By Maurice Pinzon
In 2020, after many cities imposed lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies told employees they could work from home. Tech workers were probably the most prepared and comfortable working away from the office. Whether it was video meetings or remote computer work, these workers were already highly mobile, interconnected, and comfortable packing laptops, mobile phones, and other tech devices on the go.
But what could replace the social interactions these workers typically have at conferences, social events, and other encounters where ideas were exchanged? Well, just as mRNA scientific advances were primed for the development of new vaccines during this global pandemic, audio applications were also ready to address social isolation. Many tech workers quickly hopped on social audio apps such as Clubhouse to address that need. New higher quality audio technology led to a rediscovery of what humans had been doing since meeting around a campfire – engaging in conversations. The apps minimized distractions as people were able to depend solely on the voice, instead of relying on video and text. They realized that they can exchange plenty of information with authenticity. It’s the next best thing to personal interaction. Other tech companies soon jumped on the trend. Twitter and Spotify recently launched Spaces and Greenroom, respectively. It’s unclear if these audio apps are a temporary patch to the pandemic or if they will replace some tech conferences and other social interactions in the future.
One exciting place on the Clubhouse app where interesting discussions took place is called Tech+AI+ where techies came together. That’s where I first heard Andrew Choi, one of the main contributors to the group, speak.
Choi is a Silicon Valley software engineer who currently works for Microsoft. He’s an expert in data structures and distributed systems running on cloud platforms. He also designs the technological infrastructure that runs complex networked computer systems. Think of these systems as the piping, buildings, highways, and telephones of a digitalized, interconnected, automated, instant-demand information society. You may have noticed these things impacting your life during the pandemic. It seems just about everything we used to do in person quickly migrated to an online platform. Choi recognizes the importance that vast technological and societal impact these technologies will have on our everyday lives. Specifically, Choi is increasingly focused and passionate about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). He understands the even more significant impact of technology when AI and ML are combined with IoT (Internet of Things). Choi sees the industrial internet of things (IIoT), is well underway. Industrial companies use sensors, instruments, devices interconnected and networked to computer applications to solve various problems. Choi said, “I think this year, the intersection of these two technologies, IoT and AI, has brought a lot of these amazing changes to the automation industry.”
Anton Alexander, a senior Machine Learning engineer at BlueRidge.AI, also met Choi on Clubhouse. During a telephone interview, Alexander, who works precisely in this area of deploying AI/ML technology to solve industrial problems, shared his view of Choi’s knowledge and expertise. He stated, “Andrew is like a cowboy with two guns and never misses.”
Alexander explained, “Andrew is very quick to extrapolate data out of conversation and be able to respond in a meaningful way. And I think that’s one of the most insightful things and beneficial things that people gain from his presence.”
Another moderator in the Tech+AI club, Sahir Ali, who also works in AI/ML, reflected on Andrew as he called him “a powerhouse of knowledge.” Ali said he was “constantly amazed at the breadth and depth of his technical knowledge and experiences he regularly shares.”
Didem Gürdür Broo is a computer scientist and mechatronics engineer based in Europe who occasionally participates in the discussions. When I asked her about Choi, she said, “I have been in [Clubhouse] rooms with Andrew, and I think he is a very engaging person and deeply cares of communicating the right information to the audience.” She added, “He likes to explain technical concepts in detail, and I think it helps many to follow conversations easier.”
But AI/ML use will not be confined to just business and industrial applications. Choi says AI will eventually be in our homes. He said, “In the future, I believe that smart devices, like smart home devices, including smart plugs, Google nest, etc., are gonna forecast and really serve the needs for human beings.” Smart plugs allow people to use their smartphones to control their home devices.
Choi believes these smart devices will eventually get a sort of smart coordinator of services with AI. Human needs will be recognized much more efficiently as we move from just smart devices to smart homes. Choi said the deployment of AI will be able to “forecast and really serve the needs for human beings.” That’s because right now “home devices only work on demand. But if we pair that, if we collaborate that with AI, I believe that these smart devices can automatically forecast and predict a lot of human needs and start a process without human intervention.”
Asked if consumers would be using these devices soon, Choi stated, “I think it’s already happening. IoT is all about sensor components that are paired up into computers and machines and that provides the freedom of large amounts of data via the Internet.” So, in all of these Internet of Things services and platforms, they’ll have to follow these stages called create, communicate, aggregate, analyze and act. So, I believe the stage of Act… depends on a lot of these analyses, ultimate analyses. The precise value of IoT is determined at this analysis step. I think this is where technological knowledge plays a very crucial role. I believe IoT, home devices, smart devices are already being absorbed into society.”
Furthermore, Choi shared that Google has released IoT devices and he foresees large other companies also offering fully managing IoT services. He reflected on the benefits as he said, “The benefit that you get from this is that you can boost up and accelerate business agility, with IoT data from the physical devices. Whether these IoT assets are indoors or in remote areas, or spread across cities, I believe that IoT will visualize the location in real-time where they travel or how often they moved.”
Clearly, Choi has vast technical knowledge. And when he speaks, he doesn’t adorn his words but gives you information straight. His peers also respect him in the technology field. But technology companies are full of experts that may not have broad considerations about privacy and other social impacts of the technology they create. These concerns are important if Choi is right and AI will be used to run not only in industry but in our homes seamlessly and efficiently. Choi acknowledges there are essential security considerations if we have AI coordinating services of devices inside homes. But Choi thinks tech companies will not squander the full potential of IoT by not addressing these issues.
However, big tech’s record on privacy and transparency has not been flawless. There will be privacy and consumer groups and government agencies that may need to pay careful attention. For now, people appear to be on their own as they bring these new technologies into their homes.
Choi believes it is up to the consumers to ensure that their connectivity and IoT wellness is secure. More importantly, he stated that it is up to the manufacturers, the creators, and companies, which are responsible for producing these devices, to set up clear guidelines for consumers to ensure that their privacy is secure.
He further demonstrated the responsibility that the manufacturers, creators, and companies hold as he shared that it is up to them to ensure that they configure IoT devices correctly. He stated, “And, you know, one hurdle is that many organizations, which use IoT might not be asking the right questions to fight related risks, right. Do they have a plan to assess devices, interconnectivity vulnerabilities across the business ecosystem?” Choi believes that prioritizing risks should be on the top of the companies’ lists during IoT adoption. He stated, “I think that these corporates that are thinking about privacy and security have to come up with a plan holistically from product conceptualizations, rollouts, deployments and updates. C suites and executives have to consider all perspectives from interoperability to data governance policies, to training employees to have very consistent standards.”
The smartphones we carry in our pockets have more computing power than the computer that helped NASA astronauts go to the moon. As a result, we no longer have to search for a working payphone, use a paper map, look for an unoccupied cab, stress about ordering out, and much more. If Choi is correct, that smartphone convenience may soon seamlessly control our homes. However, apps on our iPhone also created many unintended consequences, some good and some disruptive. That’s a lot of power in the hands of tech companies and significant responsibility for the new master architects of our digital lives.
Andrew Choi email contact: email@example.com