Voices in AI – Episode 65: A Conversation with Luciano Floridi

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About this Episode

Episode 65 of Voices in AI features host Byron Reese and Luciano Floridi discuss ethics, information, AI and government monitoring. They also dig into Luciano’s new book “The Fourth Revolution” and ponder how technology will disrupt the job market in the days to come. Luciano Floridi holds multiple degrees including a PhD in philosophy and logic from the University of Warwick. Luciano currently is a professor of philosophy and ethics of information, as well as the director of Digital Ethics Lab at the University of Oxford. Along with his responsibilities as a professor, Luciano is also the chair of the Data Ethics Group at the Alan Turing Institute.
Visit www.VoicesinAI.com to listen to this one-hour podcast or read the full transcript.

Transcript Excerpt

Byron Reese: This is Voice in AI, brought to you by GigaOm, I’m Byron Reese. Today our guest is Luciano Floridi, he is a professor of philosophy and ethics of information, and the director at the Digital Ethics Lab at the University of Oxford. In addition to that, he is the chair at the Data Ethics Group at the Alan Turing Institute. Among multiple degrees, he holds a Doctor of Philosophy in philosophy and logic from the University of Warwick. Welcome to the show, Luciano.
Luciano Floridi: Thank you for having me over.
I’d like to start with a simple question which is: what is intelligence, and by extension, what is artificial intelligence?
Well this is a great question and I think one way of getting away with a decent answer, is to try to understand, what’s the lack of intelligence. So that you recognize it by spotting when there isn’t intelligence around.
So, imagine you are, say, nailing something on the wall and all of a sudden you hit your finger. Well, that was stupid, that was a lack of intelligence, it would have been intelligent not to do that. Or, imagine that you get all the way to the supermarket and you forgot your wallet so you can’t buy anything, well that was also stupid, so you would need intelligence to take your wallet. You can multiply that by, shall we say, a million cases, so there are a million cases in which you can be, or—just to be more personal—I can be stupid, and therefore I can be intelligent by the other way around.
So intelligence is a way of, shall we say, sometimes, coping with the world in a way that is effective, successful, but it also can be so many other things. It’s not intelligent, or it would be intelligent not to talk to your friend about the wrong topic, because that’s not the right day. It is intelligent, or not very intelligent, to make sure that that party you organize, you don’t invite Mary and Peter because they can’t stand each other.
The truth is that we don’t have a definition for intelligence or vice versa, for the lack of it. But at this point, I can sort of recycle an old joke by one of the judges in the Supreme Court, I’m sure everyone listening to or reading this knows that very well, but always ask for a definition of pornography, as you know, he said, “I don’t have one, but I recognize it when I see it.” I think that that sounds good—we know when we’re talking to someone intelligent on a particular topic, we know when we are doing something stupid about a particular circumstance, and I think that that’s the best that we can do.
Now, let me just add one last point just in case, say, “Oh, well isn’t that funny that we don’t have a definition for such a fundamental concept?” No it isn’t. In fact, most of the fundamental concepts that we use, or experiences we have, don’t have a definition. Think about friendship, love, hate, politics, war, on and on. You start getting a sense of, okay, I know what we’re talking about, but this is not like water equal to H2O, it’s not like a triangle is a figure with a plain of three sides and three angles, because we’re not talking about simple objects that we can define in terms of necessary and sufficient condition, we’re talking about having criteria to identify what it looks like to be intelligent, what it means to behave intelligently. So, if I really have to go out of my way and provide a definition—intelligence is nothing, everything is about behaving intelligently. So, let’s get an adverb instead of a noun.
I’m fine with that. I completely agree that we do have all these words, like, “life” doesn’t have a consensus definition, and “death” doesn’t have a consensus definition and so forth, so I’m fine with leaving it in a gray area. That being said, I do think it’s fair to ask how big of a deal is it—is it a hard and difficult thing, there’s only a little bit of it, or is it everywhere? If your definition is about coping with the world, then plants are highly intelligent, right? They will grow towards light, they’ll extend their roots towards water, they really cope with the world quite well. And if plants are intelligent, you’re setting a really low bar, which is fine, but I just want to kind of think about it. You’re setting a really low bar, intelligence permeates everything around us.
That’s true. I mean, you can even say, well look the way the river goes from that point to that point, and reaches the sea through the shortest possible path, well, that looks intelligent. I mean, remember that there was a past when we thought that precisely because of this reason, and many others, plants were some kinds of gods, and the river was a kind of god, that it was intelligent, purposeful, meaningful, goal-oriented, sort of activity there, and not simply a good adaptation, some mechanism, cause and effect. So what I wanted to detach here, so to speak, is our perception of what it looks like, and what it actually is.
Suppose I go back home, and I find that the dishes have been cleaned. Well, do I know whether the dishes have been cleaned by the dishwasher or by, say, my friend Mary? Well, looking at the dishes, I cannot. They’re all clean, so the output looks pretty much the same, but of course the two processes have been very different. One thing requires some intelligence on Mary’s side, otherwise she would break things and so on, waste soap, and so on. And the other one is, well, simple dishwashing machine, so, zero intelligence as far as I’m concerned—of the kind that we’ve been discussing, you know, that goes back to the gray area, the pornography example, and so on.
I think what we can do here is to say, look, we’re really not quite sure about what intelligence means. It has a thousand different meanings we can apply to this and that, if you really want to be inclusive, even a river’s intelligence, why not? The truth is that when we talk about our intelligence, well then we have some kind of a meter, like a criteria to measure, and we can say, “Look, this thing is intelligent, because had it been done by a human being, it would have required intelligence.” So, they say, “Oh, that was a smart way of doing things,” for example, because had that been left to a human being, well I would have been forced to be pretty smart.
I mean, chess is a great example today—my iPhone is as idiotic, as my grandmother’s fridge, you know zero intelligence of the sort we’ve been discussing here, and yet, it plays better chess than almost anyone I can possibly imagine. Meaning? Meaning that we have managed to detach the ability to pursue a particular goal, and been successful in implementing a process from the need to be intelligent. It doesn’t have to be to be successful.
Listen to this one-hour episode or read the full transcript at www.VoicesinAI.com
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Byron explores issues around artificial intelligence and conscious computers in his new book The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity.

Jive Software and Egnyte Sync Up

Enterprise collaboration software provider Jive Software and Egnyte, an enterprise file sync and share vendor, have formed a new partnership and technology integration. According to the press release announcing the deal, mutual customers may now take advantage of a bi-directional sync between the partners’ software that enables the following actions:

  • Collaborate on Egnyte files directly within Jive, with comments synced across both platforms
  • Upload content to Egnyte from Jive
  • Securely access content from mobile devices
  • View files stored in the cloud for easy accessibility, store locally to meet security and regulatory requirements, or sync with a hybrid solution
  • Easily embed links to Egnyte content in Jive’s comment and discussion fields

Egnyte has put together a short video that demonstrates these actions.

Existing, mutual customers may enable the integration at no additional charge, according to Egnyte’s blog post. The two companies are also jointly offering a special promotion to new customers who are looking to use both systems.

Jive Has Other Existing Content Management Integrations

This is not the first integration that Jive has done with a third-party content management vendor. Jive has had long-standing integrations with Alfresco, Box, Google Drive, and Microsoft (Office, Office 365 and Outlook). The Google and Microsoft integrations were built by Jive, without official partnerships being formed.
The joint Alfresco-Jive solution was launched in 2012 and used CMIS to sync documents and content actions between the two systems. Interestingly, Alfresco has a webpage describing the integration and still lists Jive as a Technology Partner, while Jive no longer acknowledges Alfresco as an official partner on its website.
Finally, Jive still has an active technology partnership with Box. Like the Egnyte integration, Jive and Box have built a bi-directional sync that pushes changes made in one system to the other.

Potential Reasons Why Jive Added Another Content Management Partner

While I have not yet spoken with anyone from either Jive or Egnyte, I can lay out some possible explanations for why they partnered and integrated their offerings.
First, the integration may have been done simply because a large number of mutual customers asked for it. That is not an unusual situation in enterprise software, and both Jive and Egnyte listen and respond well to their customers.
This partnership and technology integration may have been proposed and largely built by Egnyte, who is facing stiff competition, as well as feature and price commoditization, in the EFSS market. Partnering with Jive creates a competitive advantage for Egnyte over rivals such as Accellion, Citrix ShareFile, Syncplicity, and others. The comparative quality and depth of the press releases from the two partners suggests that Egynte may well have had the lead here. That impression is underscored by that fact that Egnyte created and published the video demonstration embedded above.
A final, possible explanation is that Jive is looking for an alternative partner to Box, which has moved up the food chain by forming deep technology and go-to-market partnerships with Apple, IBM, and Microsoft. Perhaps Box is now more focused on helping its customers integrate with IBM Connections and Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 instead of Jive. As a result, Jive would need a more active partner, which it may have found in Egnyte. Another consideration is that Box is a cloud-only service, while Jive’s partnership with Egnyte enables cloud, on-premises, and hybrid joint deployments.

Takeaways

Regardless of the reason(s) for the Jive-Egnyte partnership, it represents a win for their mutual customers, who now have a pre-built integration that enables secure, mobile-friendly content storage, discovery, sharing, and collaboration. This partnership could also have upside for the two vendors, if they can work with the other’s existing customers to sell their own offerings.
This deal also has implications for the collaboration and EFSS market segments. If nothing else, it underscores that the line between the two, which was already quite blurry, is in fact disappearing. Pure-play EFSS vendors, in particular, will have a difficult time sustaining their existing business, much less grow it, as file services continue to be pushed into collaboration platforms. Their last hope to remain independent may rest on the growing uptake of containerized, microservices enterprise computing architectures, in which they can provide cutting edge file services.

This Digital Transformation is Not the One You’re Looking For

I was sorting through some browser tabs that had been open for a couple of weeks on my laptop and rediscovered a press release that had caught my attention earlier. After rereading it, I realized that I had left the release up in my browser because it could be the poster child for the inane manner in which technology vendors and IT consulting firms are talking about and selling what they very much want to be the next big thing – Digital Transformation.
CA Technologies’ press release was a horrific example right from the start. It’s title, “CA Technologies Study Reveals Widespread Adoption of Digital Transformation”, nearly made me spit coffee all over my laptop. Really? Is Digital Transformation (DT) something that can be adopted? Hardly. After all, DT is not a discrete technology. Rather, it’s a never-ending journey that organizations undertake to better the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.
DT involves making changes to business objectives, strategies, models, cultures, processes and so many other elements. Many of those changes can be supported by the deployment and adoption of enabling technologies, but DT isn’t about the technology itself. It’s a mindset, a way of thinking and acting as an organization that spans across all of its planning and execution.
In that regard, DT is very much like the discipline known as Knowledge Management (KM) that was similarly a darling of technology vendors and their consulting partners nearly 20 years ago. Most large enterprises at least considered implementing KM practices and technologies. In fact, many did, although the majority of those ‘efforts’ failed to survive an initial pilot program. In the end, only a few big companies, the ones that treated KM as something more than a technology set to be adopted, whole-heartedly embraced the discipline and successfully wove it into nearly every aspect of their businesses.
We’ve seen the same phenomenon play out with Social Business. McKinsey & Company has been tracking the deployment and impact of social constructs, behaviors and tools in a cohort of roughly 1,500 enterprises for nearly 10 years now. Earlier this month, in a teaser to its complete report of annual survey results, McKinsey published these related and telling findings:

“…35 percent of the companies had adopted social technologies in response to their adoption by competitors. Copycat behavior was also responsible for their diffusion within organizations, though at a slightly lower rate: 25 percent of all employee usage. Roughly a fifth of the companies we studied will account for an estimated 50 percent of all social-technology usage in 2015.”

Most organizations and individuals tried to ‘adopt’ social technologies because they felt competitive pressure to do so (thanks, in part, to vendors and consultants), not because they had investigated and understood how ‘being social’ at work could change how well their organization actually performed relative to both its current state and its competitors. On the other hand, a minority of organizations (20% in McKinsey’s survey) have made the dedicated, all-in commitment needed to succeed with Social Business.
Today, we are beginning this cycle all over again, this time under the moniker of Digital Transformation. Consider these findings from CA’s study:

“Digital Transformation is being driven as a coordinated strategy across a majority of organizations (55 percent)…  As a result, 45 percent of respondents have already seen measurable increases in customer retention and acquisition from their digital transformation initiatives and 44 percent have seen an overall increase in revenue.”

In other words, if you aren’t “adopting” DT already, you’re toast. At least that’s what CA and other technology vendors and consultants want you to believe in a fresh state of panic. Hence these findings from CA’s study:

Digital Disrupters have two times higher revenue growth than mainstream organizations. They report two and a half times higher profit growth than the mainstream organizations.”

That may be accurate, but surely those “Digital Disrupters” did not achieve the reported results merely by adopting technology, whether it be from CA or another vendor. They’re the ones who have taken a comprehensive view of DT and, as CA itself puts it, have “…many projects underway in multiple areas of the company, including customer services, sales and marketing, and product/service development.” It’s not a coincidence that CA was only able to include 14% of the organizations surveyed in the group it labeled “Digital Disrupters”. That matches up pretty well with McKinsey’s finding of just 20% of organizations surveyed making more than a token effort at becoming a social business.
All of this is to say beware of vendors and consultants selling technology as the cornerstone of DT initiatives. Yes, technology is an invaluable piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the only or most important one. DT can’t simply be adopted; every aspect of it must be considered and actively embraced by the entire organization.

The Dell-EMC deal is huge, but where’s it headed?

I forget about Dell. It happens all the time — I see that cheerful, round, delightfully dated logo and have something of an “remember when?” moment. Dell hasn’t been a serious part of the big consumer device discussion in years, and some of that’s by design, really. Dell isn’t stupid — it knows that its strength in the PC market is waning and that soon, there won’t be enough meat on the bone to sustain a company that just made one of the biggest pure tech deals ever.

Today, the company made it official and announced the (inconceivably huge) $67 billion deal that’ll bring it together with EMC — making it, in Dell’s own words, “the world’s largest privately-controlled, integrated technology company.” This acquisition of EMC proves total recognition on Dell’s part that devices are not it’s way forward. Instead, Dell is targeting big IT and the enterprise market.

Information Technology and enterprise are aggressively unexciting arenas for consumers, but at a time when Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, HP, Dell and everyone else are vying for a piece of the big enterprise pie (albeit in very different ways), it’s no small part of the vast technology landscape. The Dell-EMC deal is almost inconceivably massive, with that $67 billion price tag, but also serves as a larger indicator of what’s taking place in enterprise computing: consolidation.

“The market cannot continue to sustain all of these players,” said Glenn O’Donnell, Forrester’s Research Director for Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. “It’s going to continue to shrink into a number of mega-vendors.”

Dell’s trying to claw it’s way into a infrastructure and enterprise market that’s being rapidly devoured by cloud services–most notably, Amazon’s. Enterprise is where the money’s at, but it’s not a market that’s especially friendly towards fragmentation. So, is the Dell-EMC deal a game-changing power play or a $67 billion death rattle? That remains to be seen.

“They’ve got to consider how they’re going to play as a new and different vendor. Perpetuating the old-school IT model is not going to work,” said O’Donnell with regards to Dell going forward. “In the general landscape of technology, one big question has been looming…and that is: ‘What is the future for traditional tech? Are the HPs and the IBMs and the Dells and such really in a position to succeed in this new world order where the Amazons and the Microsoft Azures and the other cloud players are taking over…More and more of the IT investment is going into the cloud services, so what does that mean for these more traditional models?”

There’s a clear divide between hardware-heavy, old-school enterprise models and the light, agile enterprise solutions that are quickly eclipsing the clunky business tools of yore. Dell’s marketplace perception has long been one intrinsically tied to the devices it makes–the physical deliverables that are becoming a shrinking line item in its revenue stream.

“That is something that they need to move their messaging away from,” said Mukul Krishna, the Global Head of Frost & Sullivan’s Digital Media Group, “from a device company…to a much more agile, reconfigurable enterprise solution, scalable partner for the technology enterprise.”

To put it simply, big business is trying to lighten up and those not willing to join the cloud game and rethink flexible, scalable enterprise systems will be left behind. “Many of the technology companies who have taken a beating because they’ve focused on a very hardware-centric approach for a long time, have been trying to figure out what they need to do,” said Krishna.

So why these two companies? And why now? Well, rumors have been swirling around EMC for some time in light of stalling growth. And Dell? It’s looking to reinvent.

“One of the main reasons that Dell went private is because it wanted to restructure itself without all of the scrutiny,” said Krishna. “Buying someone like EMC that has been for a long period and has a very strong pedigree of selling that enterprise market was a very, very good thing because they immediately solved the perception problem.”

Effectively pulling EMC off of the market will allow Dell-EMC to make decisions without the scrutiny that comes from answering to the slew of investors that come with the public trading territory.

“The major attractiveness is that by merging with Dell and taking the company private it puts EMC’s assets in the hands of an owner that understands the value of EMC’s technology and also provides clear leadership in Michael Dell (as Joe Tucci retires),” said Matt Eastwood, an analyst with IDC. “The go private nature allows the company to make long term strategic bets around cloud, security, and analytics which will be critically important for the company in the future. The investments are difficult to defend as a public company looking where investors have a shorter term horizon for their returns.”

And as a company that needs to rethink its strategy for staying relevant in an enterprise conversation that’s quickly taking off towards the cloud, that freedom to maneuver may prove to be vital. Or, shall we say, Pivotal.

Pivotal is a joint venture between EMC and its most notable offspring (VMware) and was designed to compete with the enterprise cloud giant, Amazon Web Services. Dealing in big data and cloud computing, Pivotal encapsulates much of what Dell-EMC needs to become to keep up with the burgeoning enterprise market.

“The assets and strategic direction of the Pivotal umbrella cannot be overlooked,” said Laura DuBois, an IDC analyst. ” There is a change underway in enterprises – custom applications and being written in new ways, mimicking the direction Pivotal has taken.  These new applications lend themselves to server-based storage approaches.  So Pivotal gives Dell expertise in the app dev side and Dell provides the infrastructure software and systems.”

What about everyone else? We’ve established that enterprise is a big market with big margins. Where does a $67 billion deal leave the rest of the enterprise players? In short, it may lead to significant changes in enterprise technology cooperation.

“For the broader technology market, there will be shifts in strategy and partnerships that emerge,” said Eastwood. “For example, Cisco (a long term strategic EMC and VMware partner) may need to strike deeper alliances with others including NetApp, Microsoft Citrix, etc.  At the same time, Lenovo (another EMC storage partner) may be drawn closer to IBM for their storage needs.  Longer term, I believe the merger or EMC and Dell together will create the biggest headaches for HP Enterprise as they have many of the same hardware assets but Dell will now have deeper software assets in security, data management, virtualization and software defined infrastructures.”

Meet The Analyst: Carol Stimmel

I had never spoken with Carol Stimmel until a few weeks ago, when I was just starting on the project of rebooting Gigaom Research, and she and I connected. I think this is going to be the start of a long association, because of our shared interests.
Carol’s also the first to be featured in this series, Meet The Analyst, where I will be asking Gigaom Research Analysts the same basic questions, and seeing where that leads.

About Carol Stimmel

carol

Carol Stimmel


Carol Stimmel is an Analyst for Gigaom Research (see her Gigaom Research bio) and the founder and CEO of Manifest Mind.
From the Manifest Mind website:

Carol founded Manifest Mind to ensure that companies and investors have the information they need to make enduring investment decisions in the complex world of cleantech and sustainability. Carol’s integrity, years of experience, independent spirit, and ability to create expert teams on-demand, have rapidly made Manifest Mind a trusted source of insight for assessing opportunities in developing human economies, the built environment, and natural ecosystems.
Carol has 25 years in emerging technology markets including operations, research and analysis, and product design. She is a frequent speaker and author of Big Data Analytics Strategies for the Smart Grid, The Manager Pool, and is finishing her book on Smart Cities (2015). She holds several key technology patents with myriad co-inventors, with several pending including a design for an autonomic computing system for distributed generation management, and energy benchmarking.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: What’s the short version of your research agenda these days, and what’s the most important trend you’re tracking?
Carol Stimmel: I’m working on two major tracks of research, designing technology solutions for smart cities and future tech, which includes the Internet of Things (IoT), nanomedicine, and machine learning as they relate to sustainable social, environmental, and economic advancement. Both these tracks converge at one key point, which is the practices and principles of technology design in the service of humans. This means that before deploying technology to optimize cities, improve electrification, and accelerate innovation, we fully understand broad goals and specific impacts using well-tested approaches to human-centric design.
When I wrote my most recent book, Building Smart Cities: Analytics, ICT, and Design Thinking (2015), I suggested that the smart city vision that we can create an optimized society through technology is hypothetical at best, and this perspective reflects the failed repetition through the ages of equating scientific progress with positive social change. Up until now, despite our best hopes and efforts, technology has yet to bring an end to scarcity or suffering. Technical innovation, instead, can and should be directed in the service of our shared cultural values, especially within the rapidly growing urban milieu. I argued that creating human-centered approaches to our cities is the only way to integrate our human needs and technology to meet our economic, environmental, and existential needs. The book shows how this approach can lead to innovative, livable urban environments that are realizable, practical, and economically and environmentally sustainable.
My previous book, Big Data Analytics Strategies for the Smart Grid (2014), was the inspiration for the stream of research focused on future tech, because of the widespread use of sensor technology and the platform approach in the energy industry. More broadly, in the case of future tech, we classify and explore the world of advanced sensor technology, robotics, the IoT, nanomedicine, life extension, renewable energy, and virtual reality from the perspective of the knowledge commons founded in the principles of open-source. Clearly the vital field of open-source software has proven itself a massive global incubator for ideas and their realization. With no barriers to entry, nearly anyone can join in and make huge contributions to the field of inquiry, yet many of today’s public and private enterprises inhibit rapid and required innovation. Research in this area must define new models of open innovation, and with it new strategies for identifying problems, breaking them down into the right questions, directing resources in research and development, interpreting results, disseminating information, manufacturing and distributing products, and commercializing future tech that can bring leverage the knowledge commons for social, cultural, and economic advantage.
SB: What was the biggest surprise of the past 12 months in the markets you follow?
As someone with a philosophy background, I’ve been amazed at the recent level of discussion of artificial intelligence in the public forum driven by the tidal wave of new technologies being unleashed in our world. This is especially true where the unique character of human conversation and thought is being managed, controlled, and messaged more and more every day. This is a discussion that has been around since we began formalizing scientific inquiry, but never has it been so broadly and fervently discussed. The most remarkable to me was when Elon Musk among others notables, such as Stephen Hawking and Steve Wozniak, identified AI as one of the most dangerous existential threats we face — a terrifying warning from some of the greatest technologists of the modern era.                          – Carol StimmelCS: As someone with a philosophy background, I’ve been amazed at the recent level of discussion of artificial intelligence in the public forum driven by the tidal wave of new technologies being unleashed in our world. This is especially true where the unique character of human conversation and thought is being managed, controlled, and messaged more and more every day. This is a discussion that has been around since we began formalizing scientific inquiry, but never has it been so broadly and fervently discussed. The most remarkable to me was when Elon Musk among others notables, such as Stephen Hawking and Steve Wozniak, identified AI as one of the most dangerous existential threats we face — a terrifying warning from some of the greatest technologists of the modern era. At the same time, there is a not unsubtle reaction from others who are pushing their own advanced technology agendas through philanthropic gestures, but which seem to have mostly tended towards quite cynical attempts to get innovation on the cheap to promote their own for-profit entities without any kind of ethical foundation. These particular efforts, seem a very short-sighted view of innovation and understanding of the importance of a moral framework in designing new sustainable technologies.
If anyone doubts this conversation is happening in earnest now — or  that it will force a regulatory response — they need only consider the hitchhiking robot that was beheaded in Philadelphia. So maybe the offenders just wanted the electronics in it’s “head,” but that story raised serious issues about how we relate to computers that appear to think like a person, or contain neural networks that can replicate activities of the human brain, including vision, body movement, and language. The very language of response used to describe his “ripped off arms and legs” and “beheading” of essentially a bucket with a smart phone taped to it is profound. Yes, I’m surprised at how the conversation arrived, but it’s here.
And it will shake up the markets to follow, because technology is is not easily fading into the background anymore, it’s being responded to — greater numbers of people understand how technology fundamentally works and fails, and their awareness and thoughtfulness about it will change product strategies and marketing of products for sure. This is especially true as big data applications wend their ways even further into our lives and as key motivators in our decision-making processes for what we buy, the directions we follow, how we communicate in 140 characters, and even how we choose our relationships.
SB: Yes, we might consider the assault of the hitchhiking robot some sort of turning point, looking back in a few years. Or Musk and Hawking’s concerns about AI.
CS: Well, I think it’s not just about the nature of AI, but how we think about ourselves as human beings. Do we want to fight war with AKs strapped to expendable robots? Will a child being born today pick up a copy of The Iliad and miss every cultural reference? Perhaps the question of AI could not be anything other than an existential one; one that might render Plato to a footnote as the idea of what it means to be a human cracks and shifts.
SB: Can you offer up a truly edgy prediction likely in the next year or so, and what is the likely fallout for our clients?
We will see a dramatic (albeit quiet) upsurge in the buying and leasing of livestock, agriculture, highway borders, brownfields, commercial and industrial properties, and poorly-protected recreation land upon which to begin siting utility-scale solar and wind farms.                                     – Carol Stimmel
CS: I believe I can, and it’s something that has been on the periphery of my awareness since the 2009 ARRA funding cycle, but became front and center when I moved to the upper Hudson Valley in New York. About the time I got here after 26 years in Boulder, I realized that a high-pressure fracking pipeline was about to be upgraded, which implies more than underground assets, but compressor stations (these can be quite awful to live near, without question). It was not mentioned by the realtor or the previous homeowner, and there was no obligation for them to do so. I found this shocking and of course, academically interesting. I started voraciously reading about property value impacts, energy infrastructure, the social costs of “NIMBY-ism,” and then the history and current practices of eminent domain. With all that in mind, a horrible thought occurred to me when I noticed the horse property behind me was for sale — what if the owner of that land sold it to a windfarm aggregator. He could do it easily enough and the onus would be on me and my neighbors to fight it and all that it would imply: roads, high-voltage transmission, changes in air pressure, shadow flicker, and habitat disruption. As mentioned, I live in NY, which is under great regulatory pressure to increase the penetration of renewables into its generation mix; market policy which is rippling across the US and the world as a market driven way to mitigating anthropogenic climate change. We can expect that new forms of distributed generation at utility scale will emerge. So, what is this going to look like?
My prediction is that we will see a dramatic (albeit quiet) upsurge in the buying and leasing of livestock, agriculture, highway borders, brownfields, commercial and industrial properties, and poorly-protected recreation land upon which to begin siting utility-scale solar and wind farms. Where land cannot be acquired easily,  the use of eminent domain will be deployed to seize property with perpetual leases from private landowners in much the same way as other infrastructure lands are acquired. The same set of regulations that are used today for large infrastructure easements will be actively deployed for renewables projects, and will broadly raise concerns about what many have determined is an uneven playing field between landowners and developers.
Given the rising awareness of how fracking has impacted our environment and the people who live near fracking operations, the backlash against the regulation of these operations, and the new activist role that both the federal and state governments are playing in energy regulatory policy, statutory reform is on the near-term horizon and the end of the perpetual easement for energy projects (which has been threatened against conservation land trusts for years) is a real possibility. What will occur, is a shifting of the dialogue among proponents of clean energy as NIMBY-ism and the questions of collective benefit run headlong into issues of private ownership rights. Renewable energy projects will no longer just be “plain good,” they will be much more complex and require well-thought out regulation and governance that will directly impact the market.
SB: I’ve been tracking the fast-dropping costs of solar: isn’t that an area that is more likely to see growth in the next few years, rather than wind power?
CS: That’s a question I hear a lot, and I try to encourage more holistic thinking about costs. For example, if one thinks about the cost of pollution, that includes factors such as resource depletion and manufacturing impacts, solar power doesn’t necessarily fare well when compared against wind. Simply, the manufacture of solar panels is carbon intensive and depletes metal resources at a greater rate than turbine components. But, let’s put that economic perspective aside for the moment — the nature of distributed energy is just that, a distributed variety of generation sources from utility-scale wind and solar, to rooftop solar, storage, and batteries. This is important from the viewpoint of resiliency, but also geographic and climatic factors. Wind turbines can go places that solar can’t, and the sun isn’t shining at night. Both have benefits and drawbacks, so if I may say, focusing solely on “buying cheap,” is in this case is a false economy.
SB: Thanks for your time, Carol.
CS: I really enjoyed it, Stowe. Thanks very much.

Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again

There was a good Wired article, published yesterday, that bemoaned the rapidly-growing plethora of communication applications centered around real-time chat. Its author lists consumer-oriented applications to demonstrate the situation:

“I bounce through a folder full of messaging apps. I talk to a few people on Hangouts, a few others on Facebook Messenger, exactly one person on WhatsApp. I Snapchat all those people, too. I use Twitter DMs, GroupMe, HipChat, Skype, even Instagram Direct a couple of times. Livetext, Yahoo’s new app, is fun; I’ve been using that. Oh, and there’s email. And iMessage. And, of course, good ol’ green-bubble text messaging.”

The same problem is beginning to develop within businesses as their employees self-adopt enterprise-first chat tools from startup vendors that have been in-market for a while, including Slack, Hipchat, Wrike, Flowdock and others. Oh, and let’s not forget that many employees use the consumer-grade applications mentioned in the Wired article to conduct business, even if it’s against company policy.
Of course, all of these newer chat tools compete with IT-approved enterprise real-time messaging offerings for employees’ attention and love. IBM Sametime, Microsoft’s Lync and Yammer, and Salesforce Chatter are just a few well-known examples of longer-lived, enterprise-grade messaging applications and services that support real-time exchanges. To further compound the clutter, we are also seeing new chat offerings, from established enterprise collaboration software vendors, that mimic their consumer-oriented cousins. Jive Chime and Microsoft Send are real-time chat apps that have been released in the last four months to support organizations’ increasingly mobile workforces.
There are a few problems created by this overwhelming collection of enterprise real-time messaging options. First, these applications are largely siloed from each other, so employees have to remember in which one a certain conversation occurred or know in which application they have the highest probability of gaining a specific coworker’s attention. Second, some can interoperate with other enterprise applications via RESTful APIs, while others require more costly, time-consuming integration efforts. Third, some messaging applications support information governance initiatives such as records retention and disposal whereas other offerings essentially assume that chats are throw-away conversations that do not need to be archived and managed.
There are so many other issues that they will be better dealt with in another post. But they are bound by one clear fact: we’ve made all of these mistakes with previous generations of enterprise messaging technology.

The BIG Problem: Why?

The biggest problem facing the newest wave of enterprise chat tools is an existential one. It is not clear why they are needed when existing real-time messaging tools satisfy the same use cases. I voiced this in the following mini-tweetstorm on the day that Microsoft Send was announced. (read from the bottom of the graphic to the top)
Larry's Enterprise Chat Tweetstorm
That’s right. You can hold my feet to the fire on that prediction. Enterprise real-time chat is destined to quickly fail as a market segment and technology with significant, positive business impact. Just like the combination of status update and activity stream features in enterprise social software failed to displace email, instant messaging and other, well-established forms of business communication.
Insufficient technology is not the cause of poor communication within organizations. We have had at our disposal more-than-adequate messaging technologies for decades now. The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc.
Well-designed technology can make it easier and more pleasant for people to communicate, but it does very little to influence, much less actually change, their behaviors. So the latest enterprise real-time chat applications may offer improvements in user experience, but they won’t measurably increase communication frequency or effectiveness in most organizations unless their deployment is accompanied by change management efforts that include meaningful incentives to communicate.
I intend to track and chronicle the rise and fall of enterprise real-time chat as part of my research agenda at Gigaom Research. Stay tuned over the coming months as we watch this drama unfold.
 
 

GSMA: The world is getting mobile phones, but women are being left behind

Mobile phone operators have already turned their attention to the developing world, and cell phone penetration rates are rapidly increasingly as a result. However, that doesn’t mean phones are reaching everyone, in every market. Rather, there’s a gender gap emerging in low- and middle-income countries when it comes to mobile phone ownership.

Women are 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, according to a new report released today by the GSMA’s Connected Women’s program. However, that’s not the same across the globe. In South Asia, for example, a woman is 38 percent less likely to own a phone than men, although in other regions of the world the the gender gap narrows to single digits.

GSMA women report

Even within a region, though, the numbers can vary widely.

“Even though they’re 14% less likely on average [to own a mobile phone], you see there’s huge regional variances,” said Shireen Santosham, Senior Insights Manager for the Connected Women Program M4D. “In a region like Africa, Niger has a 45% gender gap. Democratic Republic of Congo has a 33%. Kenya has a seven percent, largely driven by m-Pesa. So we have to be careful about the law of averages.”

The Connected Women 2015 survey is a follow-up to the first report GSMA released five years ago on women and mobile phones. That report identified a 21 percent gender gap, but it only surveyed four countries, compared to the 11 in the 2015 update, Santosham said.

“We decided to do this new report because we knew women are underserved and, without data, we’re unsure how to fix it,” she said. “We can say on a high level that we’ve made progress.”

Cost and network quality/coverage remain the top two barriers to mobile phone adoption for women, but one thing that surprised researchers was the issue of security and harassment surrounding phones in low- and middle-income countries.

Cell phones did make at least 68 percent of the female respondents feel safe — but it can also be the number three barrier behind cost and network quality for women phone owners. Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 11.02.15 PM Women were concerned that cell phones would make them theft targets or could subject them to harassment from strangers with no way to stop it.

“I think we need to address this issue, and there are tactical things companies can do,” Santosham said “Because of the fear around harassment, young girls are not getting access.”

There’s a lot of small steps the industry can do from adding a free call blocking service to enabling remote top-ups, instead of having to visit a stall or an operator, that could increase a woman’s feeling of security.

But, it all comes back to the problem of affordability. Women across the globe tend to earn less money, and often aren’t involved or are not the ones purchasing the phones.

In India, 72 percent of males said they made the decisions to purchase their own phones, compared to 19 percent of women.

“Because women globally have less financial control often times than men, anything we do around affordability will affect woman more disproportionately than men,” Santosham said. “When we look at the differences for mobile phone ownership for men and women, it’s a complex problem between economic and cultural issues… This has to do with both poverty and issues around social norms and how women interact. When we think about tackling this problem, there’s no silver bullet. It has to do with issues around affordability.

Newsweek designer defends his controversial tech sexism cover

The relaunched version of Newsweek is no stranger to controversy. Almost a year ago, it brought the ire of the internet upon it with its launch story on Bitcoin creator Satashi Nakamoto, to the point where the company had to hire private security for the reporter who wrote it.

This week, the venerable old magazine is seeing another wave of conflict. This time, the backlash concerns cover art used to illustrate the story of sexism in the tech industry. Instead, some believed the image was an act of sexism itself: It features a cartoon graphic of an eyeless women molested by a giant computer cursor. Full disclosure, I’m one of them.

Others disagree, saying the image is “provocative” but that’s the whole point. It brings more attention to the issue. The debate raged yesterday and into today, on Twitter, Facebook, and even The Today Show.

Newsweek larger

As Alexia Tsotsis pointed out, the picture fails a checklist of objectification. The eyeless face makes the woman incomplete; she could be interchangeable for any woman. She is literally being clicked on, as thought she’s an object.

Newsweek editor-in-chief Jim Impoco tweeted that if people read the story they’d understand the picture was a perfect fit for it. Author Nina Burleigh penned a generic, albeit very thorough 5,000 word look at tech’s sexism problem.

All the discussion got me wondering about what really happened and what the artist who designed the woman thinks of the controversy.

So I reached out to Edel Rodriguez, the illustrator who drew the woman. He worked in conjunction with the art directors for the piece, an independent design firm called Priest+Grace which has designed many of the new Newsweek’s cover art. The firm declined to answer my questions, but they confirmed that Rodriguez pitched the idea and drew the woman.

Rodriguez answered my questions over email, and we covered everything from the process of choosing the cover to whether he’d do it again if he could go back in time (an emphatic yes). We only did one round of questions, so we didn’t get to have a back and forth. If you want to hear more of his thoughts, check out the discussion he’s taking part in on Facebook.

How did you come up with the idea/design for the Newsweek cover? Were women consulted in the decision? Was there debate over whether to run it?

I received the assignment from the art director for Newsweek covers, a very talented and smart woman. She sent me the article, which I read, and then proceeded to brainstorm and come up with sketches based on the article. I sent her my ideas and she picked this idea for the cover. I then went ahead and did the final artwork.  The staff at Newsweek received it and designed the cover. Women were involved all throughout the process. I am not sure about their discussions because I was not present at their meetings.

What was it supposed to convey or represent?

The subject of the article is how women are treated in Silicon Valley. It details the sexual harassment, jokes and treatment that women put up with in the industry. The image represents this harassment. A woman should have the right to dress however she pleases without this happening to them. These men have grown up around technology and video games their entire lives. They see women as objects that they can mistreat. The image conveys the exact moment when the harassment is symbolically taking place.

Did you suspect some people would react negatively to the cover or were you surprised?

I assumed some people would have negative reactions to the image, it’s the case whenever one does an image about sexism, racism, or other social topics. Some people will agree with your point of view, others will see it another way. Many women have had good reactions to the cover as well, they see it as showing the problem, which it is. The purpose of a magazine cover is to bring attention to the story and to start a conversation about the topic. I feel it has done that.

What would you say to people who think the cover objectifies women and marginalizes the sexism issue in Silicon Valley?

I would tell them that it’s not my intention and that if they read the story they will understand that the image is illustrating a very real and persistent problem in the tech industry, and that my intent is to bring attention to the behavior of these men.

If you could do the cover over again would you still take this approach?

Yes, absolutely.

What did people not understand about the cover?

That my job is not to be an advocate of what things should be, my job is to illustrate the story. The topic is “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women”, and, unfortunately, according to the story, this is how many men treat women in that industry.

Smarter cities could start with a simple light bulb swap

Simply swapping out the old-school incandescent, sodium or metal halide lamps with newer LED bulbs that can also contain an array of sensors can push a city on the path to becoming smarter, said Wim Elfrink the Executive Vice President for Industry Solutions and Chief Globalisation Officer with Cisco. According to Elfrink, while cities are installing the LED lamps they often elect to put in video surveillance and even Wi-Fi access points too.

“We see this as an enormous inflection point,” Elfrink told me during an interview on Thursday. “This could blanket a city in Wi-Fi and enable the city to offer citizen services and we are always looking for what will be that inflection point. The simple light bulb could be it.”

He pointed out that having the video surveillance means that computers could count the number of people in the area and reduce or increase the light based on the amount of foot traffic. More people require less light, cutting down on energy. Of course, not every city will be comfortable with video surveillance in all public areas, and Elfrink says most will start with small pilot projects such as one that is being deployed in Chicago.

The Chicago street lamps don’t use cameras to track people, instead they count the number of people by tracking the number of cell phones as they ping asking for Wi-Fi hot spots. They also track temperature and various weather and pollution data via sensors. In Copenhagen, Elfrink estimates that by placing Wi-Fi access points in about 92 percent of the street lamps you could blanket the entire city with Wi-Fi.

The video wall at the DOLL Visitor Center in Copenhagen showing  the live feeds of the streets and data visualizations.

The video wall at the DOLL Visitor Center in Copenhagen showing the live feeds of the streets and data visualizations.

And while the Wi-Fi wouldn’t be part of the actual LED bulb, many of the sensors and maybe the camera could be. In fact, many of the smart bulbs coming out in the consumer and commercial markets double as speakers or sensors of some kind or another. Beacons or ambient light sensors seem to be the most popular in the commercial space.

Such plans also require the city to own or have access to dark fiber so it can offer its own services, but the data it can gather and the potential savings it can realize are substantial. For example, there is the obvious savings from more efficient lighting being turned to the most appropriate level, but adding more sensors means the city can better predict weather patterns and position snowplows in areas where the snow is likely to hit hardest, before it happens.

Elfrink says that every city should have an information and telecommunications technology plan, much like they have an urban and economic development plan, so they can understand where the data from these endeavors should go and who owns it. These plans should also detail how the data should be shared across these city instead of being locked up in a single department. For example, if the lighting and power department claimed this data and didn’t share, it would be much less valuable.

Even as cities start with one-off deployments in smart parking or perhaps a connected street lamp pilot, it’s worth thinking about how to bring these disparate forays in the digital realm into a holistic platform that citizens, governments and developers can access and make use of in ways that protect privacy and ensure security of city assets. That can be an overwhelming project, but as Elfrink says, just start with a single light bulb.

Updated: This post was updated January 26, 2015 to correct the spelling of Wim Elfrink’s name.