We all remember the now famous Carrier IQ fiasco from late 2011. Basically it was discovered that AT&T, Sprint, HTC and Samsung had integrated a controversial piece of tracking software on their phones. All your ‘stuff’ was secretly sent to the carriers, a gross violation of our privacy. They were now free to rape and pillage our minds, the sky had fallen and we were running around like chickens without heads.
While privacy is important, it is more than slightly hyperbolized. Recently I went through my old facebook and twitter feeds looking for gold nuggets of information someone in the dark arts of big data might find valuable. There was nothing. If anything it seems my life can be classified as normal… basically subpar exciting (secretly I’d hoped there was something scandalous).
Chaos Theory, Big Data and Privacy
I’ve heard that credit card companies can predict a divorce two years in advance, based on spending habits. I use gmail, google plus, twitter, facebook, pinterest, path, instagram and God knows what else. Imagine the nexus between my money and all this crap I’m posting on social networks. I can see my bathroom (based on the gyroscope, light, proximity and magnetic sensors in my phone) telling me that it is time to take a dump and we’re out of toilet paper. Maybe its not all a bad thing. My theory though is that especially with regard to social media, we’re actually not that predictable. Any useful patterns in behavior need to be analyzed in the present and very very fast. The past doesn’t matter that much, we’re very fickle and our behavioral patterns are affected by so many variables. Our irrationality contributes a certain level of chaos that makes any prediction algorithm insanely complex.
My previous paragraph hints at throwing to the wind, and I sound very much like a Mac salesman stating that Macs don’t get viruses. My biggest concern about the very near future has less to do with who’s storing my data and more to do with manipulation of that data. Imagine if midway transmission my messages to you are edited, and the same happens in reverse with your responses. Rather than ‘Predicting Behavior, we’d be moving into the zone of ‘Causing Behavior’. By the way you should read this book. If Big Data pattern analysis seems like dark arts, machine based Social Engineering will have you scurrying for the hills.
Throwing a Spanner Into The Engine
I’ve come across a few tools that may just change this privacy game in the very near future. They’re a little rough around the edges, but they have the potential to be a real disruption.
As for your money - I don’t think anything will help you with your spending habits. If ‘Strip Club’ and ‘Bar’ are daily items on your credit card statement, it won’t take a genius to figure out where your marriage might be headed.
I just ordered my first pair of glasses from Warby Parker, a new startup that probably wil revolutionize the eyewear industry. I ordered from them mostly to protest the pound of flesh that Pearle Vision and LensCrafters demand for a decent pair. My wife thinks I’m nuts for trusting the ‘Virtual Tryon’ option that Warby Parker offers. Basically you take a photo of yourself with their nifty webapp, make some x/y/z adjustments and you’re off to the races. She thinks the glasses won’t be fashionable, even before they’ve arrived, but we’ll know soon enough (more later).
Disruption is everywhere - dogs are barking, children are crying, mayhem abounds. Here are some articles for you to read if you haven’t come across them already:
This is a pretty good time to reinvent and reinvigorate existing ideas. The barriers to entry are low, access to technology is high and so many sectors are begging you to toss a monkey wrench into their operations.
Disruption has been going on for some time now, but its always interesting to see it happen in sectors that seemed impervious.
During the last weeks, I have been interviewing possible engineer candidates. One of my questions is about the knowledge of readme driven development. Interestingly, not one candidate had ever heard anything about readme driven development, but nearly 90% could precisely explain what test-driven development means.
This small statistic surprised me and opened my eyes to the fact that our implementation of readme driven development at 6Wunderkinder must be something new in the IT industry. So I dedicate this (longer) blog post for a further insight into how readme driven development may be done under real-life conditions.
As a software developer, there are days I feel like control is being wrested from us with each line of code we lay down. While machines become more efficient, we become more inept at even the most basic tasks. How many times do you catch yourself looking at your environment through the prism of your mobile device or your social network instead of your senses?
I’m trying to maintain a positive outlook about a future driven by technology, and not one that is careening to an eventual take over by our gadgets and our data. I have ‘some’ optimism that we’ll eventually be capable of putting to good use all this data we’re producing.
Is it wrong though, to think that there might come a time when we start looking at data footprints like we do carbon footprints? Where less is more? Deciphering data with our magnificent machines is the new gold rush. Perhaps, data is like ‘Space’. People will eventually discover that there are particles smaller than the smallest particle, and universes of universes — and that basically the answer is right under nose, while we chase the wind? Or maybe there is no answer, who knows.
Might letting machines decipher our data exhaust eventually lead to a machines perspective of the human experience? But machines are built by humans — hmm… conundrum.
I’m whipping a dead horse here. I thought I’d do a follow up on my friend Erik’s post on ICT4D, a polarizing discussion around the acronym ‘ICT4D’ (Information and Communications Technology for Development) that seemingly casts a condescending shadow on tech in Africa and other developing regions.
One thing is for certain in 2011 — Tech is exploding. Bleeding edge technology is at the point that it has become “Cut your finger and die” bleeding edge. In the world of 2011, if you’re not innovating and iterating at light speed, you’re not innovating. ICT4D and indeed then term ICT in general in this breakneck environment has come to symbolize access to technology at the lowest rung - basically a booster seat at the table with the adults.
I don’t mean to disparage all the valiant efforts so many have made by taking technology to the farthest reaches of the earth, but technology visualized through the lens of ‘development’ has inadvertently created a mind block in the mindset of a developing country’s tech innovator. An article on memburn - ‘With millions of smartphones in South Africa, where are all the apps’ illustrates my point. There is simply no excuse for the lack of smart phone applications in Africa. True, many cool smart phone applications today are built for vanity, but in between are thousands of truly useful apps — and they all have one thing in common, they make money, and they make money because its what people want. My point is not just about ‘apps’, but technology in general.
The future feels a lot more like marketing—it’s impromptu, it’s based on innovation and inspiration, and it involves connections between and among people—and a lot less like factory work, in which you do what you did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.
Then, is there a very remote chance that the role of technology in development has been slightly overemphasized?
Just finished reading Replay by Ken Grimwood. Wow! It’s been quite a while since a book (especially a non-fiction) had such a profound impact on my outlook on life. I should also note that the fact that Atlanta played a key role had absolutely no effect on my liking it :)