We have a choice about the world that technology will give us

Phil Windley, former CTO of Utah and now CTO of a startup called Kynetx, has an inspiring, brief piece on how technologists can help build a technological world where technology helps us live better lives over which we have more control, and how a failure to do something to build this world will give us a place where we are continuously spied upon and manipulated.

We probably don’t really have a choice about whether a $0.03 wireless sensor platform will exist. Technology marches on.

But we do have a choice about how it will be employed. If we follow the path we’re on now, all those devices will be controlled by some company somewhere that is providing the service behind them. All that data that all those devices are gathering about you will be streamed back to a walled garden via an encrypted channel to end up as fodder for some big data analytics platform that will be used by someone to sell you more stuff. You will be spied on by everything around you with no rational way to understand where all that data is going and how it’s being used. We’ll create government regulations that will do little to rationalize your world or help you understand it because they will only succeed in further Balkanizing it.

There is another path: in this alternate world all the devices that are related to you will push their data into a place that you control. This will seem rational and natural because the model will follow the structure of the world you’re already used to with clear delineations between public and private spaces and easy-to-understand controls over how data is used and shared.

Read the rest

Life in a city made of computers

Here's a transcript of a classic Charles Strossian rant, his speech at TNG's Big Tech Day in Munich last June. Entitled "How low (power) can you go?" it's a look at life in a city whose entire surface was made of sensing, computing smart matter:

I also noted that the combined video and audio streams from the entire population of Germany, over a period of a century, would occupy on the order of a hundred kilograms of Memory Diamond — a hypothetical crystalline form of carbon used for data storage, in which each bit is represented positionally by an atom of one isotope or another (in this case, carbon-12 or carbon-13). With Avogardro's number of bits storable in 12.5 grams of carbon, if we can figure out how to read and write this stuff we can store roughly 0.5 petabytes in each gram of substrate.

(Using this yardstick, on a world-wide scale Google currently processes about 2 grams of data per hour.)

So, the first point to note is that if the world of 2032 has this level of ambient computing power at all, we're likely to have the data storage to go with it.

Let's assume we have found a use for our billion cpu city, and we're running a billion operations per second on each cpu. If each operation generates one byte of useful output — from air quality sensors, or cameras, or whatever — then our city is producing 1018 bytes of data per second. That's heavy data: that's 2000 grams per second.

Read the rest