The Velocity of Data: Shelly Palmer’s CEDIA 2016 Keynote

Sep 15, 2016

By Ed Wenck

“The velocity of data is increasing and will always increase.”

That was the mantra delivered by CEDIA keynote speaker Shelly Palmer on Wednesday night. Palmer, who can reel off statistics like a baseball historian, brought some jaw-dropping numbers to the table (complete with slides), like this humdinger:

Four billion people will be online by 2020 – most of them on mobile devices.

The level of data traffic is staggering enough when one considers the “big internet,” but the Internet of Things will be chewing through more than half a million zettabytes per year.

Among those things, Uber’s autonomous car, currently being tested in Pittsburgh. With the rotten press that Tesla’s “auto-pilot” feature generated, public discomfort with the coming new-machine age has become more palpable, a fact Palmer confronted.

“For those of you who are afraid of this technology, autonomous cars don’t drink, they don’t text, they don’t fight with their wives or girlfriends while they’re driving …”

We’re already man-machine partners, right? How many of the numbers in your phone’s contact list can you recall by rote?

Palmer, something of an optimist in wise-guy clothing, brought the crowd around to something they should really be concerned with: Brexit. As a class-action lawsuit – well, the Euro-version of class action, anyway – heads to the EU’s top court, Palmer noted that the voices of reason in the Old Countries include France and the UK. With the UK leaving that body, those with a lesser understanding of the complexity of data-sharing, marketing, and, of course, privacy issues will now have the loudest voice in the room. Palmer’s worried about less-than-knowledgeable folks trying to throttle data – the wrong data – in a universe where (repeat after Shelly):

“The velocity of data is increasing and will always increase.”

To really drive home that point, Palmer went through a brief recap of machine learning (we’ll dispense with the acronym “AI” for the moment, and let the Terminator-style fictional nightmares the term inspires stay in Hollywood), and gave the crowd one of his favorite examples of that velocity: the Google DeepMind program AlphaGo beating a 9-dan pro player (that’d be the blackest of the black belts) in the ancient board game Go. Go is exponentially more complicated than chess; in fact, stat-master Shelly noted that number of potential moves in the game is 10 to the power of 160, and the number of atoms in the known universe is a mere 10 to the power of 80.

Move 37 in game number two of the five game set between AlphaGo and master Lee Sodol was the mindbender: A stone placed on the board appeared to be an error by the machine, a glitch in the war game. It wasn’t – it was the machine lulling the master into a false sense of security by making what looked to be a foolish move, then going in for the kill.

Think about that – the “brute force” calculations required to run through the potential outcomes were neatly overstepped by a machine that made a decision in an entirely different manner — a manner that mimicked human response (at least in this limited way).

“What they wanted was a building that could be continuously improved and adaptable.”

Autonomous cars, deep-learning gaming computers, and fridges that tell you when your milk’s going bad (Palmer: “Who’s that lazy? Turns out, ME.”) are all cool and nifty, but what does any of this have to do with the seven-figure integration project?

Lots, actually – and Palmer brought that home with several points.

First, a real-world example of a hefty shift: The channel for half the NFL’s games on Thursday nights?

Twitter. Which begs the question, according to Palmer: “Is your big installation ‘Twitter-optimized’?”

Second, anything that can be hacked, will be hacked, something we’ve covered a lot in this space. The creepy factor was amplified when Palmer mentioned that banks, homes, and cars are all insured – but what about some third party knowing the precise time you put your little girl to bed every night?

Then Palmer noted a smart building he was consulting on in Shanghai, a multi-billion-dollar project designed to be – Palmer paused for effect – “future-proof.”

The term, as you’d expect, was met with groans and chuckles.

“There’s no such thing,” Palmer said, having noted earlier that his consultancy work in the tech world doesn’t offer five-year-plans – that’s simply impossible.

“What they wanted was a building that could be continuously improved and adaptable.”

Palmer has expressed dissatisfaction with the morning-TV “cool tech” segments and similar marketing. “My kitchen knows what pizza I like!” has precisely zero consumer value.

Becoming the architect of the expandable, adaptable network is where the next opportunities exist, according to Palmer. As an integrator, the coming universe may splinter into specialization, or may require a firm to have experts in many fields.
Palmer exhorted the crowd to choose their market, choose their interests in order to succeed – trying to understand every nook, switch, and cranny of that billion-dollar Shanghai building with micro-mics and smart walls and auto-programmable spaces is impossible. Pick your passion. That’s where your future lies, in his eyes.

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