Internet

The digital dividends and divides of 2016

Friday, 15 January, 2016 0 Comments

The internet. What’s it good for? Lots. It can help boost trade, improve economies, distribute knowledge and create jobs for the marginalized. Who says? The World Bank says. That’s why it called the document it released yesterday “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.” The key word there is “dividends”. But we don’t live in a perfect world so the report notes that “better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits — circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.” Not everyone has collected those digital dividends, in other words.

Still, it’s quite a leap to portray the the report as an indictment of the internet, but that’s exactly what the Guardian did in a story hilariously titled “Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns.” This is so comical that one can imagine Evgeny Morozov writing it. Instead, Danny Yadron “in San Francisco” is responsible. Anyway, back to the World Bank report. It presents a picture of a divided world in which 60 percent of people are still offline, four billion don’t have internet access, some two billion do not use a mobile phone and and almost half a billion live outside areas with a mobile signal. And what happens when the internet impacts?

“Many advanced economies face increasingly polarized labor markets and rising inequality — in part because technology augments higher skills while replacing routine jobs, forcing many workers to compete for low-paying jobs. Public sector investments in digital technologies, in the absence of accountable institutions, amplify the voice of elites, which can result in policy capture and greater state control. And because the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms.”

To counter this, the World Bank recommends that governments lower barriers to internet adoption with rules that encourage competition and innovation, and investing in “analog complements,” such as basic education. Quote: “Many poor lack the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to use the internet. In Mali and Uganda, about three-quarters of third-grade children cannot read. In Afghanistan and Niger, 7 of 10 adults are illiterate.” Those divides need to be closed before those dividends become real.

Note: Those tech companies castigated by the Guardian are committed to bringing internet access to the four corners of the world. Google’s Project Loon is set to float over Indonesia and Facebook’s Internet.org will offer mobile web access to people in India and Egypt. And both are experimenting with providing internet access using solar-powered, high-altitude drones. Yes, we need to ensure that these companies don’t become synonymous with the internet, but neither should we resort to paranoia about their innovations. Those digital dividends depend on closing those divides.


Time passes, love fades and Dylan meets Big Data

Wednesday, 30 December, 2015 0 Comments

Although he’s a poet and a philosopher, Bob Dylan is not so ivory-tower that he scorns advertising, especially if it helps the Bob Dylan business. Back in 2004, he appeared in a commercial for Victoria’s Secret lingerie. In 2008 he did ads for Cadillac, and in 2009 he partnered with will.i.am for a Pepsi spot that aired during the Super Bowl. In October, IBM pulled off quite a coup when it coaxed Dylan into appearing in a commercial for its artificial intelligence software Watson. “I can read 800 million pages per second. My analysis shows your major themes are time passes and love fades,” Watson tells Dylan as the two riff on a song idea.

According to IBM, five Watson services analyzed 320 songs from Dylan’s archive and came up with the key trends of time passing and love fading. The message of the ad is that Watson not only thinks but learns about a topic. Among those topics are Big Data, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which will be major themes here on Rainy Day in 2016.

The IoT is about connecting devices to the internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from phones to washing machines to wearables and almost anything else you can think of. The concept also covers machine components such as an airplane engine or the drill of an oil rig. According to Gartner, more than 20 billion devices will be part of the IoT by 2020.


Word of the Year

Wednesday, 16 December, 2015 0 Comments

It’s time for the annual Rainy Day Awards and we’re launching this year’s series of seven with our Word of the Year. First, however, and to avoid confusion, a brief note on what the word is not. Although it resembles iota, which means “a very small amount”, and is related to the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet, it’s not iota. And while it looks a bit like jot, which is related to iota, and means to write down something briefly and quickly, it’s not jot, either.

The Rainy Day Word of the Year award goes to… IoT. The acronym means the Internet of Things, which is the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in objects, empowering them to send and receive data. This is going to be huge and the International Data Corporation predicts that the IoT will include more than 200 billion things globally connected by the end of 2020.

The key driver of the Internet of Things is the ease with which we can wirelessly connect mobile items to the Internet using WiFi, Bluetooth or proprietary wireless communications protocols. Farewell, then, forever to the days when Internet devices had to be wired to a fixed location.

But what does it mean for me, for you? Well, IoT devices coming our way include home automation like Google’s Nest, the Vessyl intelligent cup that monitors what you are drinking, the Beam tooth brush that reports on your dental hygiene history and the HAPIfork that records one’s eating habits. Added to all that, we have wearables: fitness trackers, smart watches, clever clothes and healthcare embeds such as pacemakers and glucose monitors. Automated cars will also have lots of IoT capabilities.

Beam toothbrush

Perhaps the most disruptive thing about the IoT is its ability to unbundle products and systems. Unbundling? Think of the MP3 audio format, which unbundled individual tracks from albums. That upended the music business. Airbnb has revolutionized the concept of renting homes and rooms and the iOT will enable all kinds of devices and services and products to be leased on demand.

The tsunami of data generated by the IoT will pose enormous privacy and moral questions that are only starting to be addressed. Who owns the health-related data streaming from your wrist? Should cars that monitor driving habits report road behaviour to employers and insurers?

While that’s being debated, the IoT will be creating job opportunities for people with the right (Big Data) skills. These include data analysis, network design and security management certification. The research companies have been predicting tech job growth in the order of millions for years now so a good IoT Christmas present for someone you love (?) might be Getting a Big Data Job For Dummies.

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Drink of the Year award.


IBM brings Watson to Munich

Tuesday, 15 December, 2015 0 Comments

It would be an exaggeration to say that Germany has bet the farm on the Industry 4.0 concept, but the country certainly is investing a huge amount of credibility along with significant sums of money in its variant of the Internet of Things (IoT). That willingness to take manufacturing into the cloud and beyond got a big vote of confidence today when IBM opened its Watson IoT global headquarters in Munich. The city will also host IBM’s first European Watson innovation centre.

The declared goal is to add the power of cognitive computing to the billions of connected devices, sensors and systems that make up the IoT. The campus environment at the Highlight Towers on Mies-van-der-Rohe-Straße will bring together a thousand IBM developers, consultants, researchers and designers and will also serve as an innovation lab for data scientists, engineers and programmers “building new connected solutions at the intersection of cognitive computing and the IoT,” according to the IBM press release.

Along with the facility in Munich, IBM announced today that it is opening Watson IoT Client Experience Centres across Asia and the Americas. Locations include Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Texas. These will provide clients and partners access to technology, tools and talent needed to develop and create new products and services using the cognitive intelligence delivered via the Watson IoT Cloud Platform.

As Thomas J. Watson Jr. once said: “Wisdom is the power to put our time and our knowledge to the proper use.”

Watson


Mahabir Pun

Friday, 11 December, 2015 1 Comment

This just in: “Helping out in Barpak is Nepal’s internet maverick, Mahabir Pun, who is replicating his work in establishing wireless connectivity in Kaski and Myagdi in the earthquake affected districts of Gorkha and Lamjung. Eight schools and three health posts will be connected with up to six hotspots allowing classes to have e-learning and providing health posts access to tele-medicine.” The Nepali Times

Born in a remote village in the Myagdi District of western Nepal, Mahabir Pun spent his childhood herding yaks in the shadow of the Himalayas, and intermittently attending the local school, which had neither chalk, textbooks, pens or certified teachers. Today, Mahabir Pun is the team leader of the Nepal Wireless Networking Project, which uses a mix of solar power, tree-based relay systems and wireless technology to help families communicate, yak farmers sell their products, trekking businesses find customers and children get an education via distance learning.

It’s an inspiring story and Mahabir Pun has been deservedly inducted in to the Internet Hall of Fame and awarded the Jonathan B. Postel Service Award by the Internet Society. Hiking for Emails was made by Clemens Purner, an Austrian director based in Berlin.


Own the robots, rule the world

Wednesday, 9 December, 2015 0 Comments

According to Marx, it’s simple. Ownership of the Means of Production is in the wrong hands and this has led to the class differences that bedevil the planet. Individual ability, religious or cultural factors are irrelevant to the Marxists — all that’s needed is to wrest the machines from the capitalists, give them to the proletariat and the world will be as one. The disciples of Karl Marx have been preaching this “gospel” since the mid-19th century with spectacular calamity for the masses, most recently in Venezuela.

Is there a better way? And if so, who should own the modern Means of Production? The question is increasingly urgent in a world where Google is replacing librarians and professors are being eliminated by massive online courses. As computers and robots eat up the tasks being done by humans, workers need to do something or they’ll end up doing nothing. One solution would see governments taxing the Zuckerbergs and the Musks punitively and redistributing the “take” to the workers, but that’s the Venezuela way. Better: workers own shares in tech firms, have stock options in the AI start-ups and be paid in part from the profits generated by the robotics companies.

Who says? Richard B. Freeman, who holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University does. Recently, Germany’s Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH, better known as the Institute for the Study of Labor and abbreviated as IZA, asked Freeman for his thoughts on technology, work and capital. For the Bonn-based non-profit, Freeman wrote “Who owns the robots rules the world” and in it he argues that the best model is an American one in the form of the Employee Stock Ownership Plans introduced in 1974 and which have since energized a sector that now employs some 11 million workers.

“The EU has endorsed such schemes in its various Pepper Reports and encouraged these forms of organization, though with, at best, modest success,” notes Freeman, ruefully. The continent of Marx is not too fond of worker ownership, unless the state is the proprietor, that is. On the other side of the Atlantic, which remains Marx resistant, despite the best efforts of the elites, Freeman points out that “enough firms in the US have extended some form of ownership stake to their workers that on the order of half of American employees get some part of their pay through profit-sharing, options, or stock ownership.” This is the way forward because, “In the US, at least, people with widely different ideological and economic views find attractive the notion of spreading ownership. One can imagine governments giving preferential treatment in procurement to firms that meet some basic ’employee ownership’ financial standard.”

As we enter the age of Industry 4.0, a priority of every developed economy should be encouraging worker ownership of capital to provide income streams from the technologies changing the world of work. Otherwise, Richard B. Freeman warns: “If we don’t succeed in spreading the ownership of capital more widely, many of us will become serfs working on behalf of the owners. Who owns the robots rules the world! Let us own the robots.” Aye!

Robots at work


Paper, continued

Wednesday, 10 December, 2014 0 Comments

“Why should I want to have a lot of copies of this and that lying around? Nothing but clutter in the office, a temptation to prying eyes, and a waste of good paper.” — John Brooks, Business Adventures

John Brooks (1920 — 1993) was a longtime contributor to the New Yorker magazine, where he worked as a staff writer, specializing in financial topics. His Business Adventures was published in 1969 and perhaps the books’s most relevant piece from today’s perspective is his account of life at Xerox. In the early 1960s, the company introduced a proprietary process that let copies be made on plain paper and with great speed. It had almost $60 million in revenue in 1961 and this figure jumped to more than $500 million by 1965, by which time Americans were creating 14 billion copies a year.

Brooks describes the “mania” for copying as “a feeling that nothing can be of importance unless it is copied, or is a copy itself.” Xerography changed the nature of text distribution more than anything since the time of Gutenberg and stoked up hopes and fears akin to those experienced in the early days of the World Wide Web. When Brooks visited Xerox HQ in Rochester, New York, he found the that the company’s biggest concern, however, was figuring out how to support the United Nations — an admirable ideal, in many ways, but not that relevant to its core business.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center were developing several key elements of personal computing, including the desktop metaphor GUI and the mouse. These radical ideas were frowned upon by the board of directors on the East Coast, obsessed with their charitable giving, so they ordered the Xerox engineers to share the innovations with Apple. The rest is history.

It’s no surprise that Bill Gates, the entrepreneur and philanthropist, finds Brooks so instructive today.


You can have Ebola.com for $150,000

Tuesday, 14 October, 2014 0 Comments

“We are an Internet real estate investment, development, and brand assistance firm,” claims Blue String Ventures, Inc, which numbers Fukushima.com and Soursoup.com among its notable “successes”. The same Blue String Ventures, Inc. is also sitting on the Ebola.com domain and is looking for $150,000 to transfer ownership of the site.

“Ebola.com would be a great domain for a pharmaceutical company working on a vaccine or cure, a company selling pandemic or disaster-preparedness supplies, or a medical company wishing to provide information and advertise services,” Jon Schultz, Blue String’s president, told CNBC. “There could be many other applications as well. With so many people concerned about the disease, any advertisement referring people to Ebola.com should get an excellent response.”

When you type Ebola.com into a browser and hit Enter, “Welcome to Ebolavirus.org” is what pops up at the URL. There’s a mish-mash of Ebola-related links and right at the bottom in the smallest of print is the message: “Copyright 2014 Ebolavirus.org Ebola.com Is For Sale All Rights Reserved.”

Today in Parasitic Capitalism: Ebola.com Squatter Wants $150K for Domain,” writes Slias Groll in Foreign Policy. It should not be surprising that who saw profit from Fukushima, could imagine making a killing with Ebola.


Mary Meeker: Internet Trends 2014

Thursday, 29 May, 2014 0 Comments

Like Christmas, Mary Meeker’s annual internet trends report is greatly anticipated. Instead of children and parents, however, the audience for this treat is technology and business managers. Her big talking point for 2014? Enterprises need to think mobile first as it’s increasingly likely that all commercial internet contacts with customers will be via mobile connections. And messaging is changing from broadcasting a few posts to a large audience on Facebook to frequent interactions with smaller groups of people on the likes of Snapchat, WhatsApp and Tencent. Enjoy!


The eBay compromise and the hacking of Mat Honan

Thursday, 22 May, 2014 0 Comments

Having gone to the bother of creating an elaborate password for eBay some weeks ago involving a variety of symbols, digits and letters, it’s dispiriting to find that the hackers may now have my name, e-mail address, phone number and, worst of all, my “encrypted password”. The story brings back scary memories of what happened to Wired writer Mat Honan when he was hacked two years ago: Snippet:

“At 5:02 p.m., they reset my Twitter password. At 5:00 they used iCloud’s ‘Find My’ tool to remotely wipe my iPhone. At 5:01 they remotely wiped my iPad. At 5:05 they remotely wiped my MacBook. Around this same time, they deleted my Google account. At 5:10, I placed the call to AppleCare. At 5:12 the attackers posted a message to my account on Twitter taking credit for the hack.”

The conclusion of How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking is worth noting: “I’m angry that Amazon makes it so remarkably easy to allow someone into your account, which has obvious financial consequences. And then there’s Apple. I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can’t put a price on.”

Add eBay to the list. Onward now with with the chore of thinking up a new password.


#web25

Wednesday, 12 March, 2014 0 Comments

“By design, the Web is universal, royalty-free, open and decentralised. Thousands of people worked together to build the early Web in an amazing, non-national spirit of collaboration; tens of thousands more invented the applications and services that make it so useful to us today, and there is still room for each one of us to create new things on and through the Web. This is for everyone.” Sir Tim Berners-Lee