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Rise of the Robots - Review

Thu, 2015-10-01 10:08
Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
Martin Ford

Part 1 of 3

"I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're small. I'm right; you're wrong. And there's nothing you can do about it."

Thus spake Harry Wormwood in the movie "Matilda". This well could be the message that robots will have for us in the not too distant future. The dramatic improvements in the speed, the accuracy, and the areas in which computers have begun to comprehensively outperform humans leads one to believe that while a so-called singularity may well be some ways off, the more immediate effects of this automation are already being felt in permanent job losses. In a country like India, which has used digital technologies quite effectively in the last decade and a half to grow a $150 billion IT-BPM industry, the impact could be devastating - especially where an estimated 10 million people are employed.
In many spheres - chess for example - they could utter these lines to us humans today and there's nothing we can do about it - for the computer is right. The puniest of computers in the tiniest of smartphones possesses enough computing horsepower and smart-enough algorithms (written by us humans - oh yes, the irony!) to defeat the best of us humans in chess, every single time, without breaking a sweat. Computers have been able to add, subtract, divide, square, multiply faster and more accurately than us for decades now, and there's nothing we can do about that either.

From the time of the Luddites - who rose up against the machines of the Industrial Revolution in the early years of the nineteenth century - to the present-day "Judgment Day" Sarah Connor avatars, inspired as much by an acute awareness of the march of technology as by James Cameroon's "Terminator" movies, the refrain of the chorus has been more or less unchanging: the machines are coming for our jobs, our livelihoods, and will finally come for us (the Matrix was premised on a variant of one such dystopian future). Computing power of computers exploded in the second half of the twentieth century, obeying the inexorable pull of Moore's Law, and made feasible by advances in semiconductors, fabrication techniques, and electrical engineering. As did fears that similar software advances could somehow endow machines with intelligence - Artificial Intelligence. These fears however did not quite come to pass. For several decades, there were several false hopes and starts that were kindled and then extinguished. Till this decade. The congruence of seemingly infinite computing power - thanks to massive server farms running in the "cloud" (a mangled metaphor if ever there was one), cheap and lightning fast bandwidth available on tap, storage and memory that keeps getting impossibly cheaper every year, and sophisticated software algorithms - has however made it clear that "machine intelligence" is no longer an oxymoron. We are well and truly living in the middle of the machine age. The "singularity" may well be witnessed in our lifetimes, within a decade or two even.

Martin Ford's book, "The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future" lays out the case for a not-so-distant future where machines make possible the automation of almost every task imaginable, but at a great social and economic cost. The book is neatly organized, lucidly argued, and except for a lengthy and somewhat incongruous chapter on the medical system, the book stays on point. Ford makes it clear that neither is this technological progress reversible, nor wholly desirable. Its consequences therefore cannot be wished away - income inequality as an example, which economists for three decades have been explaining away as a temporary anomaly. The last section, which is more contemplative and prescriptive, as opposed to the earlier sections which are descriptive, discusses possible solutions, some of which will shock free market proponents. Whether there are more practical, workable answers is quite another thing though.

Part 2 of 3

Machines have been able to do mechanical jobs faster than humans, with greater precision, and for longer periods of time - the cotton gin invented in the eighteenth century for example. The inevitable loss of jobs called for a re-skilling of the people affected, and the mantra went that you had to pull yourself up by your socks, learn a new skill, and get productive again. Martin Ford's book shatters that illusion. There is not a single profession left - whether unskilled or skilled, whether in technology or medicine or liberal arts, whether one that can be performed remotely or requires direct human interaction - that is not at threat from the machines. Whichever way you slice and dice it, you are left facing one or the other variation of a dystopian future, with stark income inequalities, a substantial population that will require doles on a permanent doles, and the concomitant social upheavals.

Some years back, when offshoring was in the news and concerns about its impact on US jobs was at its peak, with hundreds of thousands of jobs moved offshore to countries like India, there were stories coming out regularly, like the one about Southern California workers being made to train H1-B visa holders, many of whom took over their jobs. Pfizer made "hundreds of tech workers at its Connecticut R&D facilities" train their replacements - guest workers from India. If the economics of labor cost arbitrage precipitated the migration of skilled technology jobs away from the United States and to countries like India (being "Bangalored" entered the urban lexicon only a decade ago), technology could plausibly bring those jobs back to the United States - call it "reshoring". The quantum of jobs reshored, however, is going to be a massive disappointment. Consider this: "In 2011, the Washington Post’s Michael Rosenwald reported that a colossal, billion-dollar data center built by Apple, Inc., in the town of Maiden, North Carolina, had created only fifty full-time positions." But it is precisely this elimination of the need for many people that makes the economics of reshoring work out. Ironical.

While the United States can at least look forward to the reshoring of some jobs lost to manufacturing in China or services in India, the loss of such jobs is certain, on the other hand, to cause greater upheaval in these offshore countries. India's socio-economic progress is predicated in great deal on a re-skilling of its labour force to take advantage of an emerging "Digital India" both in the manufacturing and services sector, but which is in mortal danger of being blindsided by the rise of the machines. The use of IT-based services as a catalyst for driving economic growth in smaller - Tier B and Tier C - cities in India is a recurrent theme for planners. But this could be short-circuited by the rise of the robots, who, once trained - by humans - can perform the jobs of humans, better, and faster. Indians were trained by their American counterparts to do their jobs. Unbeknownst to many, these people are actors in the same offshoring saga that played out a decade ago, but with the proverbial shoe on the other foot now. "The bottom line is that if you find yourself working with, or under the direction of, a smart software system, it’s probably a pretty good bet that—whether you’re aware of it or not—you are also training the software to ultimately replace you."

India has been a spectacular laggard when it has come to industrializing its economy - it is probably unique among all developing nations to be progressing (or at least with ambitions of progressing) from a primarily agrarian economy to a services-based economy, skipping substantially the intermediate phase of industrialization that every single industrialized nation went through last century. It was industrialization that provided the bedrock for the middle-class in nations, which then aspired towards a better quality of life, with the ability to pay for it - thus driving the move towards a services-based economy. For India, it could be argued by some that this skipping may prove to be a blessing, since an industrialized economy is more susceptible to efficiencies wrought by advancements in technology. Consider these examples from Ford's book:

1. "in the United States, chickens are grown to standardized sizes so as to make them compatible with automated slaughtering and processing."

2. Momentum Machines, a San Francisco based startup has developed a machine that "shapes burgers from freshly ground meat and then grills them to order - including even the ability to add just the right amount of char while retaining all the juices. The machine, which is capable of producing about 360 hamburgers per hour, also toasts the bun and then slices and adds fresh ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and pickles only after the order is placed." The company's co-founder is clear that these machines are not "meant to make employees more efficient... It's meant to completely obviate them."

3. "Vision Robotics, a company based in San Diego, California, is developing an octopus-like orange harvesting machine. The robot will use three-dimensional machine vision to make a computer model of an entire orange tree and then store the location of each fruit. That information will then be passed on to the machine’s eight robotic arms, which will rapidly harvest the oranges."

4. "Researchers at Facebook have likewise developed an experimental system—consisting of nine levels of artificial neurons—that can correctly determine whether two photographs are of the same person 97.25 percent of the time, even if lighting conditions and orientation of the faces vary. That compares with 97.53 percent accuracy for human observers."

5. "A Facebook executive noted in November 2013 that the Cyborg system routinely solves thousands of problems that would otherwise have to be addressed manually, and that the technology allows a single technician to manage as many as 20,000 computers."

6. If reading certain news articles makes you wonder whether a robot wrote it, things are going to get better - or worse. Computer algorithms are at work to churn out articles that will be indistinguishable from those written by humans. Liberal arts became even more unviable - if ever that was possible.
"In 2010, the Northwestern University researchers who oversaw the team of computer science and journalism students who worked on StatsMonkey raised venture capital and founded a new company, Narrative Science, Inc., to commercialize the technology. The company hired a team of top computer scientists and engineers; then it tossed out the original StatsMonkey computer code and built a far more powerful and comprehensive artificial intelligence engine that it named “Quill.”
... One of Narrative Science’s earliest backers was In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency"

"To keep instructional costs down, colleges are relying ever more heavily on part-time, or adjunct, faculty who are paid on a per-course basis—in some cases as little as $2,500 for a semester-long class—and receive no employee benefits. Especially in the liberal arts, these adjunct positions have become dead-end jobs for huge numbers of PhD graduates who once hoped for tenure-track academic careers."
7. "Radiologists, for example, are trained to interpret the images that result from various medical scans. Image processing and recognition technology is advancing rapidly and may soon be able to usurp the radiologist’s traditional role."

8. "In July 2012, the London Symphony Orchestra performed a composition entitled Transits—Into an Abyss. One reviewer called it “artistic and delightful.” The event marked the first time that an elite orchestra had played music composed entirely by a machine. The composition was created by Iamus, a cluster of computers running a musically inclined artificial intelligence algorithm."

9. "Perhaps the most remarkable elder-care innovation developed in Japan so far is the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL)—a powered exoskeleton suit straight out of science fiction. Developed by Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai of the University of Tsukuba, the HAL suit is the result of twenty years of research and development. Sensors in the suit are able to detect and interpret signals from the brain. When the person wearing the battery-powered suit thinks about standing up or walking, powerful motors instantly spring into action, providing mechanical assistance. A version is also available for the upper body and could assist caretakers in lifting the elderly. Wheelchair-bound seniors have been able to stand up and walk with the help of HAL."

As one goes over these examples, it becomes obvious that automation is a sword that cuts both ways. Is India equipped - and more importantly, are the planners aware - to handle the flood of automation that could wash away entire swathes of jobs being dreamed up by ambitions of a digitally-enabled nation?

Part 3 of 3

As 2014 drew to a close, the Indian IT industry was rocked by rumours that TCS (the largest Indian IT company by annual revenues) had completed an internal review and had initiated lay offs of thousands of employees - mostly in middle management. Some stories talked about a number as high as 30,000. The saga finally ended with a round of clarifications and denials by TCS and some well-deserved opprobrium over its inept handling of the needless controversy. What the fracas however served to highlight was a stark truth that's been staring at the Indian IT industry for some time now - the skills that the typical Indian IT worker possesses are mostly undifferentiated and prime candidates for automation.
What is worse, from at least one perspective, is the fact that (smart) humans have built technology that has becoming adept at "engineering the labor out of the product." One will need to be particularly myopic to not also recognize that "the machines are coming for the higher-skill jobs as well." This much should have been clear in part two of this series, through the examples I cited from Martin Ford's book.
One recurring theme in Martin Ford's book, "Rise of the Robots", at least in the initial chapters, is the permanence and acceleration of offshoring to countries like India, which he believes, "has built a major, nationally strategic industry specifically geared toward the electronic capture of American and European jobs." (As an aside, most Indians would be somewhat puzzled by this assertion, given at times the outright hostility which politicians in India display towards the IT industry, like the time when a former prime minister indirectly accused the Bangalore IT industry of "immoral, unethical and illegal prosperity"!) Anyway, leaving that aside aside, in advancing his argument Ford posits that as "powerful AI-based tools make it easier for offshore workers to compete with their higher-paid counterparts in developed countries, advancing technology is also likely to upend many of our most basic assumptions about which types of jobs are potentially offshorable. Nearly everyone believes, for example, that occupations that require physical manipulation of the environment will always be safe."

Ford believes that the development of a digital infrastructure in India and the advancement of AI and related technologies will make things worse for US (and Europe) jobs. True to some extent though that may be, you have to consider the fact that increasing automation makes it cheaper and less labor-intensive to maintain, run, and patch-and-upgrade software applications. Furthermore, any offshoring of jobs adds its own overheads by way of administrative and managerial redundancies that cannot be done away with. Automation efficiencies reduce the need for labour, which is the often the single biggest component in any software application over its entire life. Therefore, the very factors that Ford fears are threatening to make offshoring permanent and more widespread are also likely to make reshoring financially viable. It's a sword that cuts both ways.

To be fair, the digital economy in India has a lot of headroom to grow; especially as the Indian government's Smart City initiative brings e-governance and services to the common man through the Internet and technologies. This could well provide a second wind to the Indian IT industry for a decade or more.

However, it is a smart strategy to keep one eye on the what the winds of such a digital nirvana may blow in. An indicator of the direction in which the Indian IT job market is likely to evolve therefore can be found by looking at the US, where the "propensity for the economy to wipe out solid middle-skill, middle-class jobs, and then to replace them with a combination of low-wage service jobs and high-skill, professional jobs that are generally unattainable for most of the workforce, has been dubbed "job market polarization.""
This phrase - "job market polarization" should give us a fair indication of what is in store for the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of graduates in India, many of whom emerge today out of college with a stark degree of antipathy for doing the "9-5" grind that they saw their parents and its generation go through. Digital "start-up" nirvana beckons for them. Each sees himself as a digital entrepreneur of the new economy. They are ready to chuck the "dependable income stream that anchors them into the middle-class" - they view it not as an "anchor" but more a millstone. However, the vast majority is likely to find itself stuck in what "techno visionary" Jared Lanier calls the "informal economy that is found in third-world nations." It's a tiny minority that will "live at the extreme left of the long tail" of such a digital economy. For every Flipkart or SnapDeal (the final word on that fairy-tale saga is yet to be written), you will find tens of thousands of resellers at the other end of the payoff tail, paying these e-tailers money every month for the privilege of selling on their platforms, at prices that barely cover operating costs.

The Indian middle-class, for all its flaws, has represented for decades an aspirational lodestar for the vast majority of the country's poor. So what happens when the digital economy hollows out the middle of the job market - "job polarization" as described above? Again, we can look westwards for possible answers.
"In an analysis published in February 2014, MIT economist James Poterba found that a remarkable 50 percent of American households aged sixty-five to sixty-nine have retirement account balances of $5,000 or less. According to Poterba’s paper, even a household with $100,000 in retirement savings would receive a guaranteed income of only about $5,400 per year (or $450 per month) with no cost-of-living increases, if the entire balance were used to purchase a fixed annuity."In other words, in the absence of both a retirement corpus and a government guaranteed pension, there is a real risk of an emergent middle-class sliding right back into the working poor or even the underclass - a recipe for social unrest.
An inevitable counter-argument to all this unease generated by the "rise of the robots" is the "humans are underrated" palliative. Championing this is Tom Davenport (of "Competing on Analytics" fame) who now talks of "amplified intelligence" (which unfortunately has more the stench of a seo-optimized buzzword than anything substantial at this point) - where "smart" humans work to "augment" "smart" machines. Then there is also Geoff Colvin, who penned the insightful 2008 book, "Talent Is Overrated", and who has returned with "Humans Are Overrated". I have yet to read Colvin's latest book, so judgment day is reserved on the book, but to Davenport's argument, some of the evidence suggests an easy refutation - "In his 2007 book Super Crunchers, Yale University professor Ian Ayres cites study after study showing that algorithmic approaches routinely outperform human experts. When people, rather than computers, are given overall control of the process, the results almost invariably suffer." In many fields where algorithms rule the roost, to argue for human "augmentation" or "amplification" is no better than to argue for more cooks to brew the broth - we know that aphorism, don't we?
In conclusion, and in many ways, the saga documented in "Rise of the Robots" calls to mind the ancient Indian tale of the four friends:
In ancient India there lived four friends. Three of them were very learned, while the fourth was a simpleton, even considered a fool. The four decided to go to the capital and seek their fortune from the king. Along the way, while passing through a jungle, they came across the bones of a lion long dead. The first friend used his knowledge to assemble the bones into a skeleton. The second friend used his skills to fashion a skin over the skeleton, while the third prepared to bring the lion back to life. At this the fourth friend - the simpleton - warned his other three friends of the perils of doing so, and was roundly rebuked by the three, wiser friends. The simpleton again warned them and upon being ignored, climbed a tree for safety. The third friend used his knowledge to breathe life into the lion. I don't need to tell you how this tale ended for the three wise men.

And I will end here.

Buying Info:Hardcover: 352 pagesPublisher: Basic Books (May 5, 2015)ISBN-10: 0465059996ISBN-13: 978-0465059997

US: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
India: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

The first part was first published in PerformanceGurus on 8th August, 2015.
The second part was first published in PerformanceGurus on 13th August, 2015.
The concluding part was first published in PerformanceGurus on 15th August, 2015.

 © 2015, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Creepy Dolls - A Technology and Privacy Nightmare!

Sat, 2015-09-26 10:28
This post was first published on LinkedIn on 20th May, 2015.

"Hi, I'm Chucky. Wanna play?"[1]  Fans of the horror film genre will surely recall these lines - innocent-sounding on their own, yet bone-chilling in the context of the scene in the movie - that Chucky, the possessed demonic doll, utters in the cult classic, "Child's Play". Called a "cheerfully energetic horror film" by Roger Ebert [2], the movie was released to more than a thousand screens on its debut in November 1988 [3]. It went on to spawn at least five sequels and developed a cult following of sorts over the next two decades [4].

Chucky the doll
(image credit: "Child's Play", Chucky the killer doll stays quiet around the adults - at least initially - but carries on secret conversations with Andy, and is persuasive enough to convince him to skip school and travel to downtown Chicago. Chucky understands how children think, and can evidently manipulate - or convince, depending on how you frame it - Andy into doing little favours for him. A doll that could speak, hear, see, understand, and have a conversation with a human in the eighties was the stuff out of science fiction, or in the case of "Child's Play" - out of a horror movie.

Edison Talking Doll.
Image credit: www.davescooltoys.comA realistic doll that could talk and converse was for long the "holy grail" of dollmakers [5]. It will come as a huge surprise to many - at least it did to me - that within a few years of the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison in 1877, a doll with a pre-recorded voice had been developed and marketed in 1890! It didn't have a very happy debut however. After "several years of experimentation and development", the Edison Talking Doll, when it launched in 1890, "was a dismal failure that was only marketed for a few short weeks."[6] Talking dolls seem to have made their entry into mainstream retail only with the advent of "Chatty Cathy" - released by Mattel in the 1960s - and which worked on a simple pull-string mechanism. The quest to make these dolls more interactive and more "intelligent" continued; "Amazing Amanda" was another milestone in this development; it incorporated "voice-recognition and memory chips, sensory technology and facial animatronics" [7]. It was touted as an "an evolutionary leap from earlier talking dolls like Chatty Cathy of the 1960's" by some analysts [8]. In some ways that assessment was not off-the-mark. After all, "Amazing Amanda" utilized RFID technology - among the hottest technology buzzwords a decade back. "Radio-frequency tags in Amanda's accessories - including toy food, potty and clothing - wirelessly inform the doll of what it is interacting with." This is what enabled "Amazing Amanda" to differentiate between "food" (pizza, or "cookies, pancakes and spaghetti") and "juice"[9]. "However, even with all these developments and capabilities, the universe of what these toys could was severely limited. At most they could recognize the voice of the child as its "mommy".
Amazing Amanda doll.
Image credit:amazing-amanda.fuzzup.netThey were constrained by both the high price of storage (Flash storage is much sturdier than spinning hard drives, but an order of magnitude costlier; this limits the amount of storage possible) and limited computational capability (putting in a high-end microprocessor inside every doll would make them prohibitively expensive). The flip side was that what the toys spoke in home to the children stayed at home. These toys had a limited set of pre-programmed sentences and emotions they could convey, and if you wanted something different, you went out and bought a new toy, or in some cases, a different cartridge.

That's where things stood. Till now.

Screenshot of ToyFair websiteBetween February 14-17, 2015, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York saw "the Western Hemisphere’s largest and most important toy show"[10] - the 2015 Toy Fair. This was a trade-show, which meant that "Toy Fair is not open to the public. NO ONE under the age of 18, including infants, will be admitted."[11] It featured a "record-breaking 422,000+ net square feet of exhibit space"[12] and hundreds of thousands of toys. Yet no children were allowed. Be that as it may, there was no dearth of, let's say, "innovative" toys. Apart from an "ultra creepy mechanical doll, complete with dead eyes", a fake fish pet that taken to a "whole new level of weird", or a "Doo Doo Head" doll that had the shape of you-guessed-it [13], of particular interest was a "Hello Barbie" doll, launched by the Fortune 500 behemoth, Mattel. This doll had several USPs to its credit. It featured voice-recognition software, voice recording capabilities, the ability to upload recorded conversations to a server (presumably Mattel's or ToyTalk's) in the cloud, over "Wi-Fi" - as a representative at the exhibition took pains to emphasize, repeatedly - and give "chatty responses."[14] This voice data would be processed and analyzed by the company's servers. The doll would learn the child's interests, and be able to carry on a conversation on those topics - made possible by the fact that the entire computational and learning capabilities of a server farm in the cloud could be accessed by every such toy. That the Barbie franchise is a vital one to Mattel could not be understated. The Barbie brand netted Mattel $1.2 billion in FY 2013 [15], but this represented a six per cent year-on-year decline. Mattel attributed that this decline in Barbie sales in part to "product innovation not being strong enough to drive growth." The message was clear. Something very "innovative" was needed to jump-start sales. To make that technological leap forward, Mattel decided to team up with ToyTalk.

ToyTalk is a San Francisco-based start-up, and its platform powered the voice-recognition software used by "Hello Barbie". ToyTalk is headed by "CEO Oren Jacob, Pixar's former CTO, who worked at the groundbreaking animation company for 20 years" [16], and which claimed "$31M in funding from Greylock Partners, Charles River Ventures, Khosla Ventures, True Ventures and First Round Capital as well as a number of angel investors." [17]

Cover of Misery, by Stephen King.
Published by Viking Press.The voice recognition software would allow Mattel and ToyTalk to learn the preferences of the child, and over time refine the responses that Barbie would communicate back. As the Mattel representative put it, "She's going to get to know all my likes and all my dislikes..."[18] - a statement that at one level reminds one of Annie Wilkes when she says, "I'm your number one fan."[19] We certainly don't want to be in Paul Sheldon shoes.

Hello Barbie's learning would start happening from the time the doll was switched on and connected to a Wi-Fi network. ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob said, "we'll see week one what kids want to talk about or not" [20]. These recordings, once uploaded to the company's servers, would be used by "ToyTalk's speech recognition platform, currently powering the company's own interactive iPad apps including The Winston Show, SpeakaLegend, and SpeakaZoo" and which then "allows writers to create branching dialogue based on what children will potentially actually say, and collects kids' replies in the cloud for the writers to study and use in an evolving environment of topics and responses."[20]. Some unknown set of people. sitting in some unknown location, would potentially get to hear and listen to entire conversations of a child before his parents would.

If Mattel or ToyTalk did not anticipate the reaction this doll would generate, one can only put it down to the blissful disconnect from the real-world that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs often develop, surrounded as they are by similar-thinking digerati. In any case, the responses were swift, and in most cases brutal. The German magazine "Stern" headlined an article on the doll - "Mattel entwickelt die Stasi-Barbie" [21] Even without the benefit of translation, the word "Stasi" stood out like a red flag. In any case, if you wondered, the headline translated to "Mattel developed the Stasi Barbie" [22]. Stern "curtly re-baptised" it "Barbie IM". "The initials stand for “Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter”, informants who worked for East Germany’s infamous secret police, the Stasi, during the Cold War." [23] [24]. A Newsweek article carried a story, "Privacy Advocates Call Talking Barbie 'Surveillance Barbie'"[25]. France 24 wrote - "Germans balk at new ‘Soviet snitch’ Barbie" [26]. The ever-acerbic The Register digged into ToyTalk's privacy policy on the company's web site, and found these gems out [27]:
Screenshot of ToyTalk's Privacy page- "When users interact with ToyTalk, we may capture photographs or audio or video recordings (the "Recordings") of such interactions, depending upon the particular application being used.
- We may use, transcribe and store such Recordings to provide and maintain the Service, to develop, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms, and for other research and development or internal purposes."

Further reading revealed that what your child spoke to the doll in the confines of his home in, say, suburban Troy Michigan, could end up travelling half the way across the world, to be stored on a server in a foreign country - "We may store and process personal information in the United States and other countries." [28]

What information would ToyTalk share with "Third Parties" was equally disturbing, both for the amount of information that could potentially be shared as well as for the vagueness in defining who these third-parties could possibly be - "Personal information"; "in an aggregated or anonymized form that does not directly identify you or others;"; "in connection with, or during negotiations of, any merger, sale of company assets, financing or acquisition, or in any other situation where personal information may be disclosed or transferred as one of the business assets of ToyTalk"; "We may also share feature extracted data and transcripts that are created from such Recordings, but from which any personal information has been removed, with Service Providers or other third parties for their use in developing, testing and improving speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms and for research and development or other purposes."[28] A child's speech, words, conversation, voice - as recorded by the doll - was the "business asset" of the company.

And lest the reader have any concerns about safety and security of the data on the company's servers, the following disclaimer put paid to any reassurances on that front also: "no security measures are perfect or impenetrable and no method of data transmission that can be guaranteed against any interception or other type of misuse."[28] If the sound of hands being washed-off could be put down on paper, that sentence above is what it could conceivably look like.

Apart from the firestorm of criticism described above, the advocacy group "Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood" started a campaign to petition Mattel "CEO Christopher Sinclair to stop "Hello Barbie" immediately." [29]

The brouhaha over "Hello Barbie" is however only symptomatic of several larger issues that have emerged and intersect each other in varying degrees, raising important questions about technology, including the cloud, big data, the Internet of Things, data mining, analytics; privacy in an increasingly digital world; advertising and the ethics of marketing to children; law and how it is able to or unable to cope with an increasingly digitized society; and the impact on children and teens - sociological as well as psychological. Technology and Moore's Law [30] have combined with the convenience of broadband to make possible what would have been in the realm of science fiction even two decades ago.

The Internet, while opening up untold avenues of betterment for society at large, has however also revealed itself as not without a dark side - a dilemma universally common to almost every transformative change in society. From the possibly alienating effects of excessive addiction to the Internet to physiological changes that the very nature of the hyperlinked web engenders in humans - these are issues that are only recently beginning to attract the attention of academics and researchers. The basic and most fundamental notions of what people commonly understood as "privacy" are not only being challenged in today's digital world, but in most cases without even a modicum of understanding on the part of the affected party - you. In the nebulous space that hopefully still exists between those who believe in technology as the only solution capable of delivering a digital nirvana to all and every imaginable problem in society on the one hand and the Luddites who see every bit of technology as a rabid byte (that's a bad pun) against humanity lies a saner middle ground that seeks to understand and adapt technology for the betterment of humanity, society, and the world at large.

So what happened to Chucky? Well, as we know, it spawned a successful and profitable franchise of sequels and other assorted franchise. Which direction "Hello Barbie" takes is of less interest to me as the broader questions I raised in the previous paragraph.

[2] "Child's Play" review,
[5] "A Brief History of Talking Dolls--From Bebe Phonographe to Amazing Amanda",
[6] "Edison Talking Doll",

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.

© 2015, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Flipkart, ecommerce, machine learning, and free advice

Sat, 2015-07-04 12:08
I wrote about the obsession of Flipkart (and Myntra) with "mobile-only" without even having an iPad-optimized app! I also talked about the stunning advances being made in voice-search by using machine learning, cognitive learning, natural language processing, even as voice-based search capabilities of e-commerce companies - including Amazon - remain abysmal. Finally, I also included several use-cases that these companies need to work on incorporating into their capabilities.

That piece, Flipkart, Focus and Free Advice, appeared in DNA on June 27th, 2015.

My earlier pieces on the same topic:
  1. Flipkart vs Amazon: Beware the Whispering Death - 20th April '15 (blog, dna)
  2. Mobile Apps: There’s Something (Profitable) About Your Privacy - 18th April '15  (blog, dna)
  3. Mobile advertising and how the numbers game can be misleading - 14th April '15  (blog, dna)
  4. Is Flipkart losing focus - 12th April '15  (blog, dna)
Flipkart, Focus, and Free Advice – Shipping Charges Also Waived!What is one to make of a statement like this - “India is not mobile-first, but mobile-only country[1]”? Especially so if it is from the co-founder of the largest ecommerce company in India, and it turns out the company does not even have an app for the Apple iPad?

I have written at length on the distractions that seem to have been plaguing Flipkart and why it cannot afford to drop its guard in this fiercely contested space[2] - especially in light of all the noise surrounding its mobile ambitions. Somewhat paradoxically, this post is about offering advice to Flipkart that calls for some diversification!

As a logical next step, I wanted to take a look at Flipkart’s mobile apps – both on the iOS and Android platforms – to see how well they were executing on their very bold ambitions. As an aside, I also wanted to see if these (and competitive) mobile apps were leveraging all the computing power now available on tap inside these tiny devices. After all, apart from the recent – and amazing – advances Google has made in its voice-based search capabilities[3], there was this stunning demo from Hound[4] that gave a glimpse into the huge advances that voice-recognition, search, and machine-learning technologies have made in the last decade.
#MustRead - what next, e-tailing ? @flipkart Flipkart, Focus and Free Advice via @dna @AbhinavAgarwal— Harini Calamur (@calamur) June 28, 2015
Flipkart, Focus and Free Advice by @AbhinavAgarwal— dna (@dna) June 27, 2015The results were, to put it mildly, massively disappointing – which I will describe in some detail.
It should be clear that Amazon and Flipkart and SnapDeal are going to be at each other’s throats in the Indian online retail market. This is one battle from which neither player can walk away. Amazon has lost the China market to Alibaba (“In the first quarter of 2014, Alibaba's e-tailing site had a 48.4 per cent market share against Amazon China's less than 3 per cent.”[5] If that was not enough, Alibaba and Foxconn are in talks with SnapDeal for a rumoured $500 million investment![6]).

Amazon cannot afford to now lose the India market to a local upstart. Flipkart, on the other hand, has even less choice. It plays only in the Indian market. It cannot walk away either; there is no other market for it to walk towards. Its valuations – expected to rise to $15 billion after its next round of funding[7] make it way too costly for it to be acquired – at least profitably so for those funders who have put in hundreds of millions of dollars at these later and higher valuations. Amazon and Flipkart have deep pockets; Flipkart can afford to bleed hundreds of millions of dollars a year even as it grows, while Amazon has conditioned Wall Street to grant it the currency of ultra-high valuations even as it operates on razor-thin margins. It is unlikely that either will be able to deliver a knockout punch to the other anytime soon. This is a fifteen-round slugfest that will be decided by who can keep soaking in the blows and keep standing at the end of the fifteenth round; while they fight, the customer continues to win. Amazon has more diversity in its portfolio of business divisions than does Flipkart – ecommerce, cloud computing services, streaming audio and video, MRO and industrial supplies, smartphones, tablets, and more. While these divisions may at times face off against each other in expectedly healthy and sometimes unhealthy rivalry, they still form a formidable front against the competition. To quote these immortal lines from the Mahabharata, “we may be five against a hundred, but against a common enemy we are a hundred and five.”

So what does Flipkart do? Three things, to begin with.

First, it needs to get serious about software.
When you have a web site that offers millions of products from tens of thousands of resellers to millions of customers that reside in tens of thousands of cities and towns and villages, you need to make sure that your customers are seeing the products that are of most relevance to them, and which they are most likely to buy. If that problems looks like a nail to you, specifically a large-scale optimization problem with a huge number of decision variables, then large-scale computing and regression modelling are the hammer. You need to be applying this hammer to the almost infinite number of nails in front of you, all day and all night long. This is what enables you to present an ever-relevant basket of products to your customers, which keeps them engaged when on your site, and which hopefully makes them buy more often than not. Flipkart needs to take a close, long, hard look at its search capabilities – about which I will talk later in this post – and its suggestions engine, because both are very subpar at this point. If it’s any consolation, while Amazon is certainly better in the search department, its capabilities in this area are nothing great either, yet. Where Amazon scores over its competitors – every single one of them - is its huge and ever-growing corpus of customer reviews. Flipkart probably recognizes the important of this corpus of customer reviews, but has run into rough weather over the expected problem of fake reviews[8].

For inspiration on where the trifecta of search, machine learning, and e-commerce could venture – with Big Data in tow - one can turn to the story of how the popular American TV game show “Jeopardy” became the battleground for IBM researchers to build upon their experience with Deep Blue (the computer that had beaten world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997[9]) and to build a computer that would defeat the reigning champion of Jeopardy. That happened in February 2011, after four years of work led by IBM researcher David Ferucci and “about twenty researchers”[10].
This required advances in machine learning and other esoteric concepts like LAT (Lexical Answer Type), IDF (Inverse Document Frequency), temporal and even geospatial reasoning.[11] A new suite of software and platforms, built on a concept called genetic programming (“a technique inspired by biological evolution”) has started to make its way into mainstream commercial applications.  The algorithm here “begins by randomly combining various mathematical building blocks into equations and then testing to see how well the equations fit the data. Equations that fail the test are discarded, while those that show promise are retained and recombined in new ways so that the system ultimately converges on an accurate mathematical model.”[12] What this essentially means is going beyond keyword search-based correlations and moving to more semantic-oriented searches that combine machine learning with natural language processing. This in turn requires serious software brains (smart programmers using and refining the right algorithms and models) and muscle (massive learning and training sets in the hundreds of gigabytes running on clusters of tens of thousands of nodes).
If Flipkart is serious about the mobile ad business (about which I have expressed my reservations), even then it needs to get to the holy grail of deep-learning in ad-tech – “Inferring Without Interfering” the customer’s intent.”[13] In any event, this policy will only stand Flipkart in good stead. If they are already doing so, then good, but the proof is not in the pudding as much as in the eating of the pudding.

A critical differentiator in the coming times is not, I repeat, not, going to be driven by slick UIs or gimmicks on mobile apps like “shake to see offers”, but by offering truly intelligent and immersive experience that are feasible even today. Advances in machine learning, and capabilities such as voice, video, location, and more, when used in tandem will power the next set of innovations. Rather than stick to the tried and tested and old way of making users search using simple keywords and correlations and prior history, e-tailers need to make the shopping experience more intelligent.

Appendix 2 and 3 outline possible use-cases. It should be clear that both Flipkart and Amazon have a long, long way to go before realizing anything close to the vision outlined, but without such advances, competitors like Google will find the wedge they need to prise open this market for themselves.

Second, Flipkart (or even Amazon for that matter, or SnapDeal, or whichever competitor you happen to care about, though in this case the admonition is more targeted at Flipkart in light of its mobile-only pronouncements) needs to get serious about the mobile platform.

Browse to either Flipkart or Myntra’s websites from a browser on an iPad and you are asked to use their app instead. Would you believe if I told you Flipkart does not have an iPad app (as of 15th June 2015)? No? Go check for yourself – I did! Ditto for Myntra (the online fashion retailer Flipkart acquired in 2014)! See Appendix 1 for what I found when I downloaded their apps on my iPad tablet. This would be comedically farcical if serious money weren’t riding on such decisions.

Third, Flipkart needs to get into the cloud business.

Yes, I am serious.

Let’s look at the competition – Amazon. It is the 800 pound gorilla in the cloud computing industry, where its offering goes by the umbrella of AWS (Amazon Web Services) and offers almost everything you could think of under the cloud – platform, infrastructure, software, database, email, storage, even machine learning, and much more. How gorilla-ish? “AWS offers five times the utilized compute capacity of the other 14 cloud providers in the Gartner Magic Quadrant. Combined.[14]” Since 2005, Amazon has spent “roughly $12 billion” on its infrastructure[15]. It competes with the likes of Microsoft and Google in this space. Yet, Amazon’s cloud revenues are estimated to be “30 times bigger than Microsoft’s.[16]

And yet I argue that Flipkart should get into the cloud business. As I wrote last year[17], Flipkart had to invest substantially (per my estimates, more than one hundred crore rupees, or somewhere in the vicinity of $15-$20 million dollars – which is not chump change) to build its capacity to stand up to the traffic it expected for its “Big Billion Day”. This is in addition to the regular additions it must be making to its computing infrastructure. All this is not surprising, given that the retail business is prone to lumpiness in traffic – a disproportionate amount of traffic is concentrated around sale events, or holidays.

For example, while Amazon reportedly had ten million Prime subscribers in March 2013, it reported that over 10 million “tried Prime for the first time” over the holidays in 2014 (traditionally the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas).[18] To prevent web sites from keeling over under the crush of holiday traffic, companies invest substantially, in advance, to make sure the web site keeps chugging along. The flip side is that for those periods when traffic is more average and a fraction of peak traffic, all those thousands of computers, the hundreds of gigabytes of memory, terabytes of disk space, and gobs of network bandwidth capacity are lying idle – depreciating away, obsolescing away.

Amazon realized this a decade ago and started building a rental model around its excess capacity – this was the genesis behind Amazon Web Services. There is no reason for Flipkart to not do the same. What works for Amazon has worked quite well for Flipkart[19]. If it spins off its entire e-commerce infrastructure into a separate entity, it can palm much off the capital costs of its computing infrastructure to the cloud computing subsidiary, substantially improving its balance sheet in the process. You could argue this is nothing but an accounting gimmick, and I am not going to argue with that aspect of the decision - there would be undeniable and real benefits to this decision, and it’s childish to expect a business to be run on utopian principles. As things stand, the state government of Telangana is already assiduously wooing Amazon to invest in an AWS centre in the state[20]. Once operating on Indian soil, Amazon will be able to meet legal requirements that require certain categories of data to remain with the national borders.

Any industry so heavily influenced and shaped by technology as the e-commerce industry would do well to listen to the winds of change. If unheard and unheeded, these winds of change turn into gale storms of disruption that blow away incumbents faster than you can imagine. “Mobile-only” is a useful-enough mantra, but translating that into an “app-only” sermon hints at myopic thinking – a troubling sign for sure. It turns out that Google “secretly” acquired a company that specializes in “streaming native mobile apps”. Is this a shape of the things to come? How will this transform the world of mobile apps, or even the mobile landscape in general? Time will tell, but “lock-in” may well be a wise strategy for your customers, but a terrible one to apply to yourself.[21].

Appendix 1 - App-solutely Serious about Apps?Fire up your favourite mobile browser on an Apple iPad and browse to Myntra’s website (that would be You are greeted with a message to vamoose to their mobile app, because after all, Myntra is all about mobility – social mobility in fashion, and mobile devices when speaking more literally.
Figure 1 - Myntra web site on tablet browser
Incredulity hits you in the face when you realize that (on the Apple App Store) the Myntra app is “optimized for iPhone 5, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus”, but not the iPad. Yes, you read that right – the web site that tells you have to use its mobile app and mobile app only on an iPad does not have an app optimized for the iPad.
Figure 2 - Myntra app details on the Apple App Store
I am, however, somewhat of a cynical person. I tried searching for the keyword “myntra” on the Apple App Store. The only filter applied was to look for “iPad Only” apps. Here are the beatific search results. Indian gave the world the concept of zero, and the search results page gave one practical application of that elegant mathematical concept.
Figure 3 - Search results for "iPad Only" apps on the Apple AppStore for "myntra"
So where was that Myntra app hiding? I changed the filter to “iPhone Only”, and true-enough, there was that Myntra app.
Figure 4 - Myntra app on the Apple App Store
In case you are wondering how that was even possible, know that most apps created for the iPhone (or iPod Touch) can run on an iPad without any modifications – all that is required for you to keep this in mind when compiling the app. Apple calls this a “Universal app”[22].

Now that can’t be so bad, right? After all, the app is available on the iPhone and the iPad, so where and what is the grouse? I will come to that in just a bit, but take a look at what the Myntra app looks like when run on the iPad.
Figure 5 - Myntra app running on an iPadThis is how the app runs inside an iPad. You have the option of tapping the “2x” button, after which the app uses the full screen, but by scaling everything to twice its size. There is no other intelligence here being applied – like changing the icons, or the text, or adding more features. This is iOS doing what little work you see.
Why this arouses incredulity is due to the stunning dissonance one experiences – between the statements of the Myntra (and Flipkart) executives going to town about a “mobile-only” world[23] on the one hand and the reality of a missing-in-action iPad-optimized app on the other. Yes, one could make the argument that Apple commanded a stunningly low single-digit share of 7% of the tablet market in India[24], but to make this argument is to negate your very philosophy of a “mobile-only” world. Mobile includes smartphones, tablets, phablets, wearables (for which Flipkart does have an app![25]), smart-TVs, and even embedded devices.
Flipkart’s mobile web site works - at least for now - on the iPad (though it does not on a smartphone – you have no option but to use their app), but the story is not much different there. No iPad-optimized app, but a smartphone app that does duty on the iPad by virtue of it being a “Universal” app.
Figure 6 - Flipkart shopping app in the Apple App Store
 Figure 7 - Flipkart shopping app on the Apple iPad It’s not as if Amazon’s iPad app is much better. Yes, they do have an iPad app, but it looks more like a hybrid app – a native shell with an embedded browser snuck in, and very little by way of any tablet optimizations.
Figure 8 - Amazon app for the iPad
Appendix 2 – Natural Speech SearchesMobile shopping apps like Flipkart and Amazon provide you the option of inputting your search query via voice (more because of the support the underlying mobile OS provides), but that forces you say out aloud what you have typed – keywords, and nothing more.
Unlike the stunning Hound demo or the capabilities of Google Now[26], e-tailers have yet to leave the stone age in search capabilities. While Hound can understand and answer (correctly) queries like “Show me hotels in Seattle for Friday, staying one night” and then support refinements to the query like “Show only the ones costing less than $300” or “Show only the ones that have three or four or five stars that are pet friendly, that have a gym and a pool, within 4.5 miles of the Space Needle”[27], and Google Now can understand foreign accents (like my Indian English accent) and parse phrases like “ghat”, “jyotirling” and more, a relatively simple phrase like - “What are the best sellers in fiction” – leads to disappointment on both Amazon and Flipkart’s mobile apps.
Figure 9 - Search results in the Amazon appAnd to be clear, what was presented was not the bestsellers list, because the bestseller list looked like this:
Figure 10 - Non-fiction bestsellers in books as shown on the Amazon app
I tried another search – “Suggest books for children”. I don’t know what to call the search results, but one with “*divorce* your Child” as the first result is surreal.
Figure 11 - Search results on Amazon app
To complete my brief experiment on Amazon, I tried “Show me best sellers in electronics”. That also did not yield any relevant results.
Figure 12 - Search results in the Amazon appFlipkart is not much better, and at this point we are really looking at rock-bottom as the baseline. Even a marginal improvement would be welcome here. Sadly, not the case. Though, Flipkart does separate each word out and allow you to delete any one word to refine your search. Given the abysmal quality of search results, it is somewhat of a zero-divide-by-zero case, resulting in only infinite misery trying to find the right combination of keywords that will yield the desired results.
Figure 13 - Search results on the Flipkart app
Does the Myntra app fare any better? Predictably, it doesn’t. If semantic search in the e-commerce space was a problem that had been cracked by either Flipkart or Myntra, it would have been shared across both platforms by now.
Figure 14 - Search results in the Myntra app
Even Google, with its oft-stated e-commerce ambitions[28],[29] , and the eye-popping advances that it has made with its voice-based search (Siri from Apple and lately Cortana from Microsoft also deserve to be included, but neither company seems to be quite interested in e-commerce at the scale of Amazon, yet) left me disappointed with a simple search like – “what are the fiction best sellers in India”.
Figure 15 - Search results in the Google app
Appendix 3What do I have in mind with respect to the kinds of queries that Flipkart (or Amazon) should be trying to enable? Without any further context, I present the following examples:
(this is a comparatively simpler form of the semantic search capabilities I propose)
Me: show me the best sellers in non-fiction
App: [displays a list of book best sellers in non-fiction] [Optionally, excludes or places the ones I have bought at the bottom of the list; or marks them differently and provides me with an option of reading them online – assuming I had purchased an e-book version]
Me: show me only those books that have been published in the last three months;
App: [filters the previous set of search results to show only those non-fiction best sellers that have been published in the last three months]
Me: also include books that were on the bestseller list this year
App: [adds books that were in the top 10/20 bestsellers list in 2015 but have now dropped out of the rankings]
Me: cancel the last search, and show me those books that are also available as e-books, and then sort them by price
App: [displays a list of book best sellers in non-fiction, filtered by those available on the Kindle, and sorts by price, ascending]
Me: send me free e-book samples of the first five books from this list and remind me in one week whether I want to purchase them.
App: [downloads free samples of the first three books to my e-book app] [creates a reminder to remind me in one week]

(this is a more social and more nuanced form of the semantic search outlined above)
Me: show me a list of LED TVs
App: [displays a list of the bestselling LED TVs]
Me: show me LED TVs that are HD, 40 inches or larger, cost no more than Rs 60,000, and can be delivered in the next three days.
App: [displays a list of TVs matching the criteria, and adds – “there are only three TVs that match your search criteria, so I have changed the price to Rs 70,000, which has resulted in five more search results. Say “cancel” to undo.”]
Me: Which among these would be most relevant to me?
App: [displays the list sorted based on popularity in my postal code] [offers to show the list sorted on TVs sold in the last three months to the housing community I live in – or the company I work at – or based on people with my profile of educational qualifications or marital/family status – based on privacy settings of course]
Me: summarize the most useful reviews for the first TVs, and keep each under two minutes.
App: [summarizes the most useful reviews and then reads out a software-generated summary, in less than two minutes. Also sends a text summary to my WhatsApp or email]
Far-distant utopia? Naah, I don’t think so. This is within the realm of the possible, and I expect to see this become reality in the next two years. Today, however, we are some ways off from the innovations where online shopping will become a truly immersive, interactive experience akin to having a natural conversation with an incredibly knowledgeable yet infinitely patient salesperson.

(ratcheting things up one more notch)
Me: (standing amidst the ruins of Hampi) Suggest some good books about this place.
App: [suggests bestsellers or highest-rated books on three categories: coffee-table books on Hampi; history of Hampi and the Vijayanagar Empire; historical fiction books set in the fifteenth/sixteenth century Vijaynagara Empire]
Me: Also suggest something on the significance of this chariot temple
App: …

App: [reminds me that I have a party at my house this weekend where four families are coming over]
Me: I need some snacks and also suggest some recent action movies to rent
App: [suggests food-items to order and shows a list of the five top grossing movies of the year in the “Action” genre and shows options: buy, rent (really?), stream]
Me: place the first, third, and fifth items in the shopping cart, record this and deliver to my wife. Then rent to stream the third movie in HD format on Saturday evening.
App: [places these items in the shopping cart, records a 15 second video and pings the spouse via a notification/alert to view the video. It also places an order for the selected movie]

Disclaimer: views expressed are personal.

[1] "India is not mobile-first, but mobile-only country: Sachin Bansal, Flipkart's founder and Mukesh Bansal, Myntra's CEO - timesofindia-economictimes",
[2] See and
[3] "Google Launches Custom Voice Actions For Third Party Apps",
[4] "After Nine Years of Secret Development, Hound Voice Search App Has a Dazzling Demo | Re/code",
[5] "A missed opportunity in China has Amazon founder Jeff Bezos backing his India venture",
[6] "Alibaba, Foxconn in Talks to Invest $500 Million in India’s Snapdeal - India Real Time - WSJ",
[7] "Flipkart set to raise up to $800 million - Livemint",
[8] See "How e-retailers such as Flipkart, Amazon are keeping fake products at bay - timesofindia-economictimes",, "Who Reviews the Reviewers? How India's Online Businesses Are Fighting Fake Reviews | NDTV Gadgets",, and "How genuine are product reviews on FlipKart? - Quora",
[9] "Deep Blue (chess computer) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia",
[10] "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”, by Martin Ford, Jeff Cummings, ISBN 9781480574779,
[11] Ibid and "The AI Behind Watson — The Technical Article",
[12] "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”
[13] Gregory Piatetsky on Twitter: "The #DeepLearning future of ads: "Inferring Without Interfering with what moves the Customer most" - J. Kobelius"
[14] "Gartner: AWS Now Five Times The Size Of Other Cloud Vendors Combined - ReadWrite",
[15] Ibid.
[16] "How much bigger is Amazon’s cloud vs. Microsoft and Google?",
[17] "A Billion Dollar Sale, And A Few Questions",
[18] "Amazon added 10M new Prime subscribers over the holidays, could make up to $1B in annual revenue | VentureBeat | Business | by Harrison Weber",
[19] See
[20] "Amazon likely to bring Web Services to Telangana | Business Standard News",
[21] "Report: Last Year Google Secretly Acquired Agawi, A Specialist In Streaming Native Mobile Apps | TechCrunch",
[22] "Start Developing iOS Apps Today: Tutorial: Basics",
[24] "Samsung Tops Indian Tablet Market Share, Followed By Micromax, iBall",
[25] "Flipkart launches an app for Android Wear sporting wearables - Tech2",
[26] See this for a comparison between Hound and Google Now - "Here’s how Hound beta compares to Google Now (Video) | 9to5Google",
[27] "After Nine Years of Secret Development, Hound Voice Search App Has a Dazzling Demo | Re/code",
[28] "Google Preps Shopping Site to Challenge Amazon - WSJ",
[29] "Google Finds Partners To Help It Compete With Amazon - Forbes",

© 2015, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.