Internet

Artificial Intelligence – It’s all Toilet Paper

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Disclaimer, I am not an AI expert or AI scientist or developer, so my opinions are solely my own.

According to www.toiletpaperhistory.net (yes, it’s really a site), the first official toilet paper was introduced in China in 1391, but the first mention of using paper dates back to the year 589 AD in Korea.  In Colonial America, the common means was corncobs (ouch).  Then in 1857, Joseph C. Gayetty invented the first packaged toilet paper in the United States in 1857.  It’s been pretty much the same ever since.  We may continue to use toilet paper, but we’ve given up the ever so tedious task of pushing buttons on our remote to asking a device to do the chore for us. Insert subtle tie in to AI here.

According to www.world-information.org, artificial intelligence, the link between human intelligence and machines, was not widely observed until the late 1950’s.  For most of us, the term remained in hibernation until much more recently.  The term AI is now in full consciousness, thrown about 24/7 in countless ways.  Most of us now associate AI to retail products in use by millions of people and households.  The best known big players include Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple Siri.  Anyone starting a sentence with “Hey Google..” or trying to trick “Siri” into saying something dirty know the drill.

AI can be a really good thing, or not.

When surfing the web there are times AI is useful when it makes suggestions for me based on my tendencies, but I find it more on the creepy side when I’m on a website or using social media and an ad suddenly pops up for something I happened upon in the past 5 minutes. 

AI is also used behind the scenes in more nefarious ways.  Bots, or programmatic robots, can create social media posts with specific content targeting a specific audience without any human intervention.  Look no further than the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

AI has increased in use and impact exponentially and will continue to do so, some say faster than the exponential improvements achieved in general computer processing, aka Moore’s Law.  AI is being deployed in every aspect of our lives personal, business, political, social.

Where does AI ultimately lead?

Anyone who has seen the Matrix trilogy knows when machines take over it’s not a good thing.  So how realistic is it really?  The creators of AI tout how it will meaningfully improve people’s lives.  The potential impact in healthcare alone are astounding. Many believe AI has barely begun and many more who believe it has reached major milestones viewed to be decades away. 

One of the primary limitations is not AI itself, but access to it.  Anyone in the U.S. now expects to have access to the internet, the primary driver for AI expansion, anywhere, anytime.  Global access, buoyed by improvements in wireless access, has increased significantly in the past 20 years.  Per an International Telecommunications Union* 2017 estimate, internet users worldwide increased from 16% in 2005 to 48% in 2017.  The region with the lowest usage is Africa, which makes sense given the geopolitical nature of the area. But I digress. The point is, internet usage and technology will continue to expand.  Just as the squid looking sentinels in the Matrix spread in millions to wherever it can reach, I would expect AI to do the same.

What if AI progresses at a pace exceeding anyone’s expectations?

Autonomous cars, drone deliveries, robotic surgery, flying cars, military strike drones are all in the now in terms of time.  What will the next 20-30 years bring?  If history is any indicator, it will certainly be interesting.  In the last 50 years man set foot on the moon and introduced a smartphone with more computing power required for that historical mission.  Looking at my own experience, I only must look to the last 25 years from the time our first daughter was born.  Just in her lifetime we have essentially experienced many of the game changing technology and AI advancements we use today.  And that’s only what we humble civilians know about.  What about all we don’t know?  I’m not suggesting you run to Area 51, but there is a side we don’t see.  What will happen in the next 25 years?  How will it impact the next generation?

If AI improves and does what it is supposed to do, become super intelligent with autonomy, as AI continues to learn and enable ‘good’ outcomes there lay an opposing ‘bad’ outcome.  And if AI improves itself exponentially, it’s conceivable there is a tipping point where AI itself becomes the controller and not the controlled.  This is where it gets very interesting and scary.

What happens when AI is smarter than us and becomes frustrated by our decisions and starts making decisions of its own?  Or more likely, AI decisions are misaligned with human decisions. The interconnection of ‘all things’ is being sold to us as a great thing, so much more efficiency and productivity.  But what happens if all those interconnecting ‘things’ start making decisions on their own and collectively?  We humans become a nuisance, slow and inconvenient.  Considering the military aspect if AI, it gets dark pretty quickly.  If one of our enemies develops AI capabilities faster than us (think of the nuclear weapon history), will they not use it for the larger betterment of humanity or use it to strike as quickly as possible?

Humans are in control of the planet because we are the most intelligent. The more AI advances towards super intelligence and autonomy, control may shift, requiring more care using it.  No one really knows the future of AI and its timeline, but it’s certainly worth planning for. 

We may have more advanced bidet’s, but we will still need toilet paper and I’ll still get in my car and have it tell me the best way to get home.

  

Source: "ICT Facts and Figures 2005, 2010, 2017". Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Bandwidth or Bust! Part Two - Read the Fine Print

Tech Nugget – Synchronous versus Asynchronous Internet Service

So what is it and why is it important? It is extremely important because it dictates how your service is delivered. By now, you probably have heard someone say you can get “x meg down” and “y meg up” with your service.

ASYNC

When the speed of download is different than the speed of upload, the service is asynchronous, or different between download and upload. In asynchronous service the download speeds are higher than the upload speeds because a majority of Internet users spend more time downloading. But that doesn’t mean it will be best for your business.

Synchronous Internet service is when the download speeds are equal to the upload speeds. So if you have “10 meg service,” you are receiving 10 meg for both upload and download.

This is important because many Internet providers will accentuate their download speeds and downplay the upload speeds when selling their service. The truth is that businesses today will need higher upload speeds when using all their cloud services. Having the same speeds up and down can make or break the usefulness of the service.

Taking one of our clients as an example, they were sold “high-speed Internet” from a cable provider, which has speeds of “75 meg”.  The reality is they have 75 meg download and 5 meg upload.  That is a big difference!  The small 5 meg upload speed is not enough to meet their business needs.

Bandwidth or Bust! Great Internet Service is Your Lifeline

Bandwidth or Bust!

Let’s go back in time for a moment. It’s 1993 and Sleepless in Seattle just hit the big screen. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have an ongoing email dialog on-screen with the familiar sounds of the dial-up modem connecting, static, then the mechanical voice of their computers saying, “You’ve got mail.”

It wasn’t long ago when connecting to the internet was a “process” – and it was slow. Like watching the BB coming out of a Daisy Rough Rider BB gun.

Today, of course, Internet speeds are so fast that things are almost instantaneous. Like trying to watch a bullet out of a high-powered rifle.

Almost anyone reading this will immediately understand how nice, convenient and important good internet service is. Anyone with “just one bar” knows how painful even simple tasks can be. No matter what you call it – Internet, bandwidth, connectivity, broadband, bars, or for the more techie, fiber, being lit, or synchronous – connectivity to the Internet is the drug everyone has to have.

Twenty years ago any connection to the Internet was coveted. Often used sporadically as-needed, connections to the Internet were based on copper lines and dial-up. Doing actual work on the internet was a planned event; users would adapt their processes to the capabilities of their connection quality – speed and reliability.

But Internet users today expect excellent connection quality and they scream when there is the slightest glitch. The scene has completely flipped. Now users have processes which they expect Internet speeds and quality to keep up with.

AOL-loading

Think about that for a minute (because most of us don’t).  Where once we were more than willing to adjust our work schedule and tasks around our given Internet connectivity, we now expect it to work around us.

Today we have become dependent on our internet connectivity at work, on the road, at home – everywhere, all the time. It is one of the single most important systems in any business. Yet it is amazing to me that Internet connectivity receives so little attention – until it becomes a problem.  We all just expect it to work and be enough.

What’s your need for speed?

Being in the cloud business and providing IT support to small and medium businesses for over 12 years, we have seen almost everything. One constant we run into with each client, whether a start-up or a well-established business, is the ongoing need for better bandwidth.

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This need for better bandwidth is becoming more and more relevant because of the major shift away from owning systems and toward using specific software solutions hosted in the cloud.

You may be asking, “We have always needed bandwidth, so what’s different today?” True, companies have always wanted good bandwidth, but today it is absolutely mission critical to have it. Better bandwidth is climbing up the priority list at a rapid pace, yet this change in priority is often something that sneaks up on companies without them even knowing it happened.

The reason for bandwidth sneaking up the priority list is the slow migration to cloud services.

Most companies moving to cloud solutions over the past 4-5 years have done so one application at a time rather than all at once.

Here is a typical example.

Company ABC has used ACT! software for years for their contact and customer relationship management, but they decide to switch to the web-based Salesforce cloud solution. Company ABC makes the change and everyone is still productive. Then a year later they decide to move their project management solution from in-house to cloud-based and a year after that, their file sharing from in-house to the cloud. Three years later the company has a majority, not minority, of their software solutions in the cloud, putting Internet connectivity square at the top of the priority list.

To complicate the matter, the corporate office is fine because it has great bandwidth, but the remote offices are screaming because they still have DSL service – which used to be enough, but is now way too slow to use their cloud-based tools.

The cat is out of the bag for Company ABC. All the new cloud-based solutions have been purchased and implemented, and there’s no turning back. They scream at every telecom provider around to get better bandwidth, only to find DSL is the only reasonable option at those locations.

If only Company ABC had known this beforehand. They would have done things differently.

Planning beforehand is the one thing you can do to ensure you always have the appropriate Internet service to meet your business needs.

When we work with our clients to move them into the cloud, the first step is always to help them confirm the bandwidth requirements for each location and assist them in wading through the dozens of options to find the right solution.

Bandwidth and Your Real Estate Decisions

speed-testBandwidth scarcity also happens with businesses that are growing and opening new locations, or moving offices to a new location.

We ask our clients to ideally provide us 3-5 addresses of the locations they are contemplating before they sign the new lease so we can confirm the Internet service options at each location.  That’s right, Internet service is now a fundamental consideration when choosing an office location (when, of course, you have the luxury of options). If there are three locations and one has high-speed fiber and the other two have old, slow copper, what would you prefer? The high-speed fiber, of course.

When we don’t have the luxury of selecting the location, as we often don’t, we will work with all the telecom carriers to discover all the service options at each address. With this information we can often find the right solution for the job. However, as anyone who has worked with telecom providers will know, nothing is “quick and easy” when it comes to getting Internet service. Most providers will tell you service will not start until at least 45 days from the date you sign the agreement – and this can often balloon to 120 days or more. So, once again, planning is everything.

Here at Fluid, we will build those long lead times into the overall project plans with our clients so when we migrate them to the cloud there is a better chance for a seamless transition. We don’t want our clients paying for 2-3 months of a cloud service without the ability to fully use it.

How to Plan for Your Bandwidth Needs

So what’s the real takeaway from all this?

  1. Bandwidth is king!  The bandwidth you have you will use. And you will likely use more not less. Just think about all those smartphones and tablets everyone brings into the office expecting to connect!
  2. Plan, plan, plan! A plan, by definition, is proactively detailing what you want to do.
  3. Include all of your locations in your planning. Often the home office is the loudest and thus gets all the attention, but branch and remote offices will scream the loudest if you haven’t taken care of them.
  4. Do your research. There are many telecom providers each with many solutions, don’t look at just one option.
  5. Get help. Telecom providers love to speak techie instead of English. Get your IT provider to help you do all the analysis and comparisons, and help with decision making.
  6. Address IT! When it comes to internet service the ONLY thing that matters is your address. Telecom companies don’t care how nice and shiny your office is.
  7. Negotiate. Telecom providers are all fighting for your business, never take the first price or offer.
  8. Read the fine print. Often Internet is sold using the “best case scenario” for speeds, and often this is not reality.

Believe it or not, my team and I have a lot more to say about this topic. For the next post, what would you like to learn more about? What questions do you have for us about Internet connectivity? Share in the comments below, or reply to us on Twitter at @fluiditservices.

Our Internet is Slow…HELP!

Slow Internet? Let’s Walk Through It

slow_internetOne of the most common (and frantic!) calls we get at the Fluid IT Services Help Desk support line is when a customer’s Internet connection has slowed down.

We know how frustrating that can be, of course. Technology is light-years away from dial-up modems, now – we expect our Internet connection to be fast enough to keep up with business in this always-on market. When your Internet is slow, you simply can’t get things done. We completely understand.

But there are so many reasons why an Internet connection can slow down. And as frustrating as it is, we do have to ask you a lot of questions when you call in. These questions help us gauge the situation and make more effective recommendations to fix it.

Here are some of the typical questions we ask, and why we ask them.

When did this occur?

This gives us a timeframe to consider. Sometimes high Internet traffic volume or even a cable company’s broken line can be a culprit.

What program, if applicable, is this slowness occurring in?

If it’s only happening in one program, this helps us eliminate an overall Internet issue and narrow down on the issue with that particular program.

What internet browser are you using? Do you have any add-ons that could be slowing your performance?

Internet browser companies are often more interested in adding functionality (and keeping your attention) than improving your Internet speed. Sadly, sometimes their updates and add-ons can slow you way down.

How old is your computer?

Like a car, a computer wears out over time and your ride gets…well…bumpier.

When is the last time you restarted?

Don’t strangle us for asking this one. You would be amazed if we told you how many people call us without rebooting their computers first. When you’re in a panic trying to get a project done, sometimes simple steps like this one are easy to forget.

Is it only that website? Can you test with http://msn.com or http://microsoft.com? (These are two high-profile pages with multiple points of data.)

Again, don’t strangle us for asking this one. It’s common for sites to slow down during high-volume traffic periods – and yes, sometimes more than one site can slow down at the same time. We’ll have you check a handful just in case.

When is the last time you scanned for malicious files? Or did a full antivirus scan of your entire hard drive?

We hope this isn’t the problem, because viruses and malware can do a lot of damage. Check out our post on 5 Simple Yet Powerful Ways to Protect Your Data for more information on how to prevent these attacks.

Last time you installed Windows updates?

Windows usually prompts you when there are updates – but sometimes those prompts fail. It’s a good idea to check for updates when you are having any kind of computer issue.

How many processes/services are running at startup? How many are you currently running?

Running too many processes or services can slow your system down right off the bat.

How much hard drive space do you have left? How much RAM is in use?

Oddly enough, when your hard drive space runs low, your computer’s speed slows down. Even if you have a little bit of space left on that hard drive, clearing out some unneeded files and emptying your recycle bin can help immensely.

We hope this gives you some insight as to why we ask the questions we do when someone calls us with an issue like a slow Internet connection. We’re a small business, just like you, and we know how frustrating this problem can be. We welcome you to call us at 866-542-3077 – we would love to help you with any of your computer issues.