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The Evolution Of Tech Culture

Photo by Skitterphoto
The culture associated with technology has a checkered past but maybe not in the way you think. Before it became socially acceptable to tote your pocket supercomputer around, why was technology culture anti-social? Are we more social now, or less?

Ars Technica recently interviewed Clive Thompson for his upcoming book Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World.Thompson specifically focuses on the origins of the culture of programmers, and there are some interesting divergences from the culture as it is today. Traditionally, software programmers are stereotyped but Thompson debunks these myths.

Rather than being purely anti-social, programmers are merely intensely focused problem solvers. Programmers will spend many hours trying to fix something, which can be frustrating, but they are a rare breed equipped to handle frustration. Programmers solve hard problems, despite frustration, because this is what they enjoy doing. There is a cost associate…

Workplace Privacy

Photo by Philipp Birmes
Americans who believe that our rights are unalienable would be surprised to learn how limited in scope they are at their place of employment. At work, our liberties are second to the need for business to monitor their assets, including their greatest asset, their people. While it is not unreasonable for businesses to be secure, they must tread carefully to avoid violating the rights of their employees.

The story of Theranos, the now defunct blood testing company which has since been revealed to be a total fraud, is not new, but many new details are now emerging. Theranos was a silicon valley wunderkind because it was poised to revolutionize the blood testing industry under the leadership of its charismatic leader, Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes made many unethical business decisions, but how was this massive fraud initially discovered?

One detail about Theranos that has recently emerged is how paranoid senior leadership was. Holmes had made a connection to a former S…

On Homelessness

Photo by Quaz Amir
It started yesterday, after work as I left my building, I saw them walking. A couple, hauling their belongings in a few neatly stacked boxes that looked like tackle boxes tied to a small luggage cart. The man had crossed the street, along with his dog who stayed faithfully by his side. An older woman was stuck at the intersection waiting for cars to stop. Before long, the cars did stop, she joined her partner, and I didn't spend much more time thinking about them that day.

At my job today, I had a great morning. A coworker gave me a great idea for a quick but useful project, which I was able to finish before noon. I feel I am at my best when I am able to be productive. It gives me a sense of purpose for lack of a better word. Feeling good about myself, I set out to buy myself a hamburger for lunch and skip the more healthy option that I brought from home.

I drove the short distance to the hamburger joint, the epitome of laziness. As I drove up, I saw the same co…

The Scope Of Big Data

Photo by koon boh Goh
Combining massive data warehouses, powerful supercomputers, and a global computing network infrastructure,  big data delivers a more tailored experience as we migrate ever more of our lives onto the internet. Big data is what adds value to connected our lives; data is fed to algorithms which in turn make an increasing amount of decisions on our behalf. But at what cost does this freedom from decision come?

It is common knowledge that Facebook extracts a fee from its users, but this fee is paid in data rather than in dollars. Despite overwhelming abuse of the use of customer data, people continue using the social networking behemoth. Recently, Facebook entered into negotiations with the FTC regarding a multi-billion dollar fine over its conditions for the company. These negotiations follow Facebook another multi-billion dollar fine in Europe. Facebook usage has not declined because it provides value to its users. Value is, of course, a subjective term but the cons…

Operator Overload

Photo by Oliver Sjostrom
Life has changed dramatically since the start of the personal computer revolution in the late 1970s. We have seen computing go from the realm of military to industry, then to the home and now to the pocket of our pants. Connected computers have followed the same path, as the Internet has forever changed the landscape of computing, including how people interact with it. Along the way, we've seen computing go from being rather anti-social to being a completely mainstream component of popular culture.

Let's pause for a moment and examine how technology migrated into being chic. In the late 1970s there was a lot of optimism around what computing technology could someday do for us and while many people were eager to learn, that number was still small. Computers were essentially souped up calculators and most people weren't eager to learn an arcane programming language or spend their free time noodling around with calculations.

One pivotal use case for t…

An Algorithmic Life

Photo by sk
Data is the most valuable commodity of the 21st century. Algorithms are what transform data into information. Algorithms have become like a trusted friend whose recommendations we seek, and that we adhere to. Perhaps what isn't known is how these pieces of code are able to derive such useful information for us, which is the part of algorithms that are unseen to many. An algorithm is ultimately only as good as the data that is fed into it, and we are all feeding vast amounts of data into code we did not author, that we don't control, and that is only visible to us in its outputs.

The convenience provided by algorithms is certainly welcome, but according to a recent Pew Research Center report, the public doesn't have such a welcoming opinion of them when used for decisions that can be life-changing. Algorithms represent far more than recommendations on which media to consume. There is an innate desire for humanity in decisions that could dictate, for example, whe…

The Growing Disruption Of Artificial Intelligence

Photo by Frank Wang
Artificial intelligence may be as disruptive as the computers used to create it once were, and it could be even bigger. Given the disruption that social media has proven to be, one has to wonder if we are fully prepared for the life altering consequences we are building for ourselves.

IBM has been a key player in the artificial intelligence arena for over two decades. Deep Blue was their first tour de force in 1997, when its team of developers received $100,000 for defeating chess champion Gary Kasparov in a game of chess. That watershed moment has its roots all the way back in 1981 when researchers at Bell Labs developed a machine that achieved Master status in chess, for which they were awarded $5000. In 1988, researchers at Carnegie Melon University were awarded $10,000 for creating a machine that achieved international master status at chess. Deep Blue, however, was the first machine to beat the world chess champion.

Google has entered the fray as well, with th…