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Teenagers: Facebook is only 13, Twitter just 11

Monday, 13 May, 2019

The Istanbul-born writer and academic Zeynep Tufecki has made a name for herself with her analysis of Big Tech and her understanding of its impacts. Last year she wrote in the New York Times that, “YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.” Now, she’s taken to the pages of Wired to declare, “IT’S THE (DEMOCRACY-POISONING) GOLDEN AGE OF FREE SPEECH.” In her conclusion, she compares the current state of the major social media platforms with the early days of the automobile industry:

“We don’t have to be resigned to the status quo. Facebook is only 13 years old, Twitter 11, and even Google is but 19. At this moment in the evolution of the auto industry, there were still no seat belts, airbags, emission controls, or mandatory crumple zones. The rules and incentive structures underlying how attention and surveillance work on the internet need to change. But in fairness to Facebook and Google and Twitter, while there’s a lot they could do better, the public outcry demanding that they fix all these problems is fundamentally mistaken. There are few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs — and those are not choices for Mark Zuckerberg alone to make. These are deeply political decisions. In the 20th century, the US passed laws that outlawed lead in paint and gasoline, that defined how much privacy a landlord needs to give his tenants, and that determined how much a phone company can surveil its customers. We can decide how we want to handle digital surveillance, attention-channeling, harassment, data collection, and algorithmic decision­making.”

Zeynep Tufecki is a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and in 2017 Yale University Press published her Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. The book is available to download as a PDF (1.70MB) for free from Twitterandteargas.org.


Butterfly iQ: ultrasound for all

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019

Medical imaging creates visuals of the inside of a human body for analysis and treatment. It includes radiography, ultrasound, endoscopy, magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear medicine techniques such as positron emission tomography. Sadly, 4.7 billion people around the world don’t have access to medical imaging, and even in the developed world, the cost of an MRI or a CT scan can be prohibitive.

Enter the Butterfly iQ, an invention that may yet revolutionize global medicine. As portable as a stethoscope and costing $2,000, it’s a hand-held ultrasound scanner that generates clinical-quality images on a smartphone. These are then uploaded to the cloud, where any medical expert can analyze them. “A fusion of semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and cloud technology has made it possible to create a ubiquitous imaging solution that is clinically significant and category defining,” say Butterfly Network, the US company that developed the device.

The Butterfly iQ scanner could play a critical role in rural Africa, Asia and Latin America, where the nearest X-ray machine might be days away and the only CT and MRI scanners may be in the major cities. Jonathan Rothberg, Butterfly’s founder, had the idea because one of his daughters had a disease that caused kidney cysts needing regular scans, and he has now donated iQs to medical charities working in more than a dozen poor countries. Example: Several have gone to Bridge to Health, a Canadian group that works closely with Kihefo, which is based in Uganda.


TEDMED has forgotten Elizabeth Holmes

Sunday, 7 April, 2019

They say the internet never forgets and the maxim has proved costly to lots of people who thought those old tweets or videos had been cobwebbed forever. TEDMED seems to be an exception to the rule, though. It has forgotten Elizabeth Holmes. Let’s back up here for a moment. TEDMED is “the independent health and medicine edition of the world-famous TED conference, dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.”

And Elizabeth Holmes? She’s the Silicon Valley scam artist who founded a company, Theranos, at the age of 19, dropping out of Stanford University and raising hundreds of millions of VC dollars to create a device she claimed would change health care with a fingerprick of blood. From bedrooms to battlefields to laboratories, it would make medical information more affordable. In her brief career, Holmes became a feminist icon, rejoicing in her own triumph over the bro-dominated world of tech. She once ended a Theranos film by declaring, “I always say that next to every glass ceiling there’s an iron lady.” Inevitably, the media elevated her a superwoman fighting for human rights, and the huge wealth she temporarily generated was celebrated as a deserved byproduct of her brilliant mind.

Search the TEDMED site today and you’ll find no mention of Elizabeth Holmes, though. She’s been erased from its history. Still, YouTube has a clip of the talk she delivered at TEDMED in 2014. “I believe. The individual. Is the answer. To the challenges of healthcare.” No wonder TEDMED deleted it.


Boeing: Taking it to the MAX

Thursday, 4 April, 2019

The recent company statement: “Boeing continues to work with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory agencies worldwide on the development and certification of the MCAS software update and training program.”

The recent newspaper report: “Pilots at the controls of the Boeing Co. 737 MAX that crashed in March in Ethiopia initially followed emergency procedures laid out by the plane maker but still failed to recover control of the jet, according to people briefed on the probe’s preliminary findings.”

If we are to believe the Wall Street Journal, then, the Ethiopian Airlines pilot managed to disable MCAS but was still unable to get the aircraft to climb again. If that’s correct, Boeing may have provided inadequate advice to pilots and were too quick to declare the 737 MAX safe. This would increase the likelihood that Boeing could be sued for damages and those costs have been estimated at $1 billion by Bloomberg Intelligence.

All of this was undreamt of when Alastair Philip Wiper visited the Boeing Factory in Washington a year ago. Wiper is a British photographer based in Copenhagen and he travels the world taking extraordinary photographs of industry, science, architecture and people. He began his post of 14 March 2018 thus: “The Boeing factory in Everett, Washington, is the largest building in the world. Just north of Seattle, the 13,385,378 m3 building was constructed to build the first 747’s in 1968, and is currently the place where the Boeing 747, 767, 777 and 787 are assembled. The factory employs over 30,000 people.”

In light of the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy, the next bit is poignant:

“I visited last year and got a special flight back to Oslo on the maiden flight of the first 737 MAX to be delivered to Norwegian airlines (also pictured). It was pretty fun to see the CEO of Norwegian sprawled over three seats in the row in front of me, trying to get a bit of shut eye. There were no business class seats on that plane, but the champagne kept on coming.”

Boeing Co. 737 MAX


Google quietly adds DuckDuckGo as a search option

Thursday, 14 March, 2019

“Tech” is not yet a four-letter word in Washington, but it could soon become one. Following noises from the left and right about breaking up Big Tech, Google has just offered a DuckDuckGo sop to its critics. TechCrunch has the story:

“In an update to the chromium engine, which underpins Google’s popular Chrome browser, the search giant has quietly updated the lists of default search engines it offers per market — expanding the choice of search product users can pick from in markets around the world.

Most notably it has expanded search engine lists to include pro-privacy rivals in more than 60 markets globally.

The changes, which appear to have been pushed out with the Chromium 73 stable release yesterday, come at a time when Google is facing rising privacy and antitrust scrutiny and accusations of market distorting behavior at home and abroad.”

Language note: A little over a year ago, when The Economist made its predictions for “The World in 2018,” one topic that the it singled out was ‘the coming ‘techlash.'” This possible backlash against Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, would see increasing calls for regulation and crackdowns on monopolistic policies wrote the forecaster. And now, the techlash is beginning to sting.


The flagellation of Big Tech

Monday, 18 February, 2019

Amazon’s decision last Thursday to abandon its plan to build a new headquarters in New York City, citing fierce opposition from state and local politicians, is another sign that the techlash is beginning to hurt. Megan McArdle in the Washington Post:

“Though Amazon won’t lose much by redirecting expansion elsewhere (including adding personnel to its offices elsewhere in New York), Big Tech should be worried about the company’s experience. Once viewed by the left as the Good Big Business, Big Tech has now been reclassified to the ranks of the rapacious monopolists. Meanwhile, the right is also getting less tech-friendly as it perceives Big Tech taking the other side in the culture wars. At the moment, tech has no obvious political allies.”

If the techlash turns into a war on Big Tech, the Information Oligarchs will rue their love-in with the Left. Radicals in Seattle and New York can no longer be depended on to support every Silicon Valley edict and it’s rather late in the day for the likes of Google to go looking for allies on the right. As Warren Buffett famously said in another context: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is keeping an eye on the ebb and flow along Capitol Hill these days, no doubt. He may yet be exposed, depending on the currents.


Always-on: Disconnection will mean death

Friday, 1 February, 2019

Here’s a quote from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari that gives sinister meaning to the notion of “always-on”:

“Eventually, we may reach a point when it will be impossible to disconnect from this all-knowing network even for a moment. Disconnection will mean death. If medical hopes are realised, future people will incorporate into their bodies a host of biometric devices, bionic organs and nano-robots, which will monitor our health and defend us from infections, illnesses and damage. Yet these devices will have to be online 24/7, both in order to be updated with the latest medical news, and in order to protect them from the new plagues of cyberspace. Just as my home computer is constantly attacked by viruses, worms and Trojan horses, so will be my pacemaker, my hearing aid and my nanotech immune system. If I don’t update my body’s anti-virus program regularly, I will wake up one day to discover that the millions of nano-robots coursing through my veins are now controlled by a North Korean hacker.”

History: As computing became more pervasive around the start of this century, “always-on” systems began to replace “on-demand” systems. Typical examples of always-on systems are cable modems and DSL connections. Yesterday’s dial-up connections were only “on” when they were connected through the public telephone network. Today’s systems are continuously available, plugged in to power sources and networks. Like so many digital natives, they don’t take breaks, but continue to hum along through all hours of the day and night.


The eleventh post of pre-Christmas 2018: November

Sunday, 23 December, 2018

Frederick Forsyth was 33 when his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, was published in 1971. The story of how the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) hires an English assassin to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle became an international bestseller and gained the author fame and fortune. On 14 November, here, we welcomed Forsyth’s latest novel, which is very much about modern espionage.

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What if the most dangerous weapon in the world is not a nuke in a backpack but a 17-year-old boy with a brilliant mind, “who can run rings around the most sophisticated security services across the globe, who can manipulate that weaponry and turn it against the superpowers themselves?” That’s the premise of The Fox, the new thriller from Frederick Forsyth. Born in the year of the Munich Agreement, when British, French and Italian leaders agreed to Hitler’s demand for the German annexation of the Sudetenland, Forsyth has grown up in a world that has experienced its share of evil in his 80 years. The latest manifestation, in his latest novel, is the Vozhd, a Russian word meaning “the Boss” or, in the world of crime, “the Godfather”. When Forsyth was 15, the old Vozhd, Joseph Stalin, died. The new Vozhd is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and one of his prized assets arrived in Russia in 2013, having fled from Hawaii. Snippet:

“When defector and traitor Edward Snowden flew to Moscow it is believed he carried over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted before a border check into the human anus. ‘Back in the day’, as the veterans put it, a column of trucks would have been needed, and a convey moving through a gate tends to be noticeable.
So, the computer took over from the human, the archives containing trillions of secrets came to be stored on databases… Matching pace, crime also changed, gravitating from shoplifting through financial embezzlement to today’s computer fraud, which enables more wealth to be stolen than ever before in the history of finance. Thus the modern world gave rise to the concept of computerized hidden wealth but also to the computer hacker. The burglar of cyberspace.”

The Fox

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The review of the year as posted by Rainy Day ends tomorrow with the twelfth post of pre-Christmas 2018. The subject is the street-fighting man, then and now.


The fourth post of pre-Christmas 2018: April

Sunday, 16 December, 2018

The winner of the FT and McKinsey Business Book of 2018 Award was Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. His brilliant account of the spectacular rise and scandalous fall of Theranos, the high-tech blood-testing company, raises questions not only about the culture at this particular start-up — valued at more than $9 billion at one point — but of Silicon Valley and its sycophants, who boost every “breakthrough” as if it were the Second Coming. Accepting the award, Carreyrou said that readers of Bad Blood should note that the “move fast and break things” tech doctrine doesn’t work very well “when lives are at stake.”

Continuing with our review of the year, our post on 12 April was about the totally fraudulent Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos.

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If you think Mark Zuckerberg is having a tough week, consider the (mis)fortune of Elizabeth Holmes. Remember her? The CEO of Theranos was the poster girl for all those who bought and sold the delusion that a photogenic founder was an essential first step on the road to unimaginable riches. And, sure enough, gullible investors and sycophantic media beat a path to the golden door in the Valley in the hope of turning blood into treasure. And they ponied up an incredible $1.4 billion along the way.

Zuckerberg may have been on the hot seat, but Holmes is in deep water. Consider the letter she recently sent to shareholders regarding the company’s looming default on a $100 million loan. Snippet:

“The most viable option that we have identified to forestall a near-term sale or a potential default under our credit agreement is further investment by one or more of you. In light of where we are, this is no easy ask. However, given your support of the company over the years, we wanted to provide this opportunity before we proceed too far down the current path.”

Holmes is a fraud, but one has to admire (almost) the chutzpa of “this is no easy ask”.

Miss Fortune

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Tomorrow, here, the fifth post of pre-Christmas 2018 is from May and its title, Seán Sa Cheo, refers to the risky business of climbing mountains in foggy conditions.


Smartphones are almost everywhere

Sunday, 18 November, 2018

It’s estimated that 40 percent of the world’s population now has a smartphone. For three billion people, writes Alan Taylor in The Atlantic, “these versatile handheld devices have become indispensable tools, providing connections to loved ones, entertainment, business applications, shopping opportunities, windows into the greater world of social media, news, history, education, and more.”

Here, Nigerian refugee Aicha Younoussa poses with a smartphone in front of her tent in a refugee camp in southern Chad.

In Chad

Here, attendees take photos of President Donald Trump as he attends the 2018 Young Black Leadership Summit in the East Room of the White House.

President Trump in the White House

Here, three women take selfies in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan.

Piazza del Duomo


Let the unboxing begin

Thursday, 15 November, 2018

ThinkPad