Hierarchy of Computing

Blumenthals_hierarchy_of_compu

One fundamental framework that I was always really impressed with and found basically true to life was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs describes the stages of growth in human beings, and it portray’s people focusing on their more primitive needs first and then progressing on to fulfilling higher order needs, as the lower ones are satisfied.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs–starts with addressing our basic Physiological needs for food, water, shelter, clothing and so on; then Safety covers our needs for safety and security; followed by social needs for love and companionship; next is Self-esteem which is our need for respect and value; and finally is Self-actualization where we actually fulfill our potential.

What occurred to me is that computing is an aid for us to fulfill our human needs, and as such we can map a Hierarchy of Computing to the Hierarchy of Needs.

The result is a “Hierarchy of Computing,” as follows:

Automation–helps us produce the sustenance items that we need for our physiological needs and includes everything from agricultural plows and harvesters to production line automation and systems.

Weaponization–this is the systemization of everything supporting our homeland security, military, and intelligence apparatus from nukes to drones, satellites, missile shields, cyber and bioweapons, and more.

Social/Mobile–these are technologies and apps that help us communicate and interact with one another, whenever and wherever we are.

Business Intelligence–addressing Big Data, this is the capability to capture, catalog, analyze, locate, and report information to drive value, power, and respect.

Ethical–the use of technology to aid timely decision-making and meaningful, value-driven action–helps us choose and execute right from wrong and is the ultimate in progressing toward our self-actualization.

I struggled with where Robotics fits in this hierarchy and I decided that robotics is not a specific layer in the hierarchy of computing itself, but rather is a application of the technology that can be applied at every level. For example, robotics can aid automation on the assembly line or it can be used for safety to defuse roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan or they can be applied to social needs as nursing and home aids for the elderly and handicapped and so on.

I am excited by this alignment of the Computing Hierarchy to the Needs Hierarchy in that it provides a framework for advances and application of technology to supporting our very humanity.

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

The Information Is On You

Green_wig

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times (17 June 2012) called: “A data giant is Mapping and Sharing the Consumer Genome.”

It is about a company called Acxion–with revenues of $1.13 billion–that develops marketing solutions for other companies based on their enormous data collection of everything about you!

Acxion has more than 23,000 servers “collecting, collating, and analyzing consumer data…[and] they have amassed the world’s largest commercial database on consumers.”

Their “surveillance engine” and database on you is so large that they:

– “Process more than 50 trillion data ‘transactions’ a year.”
– “Database contains information about 500 million active consumers.”
– “About 1,500 data points per person.”
– Have been collecting data for 40 years!

Acxion is the slayer of the consumer big data dragon–doing large-scale data mining and analytics using publicly available information and consumer surveys.

They collect data on demographics, socio-economics, lifestyle, and buying habits and they integrate all this data.

Acxion generates direct marketing solutions and predictive consumer behavior information.

They work with 47 of the Fortune 100 as well as the government after 9/11.

There are many concerns raised by both the size and scope of this activity.

Firstly, as to the information itself relative to its:

– Privacy
– Security

Secondly, regarding the consumer in terms of potential:

– Profiling
– Espionage
– Stalking
– Manipulation

Therefore, the challenge of big data is a double-edged sword:

– On one hand we have the desire for data intelligence to make sense of all the data out there and use it to maximum affect.
– On the other hand, we have serious concerns about privacy, security, and the potential abuse of power that the information enables.

How we harness the power of information to help society, but not hurt people is one of the biggest challenges of our time.

This will be an ongoing tug of war between the opposing camps until hopefully, the pendulum settles in the healthy middle, that is our collective information sweet spot.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

It’s Not iStuff, It’s Your iFuture

Kids_learning_computers

There is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (11 May 2012) called “Make It a Summer Without iStuff.”

It is written by David Gelernter, Professor of Computer Science at the prestigious Yale University and I was much dismayed to read it.

With all due respect, Gelernter makes the case–and a poor one at that–for keeping kids away from technology.

He calls technology devices and the Internet, “the perfect anti-concentration weapon…turning a child’s life into a comedy of interruptions.”

Gelernter states pejoratively that the “whole point of modern iToys…is not doing anything except turning into a click vegetable.”

Moreover, Gelernter goes too far treating technology and the Internet as a waste of time, toys, and even as dangerous vices–“like liquor, fast cars, and sleeping pills“–that must be kept away from children.

Further, Gelernter indiscriminately calls en masse “children with computers…little digital Henry VIIIs,” throwing temper tantrums when their problems cannot be solved by technology.

While I agree with Gelernter that at the extreme, technology can be used to as a escape from real, everyday life–such as for people who make their primary interaction with others through social networking or for those who sit virtually round-the-clock playing video games.

And when technology is treated as a surrogate for real life experiences and problem solving, rather than a robust tool for us to live fuller lives, then it becomes an enabler for a much diminished, faux life and possibly even a pure addiction.

However, Gelernter misses the best that technology has to offer our children–in terms of working smarter in everything we do.

No longer is education a matter of memorizing textbooks and spitting back facts on exams in a purely academic fashion, but now being smart is knowing where to find answers quickly–how to search, access, and analyze information and apply it to real world problems.

Information technology and communications are enablers for us do more with less–and kids growing up as computer natives provide the best chance for all of us to innovate and stay competitive globally.

Rather then helping our nation bridge the digital divide and increase access to the latest technologies and advance our children’s familiarity with all things science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Gelernter wants to throw us back in time to the per-digital age.

With the ever rapid pace with which technology is evolving, Gelernter’s abolishing technology for children needlessly sets them back in their technology prowess and acumen, while others around the world are pressing aggressively ahead.

Gelernter may want his kids to be computer illiterate, but I want mine to be computer proficient.

iStuff are not toys, they are not inherently dangerous vices, and they are not a waste of our children’s time, they are their future–if we only teach and encourage them to use the technology well, balanced, and for the good.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to “Extra Ketchup,” Michael Surran)

Which Big Brother

Brother_in_arms

About a decade ago, after the events of 9/11, there was a program called Total Information Awareness (TIA) run out the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The intent was develop and use technology to capture data (lots of it), decipher it, link it, mine it, and present and use it effectively to protect us from terrorists and other national security threats.

Due to concerns about privacy–i.e. people’s fear of “Big Brother”–the program was officially moth-balled, but the projects went forward under other names.

This month Wired(April 2012) reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) has almost achieved the TIA dream–“a massive surveillance center” capable of analyzing yottabytes (10 to the 24th bytes) of data that is being completed in the Utah desert.

According to the article, the new $2 billion Utah Data (Spy) Center is being built by 10,000 construction workers and is expected to be operational in a little over a year (September 2013), and will capture phone calls, emails, and web posts and process them by a “supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes.”

While DOD is most interested in “deepnet”–“data beyond the reach of the public” such as password protected data, governmental communications, and other “high value” information, the article goes on to describe “electronic monitoring rooms in major US telecom facilities” to collect information at the switch level, monitor phone calls, and conduct deep packet inspection of Internet traffic using systems (like Narus).

Despite accusations of massive domestic surveillance at this center, Fox News(28 March 2012) this week reported that those allegations have been dismissed by NSA. The NSA Director himself, General Keith Alexander provided such assurances at congressional hearings the prior week that the center was not for domestic surveillance purposes, but rather “to protect the nation’s cyber security,” a topic that he is deeply passionate about.

Certainly new technologies (especially potentially invasive ones) can be scary from the perspective of civil liberties and privacy concerns.

However, with the terrorists agenda very clear, there is no alternative, but to use all legitimate innovation and technology to our advantage when it comes to national security–to understand our enemies, their networks, their methods, their plans, to stop them, and take them down before they do us harm.

While, it is true that the same technologies that can be used against our enemies, can also be turned against us, we must through protective laws and ample layers of oversight ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Adequate checks and balances in government are essential to ensure that “bad apples” don’t take root and potentially abuse the system, even if that is the exception and not the rule.

There is a difference between the big brother who is there to defend his siblings from the schoolyard bully or pulls his wounded brother in arms off the battlefield, and the one who takes advantage of them.

Not every big brother is the Big Brother from George Orwell’s “1984” totalitarian state, but if someone is abusing the system, we need to hold them accountable.

Protecting national security and civil liberties is a dual responsibility that we cannot wish away, but which we must deal with with common sense and vigilance.

(Source Photo: here)

Dashboarding The Information Waves

I had an opportunity to view a demo of a dashboarding product from Edge called AppBoard, and while this is nota vendor or product endorsement, I think it is a good example to briefly talk about these types of capabilities.Dashboard products enable us to pull from multiple data sources, make associations, see trends, identify exceptions, and get alerts when there are problems.

Some of the things that I look for in dashboard tools are the following:

– Ease of use of connecting to data

– Ability to integrate multiple stovepiped databases

– A variety of graphs, charts, tables, and diagrams to visualize the information

– Use of widgets to automatically manipulate the data and create standardized displays

– Drag and drop ability to organize the dashboard in any way you like to see it

– Drill down to get more information on the fly

While there are many tools to consider that provide dashboards, information visualization, and business intelligence, I think one of the most important aspects of these is that they be user-centric and easy to implement and customize for the organization and its mission.

When making critical decisions (especially those involving life and death) and when time is of the essence–we need tools that can be can be easily navigated and manipulated to get the right information and make a good decision, quickly.

As a fan of information visualization tools, I appreciate tools like this that can help us get our arms around the “information overload” out there, and I hope you do too.(All Opinions my own)

Adapt and Live!

Train

The Times, They Are a-Changin’ is a song by Bob Dylan (1964), it is also the reality of our times today, and how we react to all the change can make or break us.

Like with Agile Software Development, one of the main values is “responding to change over following a plan,” to improve the success of software development, similarly in the world today, we need to be able to rapidly and flexibly respond to change in order to successfully compete.

Fast Company (February 2012) has two important articles on this topic–one is called “Generation Flux” and the other “The Four-Year Career.”

Generation Flux is about how we are living in a time of “chaotic disruption” and that this is “born of technology and globalization.” Generation Flux is a mindset of agility versus a demographic designation like Gen X or Y.

All around us we see the effects of this rapid change in terms of business models and leadership turned upside down, inside out, and sideways.

Recently, we have seen:

– Mainstay companies such as American Airlines and Hostess declare bankruptcy

– Some titans of the Fortune 500 companies ousted, including Carol Bartz of Yahoo, Leo Apotheker from HP to name just a few

– Others, like RIM and Netflix have fallen from grace and are struggling to regain their footwork–some will and some won’t

At the same time, we have seen the ascension of companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon becoming the “kings of the hill”–driven in part by their agility to get in and out of markets and products:

– In 2010, Google was getting out of China; today Google is expanding its presence once again. In addition, Google continues to start up or acquire and discontinue services regularly; just last year they closed Google Desktop developed in 2005, Google Health Service started in 2008, and Google Aardvark purchased in 2010 (and more)

– Amazon, once an online book and music retailer has now become the premier e-Commerce company as well as the No. 2 in tablets and in the top 3 in cloud computing.

– Apple was slick in developing the navigation wheel on the iPod only to get rid of it completely with the touch-screen of the iPad.

– Facebook continues to adapt to security and privacy concerns, but still has more to do, especially in terms of simplifying choices for their users.

According to Fast Company, to survive, we need to be profoundly agile and “embrace instability, that tolerates–and enjoys–recalibrating careers, business models, and assumptions.” The article points out that this is just as Darwin has professed, ultimately it is the agile that will survive–not the strongest or smartest.

For organizations, change, agility and adaptability is the name of the game, and they are depending on petabytes of information and the business intelligence to make sense of it all to make the right decision every day.

For individuals, “the long career is dead” (U.S. workers have a medium job tenure of only 4.4 years and have an average of 11 different jobs over a lifetime) and “the quest for solid rules is pointless” (with automation and robotics atrophying low- and middle-skill jobs and part time, freelance, and contract work all on the rise). Now, in an agile marketplace, “career-vitality” or the continuous broadening of individual capabilities is encouraged and expected, and the “T-shaped” person with both depth or subject matter expertise as well as breadth in other areas in becoming more and more valued.

Moreover, hard skills are important, but social skills and emotional intelligence are critical to get along, share information, and collaborate with others.

Of course, not all change is good, and we need to speak up and influence the direction of it for the good, but in the end, standing still in the path of genuine progress is like standing in front of a speeding locative.

While the quiet and serenity of maintaining the status quo is often what feels most secure and comfortable in uncertain times, it may actually just be the forerunner to the death knell for your career and organization. There are no short-cuts to continuing to learn, explore, and grow as the world around us rapidly evolves.

Adapt and live or stagnate and die.

(Source Photo: here)

Feedback, Can’t Live Without It

Feedback

Whether you call it feedback or performance measurement, we all need information on how we are doing in order to keep doing better over time.

Wired (July 2011) reports that there are 4 basic stages to feedback:

1. Evidence–“behavior is measured, captured, and stored.”  
2. Relevance–information is conveyed in a way that is “emotionally resonant.”
3. Consequence–we are provided with the results of our (mis)deeds.
4. Action–individuals have the opportunity to”recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act.”
The new action (in step 4) is also subject to measurement and the the feedback loop begins again.
Feedback plays a critical role in helping us achieve our goals; according to psychologist Albert Bandura, if we can identify our goals and measure our progress to them, we greatly increase the likelihood that we will achieve them. 
Thus, feedback is the way that we continually are able to course correct in order hit our targets: if we veer too much to the right, we course correct left; if we veer too much to the left, we course correct right. 
Feedback loops “can help people change bad behavior…[and] can encourage good habits.
From obesity to smoking, carbon emissions to criminal behavior, and energy use to employee performance, if we get feedback as to where we are going wrong and what negative effects it is having on us, we have the opportunity to improve
And the way we generate improvement in people is not by trying to control them–since no one can really be controlled, they just rebel–instead we give them the feedback they need to gain self-control.
These days, feedback is not limited to having that heart-to-heart with somebody, but technology plays a critical role. 
From sensors and monitors that capture and store information, to business intelligence that makes it meaningful in terms of trends, patterns, and graphs, to alerting and notification systems that let you know when some sort of anomaly occurs, we rely on technology to help us control our often chaotic environments. 
While feedback can be scary and painful–no one wants to get a negative reaction, criticized, or even “punished”–in the end, we are better off knowing than not knowing, so we have the opportunity to evaluate the veracity and sincerity of the feedback and reflect on what to do next. 
There are many obstacles to self-improvement including disbelief, obstinance, arrogance, as well as pure unadulterated laziness. All these can get in the way of making necessary changes in our lives; however, feedback has a way of continuing to come back and hit you over the head in life until you pay attention and act accordingly.  
There is no escaping valid feedback.