Smart Electronic Skin

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I liked this concept reported on in BBC Technology about using swarms of sensors to create a type of electronic or “smart skin.”



Like nerves in our human skin, multitudes of sensors placed on anything that we want to monitor, could create a sensing/feeling and reporting mechanism for evaluating the health or condition of that thing. 



Rather than wait for something to fail or break, we could actively collect information on changes in “temperature, strain, and movement” and other environmental impacts to analyze and predict any issues and proactively address them with countermeasures, maintenance, or fixes. 



As human beings, we are architected with regular monitoring and self-healing biological systems to protect ourselves from daily dangers around us, we can develop homes, factories, transport, robots, and everything important around us with similar properties to be more durable, last longer and be more productive.  



When we emulate in our own development efforts what G-d has created for the good in the world, we are on the right track. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Five Phases Of Medicine

The Five Phases Of Medicine

In many respects, medicine has come a really long way, and yet in other ways it seems like it still has so far to go.

For example, while antibiotics are used to routinely treat many bacterial infections, there are few antiviral treatments currently available–and we are left with the proverbial, “take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

Similarly, heart attacks, strokes, cancers and so many other ailments still take their victims and leave the bereaving family asking why?

In thinking about medicine, there are five major historical phases:

1. Do nothing: Get hurt or ill, and you’re as good as dead. You shudder at the words “There is nothing we can do for you.” Average lifespan for folks, 30s. If you’re lucky (or wealthy), you may make it into your 40s or even reach 50.

2. Cut it: Diseased or damaged limb or body part, chop it off or cut it out surgically. I still remember when the people in my grandparents generation called doctors, butchers.

3. Replace it: When something is kaput, you replace it–using regenerative medicine, such as stem cell therapy (e.g. for bone marrow transplants or even for growing new tissue for teeth) and bio printers (like a 3-D printer) to make new ones.

4. Heat it: Envision a future with self-healing microbes (based on nanotechnology) in the blood and tissues that detect when a body part is dangerously ill and deploys repair drones to fix them. There is no need to cut it off or replace it, you just fix it. And perhaps with DNA “profiling”(don’t like that word), we’ll be able to tell what a person is predisposed to and provide proactive treatments.

5. Eliminate it: Ok, this is way out there, but could there come a time, when with technology (and of course, G-d’s guiding hand) that we can eradicate most disease. Yes, hard to imagine, and with diseases that adapt and morph into other strains, it would be hard to do–but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I still am shocked in the 21st century with all the medical advances and technology that we have that the doctors still say for everything from routine colds, to viruses, sores, growths, and more–“Oh, there’s nothing we can do for that.”

Yet, there is what to look forward to for future generations in terms of better medicine and perhaps with longer and better quality of life.

My grandfather used to say, “No one gets old without suffering”–let’s hope and pray for less and less suffering with future medical technology advances. 😉

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

Cyber War – The Art of The Doable

CBS 60 Minutes had a great episode this past June called Cyber War: Sabotaging The System.

The host Steve Kroft lays the groundwork when he describes information or cyber warfare as computers and the Internet that is used as weapons and says that “the next big war is less likely to begin with a bang than with a blackout.”

This news segment was hosted with amazing folks like Retired Admiral Mike McConnell (former Director of National Intelligence), Special Agent Sean Henry (Assistant Director of the FBI’s Cyber Division), Jim Gosler (Founding Director of CIA’s Clandestine Information Technology Office), and Jim Lewis (Director, Center for Strategic and International Studies).

For those who think that cyber war is a virtual fantasy and that we are safe in cyberspace, it’s high time that we think again.

Here are some highlights:

– When Retired Admiral McConnel is asked “Do you believe our adversaries have the capability of bringing down a power grid?”  McConnell responds “I do.” And when asked if the U.S. is prepared for such an attack, McConnell responds, “No.”

– Jim Gosler describes how microchips made abroad are susceptible to tampering and could “alter the functionality” of let’s say a nuclear weapon that needed to go operational, as well as how they “found microelectronics and electronics embedded in applications that shouldn’t be there.”

– Special Agent Henry talks about how thieves were able to steal more than a $100 million from banks in less than half a year, not by holdups but through hacking.

– Jim Lewis tells of the “electronic Pearl Harbor” that happened to us back in 2007, when terabytes of information were downloaded/stolen from our major government agencies–“so we probably lost the equivalent of a Library of Congress worth of government information” that year and “we don’t know who it is” who broke in.

The point is that our computers and communications and all the critical infrastructure that they support–including our defense, energy, water, transportation, banking, and more are all vulnerable to potentially lengthy disruption.

What seems most difficult for people to grasp is that the bits of bytes of cyberspace are not just ephemeral things, but that thy have real impact to our physical universe.

Jim Lewis says that “it doesn’t seem to be sinking in. And some of us call it ‘the death of a thousand cuts.’ Every day a little bit more of our intellectual property, our innovative skills, our military technology is stolen by somebody. And it’s like little drops.  Eventually we’ll drown. But every day we don’t notice.”

Our computer systems are vulnerable and they control virtually all facets of lives, and if the enemy strikes at our cyber heart, it is going to hurt more than most of us realize.

We are taking steps with cyber security, but we need to quickly shift from a reactive stance (watching and warning) to a proactive posture (of prevention and protection) and make cyber warfare a true national priority.

>City 2.0 Makes City Sense

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They call it City 2.0—that is cities that are IT enabled with all sorts of sensors and smart technology.

  • Cameras monitor traffic flow.
  • Sensors test water quality and monitor sewage runoff.
  • Smart meters keep track of energy usage.
  • Acoustical systems monitor structural integrity of bridges and other infrastructure.
  • Building management systems control ventilation, lighting, power, fire, and security.
  • Environmental monitoring tracks weather, smog, and even potential natural disasters.

And I think this is all probably still just the beginning…

Governing Magazine, April 2010 has an article entitled “The Sentient City” by Zach Patton” that describes how systems are helping cities “send resources to the street corner where gangs are converging, manage traffic before it becomes congested, and respond to emergencies seamlessly—automatically—before they’re even reported.”

With technology, we are able to be not only more aware of our surroundings, but also be more proactive in managing them.

There are many critical technology elements that come into play for a sentient city:

  • Sensors—for awareness of what is going on
  • Networking—for linking together the sensors with the backend systems
  • Storage—for housing all the incoming city data
  • Business Intelligence—for making sense of it all
  • Alerting—for notifying authorities and citizens of important happenings

According to analyst Rob Enderle, with technologies for a sentient city, “you can run a city cheaper and have happier and safer citizens.” Further, according to the article, the city “becomes a more efficient place for people to live and work. It also means a government can do more with less.”

Obviously, there is significant investment that needs to be made in city infrastructure, systems, and people to make this next generation of city living a complete reality.

But with the investment will come rewards of more and better information for managing all the people, places, and things interacting with each other in the environs.

The flip side of a sentient city is a certain degree of risk to people’s privacy. For example, where cameras and other sensors abound, people’s comings, goings, and doings could become subject to invasive scrutiny.

In this case, a little information can become a dangerous thing without adequate safeguards as to what can be monitored, when, and with how much personally identifiable information. For example, this issue is currently being dealt with at airports full body technology scanners that are programmed to hide a person’s facial identity.

The benefits of sensing and monitoring our environment are great in terms of efficiencies, safety, and security of our citizens, and I believe that this capability will grow from discrete sensing systems into more holistic city management systems that monitors all the city’s functions and operations, feeds this information into dynamic knowledge centers, and provides real-time information for managing day-to-day city living more intelligently and proactively.

As our population grows and our major city centers continue to have to deal with the ever greater potential for overcrowding, traffic, dirt, crime, and other facets of close knit metropolitan life, our need for more and better information for managing these will become ever more critical to support the continued livability and likability of our cities that we call home.

>Overcoming the Obstacles to Cyber Security

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There continues to be a significant shortfall in our cyber security capabilities, and this is something that needs our determined efforts to rectify.

Often I hear a refrain from IT specialists that we can’t wait with security until the end of a project, but rather we need to “bake it into it” from the beginning. And while this is good advice, it is not enough to address the second-class status that we hold for IT security versus other IT disciplines such as applications development or IT infrastructure provision. Cyber Security must be elevated to safeguard our national security interests.

Here are some recent statements from some our most respected leaders in our defense establishment demonstrating the dire strait of our IT security posture:

· “We’re the most vulnerable, we’re the most connected, we have the most to lose, so if we went to war today in a cyber war, we would lose.”- Retired Vice Admiral Mike Mullen (Federal Computer Week 24 February 2010)

· The United States is “under cyber-attack virtually all the time, every day” – Defense Secretary Robert Gates: (CBS, 21 April 2009)

· “The globally-interconnected digital information and communications infrastructure known as “cyberspace” underpins almost every facet of modern society and provides critical support for the U.S. economy, civil infrastructure, public safety, and national security. This technology has transformed the global economy and connected people in ways never imagined. Yet, cybersecurity risks pose some of the most serious economic and national security challenges of the 21st Century.” (White House CyberSpace Policy Review, 2009)

Further, the number of attacks is increasing; for example, SC Magazine 20 November 2009 reported that the number of cyber attacks against the Department of Defense was increasing year-over-year 2009 to 2008 by some 60%!

And the penetration of our critical systems spans our industrial, civilian, and defense establishment and even crosses international boundaries. Most recently reported, these included the following:

· F-35 Joint Strike Fighter $300B program at Lockheed Martin,

· The Space Shuttle designs at NASA

· The joint U.S. South Korean defense strategy

· The Predator feeds from Iraq and Afghanistan and more.

Thankfully, these events have not translated down en-masse and with great pain to the individuals in the public domain. However this is a double-edged sword, because on one had, as citizens we are not yet really “feeling the pain” from these cyber attacks. On the other hand, the issue is not taking center stage to prevent further and future damage.

This past week, I had the honor to hear Mr. James Gossler, a security expert from Sandia National Labs speak about the significant cyber security threats that we face at MeriTalk Innovation Nation 2010 on the Edge Computing panel that I was moderating.

For example, Mr. Gossler spoke about how our adversaries were circumventing our efforts to secure our critical cyber security infrastructure by being adept and agile at:

· Playing strength to weakness

· Developing surprising partners (in crime/terror)

· Changing the rules (“of the game”)

· Attacking against our defenses that are “naïve or challenged”

In short, Mr. Gossler stated that “the current state-of-the-art in information assurance [today] is significantly outmatched” by our adversaries.

And with all the capabilities that we have riding on and depending on the Internet now a days from financial services to health and transportation to defense, we do not want to be outgunned by cyber criminals, terrorists, or hostile nation states threatening and acting in ways to send us back to the proverbial “stone-age.”

Unfortunately, as a nation we are not moving quickly enough to address these concerns as retired Navy vice admiral Mike McConnell was quoted in Federal Computer Week: “We’re not going to do what we need to do; we’re going to have a catastrophic event [and] the government’s role is going to change dramatically and then we’re going to go to a new infrastructure.”

Why wait for a cyber Pearl Harbor to act? We stand forewarned by our experts, so let us act now as a nation to defend cyber space as a free and safe domain for us to live and thrive in.

There are a number of critical obstacles that we need to overcome:

1) Culture of CYA—we wait for disaster, because no one wants to come out first—it’s too difficult to justify.

2) Security is seen as an impediment, rather than a facilitator—security is often viewed by some as annoying and expensive with a undefined payback, and that it “gets in our way” of delivering for our customers, rather than as a necessity for our system to work

3) We’ve become immune from being in a state of perpetual bombardment—similar to after 9-11, we tire as human beings to living in a state of fear and maintaining a constant state of vigilance.

Moreover, to increase our cyber security capabilities, we need to elevate the role of cyber security by increasing our commitment to it, funding for it, staffing of it, training in it, tools to support it, and establishing aggressive, but achievable goals to advance our capabilities and conducting ongoing performance measurement on our initiatives to drive results.

>Why Reputation Is The Foundation For Innovation

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Toyota is a technology company with some of the most high-tech and “green” cars on the planet. But right now Totoya’s leaders seem to lack integrity, and they haven’t proactively handled the current crisis. As a result, everything they have built is in danger.

Too often, IT leaders think that their technical competency is sufficient. However, these days it takes far more to succeed. Of course, profitability is a key measure of achievement and sustainability. But if basic integrity, accountability, and open and skillful communication are absent, then no amount of innovation in the world can save you.

Looking back, no one would have thought that Toyota would go down in a flaming debacle of credibility lost. For years, Toyota ate the lunch of the largest American car manufacturers—and two of the three were driven to bankruptcy just last year. Moreover, they had a great reputation built on quality – and that rocketed Toyota to be the #1 car company in the world.

A reputation for quality gave Toyota a significant edge among potential buyers. Purchasing a Toyota meant investing in a car that would last years and years without defect or trouble—it was an investment in reliability and it was well worth the extra expense. Other car companies were discounting and incenting sales with low or zero interest rates, cash back, and extended warranties, and so on. But Toyota held firm and at times their cars even sold for above sticker price. In short, their brand elicited a price premium. Toyota had credibility and that credibility translated into an incredibly successful company.

Now Toyota has suffered a serious setback by failing to disclose and fix brake problems so serious that they have allegedly resulted in loss of life. Just today, the Boston Globe reports that Toyota has been sued in Boston by an individual who alleges that “unintended acceleration (of his Toyota vehicle) caused a single-car crash that killed his wife and left him seriously injured.” The Globe goes on to report that “dozens of people reportedly have been killed in accidents involving unwanted acceleration.”

While nothing is perfect, not even Toyota engineering, in my opinion the key to recovering from mistakes is to be honest, admit them, be accountable, and take immediate action to rectify. These are critical leadership must do’s! Had Toyota taken responsibility in those ways, I believe their reputation would have been enhanced rather than grossly tarnished as it is now, because ultimately people respect integrity above all else, and they will forgive mistakes when they are honest mistakes and quickly rectified.

Unfortunately, this has not occurred with Toyota, and the brake problems appear to be mistakes that were known and then not rectified—essentially, Toyota’s transgression may have been one of commission rather than simply omission. For example, this past week, the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, testified before Congress that “we didn’t listen as carefully as we should—or respond as quickly as we must—to our customer’s concerns.” However, in reality, company executives not only didn’t respond, but also actually apparently stalled a response and celebrated their success in limiting recalls in recent years. As Congressman Edolphus Towns, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, stated: “Toyota’s own internal documents indicate that a premium was placed on delaying or closing NHTSA investigations, delaying new safety rules and blocking the discovery of safety defects.” (Bloomberg News via the Austin American Statesman)

In other words, Toyota strayed from its promise to customers to put safety center stage. Rather, profit took over and became the benchmark of success.

Even the company’s own managers acknowledge the deep wound that this scandal has inflicted on the company, and have doubts about its leadership. According to the Wall Street Journal, a midlevel manager stated, “Mr. Toyoda cannot spell out how he plans to alleviate consumer worries….it is a recall after another, and every time Mr. Toyoda utters the phrase ‘customer first,’ it has the opposite effect. His words sound just hollow.’” Said another, “The only way we find out anything about the crisis is through the media….Does Mr. Toyoda have the ability to lead? That’s on every employee’s mind.”

Indeed, the Journal echoes these sentiments, noting that under Toyoda’s leadership, there was a focus on “getting the company back to profitability, after the company last year suffered it first loss in 70 years.” In other words, in an attempt to “reinstate frugality,” it appears that CEO Toyoda went too far and skimped on quality—becoming, as the saying goes, “penny wise and dollar foolish.” We will see if this debacle costs Toyota market share and hurts the bottom line over the intermediate to longer-term.

In recent times, we have seen a shift away from quality and credibility in favor of a fast, cheap buck in many sectors of the economy. For example, I have heard that some homebuyers actually prefer hundred-year-old homes to new construction due to their perception that the quality was better back then and that builders take shortcuts now. But somehow Toyota always stood out as a bulwark against this trend. It is therefore deeply disappointing to see that even they succumbed. While the company has a long road ahead to reestablish their credibility and rebuild their brand, I, for one, sincerely hope that they rediscover their roots and “do the right thing.”