusing on I am hoping that it is more a messaging problem than a greed problem. It is far sexier to talk about the next gadget that lets you take the ultimate selfie than talk about a smartwatch that helps those suffering from PTSD fall asleep at night.

In 2018, I would love to hear more about what tech companies are doing to solve world problems. As some of these very smart innovations come from startups, they need their message to be amplified as much as possible. Increasing awareness of what is available by dedicating tracks at tech shows, talks opportunities on podcasts and of course press coverage could be the first step.

Hearing more about the good that comes out of tech not only might help improve or save more lives but it hopefully will help inspire more kids to get into tech than the ones who are attracted by the idea of being a millionaire by the time they are 20!

A Conversational Assistant

I have been using pretty much all the assistants that are out there for as long as they have been available. My engagement varies depending on where I am and what I am doing. While overall digital assistants seem to do what they say on the box, there is one thing I detest: the lack of context.

All the big companies will tell you that if you ask their assistant the weather in San Francisco and you follow up with a question about things to do you do not have to repeat the name of the city to get your answer. Some even understand a bit of context but they do not go very far. If I tell Siri when replying to a message from my husband “tell him, see you soon” she types that verbatim rather than just type “see you soon”.

In 2018, I want to stop having to adapt to how assistants understand and process what I say and have them do the work and just talk more like me instead. When failing to understand what I asked, it would be great if they use AI to guess based on previous queries and what they know about me the most obvious word I could have used vs. replying back with the most obscure one. I am not expecting to have a 10-minute conversation with any of my assistants. I would simply like to be able to have a conversation that does not make me think I am talking to Pixar’s Dory the fish.

Smart Today

Artificial intelligence is everywhere, or at least that is what we are told. The other day I even heard toymaker Mecchano advertise their latest toy saying “with artificial intelligence”. Most of what is deemed to be infused with AI, however, is barely showing some signs of cerebral activity. While general intelligence might be wide-spread, context-aware intelligence, cross-device intelligence, and personal intelligence are still in their infancy.

I also feel that we are focusing so much on what tech will be able to deliver in the next five, ten years that we ignore what could be done today. Autonomous cars are probably the best example. We focus so much on the vision of no longer driving that we do not see what could be done today.

In 2018, I would like to hear more about cars as an extension of the connected home. For many who commute daily, the car is an extension of the home. Some of us end up spending more hours in their car than at home! It is only to be expected that my home and my car were able to exchange information about my day, my music preferences, my likes, and dislikes. I do not expect the car to talk to the fridge to warn of a difficult commute and the need for a glass of wine. But I do expect my car to be able to automatically control my lights and thermostat as I approach home. My assistant, sensing the car is approaching, could ask me to ID myself before saying “welcome home” and opening the garage door and ask me if I want to transfer the call I am on or the content I am consuming to my home.

Another good example would be our home that might be connected but not necessarily smart. Last week I had to change my Wi-Fi SSID and that meant resetting the connection with all my devices. Why after setting up the first device was I not prompted to allow other devices to share the password is unclear to me. It really should not be this hard. If my iPhone can share my Wi-Fi password with my iPad or a friend who is close to me, the devices in my home should be able to do the same.

The Death of Passwords

If you have ever tried Apple’s Face ID, Windows Hello or Samsung’s Iris recognition you will appreciate how much more efficient these methods are. Face ID, in particular, makes you forget you are being authenticated.

This, coupled with the need to protect more and more information and devices around us will get us to want a better way than typing a password to get what we want.

In 2018, I want to be able to use my face, iris or finger in as many situations as possible. How quickly developers have embraced Face ID leaves me optimistic about my desire to kill passwords. I have the feeling, however, that what I am hoping for, like my connected devices to reconnect to a new home Wi-Fi, might be more negatively impacted by turf wars and interoperability issues than tech limitations.

A lot of wishful thinking, I know, but it is Santa I am writing to, after all 😉