More Information, Please

Where Is It?
This was a funny sign in a local medical facility. 



Printed: “Labcorp is no longer in this building.”



Followed by in handwriting, “Then Where is it?”



Almost to the familiar reframe, “Well I dunno–do you? If not you–than who?”



These were plastered in multiple locations exactly like this. 



It’s funny, we think we are giving people information–the stuff they need. 



But when it comes across to the other person, perhaps all we’ve done is left them with more questions than answers. 



In an age of information technology, business analytics, big data, and artificial intelligence…we still can’t even seem to figure out the basics of managing information and communications with each other. 



Lots of products being heralded as the answer…including IBM’s Watson, but aside from answering Jeopardy questions, the jury is still out on whether this can really evolve to true AI.



If it was just a technology issue, we may already be getting close, but the bigger piece of this puzzle is people really understanding the challenges they confront, and being able identify and work with the information to solve these. 



Then maybe we would finally have the answers or at least where it is! 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Why Innovation Is On The Decline

Light on off
You’ve experienced it firsthand, innovation is slowing down (and yes, it’s quite disappointing!).  



Do you feel compelled to get a new smartphone, TV, or just about anything else…or do you already basically have the latest and greatest technology, even if it’s a couple of years old now?



But imagine, if something great and new did come out…we’d all be dancing in the streets and eager to buy. 



That’s right, innovation is not what it was…according to the Wall Street Journal, there is “An Innovation Slowdown At The Tech Giants.”



The question is why is this happening?



No, the tech companies are not copying Washington politics (sleepy, sleepy…)! 



But instead, we may have become our own worst enemies to our ability to innovate anew. 



The New York Times today explains that our minds have a toggle switch between being focused on a task and being free to let your mind wonder and innovate. 



You can’t do both at the same time, no you can’t.



And these days, we have so flooded ourselves with information overload with everything from 24/7 work and “big data,” email/texting, social media, and thousands of cable stations and billions of YouTube videos, and more that we are forever engaged in the what’s now, and are not allowing ourselves to rest, recuperate, and think about the potential for what’s new. 



If we want more from the future (innovation, creative problem solving, and sound decision making), then we need to allow some space for our minds to restore itself.



Whether that means daily downtimes, weekly walks in the park, monthly mediations, or semiannual vacations…we need to stop the diminishing returns of constant work and information arousal, and take a little mind breather. 



Instead of chugging along our insane nonstop routines of endless activities and firehose information engagement, we will do ourselves and our children and grandchildren a great service by pulling the train over for some rest and relaxation…and only then will real innovation begin again. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Surveillance Society {Funny}

Surveillance Society {Funny}

This was funny photo my wife and I took in a medical practitioner’s office.

Above the floodlights, was a picture of these staring eyes.

And it was simply thumbtacked onto the wallpaper.

One of the receptionists asked why we were taking the photo.

We sort of giggled–uh, this was not exactly the typical surveillance scenario in the 21st century of CCTVs, drones, hidden mics, tracking devices, and big data–not even close!

But maybe it’s just a reminder that someone is ALWAYS looking. 😉

Time To Spread The Magic

Time To Spread The Magic

So I’m not the biggest fan of Disney theme parks — maybe that is not a popular thing to write.

But to me, the rides alternate between fake or nauseating (when they’re not broken down), the characters are outdated, the parks are hot, overcrowded, and the lines and wait times are long, and the ticket prices are sort of crazy for what you’re getting (not).

Let’s see, a day at Disney or day at the beach–uh, I’ll take the beach any day!

But Disney is doing something magical these days.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports how Disney’s new MagicBands are using technology to make the theme park experience more convenient, even if not more fun.

The MagicBands are like an all-in-one electronic link between you and Disney:

– No need for an admission ticket, because the MagicBand does that.

– Reserve your favorite rides, use your wrist band.

– Hotel room keys, that’s right the band unlocks your door.

– Shopping at Disney kingdom, the band functions as your debit/credit card.

– Being greeted by name or wished a happy birthday, the bands make your experience more personal.

What’s more Disney uses the bands for “big data” analytics–for capturing your likes and preferences for rides, restaurants, food, and souvenirs–and this adds up to customer service enhancements like restocking shelves, opening up reservations, expedited queues, and even targeted mail and text messaging/advertising.

The bands have radio frequency identification tag/chips (RFID) as well as GPS sensors, so Disney knows who you are, where you are, and even much of what you’re doing.

Spooky from a privacy standpoint–sure, you are really sitting there exposed in just about every way.

But this technology has arrived, not just at Disney, but via embedded RFID in your smartphones or your body someday soon.

The synthesis of man and machine…the mystery is gone in the magic kingdom, but maybe the service gets better. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Restraint or Recklessness?

Restraint or Recklessness?

Like many of you, as I watch the events unfold with the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, I am amazed at the “restraint” being shown by the West.

But I can’t help asking myself why a military invasion by the Great Bear into a sovereign nation that is leaning toward democracy is being met with restraint.

Sitting in Starbucks, I overheard one young women saying to an older gentlemen that she did not understand the reaction of the President in saying there would be “consequences” and that no one took that seriously as there was no specificity, almost as if their where no real consequences to even threaten Russia with.

So why all the word-mincing, dancing around the subject, and restraint by the West in light of this very dangerous escalation in eastern Europe:

1) Surprise – Was the West completely taken by surprise by Russia’s military intervention? Didn’t something similar happen with Georgia in 2008–less than 6 years ago? Did we not foresee the possibility of Russia lashing out against Ukraine to protect its interests when Ukraine turned back toward European integration and away from the embrace of Russia that it had made only weeks earlier? After Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and with all our “Big Data,” intelligence, and military planning–how did we miss this (again!)?

2) Duped – Were we duped by the misinformation from Russia saying that the 150,000 troops they called on a “training exercise” was planned months ago and it just happened to coincide with the toppling of Ukraine’s President? Also, were we fooled when the “mysterious” soldiers showed up without national markings and Russia said they weren’t their military–uh, where did they come from–did they float down from the heavens?

3) Apathetic – Are we just apathetic to Ukraine’s plight? Are they just a poor country of little strategic value to us? Are we so war weary from Iraq and Afghanistan that we just want to place our heads in the sand like ostriches even when democracy and freedom is threatened in a European nation of some 45 million people?

4) Fear – Are we afraid of the military might of the nuclear-armed Russian Federation? Is America, the European Union, NATO, the United Nations all not willing to stand up and hold Russia accountable even if that means a military confrontation? Not that anyone wants World War III, but if we don’t stand up and defend against wanton aggression, how can any country or anyone be safe going forward?

5) Optionless – Are we just out of options? Russia got the upper hand on this one and they are logistically right there on the border and in the country of Ukraine now and what can we do? Despite the U.S. assertion that it can project military power anywhere around the world and a defense budget bigger than the 10 next largest combined–how can we be out of options? Are we out of options because we tacitly understand that one wrong miscalculation and we could end up with WMD on our homeland doorstep?

6) Butter Over Guns – Have we retrenched from world affairs, downsized our military, and emphasized domestic issues over international ones? Have we forgotten the risk that comes from a world without a superpower that helps to maintain stability and peace? Are we just under so much financial duress with a growing mountain of national debt, a economic recovery still struggling, and the lowest employment participation in over 30 years that we can’t even entertain spending more treasure to fight again?

7) Leadership – Who is managing the crisis? We’ve seen our President speak, various other government officials from the U.S. and European Union, the Secretary General of the U.N., the Secretary General of NATO, and more? Who is in charge–setting the tone–deciding the strategy? Who has point so that we and Russia know who to listen to and what is just background noise?

What is so scary about this whole thing is how quickly things can escalate and seriously get out of control in this world, and this despite all the alliances, planning, and spending–at the end of the day, it looks like we are floundering and are in chaos, while Russia is advancing on multiples fronts in Ukraine and elsewhere with supporting dangerous regimes in Syria, Iran, North Korea and more.

Whether we should or shouldn’t get involved militarily, what is shocking is: 1) the very notion that there wouldn’t be any good military options, and 2) that the consequences are not being spelled out with speed and clarity.

In the streets, at the cafe, on the television, I am seeing and hearing people in shock at what is happening and what we are and are not doing about it.

Even if we get Russia to stop advancing (yes, based on what happened with Georgia, I doubt they will actually pull back out), the question is what happens the next time there is a conflict based on how we’ve managed this one?

I do want to mention one other thing, which is while I feel empathy for the plight of the Ukrainians seeking freedom from Russia now, I also must remember the events of Babi Yar where, between 1941-1944, 900,000 Jews were murdered in the Soviet Union by Nazi genocide and their Ukrainian collaborators. This is history, but no so long ago.

All opinions my own.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Utenriksdept)

To Archive Or Not

To Archive Or Not

Farhad Manjoo had a good piece in the Wall Street Journal on the Forever Internet vs. the Erasable Internet.

The question he raises is whether items on the Internet should be archived indefinitely or whether we should be able to delete postings.

Manjoo uses the example of Snapshot where messages and photos disappear a few seconds after the recipient opens them–a self-destruct feature.

It reminded me of Mission Impossible, where each episode started with the tape recording of the next mission’s instructions that would then self-destruct in five seconds…whoosh, gone.

I remember seeing a demo years ago of an enterprise product that did this for email messages–where you could lock down or limit the capability to print, share, screenshot, or otherwise retain messages that you sent to others.

It seemed like a pretty cool feature in that you could communicate what you really thought about something–instead of an antiseptic version–without being in constant fear that it would be used against you by some unknown individual at some future date.

I thought, wow, if we had this in our organizations, perhaps we could get more honest ideas, discussion, vetting, and better decision making if we just let people genuinely speak their minds.

Isn’t that what the First Amendment is really all about–“speaking truth to power”(of course, with appropriate limits–you can’t just provoke violence, incite illegal actions, damage or defame others, etc.)?

Perhaps, not everything we say or do needs to be kept for eternity–even though both public and private sector organizations benefit from using these for “big data” analytics for everything from marketing to national security.

Like Manjoo points out, when we keep each and every utterance, photo, video, and audio, you create a situation where you have to “constantly police yourself, to create a single, stultifying profile that restricts spontaneous self-expression.”

While one one hand, it is good to think twice before you speak or post–so that you act with decency and civility–on the other hand, it is also good to be free to be yourself and not a virtual fake online and in the office.

Some things are worth keeping–official records of people, places, things, and events–especially those of operational, legal or historical significance and even those of sentimental value–and these should be archived and preserved in a time appropriate way so that we can reference, study, and learn from them for their useful lives.

But not everything is records-worthy, and we should be able to decide–within common sense guidelines for records management, privacy, and security–what we save and what we keep online and off.

Some people are hoarders and others are neat freaks, but the point is that we have a choice–we have freedom to decide whether to put that old pair of sneakers in a cardboard box in the garage, trash it, or donate it.

Overall, I would summarize using the photo in this post of the vault boxes, there is no need to store your umbrella there–it isn’t raining indoors. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Spinster Cardigan)

Big Data, Correlation Or Causation?

Big Data, Correlation Or Causation?

Gordon Crovitz wrote about Big Data in the Wall Street Journal (25 March 2013) this week.

He cites from a book called “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think,” an interesting notion that in processing the massive amounts of data we are capturing today, society will “shed some of its obsession for causality in exchange for simple correlation.”

The idea is that in the effort to speed decision processing and making, we will to some extent, or to a great extent, not have the time and resources for the scientific method to actually determine why something is happening, but instead will settle for knowing what is happening–through the massive data pouring in.

While seeing the trends in the data is a big step ahead of just being overwhelmed and possibly drowning in data and not knowing what to make of it, it is still important that we validate what we think we are seeing but scientifically testing it and determining if there is a real reason for what is going on.

Correlating loads of data can make for interesting conclusions like when Google Flu predicts outbreaks (before the CDC) by reaming through millions of searches for things like cough medicine, but correlations can be spurious when for example, a new cough medicine comes out and people are just looking up information about it–hence, no real outbreak of the flu. (Maybe not the best example, but you get the point).

Also, just knowing that something is happening like an epidemic, global warming, flight delays or whatever, is helpful in situational awareness, but without knowing why it’s happening (i.e. the root cause) how can we really address the issues to fix it?

It is good to know if data is pointing us to a new reality, then at least we can take some action(s) to prevent ourselves from getting sick or having to wait endlessly in the airport, but if we want to cure the disease or fix the airlines then we have to go deeper, find out the cause, and attack it–to make it right.

Correlation is good for a quick reaction, but correlation is necessary for long-term prevention and improvement.

Computing resources can be used not just to sift through petabytes of data points (e.g. to come up with neighborhood crime statistics), but to actually help test various causal factors (e.g. socio-economic conditions, community investment, law enforcement efforts, etc.) by processing the results of true scientific testing with proper controls, analysis, and drawn conclusions.

A Seeing Eye

This video from NOVA is an amazing display of the surveillance capabilities we have at our disposal.

ARGUS-IS Stands for Automated Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System.

Like a “Persistent Stare,” ARGUS provides continuous monitoring and tracking over a entire city, but also it has the ability to simply click on an area (or multilple areas–up to 65 at a time) to zoom in and see cars, people, and even in detail what individuals are wearing or see them even waving their arms!

Created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ARGUS uses 368 imaging chips and provides a streaming video of 1.8 gigapixels (that is 1.8 billion pixels) of resolution and attaches to the belly of a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drone.

ARGUS captures 1 million terabytes of a data a day, which is 5,000 hours of high-definition footage that can be stored and returned to as needed for searching events or people.

The Atlantic (1 February 2013) points out how using this over an American city could on one hand, be an amazing law enforcement tool for catching criminals, but on the other hand raise serious privacy concerns like when used by government to collect data on individuals or by corporations to market and sell to consumers.

What is amazing to me is not just the bird’s eye view that this technology provides from the skies above, but that like little ants, we are all part of the mosaic of life on Earth. We all play a part in the theater of the loving, the funny, the witty, and sometimes the insane.

My Oma used to say in German that G-d see everything, but now people are seeing virtually everything…our actions for good or for shame are visible, archived, and searchable. 😉

When Incremental Improvement isn’t Enough

When Incremental Improvement isn't Enough

One of the things that I love about the Intelligence Community (IC) is that they think future and they think big.

Noah Schactman in Wired Magazine (12 December 12–great date!), gave a snapshot view of 2030 as provided by the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

Some of the predictions (or aspirations) include:

– Bioprinting such as creating 3-D printed organs (how’s that for your orchestrating your own organ transplant?)

– Retinal implants for night vision thermal imaging, seeing the distance without binoculars, or even one-upping Google Glass by providing augmented reality in your eye instead of over it

– Brain chips for superhuman thought and recall (those without remain doomed to brain farts, in comparison)

– Bioweapons where DNA is used to target and take out people by genetically engineering viruses to attack them, specifically, without leaving any markers

– People embedded in machines–reminiscent of when Ripley in the movie Alien enters in an exoskelton robotic suit to kick some Alien butt!

Other predictions include: megacities, climate change, big data clouds, aging populations, and more drones.

While some of these advances are incremental in nature–for example genetic engineering and bioweapons are incremental steps from DNA sequencing of humans.

However, other leaps are more dramatic.

An article by Stephen Levy in Wired (17 January 2013) discusses how Larry Page (one of the Google founders) strives for inventions that are magnitudes of “10x” (often actually 100x) better than the status quo, rather than just 10% improvements.

Google has many examples of leaping ahead of the competition: from its transformative search engine which has become synonymous with search itself to Gmail which came out with 100x the storage of its competitors, Translations for the entire web from/to any language, Google Fiber with broadband at 100x faster than industry speeds prototyped in Kansas City, Google Books providing a scanned and searchable archive of our global collection of books and magazines, Google+ for social media (this one, I see as just a Facebook copycat–to get on Facebook’s nerves!), Google Maps for getting around, Android their open platform operating system for mobile devices, and even self-driving cars–many of these are developed by Google X–their secret skunk work lab.

I really like Google’s concept of going for the “moon shot” rather than just tweaking technology to try and stay ahead of the competition, temporarily.

And as in space, there is so much territory to explore, Google believes it is attacking just .1% of the opportunities out there, and that the tech industry as a whole is attacking maybe 1% in aggregate–that leaves 99% or plenty of opportunity for all innovators and inventors out there.

To get to 2030 and beyond–we’re just at the tip of the innovation iceberg! 😉

Can a Computer Run the Economy?

Machine_learning

I am nottalking about socialism or totalitarianism, but about computers and artificial intelligence.

For a long time, we have seen political infighting and finger-pointing stall progress on creating jobs, balancing trade, taming the deficits, and sparking innovation.

But what if we somehow took out the quest for power and influence from navigating our prosperity?

In politics, unfortunately no one seems to want to give the other side the upper hand–a political win with voters or a leg-up on with their platform.

But through the disciplines of economics, finance, organizational behavior, industrial psychology, sociology, geopolitics, and more–can we program a computer to steer the economy using facts rather than fighting and fear?

Every day, we need to make decisions, big and small, on everything from interests rates, tax rates, borrowing, defense spending, entitlements, pricing strategies, regulating critical industries, trade pacts, and more.

Left in the hands of politicians, we inject personal biases and even hatreds, powerplays, band-standing, bickering, and “pork-barrel” decision making, rather than rational acting based on analysis of alternatives, cost-benefits, risk management, and underlying ethics.

We thumb our noises (rightfully) at global actors on the political stages, saying who is rational and who is perhaps just plain crazy enough to hit “the button.”

But back here at home, we can argue about whether or not the button of economic destructionism has already been hit with the clock ticking down as the national deficit spirals upward, education scores plummet, and jobs are lost overseas?

Bloomberg BusinessWeek(30 August 2012) suggests using gaming as a way to get past the political infighting and instead focus on small (diverse) groups to make unambiguous trade-off decisions to guide the economy rather than “get reelected”–the results pleasantly were cooperation and collaboration.

Yes, a game is just a game, but there is lesson that we can learn from this–economic decision-making can be made (more) rationally by rewarding teamwork and compromise, rather than by an all or nothing, fall on your sword, party against party, winner takes no prisoner-politics.

I would suggest that gaming is a good example for how we can improve our economy, but I can see a time coming where “bid data,” analytics, artificial intelligence, modeling and simulation, and high-performance computing, takes this a whole lot further–where computers, guided and inspired by people, help us make rational economic choices,thereby trumping decisions by gut, intuition, politics, and subjective whims .

True, computers are programmed by human beings–so won’t we just introduce our biases and conflict into the systems we develop and deploy?

The idea here is to filter out those biases using diverse teams of rational decision-makers, working together applying subject matter expertise and best practices and then have the computers learn over time in order to improve performance–this, separate from the desire and process to get votes and get elected.

Running the economy should not be about catering to constituencies, getting and keeping power for power sakes, but rather about rational decision-making for society–where the greatest good is provided to the greatest numbers, where the future takes center stage, where individuals preferences and rights are respected and upheld, and where ethics and morality underpin every decision we make.

The final question is whether we will be ready to course-correct with collaboration and advances in technology to get out of this economic mess before this economic mess gets even more seriously at us?

(Source Photo: herewith attribution to Erik Charlton)