CEO Mark Fields drives Ford into the ‘mobility’ business (post + podcast)

Larry Magid interviews Ford CEO Mark Fields

Larry Magid interviews Ford CEO Mark Fields

As you walk around the parking lot, garage and labs at Ford’s newly opened Silicon Valley Research Center, you see plenty of cars and trucks along with all sorts of electronic gear. But there are also bicycles which, said Ford CEO Mark Fields, are among the many “mobility” technologies the company is looking at. “We’re thinking of ourselves not only as just an auto company,” he said in an interview, “but we’re also thinking ourselves as a mobility company (scroll down to listen),” He said that Ford is “thinking broadly about a lot of these big societal issues such as congestion in large cities,” and added, “we want to help be part of the solution.” He said it’s all about experiments ranging from bicycles and  cars with sensors looking for open parking spaces

I didn’t see a Ford logo on any of the bicycles but the company is equipping them with sensors to collect data about how people are getting from place to place. “It is a bit of opening the lens on our business, he said. “We’re first and foremost a car and truck company,” but he added “it’s important for us to experiment and to think from a consumer standpoint,” including “making customer’s lives easier getting from point A to point B.” He also said that expanding to other modes of mobility is “a good business opportunity.”

The company is also experimenting with what Fields called a “car swapping” app. Ford employees, many of whom drive company cars, have access to an app that lets them swap cars with fellow employees. An example, said Fields might be “I’m looking for a Mustang for the weekend,” in the hopes that a Mustang driving colleague might want to switch cars for a couple of days. So far, the app is only for employees, not the general public.

Ford is also experimenting with ride sharing services. “in other parts of the world we’re testing small mini-buses. Folks are OK getting into a vehicle and sharing it but they want the appropriate amount of person space so we’re looking at seating configurations,” said Fields.

Broadening the business

Calling itself a mobility company is a lot like a newspaper or radio station calling itself a media company or a railroad saying that’s in in the transportation business, not the train business. Ford is known for making motorized vehicles that move people and things, but as the company looks forward, it’s starting to think about all the possible ways to move humans and objects from place to place.

Silicon Valley connection

Fields said that Ford wants to be part of the “Silicon Valley eco-system” and to that end, the new lab, which Ford says is “one of the largest automotive manufacturer research labs in Silicon Valley,” expects to employ 125 researchers, engineers and scientists by the end of the year. The lab is run by Dragos Maciuca, who came to Ford from Apple. Ford is also working with Google-owned Nest to deliver data from Nest home sensors (currently thermostats and smoke detectors) to the car. If smoke is detected at home, an alarm will go off in car with a notice on the car’s infotainment system.

Like Google, Ford is also experimenting with autonomous vehicles along with partners from University of Michigan, M.I.T. and Stanford. The company is providing a Fusion Hybrid autonomous research car to Stanford’s engineering program so that researchers can test planning and prediction algorithms.

Remote driving

In addition to bicycles, I also saw a golf cart at the facility. Actually what I saw was a Ford engineer sitting at what looked like an auto-simulator but he was remotely driving a golf cart located at Georgia Institute of Technology. This technology could come to market far sooner than autonomous cars, which are still years away, and could be used for specific applications such as off-road services or valet parking.

Ford is also working on improved voice recognition systems not only for infotainment and navigation but to assist in driving too.

No flying machines

I asked Fields whether I’ll ever achieve my boyhood dream of having my own personal flying machine and all he could say was that “we’re busy working on alternative fuels and autonomous vehicles but the Jetsons, I think, are still a cartoon.”

Click below to listen to Larry Magid’s entire 12 minute interview with Ford CEO Mark Fields.

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See Microsoft HoloLens in Action

Microsoft HoloLens could be described as a cross between Google Glass, Facebook’s Oculus VR virtual reality headset and the movie Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.

Like Google Glass and Oculus rift it’s a type of eye wear.  But instead of just superimposing web-like images like Google Glass or fully emerging you into a virtual world like Oculus VR, HoloLens is designed to augment the real world you live in by superimposing holographic images over real-world objects.

Click here to see a CNET video demonstration

PC World video

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Social media still growing, with Instagram leading the way

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

A lot of people scratched their heads when Facebook invested a billion dollars to buy Instagram in 2012. But, based on the results of a recent survey from Pew Research, it now looks like quite a bargain.

In retrospect, I wish I had bought it, though I’m afraid my check would have bounced.

The Pew survey of online adults found Instagram to be the fastest growing social media platform, now being accessed by 26 percent of U.S. adults, up from 17 percent a year ago.

Facebook is still by far the most popular platform, used by a whopping 71 percent of adult Internet users but, unlike Instagram, its growth is stalled. It’s overall user base is the same as it was the previous year, though it’s now reaching fewer African-American users (67 percent vs. 76 percent the previous year), but significantly more people older than 65 (56 percent vs. 46 percent).

Having more than 7 in 10 U.S. adults as members of Facebook is not too shabby, and when you reach that big an audience, it’s hard to keep growing because most of the people in the U.S. who might want to join Facebook probably already have. I think it’s quite interesting that they’re growing among senior citizens, with more than a majority of online seniors on Facebook for the first time.


Instagram is now the fastest growing social media platform


Seniors have traditionally been slow to adapt to new technologies, but it’s important to remember that people who are 65 today were 27 when the Apple II was introduced, 30 when IBM introduced its first PC and 34 when the Mac came out, so even though they’re not digital natives, most probably used computers for most of their adult lives at home and at work as well as smartphones. Also, Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with family members, including grown-up kids and grandchildren.

There are reports of Facebook slipping among teens, but most of the data I see suggests that teens are keeping their accounts, but just not logging on as often or staying on as long. In June of last year, Forrester Research surveyed 4,517 kids between 12 and 17 and concluded that “Facebook remains young users’ favorite social network,” with more than three quarters of online youth as members. That, according to Forrester, was “twice as many as use Pinterest or Tumblr or Snapchat, and more than use Instagram and WhatsApp combined.”

Among adults Internet users, Pew found that LinkedIn enjoyed a 6 percent increase between 2013 and 2014 and is now used by 28 percent of adults. There was a big increase in female users, from 19 percent to 27 percent. Young adult LinkedIn users (age 18-29) jumped from 15 percent to 22 percent and there was a huge increase in the number of seniors older than 65, from 13 percent to 22 percent. Pew didn’t speculate why so many seniors are on LinkedIn, but I think it might be because people are remaining in the workforce longer and using the professional-networking service to keep in touch with colleagues or look for new opportunities.

I have to admit that — like most men — I’m not much of a Pinterest user, but 28 percent of all adults and 42 percent of all adult women are using it. That represents a 5 percentage-point increase among men and a 9 percentage-point increase among women from 2013. Pinterest is a highly visual service, heavily used to promote crafts, artwork and pictures of delicious food.

Relatively few seniors (17 percent) use Pinterest, but that nearly doubled from 9 percent the year before.

Twitter also saw modest, but significant, year-over-year growth, from 18 percent to 23 percent. It does best with younger adults (37 percent of those younger than 30) and tapers off with age down to 10 percent of seniors, but that’s twice as many seniors as the previous year.

Usage also correlates with education and income. College graduates are nearly twice as likely to use Twitter than people who are high school grads or less (30 percent vs 16 percent). People who make more than $50,000 a year are more likely to use the service than those who earn less than $30,000 (27 percent vs. 20 percent).

Despite its growth, Twitter remains way behind Facebook and is simply not being used by most Americans. You hear about it a lot from politicians and the media, but politicians and journalists are among Twitter’s most active users. It’s a great way to get the latest news, see what’s trending and communicate with people who care about what you have to say but, unlike Facebook, it’s not the way most people stay in touch with friends and family.

The Pew report didn’t even mention Google+, which has a fraction of Facebook’s market share. Google may be great at searching, but it has yet to find a way to capitalize on social networking.

The survey, conducted in September 2014, consisted of a sample of 1,597 adults Internet users (18 and older) with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.

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Muslim groups use social media to recruit for peaceful change

CBS News technology analyst Larry Magid talks with Zahra Billoo from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) about how extremists are using social media to recruit and how her group and others in the Muslim community are using it to encourage positive actions.

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Facebook to issue Amber Alerts — exclusive interview with John Walsh

Facebook to include Amber alert details in News Feed

Amber Alert on Facebook mobile and on the web provides timely details on missing kids

Facebook and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) are teaming up to put Amber Alerts about missing children on Facebook News Feeds, but only for Facebook members in the targeted search area for an abducted child.

A game changer

John Walsh

John Walsh

John Walsh, the founder of NCMEC, former host of America’s Most Wanted and host of The Hunt on CNN called this partnership “a game changer” (scroll down to hear an exclusive podcast interview). He said the alerts will have pictures of the child, his or her height and weight, a description of the clothing he or she was last seen wearing, a description of any vehicle that may be involved and links to NCMEC missing child posters with more details. Users have the option to share the alert with friends.

Walsh said that the chance of finding a missing child are much higher if people are looking, and that the first 24 hours (really the first few hours, he said) are critical.

He also pointed out that people can see their Facebook News Feeds during times when they might not be watching TV,  listening to the radio or driving by a lighted freeway sign with an Amber Alert. Besides, the amount of detail available on Facebook will be much greater, further increasing the chance that someone might spot the child.

Reaching the right demographic

Another important aspect of this service is that it reaches younger audiences who might not even be tuned into traditional TV and radio. “This is a game changer for a younger generation,” he said. “I’m sure my 20-year-old son and every 14-, 15-, 13-year-old kid that’s on Facebook … When they get that regional Amber Alert, if they’ve seen that kid, I think they’re going to get online and do something about it.”

A personal tragedy led to Walsh’s life’s work

Walsh became involved in the search for missing children after his own child, Adam Walsh, was abducted and murdered in 1981. He helped found the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and has remained active with NCMEC ever since. His wife Reve is on the board of NCMEC (as am I) and his son Callahan works at NCMEC.

In the interview, Walsh said that “I can only fantasize what would have happened in Adam’s case back in 1981 if we had the tools we have now.” He said that, in 1981, the FBI refused to get involved in Adam’s case because looking for children was not something the FBI did. Now they’re an important partner of the National Center.

Walsh personally lobbied Congress to make the Amber Alert system a federal program, and said that putting Amber Alerts on Facebook will only increase its reach. “With the huge population of social media on smartphones, this will make it easier to find missing children a lot faster.”

The recovery rate for missing children has grown from 62%  in 1990 to 97% today, according to NCMEC and, said Walsh, online media and TV play a big part in helping to find those children. The Justice Department reports that 723 children have been recovered as a result of Amber Alerts.

Click below to listen to the full 11-minute podcast with John Walsh and co-director Larry Magid.

 Disclosure: Larry Magid serves on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children board of directors and is also co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support form Facebook.

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Connected devices at CES raise security, privacy and safety questions


This article first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

It seems as if almost every exhibitor at CES was showing things that connect to other things.

LG showed off washing machines and kitchen appliances that send messages to smartphones. Schlage announced a Bluetooth-enabled smart lock that enables iPhone users to use Siri voice commands to enter their house. Kolibree and Oral-B both showed off connected toothbrushes, and there was even a baby pacifier called Pacif-i, billed as the “worlds first Bluetooth smart pacifier.”

Basis Peak is one of many connected gadgets shown at CES

Basis Peak is one of many connected gadgets shown at CES

Fitness bands like the Basis Peak that send your activity and pulse to your phone, and to the cloud, were all around. Vital Connect showed off a Band-Aid size patch that can send your heart rate, body temperature, posture and EKG to health providers via smartphones. Automakers showed off cars that can “phone home” to transmit data that monitors systems in real time.

And, of course, drones were everywhere. These flying machines have wireless controllers and the ability not just to fly through real clouds, but to transmit data to virtual ones.

Internet of things

Together, these and thousands of other connected gadgets are referred to as the “Internet of Things,” or IoT. Eventually, the Internet of Things will be bigger than the Internet of people, since there are a lot more devices in the world than humans. (And by the way, humans aren’t the only living creators to be connected — thanks to pet trackers like the Tagg GPS Plus, we also have an Internet of dogs and cats.)

Like the Internet of people, the IoT has its own privacy, safety and security risks, which are not lost on regulators from Washington, D.C., and individual states.


Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez was at the Consumer Electronics Show and pointed out that connected devices often share “vast amounts of consumer data, some of it highly personal, thereby creating a number of privacy risks.”

There are also heightened security risks. At last year’s Black Hat security conference, researchers demonstrated how it was possible to hack cars, energy management systems and smart locks.

Safety issues abound as well. A hacked car or drone or even a connected robot could wind up threatening life and limb. So far, the hacks against Sony, Target and thousands of other institutions have caused embarrassment and loss of money and privacy, but not physical injuries or loss of life. But if “things” are hacked, the stakes could be a lot higher.

Risks associated with the Internet of Things are not lost on Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. Intel is betting on IoT by creating chips and devices for drones, smartwatches, robots and other connected devices. During his CES keynote, the Intel CEO even showed off a button-sized wearable computer called Curie, which can be sewn onto clothing.

In an interview, Krzanich acknowledged the risks, but said “there’s a lot of research going into how to really improve security right now.” He pointed out that “every technology advancement brings great value and great potential, but brings some level of risk and our job is to manage the risk.”

When asked about the risk of drones, Krzanich said that there is software on some GPS-equipped drones to prevent them from flying near airports and cameras and sensors to avoid colliding into other drones or buildings. Still, there are risks that can’t be avoided, like someone flying a camera-equipped drone over someone’s backyard or putting drones that don’t have GPS or collision avoidance software in the hands of owners who are using them irresponsibly.

I wonder if police departments are gearing up for drone abuse enforcement. If not, they should be.

Several federal agencies have concerns

Certainly federal regulators — from the Federal Communications Commission to the FTC to Homeland Security to the Federal Aviation Administration — are looking at how to protect the public interest when it comes to the vast array of connected things.

The FCC needs to think about the use of radio spectrum because the IoT is competing with broadcast, data, voice and other demands for the limited amount of available radio frequencies. The Department of Homeland Security is rightfully concerned about the potential of devices to be used to harm people or deliver explosives or other threats, especially if they get into the hands of terrorists. The FTC is responsible for helping to protect our privacy and has plenty on its plate when it comes to the potential abuse of all the data these “things” are collecting and transmitting. The FAA is working on how to regulate drones to make sure they don’t crash into airplanes, each other or people and things on the ground.

Could regulation go too far?

Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 11.58.43 PM

Adam Thierer worries about overregulation (Credit Mercatus Center)

Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, worries that government regulation could go too far, especially at the early stages of technologies where over-regulation could wind up interfering with innovation.

“The better alternative to top-down regulation,” he argues, “is to deal with concerns creatively as they develop, using a combination of educational efforts, technological empowerment tools, social norms, public and watchdog pressure, industry best practices and self-regulation, transparency, and targeted enforcement of existing legal standards.”

In general, I agree with Thierer, but I still think there is a role for government to protect the public not against all these connected “things,” but against the people who misuse them.


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Intel CEO Brian Krzanich on wearables, drones and Internet of things

CBS News Technology Analyst Larry Magid speaks with Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel who had earlier given a CES Keynote on Intel’s current and future tech plans. During the chat, Krzanich touches on wearable technology, drones, fitness bands and some of the challenges associated with these technologies including safety, privacy and security. He also spoke about the importance creating a more diverse workforce at Intel and throughout Silicon Valley.

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CES chief Gary Shapiro on CES 2015 and past CES triumphs and duds


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Sony Releases ‘The Interview’ Online: How to Watch It Now

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Sony’s Hacked Email Has A Lesson For All Of Us

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