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Google Glass device finally finds a use case -- in the enterprise

Understand the problem first, then invent the technology -- unless you're Google and the technology is its Google Glass device. Also: KRACK attack, AlphaGo Zero, IoT security strategies on the rise.

At the recent Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit in Boston, Mass., speaker after speaker emphasized one thing...

above all: Technology is for naught if you aren't solving a specific business problem.

"Make sure that you first understand what the problem truly is, then develop the best business practice for how to address that problem," said Brian Laughlin, IT architect of mobile devices and commercial aviation services at Boeing, at the event. "Then and only then can you apply the appropriate technology."

When it comes to Google, whose engineering team was at the conference to talk about the company's Google Glass device, the sage advice applies -- and doesn't.

With the development of Google Glass, the optical head-mounted display that looks like a pair of eyeglasses, the search giant seems to have operated in the reverse, inventing a device that had to discover the problem it was meant to solve.

Work on Google's assisted-reality eyewear certainly began with an idea of a problem to solve, said Jay Kothari, project lead for Glass at X, the moonshot factory. The ambition was to solve "the information overload problem." If Google engineers could put the world's information in your line of sight, then everyone in the world would be scrambling to get their hands on it.

That didn't happen, Kothari said. Since Google didn't really know what problem it was trying to solve with Glass, its engineers turned to "Explorers" -- qualified early adaptors -- to figure out the device's raison d'etre for them.

"The Explorer program was an experiment for us to take Glass, put it in the market as a piece of technology and ask 'what would you do with this technology?' 'What is this finally useful for?'" Kothari said. But the quest hit a dead end. "We got such a broad set of answers" -- none of which pointed to a use case that justified the device's existence in the consumer market.

A new chapter for the Google Glass project

But at Google, there are no failures, just course corrections.

If the consumer space was a bust, then why not take this amazing solution for a problem that no one besides Google engineers seemingly wanted to solve and try it out on ... the enterprise. Eureka.

"We went from what we thought was a consumer fashion device to something that's very function-oriented and has a very clear use case," Kothari said. Again, the team first had to figure out what those "clear use cases" in the enterprise would be.

Working with Explorers in a variety of industries, the Google team eventually learned what its nifty creation was meant to do in the world, Kothari said. "We didn't know industries. We needed to learn them. By making [Glass] broadly available and allowing people to experiment, we were able to see what people were able to do."

The biggest impact is being seen in jobs where people need to have their hands free, Kothari said. Workers, for example, can view instructions with videos, animations and images right in their line of sight, and don't have to stop and consult a binder or computer to know what to do next. Manufacturing, logistics, field service or repair, and healthcare are the four main industries Glass is focused on now, he said.

The team also took a different approach to selling this technology. Kothari said they never talked about the technology; they talked about what the technology could do for a specific enterprise or use case. Google has partnered with around 50 businesses, including GE, DHL, Dignity Health, The Boeing Company and Volkswagen.

A revamped Google Glass device -- with more power and better battery life -- has improved GE's mechanics' efficiency by between 8% and 12%. Package sorters at DHL have increased their efficiency by 15% by getting information projected into their line of sight via Glass, freeing up their hands. Doctors at Dignity Health have reduced the time they spend typing up patient notes and other administrative work by 33% by using Glass, Kothari touted, adding that Glass has found its groove and is moving full-steam ahead.

The 'Glasshole' effect 

What's the lesson the Google Glass project team learned from its wearable journey? It circles back to the need to solve a specific problem for the end user, said Melvin Chua, an executive in business development at Glass.

"With any sort of new technology, in order to get adoption and roll out of production you absolutely need the ROI," Chua said during the keynote.

"Even if the managers wanted this and even if there was a great business case behind it, if we couldn't satisfy the wearers -- their needs and desires -- they would not put this on when they went to work."

Chua also found that when testing new wearable technology on users, it's important to find people who will consistently use the device.

Your face is the most expensive human real estate there is, so putting something people don't feel good wearing is tough.
Jay Kothariproject lead for Glass, X, the moonshot factory

From a hardware perspective, the team also learned that people cared about what it feels like to wear the device and how they look when wearing it.

"Your face is the most expensive human real estate there is, so putting something people don't feel good wearing is tough," Kothari said.

In the consumer pilot, for example, Glass wearers were dubbed "Glassholes" by a derisive public, which certainly didn't help users feel good about wearing the device.

"We spend a lot of time grappling with the social impacts of putting a computer and a camera on somebody's face," Kothari said.

CIO news roundup for week of Oct. 16

The Google Glass device's journey to the enterprise wasn't the only interesting tech news this week. Here's what else made headlines:

IoT-specific security strategies on the rise. The Global State of Information Security Survey 2018 conducted by auditing firm PwC found organizations are implementing policies and technologies to address IoT-related risks. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said they have an IoT security strategy in place or are currently implementing one. The survey drew on responses from 9,500 executives in more than 75 industries worldwide, and found 29% of respondents believe CISOs should bear responsibility for IoT security. Business leaders are also aware of the risks tied to emerging technologies, the survey found. Forty percent of respondents from organizations using automation or robotics said operations disruption would be the most important consequence of a cyberattack on those systems, followed by loss or compromise of sensitive data (39%) and harm to quality of products produced (32%).

WPA2 vulnerability. Belgian security expert Mathy Vanhoef has discovered a vulnerability in WPA2, a protocol used to protect Wi-Fi connections worldwide. The attack works against all modern protected Wi-Fi networks, Vanhoef said in a report released this week. "An attacker within range of a victim can exploit these weaknesses using key reinstallation attacks. Attackers can use this novel attack technique to read information that was previously assumed to be safely encrypted," according to the report. The vulnerability can be exploited to steal sensitive information like credit card numbers, passwords, chat messages, emails and photos, and an attacker might also be able to inject ransomware or other malware into websites, Vanhoef said in the report.

Google unveils self-taught AI. On Wednesday, Google's AI division called DeepMind unveiled a powerful computer program dubbed AlphaGo Zero. The program is the latest evolution of AlphaGo, and DeepMind developers said it won't be "constrained by the limits of human knowledge." The AlphaGo Zero program progressively learned the game of Go from scratch and managed to accumulate thousands of years of human knowledge within days, according to developers. "Previous versions of AlphaGo initially trained on thousands of human amateur and professional games to learn how to play Go. AlphaGo Zero skips this step and learns to play simply by playing games against itself, starting from completely random play," according to a DeepMind blog post.

Assistant editor Mekhala Roy contributed to this week's news roundup.

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