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When A.I. whispers in your ear all day

Technology is democratizing.

Over the past 30 years, tools once reserved for presidents, spies, generals and media moguls have been made available cheaply to billions. Wireless communication. GPS. Satellite photography. Streaming live video to a global audience used to cost millions. Now, it's free and you could be doing it in five seconds if you wanted to.

Every great leader, from presidents to CEOs, is surrounded by trusted advisors who guide and inform at every step. Successful leaders often succeed in part because they have better advice or better information. And now, even advice and guidance is being distributed to a mass market.

But instead of human advisors, we're all getting artificial intelligence (A.I.)

This A.I. will talk to us -- and we'll talk back. It will know everything about us, understand our current situation at all times and provide helpful guidance and information.

A.I. is software, of course. So what's the hardware? When it comes to A.I. virtual assistant software, I think it's clear that the hardware is: digital wireless earbuds.

Why AirPods matter

Apple's big announcement several weeks ago included an iPhone 7 with no 3.5mm audio jack, along with a new product called AirPods, which are wireless earbuds.

Critics slammed Apple for removing the jack. Users have invested in earbuds, connectors and accessories that use that jack. Anyone who upgrades to the iPhone 7 will have to use awkward "dongles" and other work-arounds. Earbuds without cables can be more easily lost, stolen or even swallowed. And the AirPods' $159 price is far higher than the $29 Apple currently charges for its standard earbuds.

The complaints remind me of the ubiquitous griping in 2007 about the Apple iPhone's lack of a physical keyboard. The omission outraged everyone. Yet Apple was so far on the right side of history that in July of this year even BlackBerry discontinued the BlackBerry classic with the dominant physical keyboard. It turns out the iPhone keyboard critics were just being dragged kicking and screaming into a usage model that everyone would soon prefer.

Five years from now, the idea of earbuds with physical cables will be looked at with nostalgia and wonder -- "How did anyone use such a primitive, unwieldy Victorian-era contraption?"

The transition from wired earbuds to AirPods is so much more than a transition from wired to wireless or from analog to digital.

The biggest thing going on here is the end of "dumb speaker" earbuds, and the mainstreaming of hearables -- actual computers that go in your ears.



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