Friday, January 24, 2014

Will Marissa Mayer Go the Way of Carly Fiorina?

This Bloomberg two-minute bit about Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, reminds me of Carly Fiorina, who took HP by storm as CEO and a few years later was unceremoniously let go.  They both grab primary attention for their companies, they're both high-powered and smart, and they're undeniably attractive women.

But will Mayer eventually go the way of Fiorina?

To me, she seems a bit more demure than her predecessor.  Yet, she doesn't seem to go out of her way to diminish attention to herself and, alternatively, offer more forthright credit to what her team is doing.  Indeed the questions about tangible results are also crucial ones, and I've been hearing them more in recent months than before.  

Carly Fiorina
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Full Video and Transcript of Obama NSA Speech

President Barack Obama
Here are the full video and transcript - Say What: Breaking down Obama's NSA speech - from The Washington Post.
The changes, White House officials said, mark the first significant constraints imposed by the Obama administration on surveillance programs that expanded dramatically in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But the most significant change he called for, to remove the phone database from government hands, could take months if not longer to implement. And already critics from diverse camps — in Congress and outside it — are warning that what he has called for may be unworkable.
Reference: Obama calls for significant changes in collection of phone records of U.S. citizens.

For one, the telephone companies are reluctant to assume responsibility for holding data of citizens' calls.  So the word is, It will be some as-of-yet-unspecified third party that will do so.  I don't agree with the aforementioned critics that these changes are unworkable.  I think they're moving in the right direction, and it will take more debates, problem-solving, and planning to make these changes work.

(image credit)
Speaking of privacy and surveillance, I shared this Dilbert comic strip on Google+, and quipped:

If you write something in your Notes app, can your boss read it? Inquiring minds want to know.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, January 20, 2014

President Obama: End Unrestricted Data Access

President Barack Obama, as the top leader in the US, is essentially caught between a rock and that proverbial hard place.  The untrammeled surveillance of phone conversations, from American citizens to foreign leaders, turned suddenly into an egg-on-the-face revelation, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an apparent friend of the US, was among those subjected to this surveillance.  

The President is inviolably accountable to the people, despite being the one elected American with the most  political power.  So he has to allay their - our - concerns.  But frankly I don't have a lot of confidence in what he says.  The secretive, underhanded nature of what the government did, under his watch, doesn't quite reassure me that privacy or trust will be restored by the measures he spoke to last Friday.  

Big Data is the talk in business and technology, and what's collected about us from social media, internet searches, credit card transactions and so forth are far more staggering, I imagine, than what's pilfered from our phone calls.  So like Google, for instance, the government will find ways to get whatever they need or want about us.

What to do?

I began this article by acknowledge the fundamental dilemma President Obama is in.  To counter terrorism, the government must monitor.  To protect us, and prevent another 9/11, the NSA and CIA must conduct surveillance.  Yes, of course.  But technology and algorithms have become so sophisticated, that, I imagine, officials can draw on more targeted and more effective surveillance, without recourse to collecting bulk telephone data.  

As it were, it gives me the impression that these government agencies don't really have a clue on what they're looking for and-or how to find it.  So, why not take a shot gun approach, they seem to have decided on, to date.  Clearly bulk data collection will no longer do.  

In the end, I appreciate the President speaking to an issue that is beyond any one person to speak to and indeed to resolve.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Visions of the Future" Quantum Revolution

The Quantum Revolution - [Physicist and Futurist Michio] Kaku investigates the advances of quantum physics and the effects it could have on the average human life. Kaku looks at the work of science fiction writers and the way that many concepts conceived for entertainment could in fact become reality. Kaku also speculates about the effects that such technology may have on the future of the human species. 
List of technologies: 
High-temperature superconductivity
Carbon nanotube
Space elevator
Nuclear fusion
Molecular assembler
Quantum teleportation
Reference: Visions of the Future.

My notes

That elusive, remarkable object was the atom.  If you understand the atom, you understand the universe.  We begin to control atoms.  Control the very stuff of the universe: matter itself.

How are we going to use this power?

Quantum Theory.  It underlies the architecture of the 20th century (i.e., technology inventions).  Einstein had difficulty wrapping his head around Quantum Theory.

Superconductivity.  Meissner Effect, applied for transportation and used for flying, perhaps.  Anti-gravity may rely on magnetism.

Scientists can create a material that shouldn't exist in nature.  It all depends with how light interacts with the atoms.  David Smith and his team are creating meta-materials, such as an invisibility cloak.  It functions in like a science fiction way, except of course this is as real as real can be.  We're looking into the future.

The first applications will be for military stealth.

Concrete and steel reshaped our city (rf. Brooklyn Bridge).  Carbon nanotubes promise to replace steel, and simply be the size of a strand of hair.  Their atoms have the strength of diamonds, but have the flexibility of fiber.  Carbon comes from gas.

Nanotubes, for unsmashable cars, uncollapsable buildings, ultralight jet planes, perhaps even a highway into space.

Anything that can be done, which doesn't violate the laws of physics, is eventually doable via engineering.

Space elevator allows us to overcome the first few hundred miles of gravity, without rocket fuel (used for 50 years).  Cheap and easy access to space.

Planets, stars, and the galaxy itself are sources of energy.  Earth is a type-zero civilization, that is, none of the above, because we're dependent on these sources of energy.

Everything we do requires energy, so conservation of energy is crucial.  Fossil fuels are so scarce, nations fight for these.

Nuclear Fusion, find the point where it becomes self-sustaining.  Marie-Line Mayoral works to replace nuclear plants, in order to avoid their safety risks.  

Fusion energy may finally become a reality, perhaps by 2030.  Fusion is a way of producing electricity in a safer, cheaper way.

Energy that is safer, cleaner, cheaper, and more abundant: Replace fossil fuels, control global warming, feed an expanding population, meet the needs of a growing world.

Nanotechnology can re-create reality and nature.  Mother Nature creates life out of raw materials.

Plant proteins, for solar power.  Plants have this amazing ability to collect sunlight via photosynthesis.  Hijack it, use it for our purpose, and thereby harness sunlight.

Develop new medical tools, for example, for targeting tumors and delivering drugs there via computer control.  Microchip to store intelligence.  Bacteria propel the microchip.

Joel Garreau, Radical Evolution.  Destroy cancer, increase longevity.

The concern is building weapons from nanotechnology, for which defense is difficult.  You can guarantee that it will fall into the wrong hands.  So our best bet is to create safeguards.

The possibility of nanotechnology outweighs the perceived risks.  

Build objects from the atom up à la nanotechnology. Personal fabricator, like a desktop PC.  Ray Kurzweil: We can create physical products from information and perhaps simply from request.  Socially, we can eliminate status or authority or wealth.

Teleportation, the ultimate mastery over matter.  It exists.  Anton Zeilinger: transporting photons from one prism to another, and it can happen over any distance.  Quantum entanglement, mysterious bond between photons.  Change one, and you change the other automatically.  

Teleportation of humans will prompt questions, such as Who is me?  What am I made of?  What does it mean to be human?

Remarkable things are happening.

The Human Genome Project.  It was made possible, in large measure because the price of computing kept dropping.

Exponential growth is quite phenomenal.  

The current generation holds the future of the Earth in their hands.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Visions of the Future" Biotech Revolution

The Biotech Revolution - This episode focuses mainly on recent advances in genetics and biotechnology. Amongst other things Kaku documents advances in DNA screening, gene therapy and lab-grown organ transplants. 
List of technologies: 
Whole genome sequencing and personalized medicine
Genetic engineering
>Gene therapy
>Designer baby
Cancer Genome Project
Regenerative medicine
>Tissue engineering, Printable organs
>Cell therapy
>Immunomodulation therapy
Life extension
>Sirtuin 1
Reference: Visions of the Future.

My notes

We unlocked the basic code of life in the last century.  Now we're working to manipulate it.  We shift from being passive observers, to active choreographers of nature.

The doctor is about to diagnose my medical future.  In the future we'll have a CD-ROM with a manual of our bodies.  There is the tension between wanting to know (i.e., as a scientist) and not wanting to know (i.e., as a person).

The Human Genome Project.  The stage is set for us to manipulate our genes.  Three stages of medicine: (1) germ theory, (2) antibiotics, and (3) genetic medicine.

2500 people die of cancer everyday in the US.  A map to a cancer-free future, is it possible via The Human Genome Project?

Merger between biotech and computer revolutions.  Computers can do complex biological analyses.  Biology has become a quantitative, rigorous, digital science, on par with physics.  Ray Kurzweil: Treat biology as a set of information processes.  Overcome major diseases.  

For Michio Kaku, results found no significant risk for Alzheimer's.  While there was twice-fold risk for heart disease for him, the risk for Japanese people in general is low.

Institute for Regenerative Medicine, in North Carolina.  Body shop for cars, body shop for people.  Examples of our growing mastery over nature (rf. Frankenstein).

Technology simply has to advance faster than you are aging, and you can live longer than expected.  We run out, we run down.  But we can manipulate that.  Biomolecular revolution gives us power to enrich and prolong our lives, perhaps to make us immortal.

But such power also poses serious questions.  One has to think seriously about tampering about longer lives.  The questions are why and what do you want to do with a longer life.

Tamper with human evolution itself.  We're literally able to play god.

Human cloning can happen now, but governments will not allow it.  At least not yet.  But we have to get used to the (inevitable) fact that some portion of our population will be cloned.  That is, at some point in the future.
In sports, our aim is to be better than others (rf. Performance Enhancing Drugs).  You're going to do whatever you can, for example, to nail down that big contract.

The social implications of genetic enhancement are serious.  Alter the genetic makeup of our children (i.e., designer kids).  Of the whole human race.  How far do we want to push this technology?

We could evolve in a different way.  We cannot control the drug trade, so how can we expect to control genetic trade?  Technology is pointed less outward and more inward now.  This is not some distant science fiction future, but now.

We can engineer a new species of human.  Anne Corwin, Transhumanist: Nature is always an unfinished piece of work.  Make evolution more self-directed.  Our concept of homo sapiens will dissolve.

Ray Kurzweil: We're transcending our biology, not our humanity.

We look to the future with a degree of uncertainty and with a degree of trepidation.  It's up to us how to construct our future.  It's our choice.

That's too pat, I think, as we have such diverse people.  So what we want and what we choose may be far from unified.  In fact they may very well be in conflict.

The crucial factor is to engage in reasoned, democratic debate.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Visions of the Future" Intelligence Revolution

The Intelligence Revolution - [Physicist and Futurist Michio] Kaku explains how he believes artificial intelligence will revolutionize the world. Also, Kaku investigates virtual reality technology and its potential. Controversially, Kaku documents the work of scientists using a combination of artificial intelligence and neuroscience technology transform a person suffering from major depressive disorder into one who is happy and content by the push of a button. 
List of technologies: 
Autonomous car
Ubiquitous computing and Internet of things
Head-mounted display
Virtual retinal display
Virtual reality
Augmented reality
Immersive virtual reality
Robotics and artificial intelligence
Cyborgology, Bionics and human enhancement
Reference: Visions of the Future.

My notes

From scientific discovery, to scientific mastery. The Intelligence Revolution. Redesign of our own minds, with the exponential growth of computer power. How could we have lived in a world that was so dumb?

The car is driving itself, with the processing power of eight desktop computers. Our roads will also be smart. `Futurama (1940). Traffic accidents and traffic jams will be non-existent. 

Ubiquitous computing. Connecting to everything, embedded in everything. Computers have become invisible. The internet will be everywhere, including your sunglasses. Your eyeglasses could be your future home entertainment device. 

500 years ago the book triggered a revolutionary renaissance... 

Dancing with partners in remote locations. Tele-immersion. Product business, selling apparel and accessories for avatars. Virtual reality will become more like real reality. 

Walter Mitty had fierce fantasies at night. 

Jaron Lanier, Virtual Reality Pioneer. Some of this technology will just be built into the human body. What happens when we prefer virtual networks over our real networks? We spend about 20 hours a week in virtual reality. 

From creators of machine intelligence, to creators of intelligent machines. More and more machines are designed to think for themselves. Pattern recognition. 

Combine computer science with neuroscience. It took Honda 20 years to create Asimo into as close to human functioning as possible. Ability to respond to conversation. Some of your closest friends may not be human (rf. `AI [2001]). 

`A for Andromeda (1961). Emotions are critical for higher intelligence. Decisions are dependent on emotion, as it adds valence to what we have to decide on.  Rosalind Picard, Affective Computing Systems (MIT). 

In Tokyo there are rules that will govern robotics. We do have a choice in how we create these robotics. 

Deep Brain Stimulation, e.g., implants for treating depression. For Diane it was instantaneous to feel so good. Then the fine-tuning was done. The difference between night and day. 

Implants can more than just repair the brain (e.g., strokes and Alzheimer), but also augment and improve the brain. Memory chip. Vision chip. Thinking chip. The proof of principle already exists. John Granacki, bioengineering (USC).

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, January 10, 2014

Joy of Tech Resolutions for 2014

Tech Resolutions for 2014!
The Joy of Tech
My abiding queries:
  • Never mind Facebook becoming less cool with teens.  I wonder about the turning point, when the dominant social media starts to cave in on itself like an imploding massive star.  
  • Ahem, correction:  The master is Google, not Google+.
  • Twitter is on a downward trend, after reaching its high of $74.73 in mid-December, and is now selling at $62.52.
  • Apparently Apple is still flush with cash, eh.
  • That's David Pogue, technology journalist and science presenter, whom Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer is exhorting.
  • Edward Snowden says he likes his privacy (hmm).
  • Steve Ballmer is still here, apparently.
  • I guess NSA products and services will be coming soon to a nearby Best Buy.
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Keep a Healthy Skepticism for the Internet

I ran into this January 3rd post on Google+ by The Secret Funny Laughter, and headlined with:
Man Saved Dog's Life. #reallifeheroes
It was one of those `hot and recommended posts, and as of this moment it has 1716 pluses and 666 shares.  On January 4th, I was one of those pluses and shares:

Hmm, this man happened to have a cutting device in his hand... interesting.

This elevator scene looks rather staged.  Yet, a lot of people love a story such as a man saving a dog's life.   

That same day, a lady observed:
Out of all those comments your the ONLY one that realized the man had a "cutting device" in his hand! I am impressed! 
Oh, thank you, Filene! I suppose it's good to keep some healthy skepticism with things that we see or hear.

(image credit)

In a related note, early last month I posted Eva Wiseman's article When fiction becomes fact: can we trust the internet?
I was sitting at a table last summer being patronised, lovingly. My friends were explaining, fact by splash of cold-water fact, how a recent TV special by a renowned celebrity hypnotist was performed by actors, and was not, in fact, magic at all. "But," I stuttered, as their mouths moued. "Then there's no point." Television itself is an illusion. To add yet more trickery – "real people" played by actors, things that say they're live but were filmed last March – defeats the purpose, wringing it of all entertainment. I went on a bit. If it's all showmanship, those men with their minds on, then it's nothing. It's air.
The tomfoolery of TV, film and advertisement is so rampant that we can all cite at least one example of fiction masquerading as fact.  Yet, media content can seem so real, so compelling, so inspiring that we are prone to believe it as untrammeled truth.

Moreover, we human beings are a curious lot.  I remember reading an article criticizing the historic falsehood of the film `Gladiator.  Are you kidding me?  The film is a film.  It is art, and art is creative and imaginative.  That's what art is for, and that's what makes art so enjoyable.  To criticize creativity for not being real was head-pounding baffling to me.

Still I commented on my Wiseman article post:

It's a good idea to keep a dose of skepticism, when it comes to the internet. Dig deeper, if necessary. 

Speaking of the internet...

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, January 6, 2014

Kathy Brown, the New Internet Society CEO

Kathryn C. Brown
Kathryn Brown, just installed CEO of the Internet Society on January 1st
A lot of people don’t give much thought to the Internet Society or to the idea that there’s actually a governance structure to the Internet itself that sets the rules under which it functions. The organization’s basic mission is to promote the Internet’s growth around the world.
Reference: Meet Kathy Brown, the Internet Society's New CEO.

I am more drawn to the social phenomena and the technology marvel that are the internet, than I am to the policy side of where I spend much of my working, and my waking, day.  Still I was glad to run into this All Things D article about the Internet Society.

Its mission is so much more than promoting Internet growth.  The Society aims to ensure an evolution that works best for everyone in the world, and it faces the no less daunting task of balancing the interests, sometimes competing, even conflicting interests, of multiple stakeholders.  In fact, Brown sees three major constituencies: the governance body, the grass roots activists, and the under-the-hood technicians.  Together, she must work at aligning everyone enough to serve a global society.
The Internet Society is a global cause-driven organization governed by a diverse Board of Trustees that is dedicated to ensuring that the Internet stays open, transparent and defined by you.

We are the world's trusted independent source of leadership for Internet policy, technology standards, and future development. More than simply advancing technology, we work to ensure the Internet continues to grow and evolve as a platform for innovation, economic development, and social progress for people around the world. 
With offices around the world, we work to ensure that the Internet and the web that is built on it:
  • Continues to develop as an open platform that empowers people to share ideas and connect in new and innovative ways
  • ​Serves the economic, social, and educational needs of individuals throughout the world – today and in the future
I rarely think about how life and work were, before the internet.  It was in 1997 or 1998 that Karen and I were first online via the old way of dialing up.  America Online (AOL) was big, then, and it was exciting to be along for the ride.

The ensuing decade, the first of the new century, saw me travel around the world as a management consultant and evolve steadily in my digital literacy and habits.  From hauling way too much stuff on my first overseas trips, to a travel-light, highly-efficient e-transformation, I managed a three-week business trip with only carry-on luggage.  I learned to Skype, I learned to read mainly online, I learned to Google so a wealthy of knowledge was literally at my fingertips.

I deeply believe in those two points from the Internet Society, about an open platform for people and their considerable needs around the world.  But I imagine it cannot be an easy task, in the least, for Brown and her staff.  There is the Chinese government, and there are old-guard factions in other countries, which work against the very things the Internet Society works diligently at.  I daresay it is these governments and forces that must've given birth to the Internet Society and are its raison d'être.
The Internet has matured considerably. It’s a very different experience for users now than it was 15 years ago. There’s an opportunity to understand what that change is and to engage with the hot-button issues. There’s the security issue, the privacy issue, the trust issue, and really the threat of balkanization of the Internet should we not have a global consensus around it.
That word that Brown uses - balkanization - is a curious one that I needed to look up.  Really it means not just a divided internet, but such warring factions.  Beyond the three constituencies she listed, there are also the business people and the revolutionaries, and there are the well-meaning philanthropists and of course all of us everyday consumers, users and members of the internet.

Best wishes, indeed, to Kathy Brown.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD