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Category Archives: Disruptive

What Arthur C Clarke foresaw, still amazes

It’s been 7 years since Arthur C. Clarke passed away. Most people remember him for the movie he is associated with: 2001: A space Odyssey, since he co-wrote the screenplay with Stanley Kubrick.

Every time I pick up one of his books I am amazed at what he envisioned. My favorite book, a heavy tome, titled “Greetings, carbon-based bipeds!” is chock-full of his essays. Take this statement:

“The breaching of the barrier between brain and machine is perhaps one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of human thought.” (Page 218) 

Notwithstanding my interest in robotics, I don’t agree entirely with him when he says “To put it bluntly and brutally, the machine is going to take over.” He probably envisioned when we humans would outsource our memory to the ‘machine’ we unthinkingly call the Cloud. Or when it would be quite OK to hold a conversation with Siri.

Arthur C. Clarke was blunt, and obstinate, but he was also very humble. He insisted that he did not “discover” the geostationary orbit. Why? Because he says, “Its theoretical existence was perfectly obvious to anyone…” (Page 443)

Today we have satellites conducting all manner of business, from espionage, to knitting together a much fragmented world.

Aren’t we glad he pointed out the latter possibility to us?

1983 photo of Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and Arthur C Clarke.   Linked to via http://nalakagunawardene.com. Photo owned by Arthur Clarke Estate

 

Worth reproducing here a comment he made in 1974, cited in Wikipedia.Speaking of how a young person’s life would be impacted by a computer, he said:

“He will have, in his own house, not a computer as big as this, [points to nearby computer], but at least, a console through which he can talk, through his local computer and get all the information he needs, for his everyday life, like his bank statements, hisc reservations, all the information you need in the course of living in our complex modern society, this will be in a compact form in his own house … and he will take it as much for granted as we take the telephone.”

Listen to the last question about man’s “social life”. 

He didn’t foresee some of the addictions that would come with the ‘compact’ screen he anticipated.

 

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What social media was like five years ago

I came across these pictures taken during a series of webinars on social media I conducted in late 2010, and it made me realize how far we have come. Or what we have left behind.

The series was called Passport to Digital Citizenship.

I have met some of these ‘students’ who have subsequently gone on to do amazing work in the digital space in Sri Lanka.

But now that I teach a different age and demographic of students, it is interesting to see how some major concerns of digital citizenship, have been over-ridden by new ones. Then there was no WhatsApp, and Instagram or Snapchat to think about. At that time, it was almost inconceivable that these new digital channels would practically revise the political spectrum in Sri Lanka – as Nalaka Gunewardene has well documented.

Webinar students - Passport to Digital Citizenship 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the experience all of you who attended.

What are the most important tools you use in your work today? More importantly what are your biggest challenges?  Privacy? Information overload? Earning trust? PR?

 

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Will you buy an Apple Watch to save time or eliminate ‘gaps’?

I’m not being a Luddite here when I say that the Apple Watch could be the killer app in social – as in being the thing that kills our ability to be social beings.

I’ve followed the developments of the smart watch for more than a year now, and have even talked to students and many others about it. I come at these ‘smart’ devices from this angle: Like all things in technology, whether or not we need the product of service, whether or not we approve of the trend, it’s important to stay tuned to what dimension is opens up. Technology seldom turns out to be what it started off as.

  • Facebook is less and less about making friends. It is now all about gathering and sharing data, and you are its accomplice.
  • Twitter did the classic pivot, from being a neat way to bypass the clunky Internet and stay in touch with a few, to turn into a one-to-many engine.
  • Quora (I’m not sure how many of you you still use it) began as a great community, but is also a search engine.
  • Instagram was once a terrific creative space until the selfie-obsessed discovered it

As for the Apple Watch, it opens up a new solution to the ‘stop staring at your phone’ problem. But just because it reduces the number of times someone will take a phone out of his/her pocket, it could start a whole new trend. Siri users, for instance will find it irresistible.

My comments to the story on TechCrunnch was that there’s a boon and a dark side. We hear that the best ideas are formed when we are offline.

To which I came this comment: “A big benefit of wearables is the sensors, don’t have to use it for notifications. Not that it will stop people engaging in info overload if it’s readily available.” The point is well taken, Michael Mahemoff. But I am glad you mentioned information overload.

Mind the ‘gaps’ – This is the perfect time to introduce Michael Powers (“Hamlet’s Blackberry“) who wrote extensively on this. He makes a great observation of “the gap” we need between utilitarian devices and the best uses we put them to. If you pile on screen experiences, says Powers, “there are no gaps in your connectedness (and) you never get to that place where the most valuable benefits are.”

I love the look and the convenience of a smart watch, but I don’t welcome it. I don’t think you need to be pro something and therefore against its disruptor.I adapted to an ebook reader, yet will always read and buy books made of atoms.

But just like Google Glass this is one wearable I will skip because if only because it eliminates the ‘gaps’ I am not willing to give up.

Take the poll, and let me know. Or leave a comment.

 

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War of the Worlds, fought in Zeros and Ones

Cyber War is a hot topic once again. It has been covered by the BBC (“Silent War’), and even by TR (Russia Today) which cites Edward Snowden, and Defon. Also CNN, has covered it –scary CNN style!– about attacks on individuals via social media.

Last month, I was asked to cover this topic for an upcoming special feature in LMD Magazine. I found out some disturbing activities, and reality-checks that the public doesn’t seem concerned about. After all, we are busy worrying about how corporations’ databases are being attacked, and personal information stolen, because that’s what the popular news networks latch onto.

“But make no mistake: America is under attack by digital bombs,” noted Senator Michael McCaul last year when calling for cybersecurity legislation.

In his book “@War: The rise of the military-internet complex.” Shane Harris gives us one example of how governments fight a War of the Worlds scenario. The Chinese have been hacking sensitive US databases for some time, but in one such attack, the government initially withheld this information. Possibly so as not to tip-off the Chinese hackers, he says.

This was a de-facto military assault on a military target. And the target? The design plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet in 2007, the so-called ‘fighter to end all fighters,’ that had a price tag of $400 million. It’s well reported today that more than 100 of the world’s militaries indulge in some sort of cyber war tactics. For more on this see Peter Singer’s excellent article in Popular Science.

For this article I interviewed Cornel Ruston, a Sri Lankan-born, California-based network security consultant, who talks about how why all organizations, not just government agencies need to protect their ‘crown jewels’.

The problem is, despite all the fancy communication technologies in our arsenal, we have become sluggish, in the way we communicate with all those who might help thwart cyber war-styled attacks. We tend to put more emphasis on the locks instead. But for every lock, there are a hundred lock-pickers.

If you like a sneak preview of the article, it will be released on Feb 26th.

 

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Cool or Creepy, the ‘Internet of Things’ is here

The Internet of Things,’ a buzz phrase slung around for some years now –now known by its equally fancy acronym IoT —  is deeper and broader than shaving mirrors that display the weather, or activity trackers worn as wrist bands, and tethered to a mobile device.

I just wrote an article on this for a magazine, and used as my working definition this from a Gartner report: A network of physical objects that could communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment. 

Hooking up these ‘things,’ small enough to lie beneath the skin of a plastic toy or shell of a small appliance makes manufacturers and retailers salivate. They could use the data from these devices to ‘inform’ them as to how we make our purchasing decisions, or even interact socially. An internet of people, and an Internet of things, in one continuous happy loop.

Here’s a fascinating example of how it is being used. I once spoke to a young entrepreneur whose business model was based on the ‘data’ retrieved from towels and linen in a hotel room. Fluffy stuff, mind you, not hard objects, wired to the cloud! Here’s how it works. Ultra High Frequency (UHF) tags are sewn into sheets, towels, and pillowcases,

I was tempted to make light of the surveillance possibilities of fluffed pillows – Wiki Leaks for dirty sheets. But really, there are places where data gathering could help in such inventory control. Tracking the path of soiled, laundered, lost and replaced linen like FedEx packages!

Whatever next?

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2015 in Disruptive, Technology

 

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Podcasting is hot stuff. Again!

There seems to be a growth spurt for podcasting.

I love the fact that the audio format has been on the upswing, even despite the explosion of screen-based communication options. Depending on who you ask, they will tell you video didn’t assassinate the radio star for various reasons. Such as

  • Podcasts is immensely portable, and does is perfect for multi-tasking
  • Podcasts capture the ‘authentic’ voice of the person or the moment being represented – no fake ‘DJ voice’ required
  • Podcasts have in their DNA something akin to long-form journalism – deep dives into content, rather than skimming a topic

  • Podcasts lend themselves to drama, even while being authentic. The nearest thing to the documentary.

My recent favorites are Snap Judgement, Serial, Invisibilia (former radio Lab producers), and Star Talk.

Apart from the usual line up of This American Life, For Immediate Release, and EdReach, an education podcast for Ed-tech matters I now dabble in.

 

Interestingly this year will be six years since I first got into podcasting. And this year may be the year we begin podcasts at my school. More on this in a later post!

 

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When “Off-the-Record” is suddenly not

The ‘microphone is always on’ rule has always applied, whether you worked for the media, with the media, or anything in between.

The story unraveling the uber-weird story of ride-share company Uber and an off-the-record meeting, gives us something to chew on. It is a gray area, with journalist Michael Wolff observing (or at least respecting) the rules of engagement in off-the-record agreements, while one of his colleagues Ben Smith does not.

The PR industry makes a better distinction of not just off- and on-the record, but ‘attribution.’ This is worth a read in case you are speaking to anyone, and are tempted to say “don’t quote me on this.”

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Disruptive, Social Media

 

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