Monthly Archives: January 2015

For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 1/6/2015

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1. How Laws Restricting Tech Actually Expose Us to Greater Harm

The general-purpose computer is one of the crowning achievements of industrial society. Prior to its invention, electronic calculating engines were each hardwired to do just one thing, like calculate ballistics tables. John von Neumann’s “von Neumann architecture” and Alan Turing’s “Turing-complete computer” provided the theoretical basis for building a calculating engine that could run any program that could be expressed in symbolic language. That breakthrough still ripples through society, revolutionizing every corner of our world. When everything is made of computers, an improvement in computers makes everything better.

But there’s a terrible corollary to that virtuous cycle: Any law or regulation that undermines computers’ utility or security also ripples through all the systems that have been colonized by the general-purpose computer. And therein lies the potential for untold trouble and mischief.

Because while we’ve spent the past 70 years perfecting the art of building computers that can run every single program, we have no idea how to build a computer that can run every program except the one that infringes copyright or prints out guns or lets a software-based radio be used to confound air-traffic control signals or cranks up the air-conditioning even when the power company sends a peak-load message to it.

The closest approximation we have for “a computer that runs all the programs except the one you don’t like” is “a computer that is infected with spyware out of the box.”

2. Accelerating Drug Development with Organ-on-a-Chip Technology
Something that may help reverse Eroom’s Law : that’s Moore’s law backward—which observes that the number of new drugs approved per billion dollars spent on R&D has halved every nine years since 1950.

The idea is to authentically replicate, or “bioemulate” in science-speak, the workings of human organs. This way, scientists and even clinicians without high-level expertise can determine the efficacy and safety of potential new drugs, chemicals and cosmetics, with no animal models in the process.

“This advanced technology is the beginning of a revolution in the way we study human biology and disease,” said senior scientist Geraldine Hamilton. She added that Emulate is more predictive of the human situation than animal models, besides being more cost-effective and less time-consuming. Therefore, new pharmaceuticals could get to market, and to those in need of them, more rapidly.

Another aspect of the new technology is that it paves the way for more personalized treatment with stem cells. “Our vision is we can one day put each patient’s cells on chips that mimic the function of organs, and this will open up new ways for us to design truly personalized treatment with stem cells, based on each patient’s unique genetic profile on their own individualized Organs-on-Chips,” added Shlomo Melmed, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and Dean of the medical faculty at Cedars-Sinai, one of the institutional investors in the new company.

Besides the lung-on-chip seen at the top of the page, in the last four years the researchers have also developed more than 10 types of organ/chips, including some that emulate the liver, gut, kidney, and bone marrow.

3. We Still Don’t Know Who Hacked Sony

The blurring of lines between individual actors and national governments has been happening more and more in cyberspace. What has been called the first cyberwar, Russia vs. Estonia in 2007, was partly the work of a 20-year-old ethnic Russian living in Tallinn, and partly the work of a pro-Kremlin youth group associated with the Russian government. Many of the Chinese hackers targeting Western networks seem to be unaffiliated with the Chinese government. And in 2011, the hacker group Anonymous threatened NATO.

It’s a strange future we live in when we can’t tell the difference between random hackers and major governments, or when those same random hackers can credibly threaten international military organizations.

This is why people around the world should care about the Sony hack. In this future, we’re going to see an even greater blurring of traditional lines between police, military, and private actions as technology broadly distributes attack capabilities across a variety of actors. This attribution difficulty is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

If North Korea is responsible for the cyberattack, how is the situation different than a North Korean agent breaking into Sony’s office, photocopying a lot of papers, and making them available to the public? Is Chinese corporate espionage a problem for governments to solve, or should we let corporations defend themselves? Should the National Security Agency defendU.S. corporate networks, or only U.S. military networks? How much should we allow organizations like the NSA to insist that we trust them without proof when they claim to have classified evidence that they don’t want to disclose? How should we react to one government imposing sanctions on another based on this secret evidence? More importantly, when we don’t know who is launching an attack or why, who is in charge of the response and under what legal system should those in charge operate?

4. Can (Minus the Rap) Annotate The World?

Lehman and Zechory have spent much of 2014 trying to scrub their past clean. They’ve shortened the company’s name to Genius and secured $40 million in funding to plunge fully into a Silicon Valley “pivot”: the transition from doing one thing better than anyone else—annotating rap lyrics—to doing something bigger and bolder—“annotating the world,” a capaciously vague ambition that no one, themselves included, is certain they can pull off. Annotation has been a Silicon Valley dream since the invention of the first web browser, but it has yet to produce an elegant solution comparable to what Wikipedia did with the crowdsourced encyclopedia. The Genius founders see their platform as a means for enlightened discussion in contrast to the dark world of the internet comment. Users can upload a text, click on any word, and add whatever context they deem worthwhile. Most annotations must be approved by other members of the Genius community, so that only valuable commentary, grounded in specific parts of a given text, will pass muster and appear on the site. But the Genius founders’ ultimate goal is bigger still. If their plans come to fruition, users will visit to annotate Shakespeare, Apple earnings reports, and the State of the Union, but the Genius platform will be built into the code of every website in the world, allowing users to mark up any text, anywhere. “It’s gonna take a decade to build or more,” the investor Horowitz said. “But it ought to be as long-lasting as any technology company that’s getting built right now and any that’s in existence.” In grasping for an analogy to encompass their ambition, the Genius founders have variously described the project as a “wall of history” and an “internet Talmud.” Critics, who consider the majority of its annotations sophomoric at best, have called it an “internet decoder ring.”

“All Rhodes Scholars had a great future in their past.”
― Peter ThielZero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

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For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 1/2/2015

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1. You Are Not Late

But, but…here is the thing. In terms of the internet, nothing has happened yet. The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning. If we could climb into a time machine and journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2044 were not invented until after 2014. People in the future will look at their holodecks, and wearable virtual reality contact lenses, and downloadable avatars, and AI interfaces, and say, oh, you didn’t really have the internet (or whatever they’ll call it) back then.

And they’d be right. Because from our perspective now, the greatest online things of the first half of this century are all before us. All these miraculous inventions are waiting for that crazy, no-one-told-me-it-was-impossible visionary to start grabbing the low-hanging fruit — the equivalent of the dot com names of 1984.

Because here is the other thing the greybeards in 2044 will tell you: Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 2014? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category X and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh, “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now. Right now, this minute.

2. The Most Futuristic Predictions That Came True In 2014
A really truly amazing list, proof that we live in a time when science fiction is becoming reality. However, based on your personal filter bubble, 2014 may feel like it was full of chaos and terror, instead of broadly good. Links within the article for details.

1. Technologically-assisted telepathy was successfully demonstrated in humans
2. NASA emailed a wrench to the space station
3. Surgeons began using suspended animation
4. The U.S. Navy deployed a functional laser weapon
5. Scientists “uploaded” a worm’s mind into a robot
6. A computer solved a math problem that we can’t check
7. An artificial chromosome was built from scratch
8. A venture capitalist firm appointed an AI to the board
9. A double amputee received two mind-controlled arms
10. A cloaking device that hides objects in the visible spectrum
11. An orangutan became a legally recognized person
12. Self-guiding sniper bullets became a reality
13. A proto-cyber war erupted between the U.S. and N. Korea (based on some pretty crappy intel)
14. Humanity landed a robot on a comet

3. The Oil Crisis Explained In 3 Minutes
Crisis? Gas is the cheapest it’s been in years! Well… that’s true but let’s take a few geopolitical steps back.

Shale. Technological improvements in drilling have enabled access to previously difficult-to-reach reserves in many parts of the US and abroad. In particular, drillers can now extract oil from shale. When supply goes up, prices come down. And that’s what prices did.

The Sucker Punch: OPEC does not come to the rescue.Then came the curve ball. What usually happens when oil prices drop fast is that OPEC steps in and saves the day. (OPEC is an “Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries” that works as a cartel to control oil prices to their benefit.) The logic goes like this: OPEC wants higher oil prices so they can sell at a higher price. So when prices fall, they usually come together to cut supply in unison. But this time, they refused.

As oil continued to plummet, OPEC made a public statement that basically went like this:

“Too bad. Deal with it.”This caught a lot of traders and investors flat-footed, as many expected OPEC to intervene. Reflecting this new reality, oil continued its plunge, breaking $70 per barrel.

By refusing to intervene, OPEC exacerbated the oil price collapse. And many drillers that were counting on high oil prices would now be losing money.

4. By 2025, the Definition of ‘Privacy’ Will Have Changed
A new area of haves and have nots will emerge between those that have encryption and know how use it and those that do not.

Experts agreed, though, that our expectations about personal privacy are changing dramatically. While privacy once generally meant, “I assume no one is looking,” as one respondent put it, the public is beginning to accept the opposite: that someone usually is. And whether or not people accept it, that new normal—public life and mass surveillance as a default—will become a component of the ever-widening socioeconomic divide. Privacy as we know it today will become a luxury commodity. Opting out will be for the rich. To some extent that’s already true. Consider the supermarkets that require you to fill out an application—including your name, address, phone number, and so on—in order to get a rewards card that unlocks coupons. Here’s what Kate Crawford, a researcher who focuses on ethics in the age of big data, told Pew:

“In the next 10 years, I would expect to see the development of more encryption technologies and boutique services for people prepared to pay a premium for greater control over their data. This is the creation of privacy as a luxury good. It also has the unfortunate effect of establishing a new divide: the privacy rich and the privacy poor. Whether genuine control over your information will be extended to the majority of people—and for free—seems very unlikely, without a much stronger policy commitment.”

And there’s little incentive for the entities that benefit from a breakdown in privacy to change the way they operate. In order to get more robust privacy protections—like terms of service agreements that are actually readable to non-lawyers, or rules that let people review the personal information that data brokers collect about them—many experts agree that individuals will have to demand them. But even that may not work.

Where there’s tension between convenience and privacy, individuals are already primed to give up their right to be left alone. For instance, consider the Facebook user who feels uneasy about the site’s interest in her personal data but determines quitting isn’t an option because she’d be giving up the easiest way to stay in touch with friends and family.


“. . . [T]hou wilt not trust the air with secrets.”
— Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus 

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