The machines are coming – 2049?

It is notoriously difficult to predict the future. I lived my life at IBM, following Alan Kays 1982 aphorism

The best way to predict the future is to invent it

In my career I got many things right, and many things wrong. While Amazon was still a small time bookseller, and Youtube for the most part didn’t exist, it was obvious both business models would thrive. While I couldn’t convince IBM to pursue either of these opportunities with ny success, we demonstrated the technology perfectly. My “Wired for Life
Presentation contains some of my wins, and many of my losses.

It was much easier to build on these, especially the societal impact in my 2003 “Trends and Directions” presentation.  Societal impact is much easier to predict as you can demographic data, current trends and it’s pretty easy to extrapolate. Technology adoption is much harder.

Many of these predictions are not useful, after all who needs  a robot to write high school essays? Many though will continue to fundementally change work and life as we know it.

What they are though is a signal in the way the World Economic Forum predicts the technology will develop, and to some degree it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Watching this and reading many of the “machines are coming” articles that have been published over the past 5-years, it’s easy to become depressed about the rise of automation, AI, and robots. In a year when the sequel for Blade Runner will finally appear on our screens, there are some key things to remember.

  1. There is no magic, no silver bullet – If they can’t explain it, or worse don’t understand it, they have not invented it. Machine learning is great, but the machines can only learn with the machine learning constraints they have.
  2. Listen to the doubters – Doubt is very different to dismissal. People who dismiss possibility out-of-hand either don’t understand the opportunity and the potential, or are afraid of the change. It’s the doubters who have thought things through and understand the problems and the weaknesses.
  3. Don’t fear automation – If you do, you will be left behind. Learn, adapt, change; if possible work to invent the future By all means be a doubter, don’t be a dismisser.
  4. Find a problem, don’t start with a solution – AI, Robotics, Big Data, Machine Learning, Algorithms, Neural Networks are all speciality fields, grabbing onto them and asking how can we use them isn’t useful. The more specific you can be about a problem that needs solving, the easier it will be to identify the correct technology.
  5. Be Human – the more we automate, the more important human interaction becomes. The more empathy you have for someone who has a problem, the more likely you are to be able to understand how to solve it. Empathy, the arts, sports and human interaction are all fields where robotics and automation are least likely to take over.

More Human than Human – Dr Eldon Tyrell, The Tyrell Corporation

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

It’s not strictly true, I will have a facebook ID again in the coming months, but it will be an output only ID. By that I mean it will be an ID that I can post things to, but little more than that.

As I said in my “evil empire” post, I’ve become more and more concerned about not just what data they collect, but what you can learn from it. They sell our data, and it’s pretty easy to drill down on the data and learn all sorts of things, even though the data is supposed to be anonymous.

The problem with this is not just what facebook can tell, it’s that to a degree it is a very biased view of who we are. For the longest time, the standing joke was:

if it’s not on facebook, it didn’t happen

But you know that’s not true. When was the last time you posted about your intimate desires, or genuine mistakes, or arguments you had with important people in your life, or private details of your dealings with banks, managers and so on. These all go to make up who you are, what makes you tick.

What facebook has is a simple snapshot, someone who is vastly different online than offline. Yeah, facebook knows I’m liberal, likely not religious, I read the Guardian and the New York Times and probably trust them for news as I spend more time reading articles. Facebook knows I have a generally negative view of the new President and it thinks it know what products and brands I “like“. The data says my “psychological gender” is more male than feminine, but not by much; I’m pretty laid back but do get emotional.

Our data is sold in bulk, using specialised tools, you can target data geographically, based on numerous categories. It is supposed to be anonymised when sold, but it’s relatively simple to identify. This week in Ireland the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] was trying to defend our privacy rights, when facebook moves our data between Europe and the USA. Europe has much stronger data protection rights. Facebook of course argued against that.

If you are not convinced, watch this video from the creators of Data Selfie, a chrome extension, see how what you do [on facebook], leaves a data trail to the person you are [on facebook].

The lack of control over our data is seriously concerning. Even though I’ve already deleted the primary facebook app from my phone, as well as Messenger. You can’t even see the data, I fear that facebook has data I can’t control, can’t delete, and somewhere in a facebook data center, I have a twin, someone I don’t know.

Positive change – WordPress update

One of my favorite aphorisms that I developed while at IBM, and used in all my career and development presentations, as well as my after dinner speeches was:

Make sure change is something that happens for you, not to you.

It was particularly apposite at IBM, where change was constant. Hopefully by the time this post is publically available, change will have happened. I have migrated my wordpress.com hosted blog over to a siteground hosted wordpress blog.

It was much more complex than I expected, mostly around hsts/https issues and having the domain name registered by wordpress. It’s on the move and will be completed by Monday when this post should become available with any other new ones written after this.

For this blog, as opposed to any of the others (triathlon, technology, house construction), I went with the bog standard twenty sixteen theme. I used twenty eleven when I first started on wordpress.com and its an easy change). My hosted blog is still out there at markcathcart.wordpress.com and will eventually be deleted. I decided in the end to move it because I want to delete all my content and account from facebook as discussed in this entry.

To do that, I wanted again a structured way to share links, videos, music etc. I was surprised how many tools there were still out there that would allow me to “currate” content, they include diigo, instapaper, pocket and even del.icio.us is still around.

Continue reading “Positive change – WordPress update”

What is the advantage of Roku over smart tv or internet enabled dvd?

Can’t say for a DVD, but smart TV’s are likely to go the way of 3D TV’s, they are here today and will be gone tomorrow

Can’t say for a DVD, but smart TV’s are likely to go the way of 3D TV’s, they are here today and will be gone tomorrow. In my case, a 60-inch Samsung Smart TV, I’ve abandoned the Smart TV part and replace it with a Roku Premier. The advantages are more apps, integrated search across all the apps(amazon, netflix, HBO) and much more.

My Samsung had HBO GO, but I didn’t; it doesn’t have HBO Now, but I do. Apps would disappear overnight without warning, others, like Skype, would give 3-months warning and disappear forever. The Smart TV had no update control, always seemed to want to update when I wanted to watch it and more.

Overall, Amazon Fire Stick, Google Chromecast, Roku etc. have outperformed Smart TV’s in speed, features, and most especially apps. Thats not going to change, TV manufacturers don’t have deep enough pockets, long enough vision, and enough experience to catch-up

Goodbye the evil empire?

I’ve become more and more concerned about posting on facebook, and being part of a massive data collection and analysis machine

A wordpress question to my blog followers, both by email, and especially on wordpress. Do you use any of the following reasonably new wordpress features?

If yes, can you post a link to your blog below. I’m looking for some examples. Why?

serveimageI think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become more and more concerned about posting on facebook, and being part of a massive data collection and analysis machine. So I’m looking for ways to post the same sort of content I would post on Facebook, here. The main problem is I don’t want to clutter my blog post page with daily links, youtube videos, soundcloud and mixcloud audio etc.

It did think about adding an additional page, and adding an RSS feed to the page to pull saved links from paper.ly, instapaper, shareaholic, pinterest and so on, I’ve got a basic page going here, but there is no obvious way to control the RSS update frequency. I can’t add plugins to my site as it is hosted on wordpress.com. While it is a premium site, no plugins can be added.

I can subscribe via the sidebar to an RSS feed, but thats not really desirable, unless anyone knows how to increase(significanty) the size of the sidebar in the twentysixteen theme. So, what I’m looking for is examples, got one?

Post a comment below. I’ll add your blog to my blogroll, and if there are any really good examples and you are willing to share “how-to’s” via email or similar, I’d be willing to make a paypal or amazon gift card payment.

Giant fleet of small scheduling nightmares

In tenuous link between my recent posts on automation, here and especially here, where back in November I discussed autonomous vehicles and their impact on employment. I also said:

While many cities are salivating over the ability of self-driving, autonomous vehicles to fix their broken road and transport infrastructure, that’s missing the point.

Sometime between then and last weekend I became a weekend subscriber to the (Boulder) Daily Camera, a great local paper for the Boulder/Denver metro area. Right on queue, my first Sunday paper was laying in the snow on the drive this weekend and I opened it up and parsed it during the day. One item that particularly caught my eye was Dave Kriegers main editorial entitled “Imagine a giant fleet of tiny buses“.

serveimageI grabbed a pen, marked the editorial up, scribbled in the margins and sat down on Monday morning and wrote an open forum letter. It didn’t get published, I have no idea if it’s policy not to publish corrections on staff written op-ed pieces, or they just didn’t think it interesting enough to include?

Since a big fuss has blown up about an Uber self driving car today, running a red light yesterday(in full transparency, Uber self driving development has a big office here in Louisville that is a build-up from the Uber acquisition of Microsofts Bing mapping service.) I thought I’d turn Mondays open forum letter into a blog post.

This also lets me correct one misstatement. Self-driving cars will help with congestion theoretically. In heavy traffic, they will drive at a regulation speed, a safe distance from the vehicle in front, thus avoid the hard braking and the impact that can have on several miles of traffic.

It is hard to respond to Dave Kriegers editorial imaging “a giant fleet of tiny buses” in 300-words, but I’d like to have a try.

First, I completely agree with his sentiment that if you keep trying the same old thing, you’ll keep failing. However, when it comes to his “giant fleet of small buses” he falls into the same trap most transport ‘imagineers’ do when the come to self-driving vehicles. For the sake of brevity, let’s assume they’ll be electric; let’s assume they can dock themselves; let’s assume they have a slightly better range than current electric cars.

Dave jumps to the conclusion that less space will be needed for parking. Sort of, except the cars have to be charged somewhere. But yes, they could be charged in either fields or reclaimed parking garages outfitted with self-docking chargers. Dave then makes the confusing jump to the conclusion that “[they] could reduce congestion because fewer cars would serve more people”.

Anyone that’s given any serious thought to scheduling and transportation would understand implicitly that that isn’t true. It’s implied because it fits the paradigm of autonomous vehicles. If 20,000 people want to get into Boulder today between 7:15am and 9:00am in their own unshared transportation, and the demand is the same in the era of self-driving cars, then, you’ll have the same number of journeys. Add in the recharging trips, the fact that using Daves logic, there will be less self-driving cars, then some of those cars will have to drive in and out and back into Boulder, actually increasing the number of journeys and therefore contributing to the congestion.

If we take Daves “less parking space” claim at face value, then what will the space formerly used by parking garages be used for? Green space… err no, more offices/accommodation, with the potential to further increase the number of journeys and congestion.

Don’t get me wrong, self-driving cars are great, but until we have flying cars they will only help indirectly with congestion won’t help with congestion. The only way is shared transport. Bus Rapid Transport isn’t it either. Trams, street cars, metro-rail are the only real fix.

Assange/Wikileaks/Trump

It will be interesting to see how they play out under Trump.

The first, and perhaps least important is that of the position of Julian Assange, the erstwhile editor-in-chief of the organisation WikiLeaks. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuador’s embassy in London trying to avoid questioning in Sweden over an alleged rape charge. Assange asserts that this is a thinly veiled first step in extraditing him to the US for trial on much more sinister charges.

I debated, aka argued, with my own son that you couldn’t take anything that Assange is now doing at face value. That when wikileaks first arrived on the Internet, it was about the leak and the injustice and not the personalities. My son, remained convinced that it was about the global banking system, and their ties with powerful politicians. I disagree, for too long, wikileaks has been about Assange.

Given the timing, and manor in which the wikileaks disclosure of the DNC/Podesta emails came about, I believe this was nothing more than an attempt by Assange and wikileaks to undermine the US election. They succeeded.

It’s almost certainly no coincidence that it was announced that Assange would finally be questioned by the Swedish authorities next week. The only question that remains, irrespective of the outcome, is will a Trump Presidency go after Assange in the same way either Obama or Clinton Presidency would?

If not, does that leave wiggle room for the return to the USA of Edward Snowden? Wikileaks can and will go on without Assange. Snowden is the real hero for exposing the secret mass survailance system that Presidents Bush/Obama had setup, and now will come under control of President Trump.

Feeling had America, you should. Don’t forget the emails, the only thing we learned from them for the mot part was how the DNC set Hillary up to fail, and they gave the chattering classes something to focus on that wasn’t policy, and wasn’t difficult.