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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

“How Strange”

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Lia Pas, writing about how strange it is that relatively new technology can suddenly feel very old in the face of the newest technology:

How strange that technology that is only three years old feels cludgy in our hands now. How strange what high expectations we have for responsiveness from a thin board of glass and metal. How easily these things have become “necessities” and ubiquitous in our presence. How will we play with light three years from now? How old will this device I’m using now feel beneath my hands?

The Promise of Big Data (& Dawn of 21st Century Problems)

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Cam Davidson-Pilon has an excellent blog post about 21st Century Problems. In it, he posits one of the best explanations of the promise of Big Data I’ve yet to come across:

21st Century problems are statistical problems

Statistical problems describe the space we haven’t explored yet. Statistical problems are not new: they are likely as old as deterministic problems. What is new is our ability to solve them. Spear-headed by the (constantly increasing) tidal wave of data, practitioners are able to solve new problems otherwise thought impossible. Consider the development of a spellchecker: in a deterministic approach, an algorithm for spell checking would have needed to incorporate context and complicated ideas from the language’s grammar (I shutter at the nested if statements ), unique only up to that language; whereas a statistical approach can be written in under 20 lines. The difference between the two approaches is that the latter has taken advantage of the presence of a large corpus of text — a very lenient assumption.

This isn’t another big data article, but its hard underestimate, let along imagine, what we will be doing with these casual data sets. Fields like medicine, that previously relied on small sample sizes to make important one-size-fits-all decisions, will evolve into a very personal affair. By investigating traffic data, dynamic solutions can be built that mimic past successes. Aided by machine learning, specifically recommendation engines, companies can invoke desires never previously thought about in our minds. Ideas like multi-armed bandits will motivate UI and AI development.

Consider Big Data in that context and suddenly it’s a far more powerful (and complex) idea than what a few whitepapers might have you believe.

Also, for contrast purposes, note how he describes most of the great technological accomplishments of the 20th century:

The technological challenges, and achievements, of the 20th Century handed society powerful tools. Technologies like nuclear power, airplanes & automobiles, the digital computer, radio, internet and imaging technologies to name only a handful. Each of these technologies had disrupted the system, and each can be argued to be Black Swans (à la Nassim Taleb). In fact, for each technology, one could find a company killed by it, and a company that made its billions from it.

What these technologies have in common is that are all deterministic engineering solutions. By that, I mean they have been created by techniques in mathematics, physics and engineering: often being modeled in a mathematical language, guided by physics’ calculus and constrained and brought to life by engineering. I argue that these types of problems, of modeling deterministically, are problems that our father’s had the luxury of solving.

Very smart analysis, and one I haven’t read before. Check out Cam’s whole post.

Casual Friday: An Everyday Family Discussion. Not.

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We were in the car. My son and a friend in the backseat, and me at the wheel. We live in Michigan and the weather was horrible (sorry for being redundant), and in this day and age where everything is digital and instant, actually going places in a car – you know, physical travel that cannot be approximated digitally – is so analog. My son was not digging this old school gig.

SON: Dad, do cars ever have TVs?

ME: Not really. Some cars have these little screens in the back so you can watch a movie or whatever, but that’s about it.

SON: So no big TV screens?

ME: No dude.

SON: Why not? Someone should invent that.

ME: Well, for starters, TVs today are humongous. Where would you expect one to fit? And for another thing, it’d be a huge distraction to everyone in the car, and that’s dangerous. People can’t even handle a cell phone without swerving all over the road like crazed rhesus monkies.

HIS FRIEND: What is a rhesus monkey?

ME (joking): It’s what you are. You are not a human boy.

FRIEND: Ha ha, Mr. Ventura.

ME: I’m serious. You are a monkey, just very finely shaven. That costs a lot of money, you know.

FRIEND: (just stares at me through the rear-view mirror’s reflection)

SON: So Dad, do they make cars with Xboxes? It’d be cool to play Minecraft on the Xbox in the car.

ME: No they don’t. There’s nowhere to hook one up, and again, distracting dude. Dangerous. You don’t drive a car and do other things unless you want Very Bad Things to happen.

SON: Well check this out: I’m not driving. You are. Ha ha.

ME: Cute buddy.

FRIEND: (to my son) We can just play Minecraft on our iPads. Want to?

SON: We can’t. You need wifi to create a server. We don’t have wifi.

FRIEND: Oh yeah.

(I make a mental note that two kids under the age of 10 are talking about wifi and multiplayer servers.)

SON: Dad, can you buy a car with wifi? That’d be cool.

ME: They don’t make cars with wifi. They have mobile networks – like what my iPhone uses – but no wifi networks in cars. Yet.

SON: Man. That seems really silly.

FRIEND: Sucks.

ME: You guys are so spoiled. Did you know the first video game I every played was called Pong, and what you did was bat a white square around with two white bats? That’s it. Black and white, a ball, two bats. Boom. That was my Xbox.

(I was suddenly acutely aware I was giving off massive, stinking Old Man vibes.)

FRIEND: That sounds really super lame. Was it fun?

ME: Better than a sharp stick in the eye.

FRIEND: What? What does that mean?

ME: It means listen up, you little beast. I’m dropping some knowledge on y’all. (I smile and do my best approximation of a hip-hop hand symbol thing, and they  just stare at me like I have a spinal injury.)

FRIEND: (rolling his eyes) Ha ha.

SON: Dad, there are tons of things cars need. They should invent cars with TVs, Xboxes and wifi.

ME: Well, that particular car you want is probably some years off. Which is a good thing. Trust me.

SON: …

FRIEND: …

SON: Hey dad?

ME: Yeah?

SON: Someone should invent houses you can drive.

Will Technology Help Humans Thrive in the Stars or Force Our Extinction?

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Absolutely fascinating (and harrowing) essay by Ross Anderson interviewing Nick Bostrom, the director of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, about what lies ahead for humanity. Specifically, the role technology could play if things go, well, badly:

No rational human community would hand over the reins of its civilisation to an AI. Nor would many build a genie AI, an uber-engineer that could grant wishes by summoning new technologies out of the ether. But some day, someone might think it was safe to build a question-answering AI, a harmless computer cluster whose only tool was a small speaker or a text channel. Bostrom has a name for this theoretical technology, a name that pays tribute to a figure from antiquity, a priestess who once ventured deep into the mountain temple of Apollo, the god of light and rationality, to retrieve his great wisdom. Mythology tells us she delivered this wisdom to the seekers of ancient Greece, in bursts of cryptic poetry. They knew her as Pythia, but we know her as the Oracle of Delphi.

‘Let’s say you have an Oracle AI that makes predictions, or answers engineering questions, or something along those lines,’ Dewey told me. ‘And let’s say the Oracle AI has some goal it wants to achieve. Say you’ve designed it as a reinforcement learner, and you’ve put a button on the side of it, and when it gets an engineering problem right, you press the button and that’s its reward. Its goal is to maximise the number of button presses it receives over the entire future. See, this is the first step where things start to diverge a bit from human expectations. We might expect the Oracle AI to pursue button presses by answering engineering problems correctly. But it might think of other, more efficient ways of securing future button presses. It might start by behaving really well, trying to please us to the best of its ability. Not only would it answer our questions about how to build a flying car, it would add safety features we didn’t think of. Maybe it would usher in a crazy upswing for human civilisation, by extending our lives and getting us to space, and all kinds of good stuff. And as a result we would use it a lot, and we would feed it more and more information about our world.’

‘One day we might ask it how to cure a rare disease that we haven’t beaten yet. Maybe it would give us a gene sequence to print up, a virus designed to attack the disease without disturbing the rest of the body. And so we sequence it out and print it up, and it turns out it’s actually a special-purpose nanofactory that the Oracle AI controls acoustically. Now this thing is running on nanomachines and it can make any kind of technology it wants, so it quickly converts a large fraction of Earth into machines that protect its button, while pressing it as many times per second as possible. After that it’s going to make a list of possible threats to future button presses, a list that humans would likely be at the top of. Then it might take on the threat of potential asteroid impacts, or the eventual expansion of the Sun, both of which could affect its special button. You could see it pursuing this very rapid technology proliferation, where it sets itself up for an eternity of fully maximised button presses. You would have this thing that behaves really well, until it has enough power to create a technology that gives it a decisive advantage — and then it would take that advantage and start doing what it wants to in the world.’

Sci-fi? Crazy talk? Not if you’ve read anything about the technological singularity.

You might need some cheering up right about now, yeah? So did I. Here you go.

Casual Friday: It’s a Magical World, but We’re Too Bored to Believe It

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Louis CK is right: everything is amazing, and nobody is happy.

Nothing drives this home like explaining to your child how fantastic of a time he’s living in. Of course, that’s a one-way mirror – my son just stares at me probably much like I stared at my own father when he said he didn’t have color TV when he was a kid. My thought was pretty much, “Wow. That really sucks. Can you get out of the way now, please? You’re blocking Scooby-Doo.”

Two nights ago, I embarked upon the Time-Honored Tradition and explained to my son that he’s living in likely the most magical age in human history. I told him we enjoy the fortunate confluence of technology, entertainment and information access that’s never before been seen. We have massive industries being disrupted at an every-half-decade clip, and things are only accelerating.

Books? Soon to be relegated to the nostalgia closet. Movie theaters? The advent of HDTVs and spectacular home theater systems make a $60.00 night out at the movies seem positively anachonistic. Dictionaries, reference materials – heck, libraries: thanks to Google, all outmoded for most of the population. In a nation of instant gratification addicts, we’re living in a vertiable opium den.

I was trying to explain to my son that the iPhone I carry in my pocket is more technology than I ever had growing up, period. He just stared at me.

“The first video game I ever played was Pong,” I explained, trying to juxtapose that against the perfectly rendered 3D worlds and smooth animation he can see on a phone. “It was two paddles that batted a ball back and forth, and when one player missed the ball the other got a point.” I drew a little diagram on a piece of paper to illustrate this horribly difficult concept. “It was all black and white. No color.”

“That was the whole game?” he asked, earnestly, eyes fixed on mine.

“Yeah. That was it.” I had the brief glimmer my perspective-setting lesson might be sinking in …

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Pong!”

… or not.

Just Look It Up, Dad

Learning something new used to require effort.

I remember going to libraries and poring over encyclopedias and microfiche just to research, say, population density in Michigan. That took a car ride, some arranging of a pick up time, most likely haranguing a friend into going, getting dropped off, goofing around in the library and making ptoo-ptoo Star Wars noises at each other, and finally digging out the BAZ-BET encyclopedia volume and flipping around until you found what you wanted. Total elapsed time: about three hours and as many people involved.

Today, I click on my WolframAlpha bookmark, enter ‘population density michigan’, and boom, results – minus the two car rides and several dozen ptoo’s.

Elapsed time: seven seconds.

Some have called this intellectual laziness and an excuse not to learn new material. Why, the argument goes, would you learn rote facts when you can have them at your fingertips?

I could not agree more. I’m an information junkie in the worst way, and I suppose that’s why, anytime a factual question comes up, my son grabs his iPad, hits the Google box, and searches on whatever we’re taking about.

What’s a TV Guide?

My son thinks the idea of a TV guide – a book that lists all TV programs and their respective viewing times – is cute. Cute as in ridiculous.

“Couldn’t you just record shows and watch them when you wanted?” he asks.

“No. Nothing to record on. We had to be in front of the TV when a show was on, or we missed it.”

“No DVRs?”

“Buddy, no tapes. Tapes came before DVRs. You probably don’t even remember tapes, do you?”

“I’ve seen them, but never used them.”

“You have it good these days, buddy. You can watch whatever you want when you want, and if there’s a movie you want to see, you just stream it from Netflix from the Internet. Know what we used to have to do?”

“What?”

“We used to have to get in the car, drive to a movie rental place, go in, see if they had the movie – and a lot of times they didn’t, it was already checked out by someone else – pay $3.12, get back in the car, drive home, put the tape in the VCR and hope we had the right movie or it wasn’t screwed up.”

“Wow. That’s a lot just for a movie.”

“Actually, back then that was easy. Before that, you had to go to a movie theater. Or never see the movie. That was how it was.”

“Wow,” he says.

“Yeah, wow buddy. Amazing times. I keep telling you that.”

“I know.”

“So what do you want to do? We have a few hours before soccer.”

“I don’t know Dad. I’m so bored.

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When Flying, You Still Must Power-Down Your Devices. Why? That’s Still Unclear.

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Nick Bilton, writing for the NYTimes:

According to the F.A.A., 712 million passengers flew within the United States in 2010. Let’s assume that just 1 percent of those passengers — about two people per Boeing 737, a conservative number — left a cellphone, e-reader or laptop turned on during takeoff or landing. That would mean seven million people on 11 million flights endangered the lives of their fellow passengers.

Yet, in 2010, no crashes were attributed to people using technology on a plane. None were in 2009. Or 2008, 2007 and so on. You get the point.

Surely if electronic gadgets could bring down an airplane, you can be sure that the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, which has a consuming fear of 3.5 ounces of hand lotion and gel shoe inserts, wouldn’t allow passengers to board a plane with an iPad or Kindle, for fear that they would be used by terrorists.

I understand that new technologies represent uncertainty and uncertainty represents opportunity for those looking to take advantage of such a gap. I get it. But today’s flight rules pertaining to electronics seem cobbled together by a patchwork of guesses, assumptions and urban-legend-grade fears.

I have to turn off my iPhone entirely, not just put it in Airplane Mode, even though Airplane Mode shuts down every single radio in the device? Makes no sense.

I have to turn off my Kindle, even if my 3G radio is off? Even if I don’t have a model with a 3G radio? If that’s the case, why don’t I need to yank the battery out of my wristwatch to power it down?

For that matter, why are pacemakers and hearing aids allowed to operate?

I know I’m slipping into a rant here (I can feel it), but seriously, this is easily one of my top pet peeves.

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Google Asks, ‘What Do You Love?’

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Google has quietly unveiled a service called What Do You Love? which is essentially a way for a user to search on a topic and have results returned categorically, by Google product, and easily-parsible.  From playing with it for about ten minutes, it seems to be a result aggregator that includes results across a wide range of Google product/services: Images, Maps, Trends, News, Groups, Translate, Mobile, Chrome, Alerts, Earth, SketchUp, Blog Search, and so on.

For example, here’s what a search for ‘PeopleSoft’ returns.

For me, this is…cute.  For now, that’s the best word I can come up with. I don’t see it ever replacing my standard Google search behavior, and I’m already a power user of Google’s services, so I pretty much know their portfolio.  For users who only see Google as a search engine, or who are just now dipping their toes in more robust web apps, this is a great showcase for Google’s results displayed across a showcase for its myriad products.

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More links:

MIPRO Consulting main website.

MIPRO on Twitter and Facebook.

About this blog.

Technology: The Taketh and the Giveth

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Taketh

Recently, my daughter and I were sitting on the floor in her bedroom going through a huge bag of notes she saved from high school. There were notes from her girlfriends, boys who were ‘just friends’ and yes, the dreaded boyfriend too. They had been stuffed in her closet for the past 14 years! (Yes, I’m a saver, and she learned it from the best.) She is now married and has blessed me with two beautiful grandchildren.

These notes chronicled so much of her high school joys, fears, boyfriends, and even some things that I was probably better off not knowing! Yet, it was a very special couple of hours to sit and go through them together and watch her reaction to those special memories. We laughed and cried.

She startled me when she suddenly stopped, and with a bit of sadness said, ‘Wow Mom, I won’t ever be able to do this with my daughter,’ and I said, “Of course you will honey. She will do just as you have done and want to share what was once private to her with you.”

It was then that I realized what she was hitting on.

Kids don’t write notes to each other on paper anymore. They don’t pass them in the hall, or put them in each other’s lockers, or stuff them into a shoe box at home in hopes no one will find them – they text and delete. Sort of a sad reality that while texting may be more efficient and quicker, there is nothing left behind to recall later like she and I did sitting in her room 14 years later.

Giveth

About 10 years ago we bought a condo at a ski/golf resort in upper Michigan. It’s a cozy little getaway. We bought it furnished so we literally just had to take some personal belongings up and we were in! Along with the furniture, kitchen items and assorted knickknacks you invariably find in a furnished place, there are two book cases filled with books. I never really paid much attention to them as they looked a bit dated.

Recently I was dusting the books and several caught my eye. There is an entire collection of Consolidated Readers Digest, a World History book published in 1924, a guide to proper dating published in 1950 — to name a few. I came across an American History book which was published in 1935. I took it off the shelf and began to flip through the pages. It spoke of dangers of government becoming too large and spending too much money. How the people were beginning to lose their voice and were not listened to.

While these may speak of interesting parallels to our times in 2011, what gave me pause was the idea that with today’s technology in Nooks, Kindles, iPads (which I now own), I may never have found this book unless I was actively looking for it on the internet. Technology gives yet it takes away. A leather-bound book, sitting on a shelf, waiting to be rediscovered may soon be a thing of the past.  At the same time, because of technology, an entire world of literature and material is wide open for us to discover with a simple search – a fair measure easier than accidentally discovering something sitting on a bookshelf somewhere.

Have a technology story or realization of your own?  Care to share your tales of the benefits and downfalls of our tech-enabled culture?  I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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MIPRO Consulting is a nationally-recognized consulting firm specializing in PeopleSoft Enterprise (particularly Enterprise Asset Management) and Business Intelligence. You’re reading MIPRO Unfiltered, its blog. If you’d like to contact MIPRO, email is a great place to start, or you can easily jump over to its main website. If you’d like to see what MIPRO offers via Twitter or Facebook, we’d love to have you.

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IBM Centennial Film: They Were There

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As IBM celebrates its 100th year in business, it’s worth watching this 30-minute film by Errol Morris (music by Philip Glass) on the company’s history and impact on society and business.

They Were There: People who changed the way the world works.

(via kottke)

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MIPRO Consulting is a nationally-recognized consulting firm specializing in PeopleSoft Enterprise (particularly Enterprise Asset Management) and Business Intelligence. You’re reading MIPRO Unfiltered, its blog. If you’d like to contact MIPRO, email is a great place to start, or you can easily jump over to its main website. If you’d like to see what MIPRO offers via Twitter or Facebook, we’d love to have you.

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Stephen Wolfram on The Setup

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I love The Setup — it’s always a nerd indulgence to see what other luminaries use in terms of computers, mobile devices, home file servers, network gear, etc.  I could read this stuff all day.

(Some of my favorite past interviews are with Dustin Curtis, Michael Lopp, Craig Mod, and Loren Brichter.  Heck, they’re all good.)

The most recent, however, is with Stephen Wolfram — creator of Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha, author and CEO of Wolfram Research — and it’s a doozy.  Read about his setup — it’s sweet.

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MIPRO Consulting is a nationally-recognized consulting firm specializing in PeopleSoft Enterprise (particularly Enterprise Asset Management), Workday and Business Intelligence. You’re reading MIPRO Unfiltered, its blog. If you’d like to contact MIPRO, email is a great place to start, or you can easily jump over to its main website. If you’d like to see what MIPRO offers via Twitter or Facebook, we’d love to have you.

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