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Get Smart.

If you are of a certain generation (or have at least seen the 2008 movie version), my column title no doubt conjures up the image of a bumbling man in a dark suit talking into his shoe and saying, "Sorry about that, Chief." While Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 were laughter-inducing fictional TV characters from the 1960s, more than 50 years later, there is a lot of technology out there that lets users "get smart." One column from the November/December 2019 issue of Online Searcher looks at some of the trendiest of these smart options, while another looks at how we still need smart people to retrieve information.


Carly Lamphere's Internet Express column, "Get Hip With Home Automation: The Appeal and Cautions of Smart Home Living," covers all sorts of household smart gadgets, some of which I did not even know existed. While many regular In Other Words readers may be rolling their eyes and thinking, "Well, duh, Lauree still uses a flip phone," let's take a look at a few of the products Lamphere highlights. Perhaps one or two will turn out to be new to them too.

A common, convenience-oriented option is the smart hub, which provides a central control panel, often voice-activated, for managing electronic devices as well as household appliances, including those for heating and lighting. As Lamphere notes, smart hubs can come in the form of Amazon's Alexa (and its If This, Then That platform) or the Google Nest system. While smart home products do not need smart hubs to function, the hubs do streamline control, making these products as easy to use as possible.

One smart home feature I can appreciate is a security system. Lamphere writes, "The basic [DIY] systems include a combination of motion sensors and cameras and a hub that relays the information via a Wi-Fi connection." Some systems offer video doorbells, glass-break sensors, and smoke detectors. Professional systems, which can work in tandem with hubs such as Alexa, provide the added protection of notifying the homeowner and dispatching security to the residence after a breach. If you are someone who is always misplacing your keys, you might want to check out the smart lock, which lets users lock and unlock doors using an app, even when they're not home.

I also like the idea of a smart thermostat to keep control of your house's temperature. The ecobee, a smart cooling and heating system, "helps reduce hot or cold spots throughout the house." How "cool" is that? Speaking of "cool," smart refrigerators can let users know, via their smartphone, what needs to be picked up while they are at the grocery store. The Egg Minder Wink App, however, cracks me up: Is there really a huge need for a device to tell us via a smartphone how many eggs are left in the fridge?

Lamphere is always good about pointing out the downsides to technology, and even smart technology has its issues. Did you know that voice-recognition systems don't work the same way across the board? As Lamphere explains, "Human voices have such a wide range of combinations and registers, it is quite a feat to create enough algorithms to match user demographics. ..." She cites a book that claims an extreme bias in voice recognition for users, usually women, who have higher-register, or pitch, voices. Men often have an easier time with voice-controlled technology because it is frequently designed for lower-register voices. This means that women who invest in costly smart home technology may not get their money's worth. Imagine not being able to lock and unlock your door because the system doesn't recognize your voice command.

Beyond issues that can hinder the functionality of smart home devices, recent studies have shed light on hacker vulnerability in lights, cameras, and baby monitors that are linked through a central hub. Once hackers have access to a lightbulb system through the hub, they may be able to further breach the home's security system.

The good news is that by the time the average person with an average income can afford all of these smart home devices--the predicted time frame is another 10 years--these kinds of issues will probably have been successfully addressed.


Mary Ellen Bates' Online Spotlight column, "Able to Leap Info Silos in a Single Bound," is an alarming call to arms to fight against the new normal: that when seeking information, "good enough" answers are sufficient. And who is she calling on to disprove this claim? Why, superpower-wielding information professionals, of course.

Bates asserts that info pros "have to find the most strategic role we can play within our organizations, where we can best deploy our librarian superpower--the ability to see the enterprise-wide info ecosystem and recognize what is needed, where, and by whom." She further contends that this special superpower is most important to evaluate, acquire, and manage content portfolios in and out of the library. Info pros know why full-text content won't always suffice and understand the need to semantically enrich digital resources that are being acquired.

Another way info pros can illustrate their librarian superpower is by creating "central connecting points for groups and knowledge that otherwise get siloed." Most importantly, Bates contends, is that as AI becomes so embedded in every aspect of our lives that we don't even think about it, info pros will need to become much more proactive in teaching everyone--co-workers, family members, and friends and neighbors--to know the difference between machine intelligence and human intelligence. This is because, as she puts it, "there will always be a need for info pros to bring to the project what algorithms cannot ... to see questions like these: 'Why?' 'Why not?' "What's missing?' and 'Where's the hidden bias?'" Info pros will ensure that the value of human intelligence will always be recognized in all information-seeking activities.


Maybe I'm just not up on this because I'm not a new parent, nor am I hanging out with any. Or maybe I've just figured out a way to make a bundle. With all this smart home technology, why isn't there anything on the market that will alert moms and dads when their sweet baby needs changing before the wee one starts wailing? I'm guessing it would add too much to the cost of a diaper (disposable or washable) to have a device embedded into it, but why not have a monitor with a "smell" ability to immediately sense (scents?) the odor of diaper contents? A few "beep, beeps" could send mom or dad swooping in to make that change before the wearer even knows something is afoul and alerts everyone within a 1-mile radius to the fact. Just a thought. Whoever creates this device, I expect a cut of the profits.

Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s editorial services manager. Her email address is Send your comments about this column to or tweet us (@ITINewsBreaks).
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Title Annotation:In Other Words
Author:Padgett, Laupee
Publication:Information Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2020
Previous Article:Future Literacy.
Next Article:In Memoriam.

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