Passion, Optimism and Techno-Utopianism

MIT Media Lab chief Joi Ito has been receiving criticism for promoting techno-utopianism in a 60 Minutes segment about technology and the impact of technologies developed in the media lab on modern society. Many argue that given the times we live in it is time for ethics and impact of science should become a critical part of the discussion. And I certainly agree with that point of view. However, as Joi rightfully pointed out that he and his colleagues are aware of today’s reality, but a 12-minute TV segment isn’t going to delve into a thoughtful discussion, despite the fact it was on 60 Minutes, known for their journalism. One thing which stood out for me was this one line in Joi’s blog post:
Passion and optimism drive us to push the boundaries of science and technology. It’s healthy to have a mix of viewpoints-critical, contemplative, and optimistic-in our ecosystem.
Continue reading "Passion, Optimism and Techno-Utopianism"

AI Needs Power: lots of it

I was reading a blog post, and this tiny bit stood out:
Kaushik Roy of Purdue University compared the power consumption of Deep Blue for chess (15kW), Watson for Jeopardy (200kW), and AlphaGo for Go (300kW) to show that matching human behavior in games does not come easy.

It would be interesting to see how the rise of AI/ML will impact the energy consumption at data centers and in general. I wonder if we are all thinking about the power needs of software-driven, silicon-optimized future deeply enough.

Skype, Interrupted

Skype, was once a beloved product, one that I loved using every day. It was a product I wrote about long before it was trendy. I sent the team feedback. Like all tiny apps that are good at what they do, it became popular and grew really fast. It was sold to eBay, and then re-sold to Microsoft. And that’s when the magic disappeared. Through series of mergers and managers, Skype became an exact opposite of what I loved about it — independent outsider which was great at — chat, messaging and phone calls. It had just enough features, and its desktop client was minimal in its perfection.  Now, as I tweeted in the past, it is “a turd of the highest quality.” Bloomberg took a closer look at the Skype and its decline. Microsoft argued that the “criticism is overblown and reflects, in part, people’s grumpiness with software updates.” They say that now the focus is the corporate market. But that doesn’t deny the fact that it is a terrible interface, inhuman and difficult to use. It lacks any imagination — a fact that is repeatedly reinforced on social media every time you bring up Skype and its user experience.  “It is like Tim Tebow trying to be a baseball player,” I told Bloomberg reporters. “The product is so confusing, kludgey and unusable.” Continue reading "Skype, Interrupted"

Jony Ive talks about the Apple Watch, finally

Ben Clymer is Anna Wintour of the Watch World, an editor of immaculate taste and deep understanding of the watches and their relationship with culture. He is also the founder of Hodinkee (a True Ventures-backed company), that is at the center of all things watches. So it doesn’t surprise me that he got to sit down with Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive to talk about watches in general and Apple Watch in specific. Watch, it seems to me was a Jony Ive Joint.  Continue reading "Jony Ive talks about the Apple Watch, finally"

Facebook, Social Media & the Social Contract

Last Monday, I attended the Milken Global Conference and participated in a panel on “Social Media and the Social Contract.” The panel was moderated by Willow Bay, dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. My fellow panelists included esteemed folks such as Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, Cheddar CEO John Steinberg, and Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. VentureBeat published a report of the event (video here). My opinions about Facebook and how it treats privacy as a yo-yo for the amusement of its real customers — the advertising community — are well documented on the blog (and elsewhere). So a lot of it might not seem new, but there are a few things I wanted to highlight and give more context. Continue reading "Facebook, Social Media & the Social Contract"

Startups, Ideas and Timing

“The two worst things to be as a startup is too early or too late. Too late you can’t recover from, but you can survive too early if you have a great CEO and loyal investors.”

This quote in Dan Primack’s newsletter (via Axios) from Paul Maeder, investor and board member at the recently public Carbon Black, which started its journey 16 years ago reminded me of my conversation with Silicon Valley legend and serial entrepreneur, Andy Bechtolsheim.

Yesterday’s Terabyte + What to Read This Weekend

Less than a fortnight ago, the proverbial airwaves and media web were falling all over themselves, chastising Facebook and its data addiction, which allowed the company to amass data on over two billion people. The insidious impact of the data and Facebook was all the object of moral outrage. Fast forward to this week, all that has been conveniently forgotten – replaced by happy, shiny headlines from Facebook’s annual festival of self-aggrandization, F8. Add to that an earnings report that sent Wall Street into raptures and pushed the stock higher, not too far from its all-time high of about $194 a share. Morality and ethics have no place in this perpetual profit machine. Continue reading "Yesterday’s Terabyte + What to Read This Weekend"

The Paywall Quandary: How many subscriptions does one really need?

Bloomberg is the latest to go behind the paywall. And it is going to annually cost about $420. Felix Salmon (over on Slate) argues that Bloomberg is going behind a paywall because it can as this is a season to go behind the paywall. And he points out that we should save our dollars for some other publication, which needs it. Well, that’s not how capitalism works. You pay for things you want. My response to his commentary on Twitter was: “Bloomberg gives you information edge, and thus it would be one new subscription I will pay for, despite their anti-Apple bias. One of the best tech teams, global coverage. They are premium & are charging premium $$$s.” And I mean that. Continue reading "The Paywall Quandary: How many subscriptions does one really need?"

Dating with Facebook: What’s love got to do with it?

In Hindi, there is a saying that no matter what you do, you can’t unbend a dog’s tail. I was reminded of that saying when I read the news that Facebook was launching a dating app, to make a love connection. While on the surface it might impact the fortunes of Tinder, the dating app that changed the rules of modern dating, a conclusion reflected in the stock of Match Group which promptly nosedived.

“We have designed this with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning. Your friends aren’t going to see your profile, and you’re only going to be suggested to people who are not your friends.” Mark Zuckerberg.

Continue reading “Dating with Facebook: What’s love got to do with it?”

The Past vs. The Future

Holding on the past is a convenient way to avoid science, technology, and the reality of the world. Future needs reinvention and rethinking. Industrial era dogmas are now in direct conflict with the digitally connected ideologies.

The dissonance between the old industry and the new digital reality is also cultural. We, the humans are now living at a speed of the network and not at the speed of humans, and perhaps that is why we feel powerless and angry. So we try and rationalize and find someone to blame. Facebook, for example.

Human-scale is in direct conflict with machines. The societal norms of yesterday are being challenged by new ideas. The inheritors of the future are challenging the gatekeepers of the old. The grandeur of the past is in direct conflict with the dystopian reality of tomorrow.

Some say that this is human civilization, but now we have networks metastasizing Continue reading “The Past vs. The Future”

It is time to ask Twitter the same privacy questions

Updated: Media rightfully has been focused on Facebook and its outsized role in what are calling the surveillance economy. But focusing just on Facebook is a mistake, for data accumulation and its subsequent abuse can happen anywhere, anytime. Various data streams are being reassembled for hyper-targeting. And one of these could be Twitter, which sells its data to others.

Continue reading “It is time to ask Twitter the same privacy questions”

Need for technically literate legislators

The Spectator:
It’s no longer good enough for our elected representatives to feign technical illiteracy, throw up their arms in defeat, and ask the office twenty-something to fix it….a special case can be made for upping the digital literacy of our elected, because unlike the many, many subjects about which our politicians know little, digital technology increasingly concerns foundational questions of accountability, fairness, and abuse of power. And to answer these questions today increasingly requires some degree of technological know-how.
If the most recent Facebook-data dust-up has shown us anything, it is just that we cannot be legislated by technically inept. Technology is now a fundamental part of society now, and it impacts us on a daily basis. Whether it is Facebook or scooters in San Francisco, you can’t govern or write smart laws, if you don’t know anything about it. In a similar vein, it is also essential Continue reading "Need for technically literate legislators"

Facts about GDPR & Instagram’s Data Downloads

The specter of general data protection regime aka GDPR (learn more about it here) looms large for American companies and many of them are working hard to comply with the letter of the law, if not its spirit. I got an email from Sonos about privacy, but couldn’t make much sense of the email. Others are worse: the explanations around data and privacy are written by lawyers, not actual humans.
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Facebook is Exxon of the Internet

“…the utopian view of social networking connecting everyone for good is coming to end across the political spectrum. Now it’s seen less as a hopeful tool and more as a weapon that everyone thinks is in the wrong hands. In many ways, Facebook is like the Exxon of our time — an indispensable tool that everyone despises — Exxon, maybe Comcast, and now Facebook; there’s not a lot of brands like that. After enough oil spills, we started investing in solar and battery technology … now we need to find our digital solar and batteries to invest in.”

Moxie Marlinspike, a security researcher & former head of security at Twitter. Via

Apple’s TV Plans and & List of Shows

Apple is competing with Netflix, Amazon, Disney, and Hulu to become a streaming entertainment company. Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, former Sony bosses head up Apple’s TV efforts. The team is said to be 40 staffers and there is a billion dollars in programming money. According to this report, Apple is spending money and beating other streaming services as a buyer, but rest of the details about its efforts remain pretty murky. Continue reading "Apple’s TV Plans and & List of Shows"

Is this the future of retail?

The other big Seattle retailer, Nordstrom, that is, doesn’t think that retail is doomed. Instead, what it needs is a reinvention. And they are willing to spend tens of millions to create a store that takes the best of online and marries it to the best of offline retail. Will they be successful? I am going to check it out, next time I am in New York!