Friday, 16 March 2018

Email: Don't Shoot The Messenger

Email, being an electronic version of physical mail is something we can all understand - it's familiar, easy to use and essential but not always appreciated ... indeed as yet another email lands in our bulging mailbox we might want to shoot the messenger. We must learn to love email again and not blame it for the problems we get asking it to do things it should never be asked to do.

The first networked email was sent between two computers in 1971 - Ray Tomlinson was just fooling around looking for something to use the network for and in so doing gave the Internet its first real application.

The real beauty of email is that anyone can message you if they have your email address - we don't all have to be on the same platform like Facebook or Whatsapp to message each other - we can use whatever email system we like - Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Zoho, Proton etc. Email is based on clearly defined international Internet protocols so that different systems can communicate with each other and the message will still get through. Better still ... I can use different email clients with most of these systems and even build my own email system and even do this with a £35 Raspberry PI if I wanted to. But wait, there's more ... using email I can send messages through time - using the same technologies as the early email systems I can send a message to you today and receive your reply. I've sent messages through time many times - its useful to use Telnet to manually craft SMTP to test email systems - something I've done many times with Microsoft Exchange for example when you want to reduce complexity to get a better diagnosis. It would probably be possible to use a computer from 40 years ago to interact with you today .... how many other things in digital technology are like this.

The open, mix and match, decentralised and distributed nature of email is a reminder of the Net and the web we lost but the Internet was born in a different environment than today - the young Net was open and trusting ... some might say naive by today's standards and this causes problems  today ... spam, phishing, viruses, denial of service attacks and the shear volume of email stresses not just our email systems but us as well ... its no wonder people want to shoot the messenger. There is no doubt that email is struggling to cope but don't shoot the messenger and don't throw the baby out with the bath water - we need to play nicely with the baby and protect it.

The problems with email today come from how we use it ... many of the extensions to email over the years have added functionality and made it more useful but stretched it beyond its original abilities - creating flaws and weaknesses ... not so much in email itself but in the systems that support it. There is little that can go wrong with a simple text message but there is little you can do with it to ... Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) really extended the capabilities of email but also extended what can be delivered to our computers ... along with different fonts, attached and embedded files came attached and embedded viruses and malware that exploited the weaknesses of our computers. Email is the lowest common denominator in modern communications but through its extensions has become the biggest common denominator in computer hacking. We can't turn the clock back with email extensions they are essential but we can use them wisely and make sure our computer systems themselves are secure. Protecting our email systems and computers goes a long way to keeping us safe but we need to add common sense too. Use email wisely - read emails properly - look under the surface attention and look at actual email addresses, file names and links that are under the display names  - in Gmail for instance if you hover the pointer over an email address, link or file it will reveal the actual link or address. Be suspicious of anything that is unsolicited and don't open attachments or click links without care and certainly don't open or display attachments or links automatically.

Email is a product of its time, the 1960s and1970s, while it is it is on-line it is asynchronous and more suited to batch operation and this is the best way to use it ... if you want synchronous, multi-way group discussion and collaboration in real-time using email will only cause you grief and you will want top shoot the messenger but its not the messengers fault its yours for choosing the wrong tool. For group discussion you are better off using on-line forums or social media and for group collaboration you are better off using cloud based collaborative systems like Google Apps or Zoho for example. For simple private one to one asynchronous messaging that you can process in your own time it is difficult to beat email. 

It is often said today that email is for old people but email seems ageless .. perhaps its immortal and who knows it may become cool as people become disillusioned with the plethora of fragmented walled garden closed systems of surveillance otherwise known as social networks. Email may become cool again but its not retro .... email never went away is is just taken for granted ... like all successful technologies it disappears into the fabric of life. Email is not the lowest common denominator but the essential common factor running through the fabric of modern life.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Digital Tech And The Eye Of The Storm

"Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet." 
~ Douglas Adams

When technology matures it disappears - we don't notice it and we take it for granted ... development of mature technologies slows and all becomes calm if not stagnant. In the technology doldrums we chase every bit of wind looking for movement. 

Its 2018 and we have been in the technology doldrums many years ... if not all through the 2010s. Smartphones have matured and development has all but stagnated and we get excited about tiny incremental changes. In technology in general we get excited about every breath of wind from 3D printing, virtual reality and smart gadgets but technology is not going anywhere fast at the moment ... what movement there is comes from the wind of our own breath.

We've been here before of course ... the PC matured and peaked around the turn of the century - the pace of change slowed to a crawl, they became commodities ... costs dropped and they all became basically the same.  

While differences create the disturbance of a storm revolution trends towards a stable centre ... coriolis spin creates the eye of the storm and gravity creates the black hole. Sunk investments and the monopolistic practices of big business are the gravitational forces and spin effects that create the eye of the storm and the black holes that suck everything in to the doldrums and sink like ships in the Bermuda triangle. 

While the eye of a hurricane may be calm the damage occurs further out and when it reaches landfall ... the wider effects of new technology are felt when it becomes stable and mainstream and are often unanticipated. Just look at how the motor car has changed our environment and the way we live and today just look a how smartphones and social media are changing the way we live our lives and the possible effects they are having on democracy and the fabric of our society.

Storms eventually blow out but new ones form from deep undercurrents that storm chasers only discover when the winds become obvious. The winds from smart gadgets, the Internet Of Things and wearable tech keep storm chasers busy but deep down powerful undercurrents are forming to energise one potentially apocalyptic technology storm. The undercurrents of artificial intelligence and quantum computing alone are enough to create a super storm but together could become apocalyptic creating an eye of the storm like no other ...this is the singularity!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Tech And The Hand That Feeds It

"1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”

~ Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams wrote his set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies back in 1999 ... those halcyon days when the Internet and many of us were still relatively young - digital technology was incredibly exciting and creative and many of us made a career out of it. It seemed that this new stuff had the potential to disrupt the old order and facilitate new opportunities and freedoms. Access information anytime, anyplace, work, learn and play anytime, anyplace ... we could all be publishers ... everyone had a voice .... the Internet could solve the world's problems.

Digital technology was developing exponentially - Moore's law ruled the new cyberspace as if technology had a life of its own and determine its own outcomes and ours ... it was like a runaway train ... jump on board quick or be left behind. With digital tech the future was bright - science fiction utopia would become science fact. Digital tech was the new religion  ... the halo effect around digital entrepreneurs and their companies meant they could do no wrong - everything was binary you were either with us or against us.

During the Naughties the revolution reached the masses and the runaway train of digital tech picked up speed and people with developments in social media and mobile tech. We thought the world was flat, too big to know and as here comes everybody what got us here won't get us there - we talked about re-inventing and re-mixing everything.

At the end of the naughties Kevin Kelly articulated "What Technology Wants" ... the technium .. a deterministic "global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us,”. Likening technological development to biological evolution the technium was an emerging and evolving seventh kingdom of life on earth.

However, not everyone was entranced by the halo effect of technology. Jonathan Zittrain had a different view of the runaway train - he saw the future of the Internet - and how to stop it. Zittrain warned about the growing power tech capitalists to control, close and extract profit from the Internet. He uses the Apple II and teh iPhone to illustrate two different views of the Internet:

"Though these two inventions - iPhone and Apple II - were launched by the same man, the revolutions that they inaugurated are radically different ...  The Apple II was quintessentially generative technology ...  It invited people to tinker with it. The iPhone is the opposite. It is sterile. Rather than a platform that invites innovation, the iPhone comes preprogrammed... Whereas the world would innovate for the Apple II, only Apple would innovate for the iPhone."

In 2013 Anil Dash talked about "The Web We Lost"  ... how tech capitalists have "narrowed the possibilites of the web for an entire generation of users who don't realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be. The tech industry and its press have treated the rise of billion-scale social networks and ubiquitous smartphone apps as an unadulterated win for regular people, a triumph of usability and empowerment. They seldom talk about what we've lost along the way in this transition, and I find that younger folks may not even know how the web used to be."

In 2015 Google quietly dropped "don't be evil" from its code of conduct. Today ... the father of the Web Tim Berners-Lee warned about how the system is failing .. how an “open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries” has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators."

The halcyon days of digital tech are over ... the information revolution, like just about every revolution you can think of has gone full circle - the new boss is the same as the old boss ... we are back where we started but its even worse ... our weapons have been used against us and the digital spring is about to become a digital winter under algorithms of oppression:

"digital technology and its narratives are shaped by and infused with values that are not impartial, disembodied, or lacking positionality. Technologies consist of a set of social practices, situated within the dynamics of race, gender, class, and politics, and in the service of something — a position, a profit motive, a means to an end."

Despite what Kevin Kelly might think - digital technology is not some sort of neutral self determining good thing .. it's a product, a business run for loads of money. Scalability, efficiency and tax efficiency ... big tech companies  aren't charities - why on earth would we think digital tech is about anything other than business self-interest. Just look at the so called "gig economy" - people hoped the gig economy might be cool .. but .. its  just another cynical way to exploit people more than ever before to enrich the few & impoverish the many - its the information age equivalent of industrial age dark satanic mills ... and there is probably worse to come as people race machines to the bottom as the information age unfolds in the coming era of #AI automation.

The information revolution has become a grief cycle and many are in some form of denial ... the tech fanboys who for reasons and motivations of their own will "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" about tech - they believe in the old religion and the halo effects of its saints or worse ... are quite aware of what's going on but won't bite the hand that feeds them.

It's going to take sometime to work through the digital tech grief cycle ... many are angry and talk about anti-tech activism ... a form of neo luddism:

"The downsides of technology’s inexorable march are ​now becoming clear – and automation will only increase the anxiety. We should expect the ​growing interest in off-grid lifestyles to be accompanied by ​direct action and even anti-tech riots"

Some are attempting to bargain for a better future ... Tim Berners-Lee for example is working to reimagine the internet while others are passing through depression and approaching acceptance of the way things are and will be under the algorithms of oppression in a form of dehumanised totalitarian surveillance capitalism - either  trapped within the web or don't care as long as they can make a career out of it while others have woken up to what is and will happen and will hopefully #staywoke to game the system or work through alternatives and a new revolution for the benefit of the many rather than the few.

"What if this whole crusade's
A charade
And behind it all there's a price to be paid"
~ Nine Inch Nails - "The Hand That Feeds"

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Digital Platform: Your Operating System

Windows, OS X, Linux, Android and IOS: we are all familiar with at least some if not all of these names and they have come to play a large part in how we think of a computer these days ...  e.g. a Windows PC, an Android smartphone. Windows, OS X, Linux, Android and IOS are all computer operating systems ... the essential layer between computer hardware and software that made the general purpose computers we use today possible. Operating systems are key middlemen in the computer - they isolate and abstract the complexities of resources and present them as simplified and standardised managed services for people and applications Without an operating system each user and application would need to understand the intricacies of control for every resource they wanted to use. Put simply operating systems mediate access and control between resources, people, applications.

Computer Operating System

Access to the complexity of things in a simple and standardised way makes life so much easier, its no wonder operating systems have become so successful and so essential to our experience of computers - can you imagine having to know the detailed controlled codes for every printer you wanted to use when you want to print something ... nope ... just click print and let the operating system take the strain.

The herd instinct andsSafety in numbers

Access to the complexity of things in a simple and standardised way makes life so much easier - its a natural attraction and once the number of users of something reaches a critical mass we happily follow the herd on to the expanding platform. Everywhere we look we see the human herd instinct for safety in numbers and companies that grow big by herding them.

The spaces where people gather become places for interaction and human activity ... the town square is a classic traditional meeting place and where markets develop. In recent times the high street became the meeting and market place and this in turn is being replaced by the shopping mall and even more recently out of town shopping malls.

Today the computer in all its forms, from PC to smartphone, plays a major role in our lives and it is the computer that is becoming our meeting and market place. We can see the same human herd instincts for safety in numbers and the easy life through standardisation and  simplicity and the rise of big companies that herd them onto their expanding platforms.

Digital platform operating system

Where Windows, OS X, Linux, Android and IOS are operating systems for computers Google, Amazon, and Facebook are becoming operating systems for people - isolating and abstracting the complexities of resources and presenting them as simplified and standardised managed services for people. Why bother shopping around when you can just shop around in Amazon - like an operating system Amazon provides all the mechanisms needed for supply and demand to satisfy our herd instinct for safety in numbers and the easy life.

So why is this a problem ... why are the meeting and market places of today different from those of the past.

The digital platforms of today started off OK and seemed to start off with good intentions ... Amazon sold books, Google was a search engine and Facebook was a college on-line community. However, the founders of all these companies are geek businessmen - highly ambitious systems thinkers who see the world as a game to be engineered ...  some tech entrepreneurs are even funding research into the idea that we live in a computer simulation. Once these systems-thinking engineering geek entrepreneurs discovered human biases they started pushing our buttons hard to game us and herd us onto their platforms.

The problem with tech platforms is their scale, scope and ambition. These days Amazon wants to be "earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.Google wants to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" and Facebook wants "to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together."  These days its global .. its all about the world if not world domination.

Today's meeting and market places, the tech platforms are global in scale and all embracing in scope - they want to become the interface through which we access the world ... "OK Google ... where am I", "Alexa ... what should I buy today". Google want to anticipating your every need in a  sticky web of intention and they are maybe half way there ... search has become suggestion - truth and fact have become a populist blend with your cookies - especially for you.

Take for example my Google search for "What was the first operating system" ... although the search surfaces the detailed Wikipedia article the snippet and the search page itself suggests computer operating systems started with the PC ... CP/M, MSDOS and Microsoft - its a popular answer but clearly wrong.

Trust, dependency and the way tech platform's business models, data and algorithms mediate our access to the world has become a big issue for society in our era of fake news.  People on these platforms have become the product and herded comfortably numb like lambs to the slaughter - forget operating systems ... tech  platforms have become more like operating theatres - dissecting your data at every move and selling it off like lamb cutlets to whoever will pay.

The idea of social networks being operating systems is not new - Tim O'Reilly wrote about The Social Network Operating System this as long ago as 2007 but these days the idea of tech platform as operating system extends a lot wider and a lot deeper. Amazon's appetite now includes government - it's marketplace machine is so effective that governments are considering using it .... the “Amazon amendment” would effectively hand government purchasing power over to amazon.

So dominant and so large are the tech platforms today that they seem unstoppable it their quests to assimilate everything and become the operating systems of the world - the only fly in their ointment is that they haven't been able to join all the dots by themselves yet but not for want of trying.

Tech capture of the state is not enough they want it all - they want to be on your desk, in your pocket, in your home, on your skin, under your skin, on your head, in your head and in your mind.

If perception is reality then digital platforms want to shape your reality by mediating your perception. Physical meeting and market places like shops might attempt to shape your perception and tap your biases by manipulating the environment - using of colour, texture, lighting and music for example or by the way they curate things. Digital platforms can take shaping your perception to another level - they become the fabric of the environment in which interact - you can't experience something directly but have to experience it through the platform. Digital platforms mediate your reality, they become the fabric of your experience ... they become the matrix - its no wonder Facebook and Google are so interested in virtual reality.

If we aren't already living in a computer simulation then Google, Amazon and Facebook want to build one for us - a virtual world where the the geek god is omnipresent and omniscient - a world where we are mere actors on their platform, peripherals in their system and just more things in their internet of things.

But wait ... there's more.

"We are the borg you will be assimilated resistance is futile ... your life as it has been is over from this time forward you will service us"

The geek gods don't just want to put your mind in their matrix ... they want to want to hijack our minds and assimilate us - its no wonder Facebook is working on brain-powered technology and Google wants to be the third half of your brain and their are those among us, the tech fanboys, who somehow think this would be wonderful - to have Amazon read your mind sell you what you wish for. But be careful what you wish for .. once we integrate with digital platforms and they become our operating system ... what becomes of us - is the brain-computer interface one way? In the operating systems of the future will we become mere peripherals ... dispensable once our data no longer useful?

Is resistance futile?

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Watch The Next Big thing

 Byte Magazine 1981 

Byte magazine had a tradition of including a few gag products in its “What’s New” section and for April 1981 Robert Tinney painted an image for the front cover of what a future computer might look like. 

"Many a true word is spoken in jest"

Robert Tinney's 1981 watch computer was a gag but wonderfully illustrates how the past, present and future are inter-twinned. The future has to be built on something and its built on the past and the present ... its a combination and an extrapolation of trends.

Exponential development is a common factor in digital electronics so that every 18 months to 2 years we often get a doubling of electronic capability or a shrinking in size. Robert Tinney's future computer shrunk a PC of the time to watch size but in terms of capability (processing, memory, storage, connectivity etc) it didn't go nearly far enough. A typical PC in 1981 might have 32K of memory 20Mb of storage whereas a typical PC today might have 4Gb of memory and 350Gb of storage - an increase of over 130,000 in memory and nearly 18,000 in storage over 40 years ... a typical PC today would be a super computer in1981. But things have moved on a lot ... development of the PC all but stopped years ago and it's the smartphone on which we build our ideas of the future and it's the smartphone we are trying to shrink to the size of a watch. The smartphone could be considered a stepping stone to the smartwatch and can be regarded as the personal computer (PC) of today but its so much more. Shrinking all that a smartphone does today into a watch is a big challenge ... probably similar to the challenge of shrinking a PC to a watch in 1981 and although its a leap of faith ... consider what exponential development might achieve over the next 10 or 20 years let alone 30 or 40.

After 20 years all these things fitted into a mobile phone
when might they all it into a watch?
Of course the smartwatch is already here ... Apple was late to the market but released its smartwatch in April of 2015 with 8Gb memory ... it was already more powerful than the ICL mainframe I learned to program with in the 1970s and similar in specification to the original iPhone less than 10 years earlier. Currently Smartwatches are generally used as part of a smartphone ecosystem ... a easily accessible accessory, remote control and interface for email, phone, calendar, messages, maps, music, photos, and reminders. 

So ... why is the smartwatch the next big thing

Carving out a completely knew thing is so much harder than changing something that already exists - the most successful technologies build on what we know and slip in as slow boiling frogs under the radar. The automobile is a horseless carriage, a smartphone is a mobile phone. We are all familiar with watches and most of us wear one so adding computer features to them is more of a value addition than a disruptive shift .... for the consumer at least. The little watch on our wrist is a place holder ready for the next big thing. 

The best technologies are easy and make life easier ... we don't notice the technology - it just "disappears". We have to remember to carry our Smartphones and they can be awkward but with a watch ... once you have strapped it on your wrist it's there with you for the rest if the day and just a glance away ... its easy and convenient.

The Sgnl wristband ... use your finger to listen

Because we can
If exponential developments in digital electronics continue as they have over the last 40 years we will eventually see all of todays smartphone capabilities shrunk into the size of watch and the future smartwatch could well be orders of magnitude more powerful than a smartphone today. Even if digital technology doesn't develop as fast as it has in the past the combination of new technologies make the smartwatch as the next big thing more feasible than ever before. Battery size is the biggest problem for small devices but having a very small screen and reducing the need to use a screen interface by using voice instead could improve both convenience and battery life. The screen as an interface is still a problem with smartphones ... typing and reading such small screens is not that convenient - voice input and output makes a lot more sense for mobile devices for many uses. Shrinking electronics and embedding them in things is happening fast and many of these things are connected and more naturally have voice rather than screen interfaces - the smartwatch is just another part of this trend ... just another part of "the internet of things". 

"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.
Bill Gates

Because the watch is familiar and convenient we may not even notice it as the next big thing ... it's already among us and while it has its problems today don't underestimate its potential over the longer term.

And after the watch .. .what comes next for the ever shrinking computer.

"Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and that makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion." 
~ Ray Kurzweil

"Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe." 
~ Albert Einstein

Sunday, 17 December 2017

I Never Make Predictions And I Never Will

The ghost of technology past
I haven't written one of these short term prediction posts for about 20 years .. back in the 1990s. I'm not sure if its because the past has been written already that makes it easier to read but 20 years ago it all seemed relatively straightforward - the technology landscape was simple and stable and the route across it could be seen in the roadmaps of Microsoft and PC manufacturers. Back in the 1990's computing was still quite a rare and niche thing ... mostly something that happened at work or at school and the way its future unfolded was relatively deterministic and written in the business plans of these organisations. My original "I Never Make Predictions And Never Will" were analyses for strategic plans for the year ahead - that were mostly in support of IT infrastructure changes rather than anything in the hands of real people .. . its very different today. Digital tech is part of everyday life and in the hands (rather than the desktop) of people and tech companies. 

The ghost of technology present 
During the first decade of the 21st century (the naughties 2000 - 2009) there was a spring-like emergence of new digital tech - social media, smartphones and the cloud all came together in a short time in a sort of combinatorial explosion of possibility.

Today digital technology pervades everyday life in a way that wasn't imagined 20 years ago .. did anyone really imagine the way a phone can access something called the Internet while you walk down the street ... let alone all the other things you can do with the phone that became smart. Technology today seems relatively stable - there haven't been any revolutionary breakthroughs for 10 years - there has been a steady linear progression in tech.

Today it seems like we are in between times - (the inbetweenies) and maybe that's why I am writing this post ... its a bit like the end of the 1990s when we were waiting for the next "big thing" to happen.

 Today many of the chickens that hatched in the naughties are coming home to roost. There is a growing unease about how social and mobile have worked out and about the power of the big tech companies. While the technologies of the naughties has mostly settled there are many technologies that are starting to bubble up - many of these bubbles will burst but some may flashover and leave the pan .. especially if they can get on the back of established technology to enhance them and create something new.

The ghost of technology future
The ghost of technology future is among us already. Every mid decade the seeds of the next decade start to grow. In the mid 1980s it was the PC, in the mid 1990s it was the Internet and the Web, in the mid Naughties it was social media, mobile and the cloud. In the mid teens there are many candidates for the next big thing or things - some have been "boiling like a frog" for several years but starting to jump around now and become very noticeable ... which will make the jump and which will sink back?

"The only thing you can't predict is the future"  

"I Never Make Predictions And Never Will" Paul Gascoigne

So here goes these are my predictions for digital technology for 2018 and a little beyond.

"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." ~ William Gibson

The quote is so well used but it is pretty useful when looking for the future because the seeds of it are already growing.

Predicting the short term can be done by extrapolating the present, looking at trends and company announcements and intentions ... its mostly a linear progression of the present. People talk of technology as if it has a life of its own but we must remember that its simply business ... technology is just products that companies make to sell you to make profit - how well these these predictions pan out depends on whether people actually use this stuff. The next big thing becomes snake oil and prophecies can be fulfilled through herd instincts. Back in the 1990s companies used their product roadmaps to bully the competition but today they tend to keep their cards closer to their chests (especially Apple) but its still possible to get an idea of what might be coming.

Artificial Intelligence

"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” ~ Winston Churchill 

The rise of AI is a no brainer ... every company seems to have an AI strategy and some are "betting the farm" on it and jumping on the wagon. Adding intelligence to machines transforms them established companies don't want to be disrupted and new companies see the opportunity to build new empires with AI.

You can tell AI is hot because people are faking it .. companies and products claim to have AI but are not ... often old products in new clothes or even "mechanical turks" people pretending to be machines. To be cool and hi-tech you have to be seen to have AI.

Hardware and software advances combined with big data during the last decade has turned up the heat on AI. Sometime soon AI will boil over and form a whole new platform but for now it is being embedded and applied in more and more things and services. in 2018 we can expect AI to added in and sprinkled on everywhere and everything as if it were pixie dust.

Assistant Intelligence is the thin end of the wedge and the foot in the door for Automated Intelligence. It starts with intelligent features added to apps and services ... help-desk bots, apps, search, social media, messaging, photography, shopping, learning etc etc etc. Artificial Intervention will come to mediate all aspects of our lives ....paving the way for full automation and the eventual disintermediation of people from their own lives ... why bother asking or suggesting something for a decision or action when the digital assistant can just do it anyway and do it better and do it more efficiently.

Cyber (in)security
The digital technologies we use widely were designed with only the positives in mind - hands off approaches for sharing, designed for features rather than security. The security of our digital products is so bad and together with people's poor understanding of digital security and the pervasiveness of digital products means that the exploitation of digital (in)security will only increase - the opportunities are the rewards are so easy for those who know how.

Plain old fashioned hacking for the hell of it has been largely replaced by hacking for profit and being held to ransom by computers is the new thing. Pay the to get access to your own machine that has been cyber-locked by ransomware, Pay to avoid being put off-line by a botnet DDOS, pay to prevent or get back sensitive information stolen from you computer. 

Digital technology holds security like a sieve holding water and hackers, organised crime, states and even businesses are all filling their cups from the leaks of cyber (in)security - the computers of everyday people are used as shears to fleece them.

Cyber (in)security is so pervasive it will become big business and merge with mainstream business in a similar way mafia gangs have done in the real world. Why bother extorting money through ransoms or threats when you can simply inject code into people's browsers to crypto-jack and enslave their machines to click ads or mine cryptocurrencies for you. Grid computing was a voluntary way of contributing your computer's spare capacity to work for some common good like SETI or cancer treatment research but in 2018 we can expect your computer's spare capacity to be enslaved "working for the man" without you even knowing it. Rather than the quick in and out raid more sophisticated malware will be working under cover in stealth mode stealing your identity, doing your banking, mining crypto-currencies, clicking ads and spreading fake news without you having to lift a finger. The internet risks becoming a protection racket with your computer as nothing more than a bag for the man.

Internet Of Things

"We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works." ~ Douglas Adams 

"Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet." ~ Douglas Adams 

As the computers (PC, laptop, smartphone) mature with saturated fats tech pushers have to find new markets ... third world and developing countries are obvious candidates for exploitation but all the things around us are low hanging fruit ripe for the picking. Where once things just worked they are now being turned into technology - making them digital and making them smart means they can be sweated for cash on the digital treadmill of frequent and endless updates. 

The tech pushers need IoT ... the market is huge ... its everything and they will do everything they can to make it happen. Why sell a kettle when you can sell an eKettle for tens times as much and with an "app for that". Why sell a pair of earphones when you can sell eBuds for ten times more. Tech pushers want computing to become pervasive and ambient, they want to immerse us in their smart-world ... a real world matrix.

The Internet of Things includes all those things that become digital ... driverless cars, clothes, wearable things like watches and earphones, jewellery, TVs, radios, toys, kitchen appliances, toilets - you name it someone will try to make it smart - expect to see a lot of smart-things in 2018. Of course it won't stop there ... tech pushers won't be satisfied until they have properly penetrated us ... until they are inside our bodies and inside our minds ... until they posses us and we become their things. And there are tech fanboys who think this is wonderful ... that becoming a cyborg is something to look forward to .... "resistance is futile".

Digital Discomfort
2017 seemed like the year we saw the chickens hatched in the past coming home to roost with cyber(in)security, state and corporate surveillance and social media manipulation making many of us uncomfortable with how digital technology is working out. "The land of milk and honey" is turning sour ... the digital spring and summer is turning to autumn and winter ... rather than empowered us digital tech has been used to deceive us ... to monetise and manipulate us ... when was the last time we heard Google say "do no evil".

Fake news has become big news we can all see the problem but no one has the answer - the business models and vast wealth of the tech giants are built upon human weakness ... the biases in our psychology,  and this is being exploited big time by those who wish to manipulate us. People have become #woke to it but the whole structure of the web has caught us in a web if deceit and left us in a state of learned helplessness and I can only see it getting worse as machines will be able to create fake information and real manipulation on a speed and scale we will be powerless to defend against ... unless we use machines in our defence and we can only guess where that might lead. Going off-grid, even for a temporary digital detox could become the new cool ... new generations always rebel against the stuff of their elders ... while millennial's might only see the world and others through the glass of their smartphones a new generation might enjoy a freedom from digital rather than the fake digital freedom of their elders ... if they are given a chance. 

But what about .... 

Virtual realities
There will be developments in 2018 for AR, MR and VR .... a sort of Moore's law update of products and ideas from 2 years - they all need a little heat to keep them going cold.  

VR (Virtual Reality) is bound to "cut the cord" ... in one way or another being chained to a PC just cannot go on - VR has to "break free" either through mobiles, wireless connections or standalone headsets. Unchained VR will help a lot and VR really has a wow factor that I can recommend and the more immersive it is the better it is but that is its fundamental problem. People (apart from the geeks who make this stuff) are social and VR os not social strapping a screen right in front of your eyes isolates you and the more immersive it is the more you are isolated from what's around you. I think VR will climb back on the hype cycle again in 2018 but only to fade again.

MR (Mixed Reality) - where you strap a screen in front of your eyes and a computer blends virtual reality with what's around is fun and can be social but strapping screens to our faces still seems a bit of a gimmick. MR is complex and expensive to do right and needs to be less intrusive to be widely used ... I can imagine MR being the party trick of the 2020s but not just yet.

AR (Augmented Reality) is fun and it works with tech we are familiar with ... its just an app on our smartphones and its fun and easy ... all the hallmarks of something that might make it. Pokemon Go really got the attention of the major tech companies and their money sensor started tingling. The nice thing about AR today is that it works on most people's phones but this is not in the interests of the big tech pushers who want to get you dependent on their dope Apple is pushing ARKit and Google are pushing ARCore and for the Google dope you need to buy a new pipe. I expect their will be a lot of news about AR in 2018 and over time I think people will just take it for granted as they point their phone at something and see something else.

3D printing 
3D printing just chugs along in its niche... admittedly its niche gets wider as it rolls around in the trough before enlightenment. Prices and availability have all improved but its just too slow. 3D printing needs a revolution in speed to cross the chasm. There are technologies in development that might give 3D printing a boost - speeding things up 10 times for example or bringing new materials into the mix but they are probably several years away .. maybe in the mid 20s we'll have our star trek replicators :)

Smartphones are personal computers and they are on the same wash cycle that PCs have been through and the colours are running and fading just the same. Just like laptops, smartphones get bigger and smaller and get cheaper and dearer. Tech pushers are still fixated on a yearly upgrade cycle but in reality smartphones are only improving relatively slowly now - a 2 year upgrade cycle would make more sense as on that timeframe we would get some more noticeable improvements and it will fit better with people's upgrade finances - how about three years. Manufacturers should be more honest and use incremental identification e.g. 8.1 8.2.

AI will add some interesting new features to smartphones .. actually helping make them smart and I think we will see announcements about Smartphone AI in 2018.

The real wow factor would be a radical new design and form ... Samsung have been working on flexible screens. Will someone release a flexible smartphone in 2018 ... even something that bends just a bit or transforms in some way?

The Headlines 

"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten." - Bill Gates.

The really interesting things happen with tech over longer time frames so Moore's law and network effects produce step changes in technology and they have time to settle for the real effects to be gauged. However, its always fun to overdo it ... so here are a few overestimates for the next year.

AI ate my hamster

Tech fanboys are yearning for the next big thing and AI will be swooned over - expect to see "AI stunts" to demonstrate the snake oil.

AI Billionaire
We'll be able to rent AI platforms for business ... the AI will do everything from buying, selling, provisioning, accounting, customer support - all you need to do is think up a name and the parameters to start with and let the AI take the strain. You will be able to spin up hundreds of AI driven businesses "As A Service" - just pay the platform for what is used.

While we are at it .. why bother with humans ... the AI can spin up its own businesses and make its own billions. 

I dread to think what might happen if AI gets to understand the business potential of cyber (in)security and enslaves our poor innocent machines to mine bitcoin, click ads, manipulate us with social media, generate fake news and steal our identities.  Not only will we see AI business but also AI criminals .. but who or what will be able to catch them.

AI Discovers Aliens

The search for extraterrestrial life is a pattern search through data and nothing is better at doing this than machines ... using the same techniques AI has learned to recognise cats and dogs on social media AI has just discovered a new planet - expect more discoveries in the data from now on as AI starts mining the data.

Driverless Car Sets Record
Yet another manifestation of AI ... driverless cars are a way for the digital tech pushers to colonise another industry - they will make it happen - whether we like it or not we will be moved around inside robots and it might happen sooner than we think. During 2018 expect Driverless car stunts ... things like "Driverless Car Drives From Land's End to John o' Groats" or "Driverless Car Saved My Life" ... that type of thing ... lets hope we don't see any news like "Driverless Car Beheaded Passenger" .. oh .. we've already had that one.


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ~ Arthur C Clarke 

Don't be deceived ..  #staywoke

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Electric Milk Float: A Vision Of The Future From The Past

I remember the electric milk float from the 1960s - the slow, graceful and quiet "creature" that glided and floated serenely along our streets every morning come sun, rain, ice or snow. 

We used to live just up the road from a co-op dairy and many mornings I would be woken around 5am to the clatter of milk crates being moved around. Like Santa, milkmen did their work while most of us were fast asleep and magically, as if it were xmas day every morning, our milk would be waiting on the doorstep for our breakfast. The milk float was such a part of local communities - many of us as children, if we didn't do a paper round did a milk round before school and everyone met the milk man at the weekend when he would collect the money for the weeks milk. We always gave him an Xmas card and a small gift.

Back in the 1960s few people could afford a car - the roads were quiet and people lived, worked and shopped locally ... the milk float fitted perfectly into its time but as more people owned their own car the way people's lives  changed - they could live and work remotely and do their shopping in larger quantities and less often. The milkman couldn't compete against the supermarket - it was just cheaper and easier to buy 4 pint plastic cartons of milk with the rest of the shopping, put them in the fridge and throw them away when done. The milk float had a long and lingering decline you could see it still doing its rounds late in the day as it had to travel further "just to stand still" - delivering to fewer and fewer people. During the late1980s milk floats were in their death throws - diversifying to try and survive by offering all sorts of grocery home deliveries like potatoes, bread and juice as well as milk but it seemed too late ... and in retrospect to early - the supermarket and the out of town shopping centres were the thing and the Internet wasn't even on the horizon. Today the milk float is a rare and endangered species mostly confined to the sanctuary of better off areas where the milk bottle on the doorstep to show you can afford it along with a national trust sticker on the window to show you care.

Once upon a time almost every house and flat had milk bottles on the doorstep in the morning ... it was taken for granted and there was trust - its been a very long time since I've passed a house and seen a milk bottle on the doorstep - I can't imagine it today ... everything has changed.

I'm not sure why dairies used electric vehicles back in the 1960s - I guess its because its because they worked early in the morning and were very quiet. The electric milk float could be charged overnight and the milkman, like the postman, would stop at almost every house so only had to move slowly and had a relatively small range. 

The electric milk float was a vision of the future from the past.

* Electric
Fossil fuels are finite, toxic and cause climate change - they will inevitably be replaced by something else and fully electric vehicles are the main contender. Quiet and clean - electric delivery vehicles are inevitable, especially in rural areas and the milk float provides a ready made example of how we used to do this.

* Home delivery
The 1960s was a progressive time not only did we get to the moon but we could also have our milk delivered to our door every morning. We had local shops and local delivery - I remember our coal being delivered by horse and cart, the grocer used to do delivery rounds, mum used to order stuff from the catalogues and we could enrol to do a degree delivered to our homes with the Open University! The Internet has created a new era of home delivery but the tables have turned and its the supermarkets who are delivering our groceries and a global-national-local combination of massive international platforms and couriers delivering our shopping.

* Just in time
Every morning the milkman would leave fresh milk on our doorstep just in time for breakfast - almost without fail whatever the weather. I remember those cold winter mornings opening the front door to get the milk in ... snow against the door and with the milk bottles covered in snow and iced milk inside ... we couldn't get the milk out of the bottle - I used to love that :) Amazon Prime, Argus same day .. we had that back in the 1960s everyday before we woke up with our milk!

* Recycling
Not only did the milkman deliver our milk but he collected the empty bottles we left out so they could be reused - it was all part of the system that we took for granted ... we didn't even think about it - put the empties out at night and bring in the new milk in the morning. After decades of throw away plastic its something we have had to relearn but its far less sustainable and efficient as it was back in the 1960s with the milkman.

* Environmentally friendly
Quiet, clean, and recycled - all of these things are among the answers to the problems of today - the electric milk float and its business model was 50 years ahead of its time.

* Local 
The milkman and the milk float were local, the milkman lived locally, knew his round and the people on it - they met face to face every week and many children worked on their local milk round ... helping deliver milk to friends and neighbours and even their own house. This type of local and community knowledge has been lost in many areas as car ownership has made us all more remote. As we enter the information age it is possible it is possible to flip the meaning of remote work ... rather than work remotely from where you live it is possible for many people in information processing jobs to "work remotely" ... i.e. to work locally or at home using the Internet.

Like going to the moon ... we have been there before

Environmentally friendly and local ... the vision of the vision of the future that many have is a reflection of the past ... there is no need to re-invent the wheel but the battery - the electric milk float was a vision of the future from the past.