For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 11/18/2014

1. On Innovation And It’s Discontents

As we enter an age of exponential growth it will be magical to some and terrifying to others. Our current present is one in which science fiction becomes reality on a regular basis.

An age of constant invention naturally begets one of constant failure. The life span of an innovation, in fact, has never been shorter. An African hand ax from 285,000 years ago, for instance, was essentially identical to those made some 250,000 years later. The Sumerians believed that the hoe was invented by a godlike figure named Enlil a few thousand years before Jesus, but a similar tool was being used a thousand years after his death. During the Middle Ages, amid major advances in agriculture, warfare and building technology, the failure loop closed to less than a century. During the Enlightenment and early Industrial Revolution, it was reduced to about a lifetime. By the 20th century, it could be measured in decades. Today, it is best measured in years and, for some products, even less. (Schuetz receives tons of smartphones that are only a season or two old.)

The closure of the failure loop has sent uncomfortable ripples through the economy. When a product or company is no longer valued in the marketplace, there are typically thousands of workers whose own market value diminishes, too. Our breakneck pace of innovation can be seen in stock-market volatility and other boardroom metrics, but it can also be measured in unemployment checks, in divorces and involuntary moves and in promising careers turned stagnant. Every derelict product that makes its way into Weird Stuff exists as part of a massive ecosystem of human lives — of engineers and manufacturers; sales people and marketing departments; logistics planners and truck drivers — that has shared in this process of failure.

Hat tip to Jake Brewer (@jakebrewer) for the link.

2. On The Rise Of Freelance Cyber-Mercenaries And The Military-Internet Complex

 Endgame is one of a small but growing number of boutique cyber mercenaries that specialize in what security professionals euphemistically call “active defense.” It’s a somewhat misleading term, since this kind of defense doesn’t entail just erecting firewalls or installing antivirus software. It can also mean launching a pre-emptive or retaliatory strike. Endgame doesn’t conduct the attack, but the intelligence it provides can give clients the information they need to carry out their own strikes. It’s illegal for a company to launch a cyberattack, but not for a government agency. According to three sources familiar with Endgame’s business, nearly all of its customers are U.S. government agencies. According to security researchers and former government officials, one of Endgame’s biggest customers is the National Security Agency. The company is also known to sell to the CIA, Cyber Command, and the British intelligence services. But since 2013, executives have sought to grow the company’s commercial business and have struck deals with marquee technology companies and banks.

To date, no American company has been willing to say that it engages in offensive cyber operations designed to steal information or destroy an adversary’s system. But former intelligence officials say “hack-backs”—that is, breaking into the intruder’s computer, which is illegal in the United States—are occurring, even if they’re not advertised. “It is illegal. It is going on,” says a former senior NSA official, now a corporate consultant. “It’s happening with very good legal advice. But I would not advise a client to try it.”

3. On The Rise And Fall Of John DeLorean

By 1999 John DeLorean was bankrupt and swimming in $85 million debt, but he still hoped that his namesake De Lorean car would eventually come back into style. The thought wasn’t entirely absurd – Volkswagen was enjoying phenomenal success with its ‘new’ Beetle and the retro-styled PT Cruiser was a hit for Chrysler. Then again the De Lorean Motor Company’s signature car, the DMC-12, only had a ten to 11-month run of less than 9,000 cars. In other words, the 1982 De Lorean car was retro by 1983. By 1985 the De Lorean was a joke in Back to the Future, so dated it made for a perfect time machine.

The timeline of DeLorean’s personal history is so tied to the history of automobiles that, even after his death in 2005 (at age 80, after suffering complications from a stroke), his various supporters and detractors are still debating his accomplishments and foibles. Both lists are long. Some argue for the flashy and obvious, such as the DMC-12’s gull-wing doors and rust proof stainless steel body. Others point to a design accomplishment that is far more ubiquitous but rarely attributed to DeLorean: the lane-change turn signal.

4. On Comcast, Net-Neutrality, Hot Dogs, and Oligopoly

This is an excellent write up on how the free market system works and how it has broken down when it comes to ISPs. I do wish it were written a little more politically neutral and less “us vs. them”, but oh well. Adoption of anything into the class of utility has been contested over time. The Internet is a utility for today’s population.

This practice is not only new; until this year, it was also considered illegal.  One of the basic design principles of the World Wide Web (according to its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee) is the idea that network owners may charge individuals to access their networks, and may charge them for data use, but, once individuals are on the network, the network must treat all data equally.  Comcast cannot decide to delay your download of a YouTube video in order to make more room on the network for your neighbor to download the same video from; you both paid equally for network access for the same amount of data, so the network must treat your data equally.  Without this principle, much of the internet breaks down.  It stops being an open network facilitated by service providers – who merely connect you to whatever data you want, anywhere on the network – but becomes a closed network shaped and ultimately controlled by service providers – who drive you toward a limited number of ISP-owned services and content streams that wouldn’t surive in the online free market free-for-all we have today.  That principle – a core design at the very heart of the World Wide Web and all the brilliant competition and innovation that has come from it – is called Network Neutrality.

“Everyone can read. The illiterate of the 21st century will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler

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