Episode 6: Distributed Internet

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Hello Deviators! Welcome back to Three Deviations Out! Last week we explored the wonderful world of data storage, including cool innovations like DNA and other 3D storages.  This week we’re delving into the murky waters of the distributed internet, a topic that until recently has been confined to peer reviewed papers and TV comedies.  Essentially it involves taking this distributed network of cables running across the globe connecting us all and instead of relying on the cables, it relies on the invisible, wireless connections our devices make with one another through wireless transmissions.  Before we get into that, let’s cover the basics:

What: The distributed Internet, essentially an Internet 2.0 that takes advantage of blockchain, IoT, and other emerging technologies and has the potential to solve a number of issues with the current internet structure.

Who: Ethereum, Rightmesh, Georgia Tech, Australian National Laboratory, Maidsafe, Golem, Raffael Kemenczy, FireChat

Why: The Internet was a game changer.  That’s fairly universally accepted.  Movement of information, knowledge, communication, and process from manual and hard copies to online has allowed greater access, transparency, and connection.  The internet took what was great about computers and allowed them to reach current maximum potential by connecting them, and us, all together.  Distributed internet takes that same idea and expands it, breaking down barriers to entry and allowing for an even more democratized and transparent system.  What we have now is great, but it could be better.  Over the last few decades we’ve had the chance to see in real time what large scale change has happened to our societies across the globe because of the internet.  Expanding that even further to the remaining half of the unplugged population, and fixing some of the bugs so the systems works in the favor of the many instead of in the favor of the few has the potential to be revolutionary.

So, that’s the theory of the day.  Distributed Internet is an outlier because it takes how we use the internet today, already a revolutionary tool, and injects it with democratizing steroids.  Theoretically.  Let’s explore! Today we’re covering

The Internet now

Problems

Solutions

Use Cases

Idealized World

 

The Internet Now:

In 1962 Paul Baran published ‘On Distributed Communications Networks’ with the RAND corporation and thus the Internet was born.  Kind of.  Like all great tech this now ubiquitous aspect of our lives started with a research paper.  The Internet as we know it now is comprised of a complex system of fiber and coax lines that connects you to the billions of other online humans.  As of today (Tuesday Sept 12, 2017) there are 3.726 billion global Internet users, 1.252 billion websites, and 1.992 billion Facebook users.  Just today, 117.4 billion emails have been sent, 2.69 billion Google searches completed, 2.524 million blog posts written, 334 million tweets sent, 3.2 billion videos watched, and 44,782 websites hacked.  Total global internet use for the day reaches over 2.19 billion gigabytes, and it’s barely afternoon.  Jeepers that’s a lot of data!  Since the first website went live close to 30 years ago on August 6, 1991, the Internet has become entrenched in half the world’s daily lives.  It brings us goods through ecommerce, services like news, legal advice, health advice, any advice, and outlets through forums like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Quora, and others.  It has brought new prosperity to community support with easy to use peer to peer networks and crowdsourcing.  Most of all, the Internet has brought about the democratization of knowledge, like a more digestible, more robust, easier to access library.

Problems: 

As great as the internet is now, it could always be better.  There are some serious problems with today’s global knowledge center, the most glaring being that only about half of the population is an online user.  This stems largely from lack of infrastructure and while not difficult to see the cause, the solution to such a problem is less easily identifiable.  A few less straightforward problems we’ll cover today are content attribution, corporate consolidation, regulation, and anonymization.  I chose these issues because I consider them to be the most problematic of problems with the internet.  Comment below if you have thoughts on other issues or believe the internet is perfect as is and there’s no reason to change it.  I’d love to hear your opinion.

Content Attribution:

Content attribution is the idea that a content creator receives credit for the content they produce.  Often what is deemed credit is flexible so here I am defining credit as ownership of content and any repercussions thereof.  So, if there is some copyright shenanigans going on with a piece of content, it’s on the creator.  But also, if content is shared globally and goes viral that is sourced to the creator and they reap the benefits.  As it stands now most online media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Reddit, Quora, and LinkedIn obtain a ‘worldwide non-exclusive royalty free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).’  That’s directly from Twitter’s terms of service, but the others are extremely similar.  Of those I looked at only Medium ensured the user that content would remain the creators and any distribution would be passed by the creator before completed.  As it stands the majority of content available on the internet doesn’t necessarily belong to a very large company, but that company has free, worldwide access to distribute or destroy it.  This can lead to controversial scenarios such as the destruction of YouTube videos showing violence, which happens to also destroy the very detailed video history created by the people of Syria of the war ravaging their country. It also leads to the need to own a piece of property on the internet before you content is actually yours.  While that property cost may be comparably small to physical property, the barrier to entry still exists. This is most damning in areas where poverty is high and the need to be heard is rampant, yet just being heard gets those creators little compared to if the content they were building was theirs.

 Twitter Content Terms Facebook Content Terms Facebook Content TermsInstagram Content Terms Pinterest Content Terms Reddit Content Terms Medium Content Terms LinkedIn Content Terms

Corporate Consolidation:

The internet was meant to be a global democratization of knowledge accessible by anyone.  I don’t know about you though, but I have one internet and cable provider available to me in the region that I live in, Comcast.  Where I last lived there was also one, Time Warner Cable now Spectrum, but Verizon Fios was working its way around the town and it was one of the most exciting things to happen in years.  Okay, so it was a small town and not much happened.  But having two internet providers is like seeing a unicorn and we were ready to embrace the magical creature even if it would take years for implementation.  Currently I am fascinated by this great map that shows the number of broadband providers in a given area in the US (the link is below).  There is a maximum of 13 providers in any given area across the country, but the number of areas with three or more providers is dramatically lower than the areas with only two providers.  And when you filter for areas with only one internet and cable provider, almost the entire country lights up.

Consolidation is not only happening with providers.  There is massive consolidation and silos in the actual use of the internet.  What browser do you use?  I bet I could guess.  At most I would need four guesses; Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Firefox.  There are others but the majority of internet users take advantage of one of those four.  As far as search engines go, you probably use Google, but you may use Bing.  Unless you use TOR, and then that’s a whole other story.  But in general, there is heavy consolidation with both the delivery and use of the internet, leaving those in power with the ability to make the rules up as they go and ignore us plebians just trying to effectively use this truly amazing tool.

Regulation:

These corporations that have become highly consolidated are also highly unregulated and have been that way since inception.  Because of this, providers have been able to drive prices up for mediocre services and those which were able to get into the business at the beginning have enough control over those who would write regulation that it isn’t going to happen without major lobbyist reform.  This lack of regulation just creates more lack of regulation as these companies consolidate (e.g. the Charter acquisition of Time Warner Cable last year) as power consolidates with the companies.  The only leg that we consumers have to stand on is anti-trust (e.g. the attempt of Comcast to acquire Time Warner Cable two years ago).  Without effective regulation these companies operate essentially as monopolies in the territories they have sliced up and come to agreements on with the other providers.

Anonymization:

The internet has given access to free speech for all, an extraordinary feat and a great addition to humankind.  Unfortunately, this free speech has come on the heels of anonymization, and that has led to a growing divide across ideologies as individuals and rhetoric online becomes more and more charged.  Being able to hide behind a screen and a username brings people a confidence they don’t have in the physical world; confidence to say something they may not have, to back an opinion they may not believe in, or to attack someone they may otherwise be polite to.

Solutions:

In this ever-quickening age of emerging technology there seem to be solutions promising to address every type of problem the world has to throw at us humans except for maybe us humans.  Oh wait, we have robots for that.  We’ll get into that in a few weeks.  But what this means is since the inception of the internet there have been some pretty tremendous breakthroughs in technology that have the potential to fix the problems we just spoke of.  I say ‘have the potential’ because you never really know if someone can swim until you throw them in the water.  Until we have analytical proof though, what I’ve seen of these technologies is enough to convince me that there can be a true concerted effort to right the wrongs of our global communications system.

Blockchain:

Blockchain is the killer of the troll.  Especially when used in the right way.  The distributed ledger allows for all transactions of a particular block to be tracked with transparency back to the inception of that block.  By attributing blocks to individual users, other users are able to see the actions and history of that user.  While this still allows for anonymity of a user from their physical persona, it essentially creates a line of credit for their online persona.  If a user is discredited in one forum or community, that will follow them to the next forum or community they enter.  They will then have to build their credit back up from the wreckage.  Sure they could create another user, wipe the slate clean, but that would be like having no credit and I don’t know about you but I know what a bank says to someone who has no credit.

IoT: IoT is a global, diverse, and distributed collection of devices that talk to one another wirelessly and range from those that fit under our skin to those that fit in our pocket and those that take up floorspace in our kitchen.  From RFID trackers to devices on manufacturing equipment to drones and washer dryers, connected devices are being integrated into nearly every current generation hardware piece.  Wifi enablement has allowed these devices to become integral in both our daily lives and corporate processes with use cases spanning from consumer to enterprise.  What this means is more connected computing power is moving around the globe in shipping containers and in our pockets today than even existed 30 years ago.  And all of it operates wirelessly. This is the key to the distributed internet, the fact that there exists a wireless, mobile network of hardware.  Essentially this is what the phone lines were to the original internet connections.  Now they run on their own fiber or coax but the first internet connections relied on existing infrastructure just as internet 2.0 will rely on the existing infrastructure of wireless devices.

Quantum:

Quantum computing and especially quantum communications will be the second wave of internet 2.0 similarly to how dedicated fiber and coax lines were the second wave of the internet.  Quantum communication with an established network has the potential to open up communication lines to the entire current unconnected population.  However, that will take more than a few years to establish and a reliable quantum communication network cannot be expected until 2030 at the earliest.  Until then we must rely on what we have and hope that like AI and quantum computing (different from quantum communication) progresses faster than expected.

Early Adopters:

As I mentioned a few weeks ago us millennials are the generation of tech for tech’s sake.  We are early adopters, we are those who gave Google Glass a chance and are willing to implant chips in our skin for work.  That is exactly what is needed in the distributed internet.  The general concept creates better service as there is more adoption, and there needs to be trust from the early adopters that things will get better as word spreads.  So don’t be wary, initial users, it will get better.  The way mesh networks work is by bouncing off devices within a given distance of one another.  As wifi and Bluetooth ranges improve so will these applications but what will improve the services faster is just having your friends sign up and them having their friends sign up and their friends and so on.

Use Cases:

While implementation of what is considered a distributed internet is still in its infancy, there are a few companies and institutions which have begun to lay out how the overall theory would come into reality.  Today we look at RightMesh and FireChat, all of which are attempting to bring into reality the distributed internet.

On September 7 2017, RightMesh released a whitepaper outlining a distributed internet system that operates off the devices already operating globally. The company relies on its software that can be installed on any device and allows users to profit off of unused processing power and internet bandwidth.  Currently the software is in beta and available on Android and Java enabled devices, and is not available in the US or Canada. Key to the RightMesh platform is developers to create integrated apps in local languages.  The company has provided a free software development kit.  As with other mesh networks this one relies on a userbase, and gains strength and stability as that userbase increases.  As we begin to see adoption rates increase we will better understand the benefits and implications of this particular application of distributed networks.

Many users of FireChat advocated using the application for those involved in the catastrophic hurricanes of the last month as powerlines and internet connections and cell towers went down across entire major cities.  This application is a messaging app that allows users to communicate with one another across a given distance without internet connection or cell service.  It uses the Wifi or Bluetooth embedded in a devices existing hardware to send a message.  This is limited to just over 200 feet between any given device but messages are able to bounce across other devices within the network until reaching their destination, so the more people who download the app the further messages are able to travel.  This is particularly advantageous in exactly this type of disastrous situation, where people may be stuck in closed off homes with no communication available as rescue and recovery teams pass by outside.  Again, the downside to this application is the need to have mass buy in; larger communities of users means better service so the first users may experience less than satisfactory services.

Idealized World:

I am an internet idealist.  An optimist some may say.  I believe in the internet as a democratizing force that enables users through knowledge and opportunity to make something better out of their lives.  It could be the great equalizer.  Right now, it is not.  Which is unfortunate but there’s no help in moping over it.  Instead the generation of tech can get off our asses and actually do something about it, like build a better one.  With the emerging technologies we have available at our fingertips the largest problems of the current internet will not disappear over time.  They just won’t exist in the first place.  The technology won’t allow those issues to be viable in the protocol.  Of course, there will be other issues that inevitably arise, as with all things, and we can tackle those when they come too.  Remember, when the first internet emerged those on the forefront thought about it idealistically as well.  We just happen to be starting the cycle all over again 30 years later.

Thanks for spending some time with me today while I fleshed out some ideas about the distributed internet.  Speaking of fleshed out, this episode was pretty bare bones, so I will be most likely following up with another on the same topic as more information arises.  If you’re interested in being on the podcast or just talking about interesting topics with me please reach out, I love to hear about all the cool and awesome things different people do with their lives.  I hope you enjoyed this today.  Next week we discuss the swift and strong break in education and how we are digging a deeper hole for ourselves every day we stand still. Be greater than average friends!

Amanda

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Episode 4: Millennials and Tech

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Transcript of Audio:

Hello, and welcome back to Three Deviations Out.  Last week we talked about quantum computing and all the weird crazy fascinating earth shattering things that hard tech can do.  This week we’re going to pull back into soft tech and the people who use it, namely millennials.  Trigger warning, I’ll be talking in averages here so this may not all apply to you.  Let’s dive into what makes our generation just so special, like why we need to hear that we’re so special.

88% of internet users 18 – 29 are on Facebook, compared to an average of 79%.  59% of that same age group is on Instagram with an overall average of 32%, and 36% are on Twitter compared to 24% of all online adults.  As an age group, we’re even more likely to be using LinkedIn with the demographic at 34% compared to an overall of 29%.  Not only are we as millennials, which actually currently represents anyone from the ages 22 – 37, more likely to have social media presence we also spend a lot more time on them.  A dscout study found that on average mobile phone owners touch their phone 2,617 times a day, with heavy users reaching an average of 5,427 touches a day amounting to 225 average daily minutes on the phone.  Guess where our age group falls on that spectrum…dingdingding right up there at the top.

We are a generation that grew up on the internet, that has always had information directly at our fingertips either at school, at the library, or in our homes.  I know, I’m speaking in generalities.  There are many people within this age group that for whatever reason, whether they grew up on a Himalayan mountaintop or rural New York State and Internet penetration didn’t happen until after adolescence, or you are on the upper end of the age spectrum of the group and don’t like being lumped in with those of us who never had to use dial-up.  Now, however, technology and especially the internet are unavoidable aspects of daily life driving social change and nightly hookups and whatever else you feel like doing on your phone or laptop or tablet or desktop.  As a generation that grew up with literally the entire world of information at our fingertips we’ve turned out a bit different than those who came before us, and there’s no shortage of people trying to point that out.  What I want to get into in today’s episode is where the hype ends and actual evidence shows us being different from those who came before us, especially because of the influence all this technology has had on us.

What: The technology influencing our daily lives, including social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.), crowdsourcing, forums (Reddit, Quora, StackOverflow, etc.), financial support (Mint, Betterment, Acorns, Robinhood, etc.), ecommerce (Amazon, Etsy, Alibaba etc.) and the things we see it all on – screens (phones, tablets, ereaders, laptops, desktops, etc.).

Who: Millennials and our codependent relationship with technology.  Whether this relationship is good or bad, it exists and it is influencing us in a number of ways.  We represent a group 22 – 37 who grew up on tech, had cell phones in high school or earlier (unless your parents were really strict) and spend an outrageous amount on student loans.

Why: Millennials are the first generation to have unlimited knowledge and connection at our fingertips anytime we want.  And yes, we as an age group are not the only ones who have access to that phenomenon.  However, we are the first to have grown up with it.  We’re the first generation where interaction didn’t end when you came home from school because you could get online and chat with your friends on AIM.  Remember AIM?  This has caused movements of all sort with potentially the largest being the Arab Spring, a slew of revolutions protesting horrific treatment by oppressive regimes driven by young people and their connection with the rest of the world through social media.

Today we will cover:

  • Why we’re different
  • How we’re different
  • Use Cases
  • Ideal world in Amanda’s head

Why We’re Different

Screen Time:

In my two-person apartment there exists 11 screens of varying sizes, 8 of which are used on a regular, almost daily, basis.  This includes laptops, phones, tablets, extra monitors, and a projector.  On the average weekday, I spend anywhere from 10 – 15 hours staring at screens.  Granted, 8 of those hours are work, where my job requires me to be at a computer, and I do spend some time outside work reading articles for this time I spend with all of you. Still though, that’s a lot of time in front of a screen.  I’m not alone either.  Consider my stat from earlier; the average millennial spends 225 minutes a day touching their phone.  That’s nearly 4 hours a day swiping right or whatever it is you like to do with your screen.  Far and beyond any generation before us we are addicted and tied to our screens.

Access to Information: 

Because I have a computer in my pocket constantly, I am always right.  Or at least that’s the theory.  Good or bad we are the generation of constant access, both to one another and to the answer of any question we may have.  There are even now little voices you can ask just to Google things for you (e.g. Siri, are you a human?).  No longer does anyone buy sets of encyclopedias unless they want to look like a distinguished gentlemen from 1910.  I don’t know if I have to go on about this for very long, because I don’t think anyone is arguing that we as a generation and as a species as a whole are able to know more now than we ever have.  However, what that has done is made it so we actually don’t know any more and in many cases know less.  Results have begun to indicate that younger generations (us millennials and the iGens that come after us) are actually retaining less knowledge because we are instead able to access it anywhere and anytime we want at the press of a button.  Think about it – how many phone numbers do you have memorized?  Can you list off the 50 states?  What did you eat for lunch last Wednesday?  If you give me a minute I can probably look through my calendar and tell you.

Overstimulation:

Television screens, video games, cell phones…this generation’s everyday life is filled with constant pings, vibrations, and push notifications.  The sheer amount of light exposure is enough to drive you nuts, and is influencing things that range from our ability to interact socially to our sleep patterns and overall body chemistry.  Every time you get a ping on your phone letting you know you’ve been liked or commented or re-anythinged a little bit of dopamine is released by your brain.  Dopamine is the chemical released in the pleasure centers of our brains and is also very effective and addictive in narcotic form. And just like those who are chasing the dragon, our generation of social media junkies are trying to just find a high as good as the first time someone liked the picture of your dog in a bow tie, even if it was only a bot.  We allow this to interfere with our lives, twitching a little bit each time the buzz of a phone goes off wondering ‘is that mine?’.  It also drives us to some interesting pastimes, wavering on two very heavy extremes including extreme overstimulation (think Electric Forest, LollaPalooza, Coachella) or extreme understimulation (yoga retreats, backpacking in the Andes, chaperoned ‘descreen’ time).  These extremes have become a reality in our lives due to the normality of constantly being ready to read the next 140 characters.

How We’re Different:

In Our Work:

Millennials are lazy, constantly need praise, don’t understand paying our dues, and are too aggressive about raises.  At least that’s what I’ve heard about us from those who are older or higher up in organizations.  Other ways of saying these are efficient, goal oriented, driven, and understanding of our value.  Many of us were asked since kindergarten what we wanted to do with our lives and lo and behold we actually thought about it.  This career determination, whether based on what we want to do in our work or what we want to get out of it, has created a revolution in the workplace.  A number of organizations have caught on to this and changed, because as a whole we are great resources for any organization.  Those which aren’t adapting are seeing their workforce age into retirement with no influx of new talent.

  • Benefits
  • Culture
  • Optimization
Benefits:

One key way we as a generation are changing the workplace is in the benefits we request.  We often look for perks beyond salary in compensation.  Of particular import are vacation time, childcare, flexible hours, and work-from-home availability.  No longer is it odd to see a company with an unlimited vacation policy.  Another trend that has caught on is the ability to bring your dog to work.  More affluent workplaces or those trying to attract younger talent go all out with the extra benefits including extended parental leave, on-site fitness facilities, sports and entertainment events, pet health insurance, tuition reimbursement, cultural memberships, massages, and fully staffed free cafeterias.  And that only scratches the surface.  In 2016, job seekers, the largest percentage of which are millennials, reported 57% of the time that benefits and perks were among their top considerations when evaluating an offer.  I don’t know about you but I would love to have my fluff monster in the office with me.

Culture:

Some may argue that culture is a benefit in the workplace but I consider them two distinct entities.  While benefits are explicitly included in a compensation package culture is how you and the humans you work with interact on a daily basis, especially as our offices become more collaborative than ever.  One of the most significant changes that our generation is forcing onto companies is actually just that.  We are a cooperative age group, one that considers the sum of the parts to be greater than individual contribution.  As we’ve embraced open-sourced software, crowdsourcing, and social media movements we’ve shown again and again what great things can be done through cooperation.  Unfortunately, that often clashes with the traditional business structure that is strictly and largely hierarchical.  While many companies are attempting to increase the cooperation of their employee’s, traditional perceptions about business roles can cause serious cogs in the machine.  If you’re trying to bring more workplace cooperation into your employees’ environment I suggest being open and honest with them from the start, and begin the cooperation then and there.  Ask your group or team or unit how they want to go about this change, whether people are comfortable with it, what concerns they may have.  Buy in is always most effective when everyone has some skin in the game.  If you’re an employee working through a transition to cooperation, speak up.  The only way this works for everyone is if everyone is involved.  And if you don’t want to cooperate that’s fine, just know you’re falling to the way of the dinosaurs and floppy disks.

Optimization:

One big driver behind our generation’s desire to cooperate is the need to feel like what we’re doing matters.  Some like to deem us the generation of the participation trophy, but we aren’t driven to empty goals.  What we really long for is to feel purpose in our work.  If it seems like the things we do on a daily basis aren’t bringing us any closer to our goals, we aren’t afraid to cut our loses and move on.  60% of millennials are open to a new job opportunity and 55% say they are unengaged at work. While we may not be the job-hopping generation that seemed to be the stereotype up until last year, our sentiment about quitting a job that doesn’t align to our goals and values is higher than generations past.

In Our Play:

Social:

From glamping to hot yoga retreats to Electric Forest, we millennials like to let loose a little different than our parents did.  But as the generation of tech we’ve also come to embrace the idea of ‘descreening’.  In general, we’ve accepted the fact that technology and especially social media or work connectedness surround us on a daily basis all hours of night and day.  So when we have that chance to take a vacation and get away from it all, we actually want to get away from it.  A new industry has begun to thrive that actively cuts vacationers off from technology, and we’re beginning to learn to shut the screen down at dinner, at concerts, in museums, or elsewhere.

Service:

As a generation, we are more altruistic in our ways than those who came before us even though we are less likely to belong to an organized religion.  I would argue that is because we have more opportunities to give back to our community outside of religion than those who came before us, but this also relies on the amount of wealth, free time, and exposure we have.  We carry all of these in significant abundance over our parents and especially their parents, unless you’re descended from royalty or robber barons.  We aren’t just all consumed by the latest video game or Pharrell album.  On average, we each give $600 per year to some charitable cause and love to use our social media accounts to discuss the relevant social justice actions in our lives.  In fact, if you looked at the top trending Twitter moments last Wednesday they included: Charlottesville, the review of national monuments, the melting of Alaska’s permafrost, and Women’s Hour. Through technology we have become more connected to one another and those who are empathetic have become able to see the struggles of others around us, even if we ourselves are not personally influenced by hardship.  The ability of social media to tell stories of anyone with an internet connection has created a community that spans beyond physical boundaries and brings you directly to your tribe in the online community.  It allows you to feel special while also not feeling alone bringing a brave confidence to a generation not afraid of speaking up.  I would argue that’s a good thing.

Use cases:

Things we’ve seen so far (this week the use cases are things being done by millennials that would not have been conceived by any previous generation).

There are a number of well-known millennials who are doing things that have high influence across a spectrum of industries.  Take Emma Watson, who speaks out on behalf of the UN for equality for all, or Mark Zuckerberg who built an empire on social media and is now using that empire to attempt to cure all disease.  There are plenty of unknown faces though that are doing great things to better the reputation of us lazy millennials.  I’ll cover a few both known and less known here but there are plenty more in my resources list and out there in the world.

Alex Momont was a student at the Delft University of Technology who in 2014 had a passion for drones and wanted to find a positive use for the technology.  Partnering with Living Tomorrow and the University Hospital of Ghent, Momant developed the ambulance drone to deliver emergency supplies to a victim ahead of EMT arrival.  Today ambulance drones are in used in a number of cities and have the potential to cut down arrival time of supplies by an average of 16 minutes.  Not only does the drone deliver materials, it also gives instructions to those around the victim on how to use the supplies available.  Cardiac arrest victims most often need to be cared for within 4 – 10 minutes, so cutting any arrival time by an average of 16 minutes has high potential to save lives.  I would count that as a win.

Taylor Swift is now a household name, and some may be rolling their eyes when they hear that name come out of my mouth.  But Taylor Swift is a millennial who understands the power of technology, particularly social media, to further her career and her message. After a long hiatus, the musician released a new song on YouTube on Aug 24, 2017.  By Aug 27, 2017 the video had 35.4 million views and 206,106 comments.  She boasts 102 million followers on Instagram and 85.4 million followers on Twitter.  In 2015 Ms. Swift posted a letter directed towards Apple Music on her Tumblr account derailing the company for not paying artists during the company’s 30-day free trial of the product and pulling all of her music until the company agreed to pay artists.  Most recently the artist has gone through a very public trial in which she was accused of improper involvement of the firing of a disk jockey and she instead of backing down countersued accusing the other party of sexual assault.  The proceedings, which remained very public throughout, concluded Aug 14, 2017 and sided in favor of Swift with an award of $1 meant to be symbolic and support victims of sexual assault cases that had not been made public.  While there is no doubt that Taylor Swift would have been a great artist without social media, the things she has done and the acclaim she has found would have been impossible for any artist before her attempting to speak directly to her fans.

Oscar Schwartz is a poet who is asking the world if computers can write poetry.  A writer, researcher, and teacher in Darwin, Australia, Schwartz is looking into what it means to be human and how interaction with technology changes that.  Right now, he is running a project that looks into 7 of the jobs least likely to be automated.  What he wants to know is what makes up those occupations, how they might be automated (if they can be) and if they are automated what creative bits may be lost.  He and partners have started the site Bot or Not which uses the Turing test and allows users to determine whether poetry examples are created by a human or an algorithm.  Continuously questioning what the difference between human and computer is, the researcher believes the computer is a mirror reflecting human back on human.  As technology becomes even more an integral part of our lives, this continuous reflection on what makes us human and what makes a computer a computer may be exactly what we need.

Ideal World:

We millennials know what we’re doing just about as much as everyone else.  I think the difference lies in the fact that we want to change that.  Maybe I’m young and naïve and we’re all young and naïve.  There are better ways of doing things though and with the access to technology we now have those better ways are more possible than ever.  In my mind, a perfect world includes the cooperation of millennials and the generations before and after to use the brilliant tools we have at our fingertips to get us that much closer to zero marginal cost.  That’s what we all want, right?  More leisure time without having to sacrifice standard of living.  Between expertise of the generation and the amazing advancements in things like AI, blockchain, and quantum computing I believe that we can get close within our lifetimes.

That’s it for today everyone.  I know that was a bit different what I’ve done the last few weeks but trust me, it fits into the puzzle.  Every society needs early adopters and now there is a whole generation of us.  Next week we talk about the data storage revolution, because where else are we going to put all this information we’re creating? Til next week!

All the best,

Amanda

 

References:

Episode 2: Blockchain

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Blockchain is the use of a distributed ledger with cryptographic security settings that allow for transparent record keeping validated through consensus.  If you would like to get deeper into the technological aspects of blockchain, there is a list of references below you are free to peruse.  Blockchain in the past few years has become known as the technology driving bitcoin and a slew of other cryptocurrencies that have emerged.  The ICO, or Initial Coin Offering, has become particularly popular this year with nearly 130 closed ICOs for the year and nearly 150 either currently in the field or on the horizon.  However, there are so many applications to blockchain that are just beginning implementation, so while I will touch on cryptocurrencies today they will not be the focus of the discussion.

Topics we will cover today:

  • Why blockchain works.
  • How cryptocurrencies replace cash
  • Security implications around sensitive data
  • Use cases: Things we’ve seen so far
  • An idealized future from Amanda’s head

As always, if you think I’m missing a notable point or have questions, comment below and I will try to follow up.  But before we get into any of that let’s cover the key points:

What: Today we are talking about blockchain, a distributed ledger system that uses cryptographic algorithms to ensure a secure and transparent method for keeping records.

Who: Big players in blockchain include Hyperledger (a consortium of companies including Accenture, Cisco, Fujitsu, IBM, Intel, JP Morgan, R3, and SAP among others), the Republic of Georgia with partner Bitfury, Consensus Systems, and of course Satoshi Nakamoto and the community of miners, developers, and users on bitcoin and any altcoins.  I will touch on a few of these in my use cases later on.

Why: While cryptocurrencies have gained media attention as of late, the idea of full scale distributed consensus is a way off.  I would argue that as the generation of Uber and AirBNB millennials were taught to share more effectively than others but adoption of blockchain large scale is a bit more of a leap than that both psychologically and technologically.  Also, blockchain has the potential to make real waves across all sorts of industries in a dramatic way. Think what the printing press did for the documentation of records, or what the assembly line did for operational efficiency.  If and when it gains traction, blockchain has true change potential.  That is why I label it as an outlier.

So that’s my thesis: Blockchain is an outlier because it is an agent for global socioeconomic change.  Believe me?  If not, keep listening.  If you do, keep listening anyways.  My dad always says ‘Don’t start something you don’t plan on finishing.’ Ah parents.

Why Blockchain Works:

First, let’s talk about why blockchain works, because anything that is going to be a global agent of change has to work before it’s a global anything.  There are three reasons this outlier holds water:

It works off of systems we humans already use, namely trust.  Any transaction you make and any record you use is valid because you trust it or you trust the institution it comes from.  You trust that the credit cards used to buy fidget spinners at your specialty fidget spinner emporium are authorized by a bank and that bank is backed by the government and you trust the government so sure you will accept this swipe of a plastic card in return for this strange plastic widget.  Or when you go to the records office to receive the death certificate for great aunt Mae, you trust the time listed is correct because a doctor signed it and it was certified by the government and you trust both of them.  Or you don’t, I don’t know you.  The point is, blockchain takes that trust and spans it across a sweeping community, and oh yeah adds proof of work (defined protocols we’ll get into in a minute) in case you trust no one.  So, you no longer have to trust in a single person or institution, you just have to trust that based on the defined protocols all of these people can’t all be wrong.

It has built in security.  Due to the very nature of blockchain, built through proof of work, each block is both publicly transparent and privately held.  What that means is that anyone can see the records of a particular block but that block is still owned by one person and can only be changed or transacted by one person.  Proof of work comes from the need to ‘mine’ the blocks, solving cryptographic puzzles through brute force processing.  When completed, this results in a block, a public key, and a private key.  Both keys are unique to the individual block and used together decrypt and allow access to that user’s block.  A public key can be used alone by any user in the system to verify the validity of that block.  Private keys, if kept private by the owner, will keep any stored data within the block the property of the owner.  This means that all blocks are secure through asymmetrical encryption and much more secure than systems without it.

It creates industry agnostic operational efficiencies.  Due to the inherent trust found in blockchain protocols, there can be a lot of disposing of the middleman so to speak.  If you’ve ever gone through real estate and/or divorce proceedings (so many similarities) frustrated as your funds sit in escrow while the lawyers figure out what’s what, you could be helped by blockchain.  Or if you’re sick of waiting in line at the county clerk’s office because your dog ate your social security card and you need a new one.  Lengthy, costly, and frankly annoying administrative tasks such as these are sidestepped through blockchain use.  So are things such as verification of goods and delivery process through blockchain.  Imagine never having to wait for that fidget spinner you ordered ever again because someone lost something somewhere but no one knows who or what or where and now there’s infighting and I just want my fidget spinner oh god!  Exactly.  So as the world and our demands on it speed up let’s try to let fewer things fall through the cracks and maybe save a little (a lot) of money in the meantime.

How Cryptocurrencies Replace Cash:

Okay.  So now that you know why it works let’s talk about cash.  Cryptocurrencies have been the most public use of blockchain, but really what bitcoin and altcoins are is the infrastructure behind all the great things that can be done with blockchain.  Remember that trust we were talking about earlier?  Well that applies to money too.  It’s been at least more than a century since currency has been based on any type of physical wealth.  A US dollar is worth a US dollar because the US government says so.  That goes for any currency across the globe.  The market dictates just how much that dollar is worth, for example if it can buy one egg or twelve, but it is a US dollar because it was minted by the US treasury and is backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.  The only difference with a cryptocurrency is that instead of a singular backer there is a distributed consensus over the validity of a block.  Not only does that create a more transparent and less costly system, blocks are much much much more difficult to counterfeit than say, a US dollar bill.  A number of countries including Singapore and Australia are looking into the creation of their own cryptocurrency but what I see as a more likely outcome is coins used in markets based on the adaptability of their protocol within that marketplace, not the physical borders they belong to.  For example, bitcoin may not be a great fit for the advertising space due to latency issues but has great potential in areas like legal proceedings.  However, an altcoin may come to light that has significantly lower latency and is a natural fit for advertisement buys.  Whichever way it falls out, move over cash you’re losing your job to automation.

Security Implications:

We already talked about security implications when we discussed why blockchain is an outlier, so I won’t spend a ton of time on it.  I do want to reiterate that implicit design of the technology ‘makes it virtually impossible to add, remove, or change data without being detected by other users’ (Goldman Sachs).  I also don’t want to get into protocol structures, but there are ways as the owner of a block to shield certain data that may be sensitive or proprietary from other users.  For an in depth and technical discussion on this and all things blockchain check out the Coursera listed below.  Do note that the recordings in this Courseraare a bit out of date as they happened before bitcoin’s hard fork.

Use Cases:

Before we get into the idealized world in my head full of puppies and seamless operational capabilities, I want to touch on a few use cases.

  • The Republic of Georgia and their partnership with The Bitfury Group
  • P2P energy transfers in your driveway
  • The ridding of education admin fees
  1. In April of 2016 the Republic of Georgia announced a partnership with The Bitfury Group to digitize land ownership records. In February of 2017 the government determined the proof of concept had been successful and signed agreements with Bitfury to expand the services to most land related contracts negotiated or recorded through the government.  The only change that has been made to the citizens’ process is the ability to check who owns any given land title, dispelling confusion around double selling and vacant property.
  2. This month (August 2017) the company eMotorWerks launched a blockchain beta test driven, literally, by the daily need for power. A hindrance to the adoption of electric vehicles is the short distances they can go before needing to be charged again.  Particularly in areas where there are few public chargers with long distances between them, this can be a significant deterrent when choosing electric or gas.  Val Miftakhov, CEO of eMotorWerks, may have found a solution in EV dense areas.  Interested users can sign up to host their own personal electric vehicle chargers in their driveway to nearby drivers looking to charge while they shop or grab lunch.  Transactions are made through the Ethereum blockchain, an alt coin that holds market cap second to bitcoin. While the Share & Charge platform is in beta and the specific need will diminish as EV battery range increases, the test will show how we react to secure P2P transactions on a daily basis in blockchain.
  3. Sony teamed up with IBM and Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 to develop a blockchain for education. Specifically, the software stores and manages educational products such as diplomas, degrees, and tests to create a ‘digital transcript’.  This can be used to ease communication between schools if a student should transfer, will prevent fraud, and ensure security while still providing pertinent access to interviewers and advanced education institutions a student may be applying for.  The system can be integrated to absorb historical data from other providers and has the potential in the short term to cut down on administrative costs.  Long term I expect to see widespread adoption of this or other similar applications in the education space that allow a student to maintain an educational fingerprint that follows them throughout their educational career.  This could not only help with transfer of students from grade to grade or institution to institution but pinpoint through analytics when a student may be falling off track and how best to help them.

As I mentioned before, cryptocurrencies are the infrastructure that allows for any number of applications to be built on blockchain.  But quid pro quo transactions will not be the only way the technology is used, as seen in the example of education.  Users will vary vastly across industries and types, and will rock the very bedrock of our socioeconomic system similar to the invention of the microchip; slowly at first but with exponentially growing magnitude.

My Idealized World:

With that, we’re coming to a close.  I want to leave you with a few personal opinions about the future of blockchain and what it means for a person’s everyday life.  Long term blockchain could change the entire fabric of our society.  It will be gradual, if it even happens, but because of the key differentiator of decentralization blockchain has the potential to turn on its head everything from how you buy groceries to how land masses are run.  A decentralized, consensus driven state is not built in the physical world, though it may extend there.  Economics will instead be built on the coin you use, the industry and value-driven communities you exist in.  Blockchain has the potential to mean borderless societies, the end of financial institutions, and an acceleration towards zero marginal cost.  This technology can support great change.  But as humans we are the ones who determine what society looks like, so our decisions will ultimately be the drivers of that change.

Thanks for listening today, this has been episode 2 of Three Deviations Out.  I hope you enjoyed it, please leave any questions or comments below.  Next week we will be talking about quantum computing, communication, and teleportation and how what Albert Einstein described as ‘those spooky actions’ of electrons may enhance scientific fields and daily interactions.

All the Best,

Amanda

 

References:

 

Episode 1: The Manifesto

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Transcript of Audio:

Hello everyone.  My name is Amanda.  This is Three Deviations Out.  The term comes from statistics, where it is used to track outliers and generally discard them to create a more normalized sample set.  Normalized sample sets drive good, economic decision making.  Here I plan to explore those outliers, what makes them so fascinating, and what their impact on the world is.  Because while the majority drive global trends, the outliers cause revolutions.

On Three Deviations Out you will mostly find technology, because like it or not it is ingrained in nearly everything we humans do these days.  The focus will sometimes be on the tech and sometimes be on how the tech is allowing for socioeconomic change.  However, as the proprietor of this establishment I I maintain full rights to talk about absolutely anything I want.  My mom says I’m fairly cool and interesting so hopefully I don’t disappoint.  If I do, feel free to let me know in the comments below.  I am also open to suggestions for topics you see as outliers, and may or may not end up exploring them here.  I hope my lack of commitment doesn’t drive you away.

Most of these posts are going to be podcast style with transcripts, as is here, but I will also be posting infographics, data graphs, and videos of my dog explaining quantum mechanics.

On a last note, my opinions are my own and should not be taken as financial, technological, or any other kind of advice.  I am a specialist of nothing.

Next week we will be talking about blockchain technology: how it came about, what the tech behind it is, and how it can impact our institutions.

All the Best,

Amanda