tymshft

There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

The data was ALWAYS there

DISCLOSURE: I AM EMPLOYED IN THE BIOMETRIC INDUSTRY.

It was the height of the disco era, and the goings-on at Studio 54 had penetrated the great middle of the United States. That’s how Joe the Bouncer got his job. His town had opened up its very own disco, and Joe stood by the door on Friday and Saturday nights, deciding who was in and who was out.

Joe had the absolute perfect background for this job. Not because of his education, but because of his talents. Joe could always remember a face. If someone caused trouble at the club one week and tried to get into the club three weeks later, Joe would remember him and would bar him from the club. The club owner joked that Joe had the brains of an IBM mainframe computer.

Things in Joe’s town got quiet after midnight, even on a weekend, and that’s when the less pleasant part of Joe’s job began. Some kid would be in the back corner of the club, drunk or otherwise unable to function. Since the town was relatively small, it wouldn’t do to just throw the guy out on the street in front of the club. The city council wouldn’t like that. So someone – usually Joe – got stuck taking the kid home. And because the kid was likely to get sick on the way home, Joe had an interest in getting him home as quickly as possible.

That’s where the other part of Joe’s mainframe computer brain kicked in. The town wasn’t that big a town, but there were some things about the town that your average person wouldn’t know. When the Second Street traffic light would stay red for a couple of minutes at one in the morning, Joe knew to take the back alley to get home quicker. And if some road was under construction, Joe usually knew at least three ways to get around the problem.

Joe’s retired now, but he still reads the papers now and then to keep up with what’s going on. (And yes, he actually has printed newspapers delivered to his home.) And Joe just has to laugh to himself when he reads an article about how terrible it is to use facial recognition in retail establishments. Heck, Joe did that all the time in his disco days, and no one batted an eye.

And he really gets laughing when he hears residents complaining about how navigation apps are revealing previously secret shortcuts. Joe wasn’t the only one who figured these shortcuts out long before Waze came into existence.

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Whatever happens, 2016 won’t be like 1968 – or 1800

As I write this, it is becoming increasingly likely that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will become the respective Republican and Democratic Presidential nominees in 2016. At the same time, there are predictions that people opposed to these candidates will wreak havoc at the national conventions, and that the Republican Party and possibly the Democratic Party will end up in disarray as a result.

Not so fast.

If you want to see disarray, go back to 1968 in Chicago, when the Democrats gathered. Nominating processes were very different than they are today. While some Democrats worry about the number of “superdelegates” that will be at their convention, there were certainly superdelegates in 1968. There weren’t that many, but you knew who they were. And Richard Daley was the chief superdelegate at that convention.

Outside of the Chicago convention, things were chaotic. And while things weren’t that chaotic inside the convention itself, there was certainly tension.

Inside the Amphitheater, many delegates learn of the violence outside when Senator Abraham Ribicoff, in a speech nominating George McGovern, denounces the “Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.” During the roll call, Wisconsin delegate Donald Peterson announces that people are being beaten on the streets of Chicago….

Peterson asked that the convention be adjourned and moved to another city, but he was ruled out of order. (More on Donald Peterson here.)

To see some of the happenings during that week, view this film. Peterson appears at about 6:35.

And although it didn’t have network television coverage, the 1800 election makes Trump and Cruz look like bosom buddies.

Are bike-share stations the future…or the past?

If you’ve been in urban areas throughout the world, you might have noticed a bicycle rack with a bunch of bikes, and a credit card reader. These “bike-share” points allow passersby to use a bike for a few hours, and then return the bike to that station – or perhaps to another station managed by the same organization.

While I first noticed this in the French suburban town of Cergy, you can also find them in the United States, as the U.S. Department of Transportation notes:

Last year, the National Association of City Transportation Officials released a study revealing that since 2010, bike-share systems have been introduced in over 30 U.S. cities and riders have taken over 36 million bike share trips. These bike-share stations are a critical link for commuters. Some 2,291 stations are located within one block of a scheduled public transportation mode such as intercity bus stations, ferry terminals and passenger rail stations. This means that these stations are providing connections that extend the reach of our nation’s transportation network and simultaneously making scheduled public transit much easier to access.

The Department says that this is “previewing the future of transportation.”

Or is it?

While the bike-share stations are, at times, run by entities separate from the mass transit organizations mentioned by the Department of Transportation, they presently require coordination with the mass transit agencies. If you are in Anytown, USA and want to set up a bike-share station, you and/or the owner of the land on which the station will reside have to go to the Anytown Planning Commission, request a permit, assess the impact of the report, and coordinate with all affected entities. It can get involved:

The process for selecting a Capital Bikeshare station location is comprehensive and can take a couple of months to a couple of years, depending upon community support, property ownership, and whether constructing a concrete pad is needed. Arlington’s approval process includes:

•Identifying funding for the proposed station’s capital and operating expenses.
•Selecting a location which meets a list of siting criteria, as well as staff review and public input.
•Developing a station plan.
•Researching property ownership and obtaining a permit if on private property. The site could be owned by Arlington County, the State of Virginia, or a private entity. Each scenario requires a different permitting process.
•Fabrication and delivery of bikes and stations. Equipment is typically delivered within 4 months after ordering.
•Installation of stations and bikes.

But wait – there’s more:

Criteria for station locations include:
•4+ hours of direct sunlight daily;
•at least 11’ x 42’ of space;
•between 2 – 5 blocks (500′ – 1,250′) from the nearest station;
•if on a sidewalk, minimum pedestrian clearance of 6’ is needed;
•if on-street, preference for being adjacent or near a bike lane;
•would not block utility access, such as a manhole cover; and
•would not create a dangerous situation for street users.

Now try telling this to some of the denizens of Silicon Valley. You know, the kind that believed that government shutdowns are good things because government is an unnecessary evil and we can just let Amazon and Apple and Google and Microsoft run things and everyone will be happy.

These types are presumably applauding those people who don’t want for the guvmint.

In 2013 it seemed like a citywide bike share was moving forward. Then, somehow, it fell apart. Now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking to create a countywide bike share. The plan calls for finding an operator and starting with a pilot program centered in Downtown Los Angeles in 2016, and for the Central City to get 65 stations and 1,000 shared bikes. We’ll remain hopeful that things roll forward.

Fortunately, some in the private sector are doing more than hoping and waiting. They are digging into their pockets, buying bicycles, helmets and locks, and creating private bike sharing systems for their residential or office tenants. So far the operators of at least two housing complexes and one office building in Downtown have taken the step. Ideally, others will recognize the worth of such an effort and follow suit.

The idea is attractive. If a building owner wants to share bikes, but only has 10′ x 41′ of space rather than 11′ x 42′ of space – the business owner can share bikes anyway. And the world will not fall apart.

Why is Narrative Science SPEAKING at a conference?

I was reading an article recently, and something struck me as a bit odd. See if you can spot it.

Honeywell International Inc. boosted its position in shares of TE Connectivity Ltd (NYSE:TEL) by 0.0% during the fourth quarter, according to its most recent disclosure with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The fund owned 278,900 shares of the company’s stock after buying an additional 100 shares during the period.

What journalist would go through the trouble of explicitly writing that an investor increased his or her stake by precisely 0.0%?

An automated one.

Now I have no idea whether American Banking and Market News is using Narrative Science, but it’s obviously possible. And despite the little oddity that I mentioned, the article is informative and mostly well written. Probably better than I could write. Strike that – definitely better than I could write. (Yes, James Macpherson, you were correct.)

This reminded me that I hadn’t peeked at Narrative Science in a while, not since the CIA’s investment arm increased its stake in Narrative Science by an amount greater than 0.0%. So I looked for the latest news on the company – and found this.

Narrative Science, the leader in advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) for the enterprise, today announced two speaking presentations at the Gartner Business Intelligence & Analytics Summit 2016 taking place on March 13th – 16th, 2016 in Grapevine, TX.

This news excited me, because if any industry could use automation, it’s the public speaking industry. Heck, if you could automate Larry Ellison’s “Next slide, please” statements, you could make a fortune. In my mind, I could picture Narrative Science’s informative, yet computer generated, keynote:

Hello, this is Narrative Science speaking through voice automation. Narrative Science would like to thank Gartner for the invitation to speak, and I would like to extend my greetings to the 2,127 registered attendees at this Summit, and especially to the 1,306 people who are in the room at this very moment. Based upon the survey results that Gartner has already received, I will tailor my speech to the needs of the audience. So at this point I would like to address the hotel staff – the rooms are too cold! I will pause for audience laughter now.

Imaging the possibilities after the data is mined and interpreted, and the “speaker” tailors a presentation for the specific needs of the audience.

Sadly, we are not there yet. As I continued to read the press release, I found this.

During this interactive session, Narrative Science COO Nick Beil will demonstrate Narratives for Qlik to show how the extension accelerates time to understanding and drives intelligence by delivering dynamic narratives that explain the insights within a visualization. Josh Parenteau, Gartner Research Director of Business Intelligence, will lead the discussion and host Q&A at the end of the session.

It appears that Narrative Science will use real people to fill the speaking slots.

How inefficient!

I will be wrong (I think), but no one will notice

I derive a perverse glee from identifying instances in which I was wrong – for example, my prediction at the beginning of the football season that if any team in the NFC East did well, it would be the New York Giants. As it turns out, my Washington (team name that cannot be mentioned in polite company redacted) came out on top in the NFC East…for what that’s worth.

Over the last few years, I have felt that as jobs disappear during the current technological change, new jobs will appear. As I noted in a recent post, not everyone shares this view.

If I am wrong and Tad Donaghe is right, future generations will work less and will therefore have more idle time…

Well, Donaghe isn’t the only one that believes that many jobs will be lost. In fact, Rob Atkinson paints a rather dire future for those who want to work:

In fact, these new technologies are so awesome and amazing that they won’t replace most jobs; they will replace all jobs, save one. That job will be held by Zhang Wei, who is now a 15-year-old boy studying computer science at his local high school in Nanjing, China. He will invent the best artificial intelligence system ever and then run the company that puts all other companies out of business.

However, not all will go well for Zhang Wei:

“Well, on the one hand, it will be really cool having an annual income of 150 quadrillion yuan, but it will really suck that I will have to be the one person on the planet who is working when all my friends are out drinking.”

But after that…well, you have to read Atkinson’s article. And yes, it’s satirical. I think.

Incidentally, regarding that prior post of mine in which I talked about essentials not changing, Jim Ulvog has contributed another example: “Compare a successful siege by the Roman Empire to a nuclear war.”

Do the essentials change?

As I write this, I am in the process of listening to a Kim Komando podcast that asks what life will be like in 2050 – about 35 years from now. She started the podcast by asking what life was like about 35 years ago, or approximately 1980-1982. Inasmuch as Komando talks about tech, she concentrates on the tech things – for example, comparing the processing power of today’s smartphone to the processing power of the first IBM Personal Computer.

If you look at the business world, you can see all sorts of evidence of change also. The large companies of the Ronald Reagan area all sold things that you could touch. Today, while many businesses still sell physical things, there are large profitable businesses and business segments devoted to things that you can’t touch – not only virtual websites such as Facebook or virtual products such as today’s music, but the ever-growing services sector.

Or perhaps you can look at society itself. Maybe Ronald and Nancy Reagan were friends with Rock Hudson, but they wouldn’t publicly discuss his deep dark secret. And if you didn’t know what the popular song “In The Navy” was really about, you wouldn’t ask; and if you did know, you wouldn’t tell.

Futurists often concentrate on this kind of stuff.

But what about the essentials?

Compare the lives of a soldier under Obama, a soldier under Reagan, and a soldier under Julius Caesar. They all had to wake up in the morning. They all had to put clothes on. They all had to eat something. And they all had to face situations in which they might die. Death by a stealth bomber or a spear? As a former Secretary of State once said, it doesn’t matter.

Similarly, take the Komando comparison of a smartphone and an IBM PC – or Roman parchment. Now I will grant that my smartphone provides me with access to all sorts of information, and my computer keyboard is probably a faster input device than a quill, but the quality of my thought is not exponentially better than the thought of an educated Roman.

Now some advances over time DO have a significant impact on our lives. Improved health and the resulting longevity will certainly change the quality of my golden (diamond?) years to some extent. If I am wrong and Tad Donaghe is right, future generations will work less and will therefore have more idle time – and even now, I have more idle time than a coalworker of the 19th century or a farmer of the 17th century. And perhaps an argument can be made that our trajectory from printed books to Vine videos has served to shorten our attention spans.

But the speed of the processing chip in my smartphone is relatively meaningless.

The anonymity of the crowd – a new concept

In my day job, I spend a considerable amount of time monitoring public reaction to the use of biometric technologies. One subset of that is the reaction to the use of facial recognition in retail environments.

This Consumer Reports article provides an excellent introduction to the issues involved. I could say all sorts of things about the statements in the article – after all, this is my day job – but I will concentrate on one topic that would be interesting to the tymshft reader.

One can legitimately ask – what’s the difference between a bouncer staring out onto the street to look for known troublemakers, and a facial recognition camera doing the same thing? Some argue that there is a huge difference, because the camera and the software can do things that no mere human can do.

Here’s how the Consumer Reports article explained the power of the camera:

More importantly, facial recognition has the potential to erode the anonymity of the crowd, the specific type of privacy you experience when you stride through a public space, near home or on vacation, and refreshingly, no one knows your name. Marketers already can see every article we read online; do we need to let them record every shop window we gaze through?

The anonymity of the crowd. The freedom to walk through a city without having your every move be tracked. A freedom that has existed since the dawn of time.

Not.

During the Industrial Revolution, many people migrated to cities, and cities became larger and larger. The people who left villages where everyone knew their name found themselves in cities with tens of thousands of people or more – places where they truly could be anonymous. (As an aside, these new cities had to deal with crimes committed by unknown people, which caused a few people to develop ways to identify criminals by their physical characteristics – the ancestors to our facial recognition systems of today.)

But back in their home towns, there was no such anonymity. If Nigel was peering in a shopkeeper’s window, all of the neighbors knew about it. Even today, there are small towns in industrialized nations where everybody knows your name, and the concept of anonymity in the crowd simply does not exist.

Of course, society is always evolving, and perhaps the anonymity of the crowd is a good thing. But we have to remember that this is a relatively recent development.

Hack your chopsticks? Yes.

While the Wuzhen Internet Conference in the Shanghai area has attracted attention because of China’s different definition of Internet freedom, there are other things going on.

For example, one session discussed our increasing vulnerability to hacking. As more everyday things, such as cars and pacemakers, get connected to the Internet, the chance of our devices becoming subject to attack increases.

And there are a lot of everyday things that are becoming connected, as Bruce McConnell of the EastWest Institute noted.

Driverless vehicles, smart grid, smart cities, smart chopsticks that can detect food contamination, everything will be impacted.

Uh, what? Smart chopsticks?

Yup – this technology was introduced over a year ago by Baidu.

The sensor-attached chopsticks, known as kuaisou in Chinese, have the ability to detect the sanitary level of your food, the report said. The chopsticks’ sensors are linked to a smartphone or desktop app that shows whether the food’s contamination level is low or high. It will also be able to show the food’s temperature and calories in the future…

So the next time that your fork says that the food is cool and poisonless and you burn your tongue and keel over, blame hKr d00dZ.

In the year 2025, what will a robot do with $2,500?

I write about robots so much that I would write a song about them, except that someone beat me to it.

One theme in this blog is the question of how technical innovation will affect society. There are some that assert that this round of innovation is so dramatic that we will be left with significant underemployment.

I disagree with this view, and have previously noted that as today’s industries are eliminated, new ones will pop up and employ everyone.

Someone else who shares this view is Robert D. Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

I am willing to challenge the doomsayers. We say robots will boost productivity, lower prices, and increase wages. In so doing, they will increase demand throughout the economy, which will spur growth and, yes, create jobs.

Admittedly, Atkinson does have some self interest in making that assertion.

It would be economically disastrous, however, for policymakers to give into Luddite urges to throttle back on robotics, artificial intelligence, or other fields of potentially disruptive technology by redirecting federal research funds, imposing taxes, regulatory barriers, or any other means of staving off change to preserve the status quo for workers. We must recognize that technology innovation and productivity hold the keys, not to our undoing, but to higher living standards and a better quality of life.

Granting that, however, Atkinson is certain that the doomsday view of massive future underemployment is incorrect. And he is willing to put down cold, hard cash:

We will give $2,500 to the first techno-doomsayer who accepts our challenge and can show that in 10 years, despite continued advances in automation, the US unemployment rate has become jarringly different than it is today.

For the purpose of this challenge, let me be specific about the economic terms: ITIF is certain that in the fourth quarter of 2025, the US unemployment rate, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, will continue to be lower than 8 percent (which is to say one-tenth of what some alarmists have been predicting). The only caveat in this prediction is that if the country happens to be in a cyclical recession, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research, then the reference quarter will be the first quarter before the beginning of that particular recession.

So if you believe that the United States will have, say, 25 percent unemployment in 2025, contact Atkinson, and if you’re right, you may get TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS! (And if you say that in a Robin Leach voice, it’s even more impressive.)

But before you plunk your money down, think about this – what will $2,500 buy in 2025? If historical trends continue and inflation stays at around 1.5% per year, then perhaps we’re looking at $2,150 or so in today’s money. But if the apocalypse is truly on us and Obama or Sanders or Trump or whoever (take your pick) runs the economy into the ground, then that $2,500 may be enough to buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks – or Beatrice.

O Marlboroman

One of my first blog posts was a Laurie Anderson parody. An excerpt:

(telephone dialing)
VOICE (spoken) Bloody hell, who is this?
ANDERSON (spoken) Hello. This is Laurie.
VOICE (spoken) It’s three a m.
ANDERSON (spoken) It is earlier here. We have a different time.

This is obviously a parody of Anderson’s spoken word efforts, such as “O Superman.” But while listening to that song one day, I was struck by the dated nature of portions of the lyrics:

Here come the planes.
They’re American planes. Made in America.
Smoking or non-smoking?

Remember that the record was released in 1981. While the reference the “the planes” may have been inspired by the hostage rescue mission, the “smoking or non-smoking” line was inspired by something entirely different – a 1973 decision by the Civil Aeronautics Board to designate separate portions of airplanes as smoking or non-smoking. Contemporary fliers were not impressed:

As one critic of the policy put it: “A smoking section on an airplane is like having a peeing section in a swimming pool.”

By November 21, 1989, President George Bush (as we knew him then) officially banned smoking on domestic flights less than six hours in length. (Going to Honolulu? Light up.) By 2000, his successor President Clinton (as we knew him then) officially banned smoking on any flight entering or leaving the United States.

Then 9/11 happened, and performance artist Laurie Anderson was performing in Chicago that evening. Anderson lived in New York – I know this shocks you – and as she heard reports from home (and some dude named Lou Reed), she said nothing to the people attending her show that evening.

No, I take that back. Anderson is a spoken word artist; she’s always speaking.

The crowd was dead silent throughout [the concert], but when Anderson began “O Superman” you could hear the room shift as the already menacing song took on new layers of eerily contemporary meaning. “Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don’t know me, but I know you. And I’ve got a message to give to you. Here come the planes. So you better get ready.” The lyrics chimed out like an answering machine message sent to the future, picked up several decades too late.

Smoking or non-smoking?

P.S. If you want to see a completely different perspective on the evolution of airplanes over the last forty years, read Jim Ulvog’s post.

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