We are entering a new era where the everyday objects around us are connected to, and controllable from, the internet. From home automation systems to industrial controls used to manage nuclear reactors, things that used to be possible only with physical interactions are now being put under software control.
While there is a great deal of excitement about this coming internet of things, one aspect that is often glossed over are the profound security issues we are going to face. It’s one thing if a hacker uses a security exploit to steal personal information from users of a website, or destroys files on a user’s computer hard drive. It’s quite another thing when they can open our garage doors, change traffic signal patterns, or disrupt the operations of hydroelectric dams.
Shodan is a window into this world of connected devices, identifying devices like webcams, traffic signals, and – yes – nuclear power plants on the internet. It can be used by security researches to identify internet-connected devices with security vulnerabilities, and as a general tool to understand the landscape of connected devices in order to provide a more secure infrastructure. It’s also the same kind of technology that malicious hackers use for the same purpose, but with different intent.
Shodan’s creator John Matherly is a great person with whom to discuss some of the security issues we are all going to be facing in this new world.
John Matherly is the founder and developer of Shodan, the world’s first computer search engine. His work includes performing Internet-wide surveys, analyzing large amounts of data and making security tools more accessible to the community. His friends refer to him as a professional Internet cartographer. He can be found on Twitter as @achillean.
Some related links:
Clive is a really entertaining story teller, and he presents our current fears about the effect of technology on humanness in a historical context that attempts to show that our current state of affairs is really not so qualitatively different from many times that have come before. It’s enlightening to hear how Socrates had fears regarding the use of the written word; he may have been right that people’s ability to memorize huge volumes of spoken material would degrade, but he couldn’t have anticipated the incredible spread of knowledge for which books have been responsible. Clive describes many historical anecdotes like this that portray the most feared technologies (printing press, radio, copy machines, etc.) as being mainly about a shift from scarcity to surplus, and he argues that our current technologies are not making us dumber any more than learning to read and write does.
Clive has been writing about technology for a long time — I’m sure many of our listeners have read his work in Wired — and his depth of knowledge really shows in this entertaining conversation. It covers a lot of ground, from ancient Rome to modern online education and a lot in between, so sit back, listen to the interview, then buy the book!
Clive Thompson is the author of “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better” (Penguin). He is a longtime writer on technology and how it affects everyday life, and is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a Wired. He blogs at www.collisiondetection.net and is on Twitter as @pomeranian99.
Some related links:
When two convicted killers got out of jail in Germany after having served their sentence, they did something that seems outlandish by American standards: they sued the Wikipedia Foundation to have their names removed from pages referring to the victim. While at first blush (at least to this American) this seems like a ridiculous demand, the principal behind it actually enjoys a fair amount of support, notably in Europe, where a proposed Right to Be Forgotten may soon become law. Anne Bezancon wrote an Op-Ed in Forbes that refers to this case, and this article first introduced me to this idea of The Right to Be Forgotten.
In a social media landscape that seems to be completely dominated by a “share everything” ethos, the idea that an individual could demand to have information about themselves effectively removed from the public internet seems impossibly naive. We’ve all had the experience of realizing that, on the web, you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube. And while we talked just a few weeks ago about this idea that society may be reaching the End of Forgetting, this Right to Be Forgotten seems to be gaining support by many.
Anne’s vantage point as a French citizen who has lived in the US for some twenty years, and who is the President of a digital location-based marketing company, makes this conversation a really interesting one that deals with aspects of digital privacy that are at once more fundamental and more nuanced than much of the current conversation in mainstream media. I hope you enjoy it, and leave your comments here or via Twitter to let us know what you think.
Some related links:
- The Right to Be Forgotten: Protecting Digital Privacy. This is Anne’s Op-Ed in Forbes from August of 2012.
- Jeffrey Rosen of the George Washington University has his own piece in the Stanford Law Review which is dramatic in its rejection of this idea.
- a New York Times article outlining the agreement Google reached with 38 states after admitting it violated people’s privacy with Street View.
Communication technology has long teased us with a vision of the world where our ability to share, experience, and work with others is not be restricted by geography. Given the right application of the right technology, it shouldn’t matter where on Earth we choose to be; we can effectively communicate and work with whomever we choose. Yet, that’s not how the world works. At least not most of it, and at least not yet.
In this episode, Matt Mullenweg, Founder of Automattic, the company best known for the wildly-popular WordPress blogging platform, talks with New Robot Overlords host Myk Willis about what it takes to make working remotely work. He should know a thing or two about it: his company now has over 150 employees spread across more than 100 cities around the world.
It’s interesting to see just how natural a distributed workforce is to someone like Matt, and how he sees it strengthening his organization and contributing directly to its growth, and then at the same time to see how someone like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer finds it a fundamental roadblock to making progress in rebuilding her company. Matt sees this as essentially a generation gap: old companies will continue to act like old companies, new companies will be free to take full advantage of what a distributed workforce can offer.
The conversation talks about different kinds of workers, and whether different functions are better (or worse) suited for working remotely. Sales teams, in particular, are discussed as traditionally being out in “the field” while the rest of the organization is inside the building. Do salespeople have a reputation for being more individually-motivated (for example, more interested in incentive bonuses than stock option plans) because of their relative isolation in the field, away from the hub of the organizations? Or do people who are more individually-motivated from the start gravitate toward jobs like field sales where they can be on their own much of the day? These are interesting questions we touch in as we wind through the conversation.
It seems that perhaps remote work scenarios work best in organizations, like Automattic, where the majority of the workers are working remotely. Everyone is essentially “in the same boat,” and the tools and habits for collaboration and communication are mostly the same for everyone. Remote work tends to not have as good a reputation in large organizations where a majority of the people work at one or a few central office buildings, and a minority of them work remotely. In these cases, the people in the home office get a lot of communication through traditional, face-to-face meetings, glances across the room, and bumping into each other in the kitchen. They’re not in the practice of pinging on IM or firing up Skype on a regular basis just to keep up relationships with coworkers, so the remote people can gradually get grouped with “them” as opposed to “us.”
All told, a really interesting conversation with Matt, and one I think you’ll enjoy – especially if you’ve only heard the cliched opinions of the talking heads on cable TV responding in soundbites to Marissa’s Yahoo decision. Have your own opinion? Share it in the comments, or fire it off to @newrobotlords.
Links and other things referenced in the episode:
- Matt mentioned Paul Graham’s essay, The Accleration of Addicitiveness
- Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine has the story of Steve Jobs’ influence on Pixar’s HQ design – specifically the “one bathroom rule”
- The How To…Have a Virtual Meeting article on Fast Company discussed in the episode is based on a conversation with Matt.(He says he “vaguely remembers” it!)
The conversation starts by talking about the mechanics of the business of transferring “old” media like physical photographs, film, and video into the digital domain. Michael paints an interesting picture of his operation, which has at its receiving end what is essentially a data center running 3,000-4,000 units of old media a day through specialized transfer equipment. Humans control quality and do other spot checks of the process, but essentially are tending the machines that push fragile, antiquated memories into digital permanence.
Michael and Myk discuss the explosion of personal content that has resulted from widespread availability and use of camera and HD-capable smartphones, and how this changes our relationship with our home movies. In a new world of Google Glass and lifeblogging, will it be possible for people to get the same kind of emotional tug from a recording as that elicited in a child of the 1970’s by that rare and grainy video salvaged from a box in the attic? Michael argues that yes, this is still possible, explaining:
Video memories and photos are like wine. They become emotional memories over time.
The discussion touches on whether we are entering an age that brings us the end of forgetting. Myk alludes that given the vast amounts of video and other data captured every day, and the continued growth rates in their creation, it doesn’t seem crazy to believe that we are entering into a singularity of sorts, where the past is no longer open to speculation because of lack of historical record. Every place, every person, every situation, could be revisited as easily as searching the web is today. Could this lead to an end to the likes of holocaust deniers, tea party “birthers”, and others who would use a lack of complete historical record to advance their ideology or agenda? Michael is not optimistic, noting that there is an incredible amount of curation that goes on today, both intentional and not, that leaves a lot of information “outside of the field of view.” Even if what is outside the field of view becomes dramatically smaller, there will always be pockets where information doesn’t flow freely, ruining any promise of a One True History that everyone could agree on.
The conversation ends with a discussion of what technology challenges await companies like YesVideo in an era where everything is completely in the digital domain. Certainly, there are obvious things like computationally-fueled facial recognition that are already racing forward, but Michael describes areas of more organic and social curation that will aid in search and discovery that will occupy the next generation of this industry.
In this episode, digital music guru Dick Wingate talks with New Robot Overlords host Myk Willis about how technology has changed the way we experience music. The conversation covers a long time frame, from a time when home entertainment was “a piano and a daughter to play it” to today’s world of auto tune and electronic dance music.
The introduction of the phonograph in the late 19th century fundamentally changed the landscape, allowing people to listen to music without having live musicians present. Singing voices had to adapt to this new, imperfect, technology. With the introduction of multi-track tape recording, musicians were free to take as may tries as necessary to g something “just right”. Dick tells the story of how Bruce Springsteen took 60 or more takes when recording vocals on the album Darkness on the Edge of Town; and, ironically, the result ended up being less powerful than virtually any of his live performances on that tour. In Dick’s opinion, the worst of the 110 shows is more exciting than the album.
Dick points at the introduction of the CD, which allowed easy random access to songs for the first time, as a significant event in the changing consumption of music. As we have moved into the Internet age, where virtually every track is available all the time, this easy access has consequences. Dick argues that in this world of media saturation, “something has been lost, and it won’t come back.”
It’s a really fun conversation with lots of interesting anecdotes – enjoy!
Links to Things Referenced in the podcast
- Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town album and tour. Dick was heavily involved with Bruce at this time, then being product manager at Columbia Records.
- The book E Street Shuffle: The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band by Clinton Heylin
- The 2012 version of Les Misérables featured vocals recorded live on the set, as opposed to having the vocals recorded separately and then dubbed in. Some people criticize the results, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t provide a much more organic feel to the film.
Here’s a great photo of Dick Wingate with Bruce himself at Madison Square Garden in 1978:
Notable Quotes from the Podcast:
On the saturation of media: “something has been lost, and it won’t come back”
something that’s been lost: “I pledge allegiance to these artists.” (There doesn’t seem to be the same kind of attachment as there once was to individual artists…though…try telling that to “the little monsters.”)
something that’s been lost: “there’s no pride of ownership in music”
“The merch business is still so big because t-shirts are a way of expressing yourself. ”
“The Ringtone was an audio t-shirt.” (This is much better than we used to say at Myxer…we said it was an audio bumper sticker. But t-shirt is much better)
“[tower records] was a social experience. You would go for both discovery as well as to be part of the scene.”
“financial barriers are quite low. It used to be that most artists couldn’t afford to record themselves. Today, anybody can make a record.” (even people that really shouldn’t…)
“The more perfect we make the music, the less natural it feels”
“Bob Dylan was a horrible singer.”
“Prerecorded music is a commodity – but every live event is a unique thing.”
“It’s one thing to all be in the same room, it’s another thing to all be on the same page.” (On the modern home and its entertainment options)
In this episode, New Robot Overlords host Myk Willis talks with Justin Siegel, CEO of the popular mobile social network MocoSpace and a longtime mobile gaming veteran. Justin shares his insight into the world of mobile gaming and how it has evolved over the years along with the mobile devices themselves.
The conversation ranges from the economics of mobile games, to the impact they have on social relationships, and to the way mobile games compare with traditional forms of entertainment like film and TV.
On the economics of mobile games, Justin describes how the process of developing mobile games has changed over the past 10 or so years. It used to be that the games themselves were relatively cheap to make, perhaps a few thousand to low tens of thousands, but they were difficult to bring to market because the operators (carriers) controlled the distribution channels. Today, the capabilities of modern devices have raised consumer expectations to the point where development budgets of hundreds of thousands to even millions of dollars are required for a blockbuster mobile app, and just as much can be spent on marketing. This is the domain of companies like Zynga, Electronic Arts, Popcap, and Rovio. It is increasingly difficult for a small studio to expect much return on investment, with a typical title grossing perhaps $5k.
He points out an interesting trend whereby virtual currency/virtual goods (such as “power-ups” and other perks in games) are making up an increasingly important part of the revenue stream for game developers.
Myk and Justin discuss some of the potential negatives of having the instant gratification and diversion of mobile games always in one’s pocket. The concept of ‘downtime’ almost seems to not exist when you have a phone in your p0cket, and it appears that people tend to reach for – and become absorbed by – their mobile phone in social situations where they may have once struck up casual conversation with the people around them. Justin makes the funny observation that reaching for your phone is arguably better than reaching for a cigarette – one of the old-fashioned ways to fill downtime!
A really interesting conversation for anyone interested in the fascinating world of mobile apps.
Some Links to Related / Mentioned Content
- MocoSpace is Justin’s extremely popular mobile social network used by millions.
- Ingress is a worldwide, mobile alternate reality game created by an internal Google game studio. It’s a pretty ambitious endeavor, but as Justin points out in the interview, there have yet to be any real commercially successful augmented reality games.
- The Diamond Age, a novel by Neal Stephenson. OK, not just a novel, this is my favorite novel that I mention all the time. It features (in part) a technomagical book that ‘grows up’ with the children that it teaches, serving in at least one case as a surrogate parent for the child. Is this what’s happening when we let the iPad teach our kids how to read?
- In the interview, I was trying to remember who made the ‘football’ games that I remembered playing as a young kid. Mattel’s Football (and the later Football II) was released in 1978 and I spent many nights playing that game under the covers after “lights out” for bedtime. (a nice recreation is now available for Android as well).
In this episode, Paul Taylor of Global Citizen talks with New Robot Overlords host Myk Willis about online education, and how technology may allow us to fundamentally change how it works in the future. Paul is currently partnering with Wisdom University to create a social education and innovation platform to help social change-makers create the change they want to see in the world.
Paul observes that much of the excitement around online education today is around accessibility. Making course materials available online provides global, and often free, access to knowledge that was once only available to a very few privileged individuals. He points out that a kid in the developing world can now learn artificial intelligence from the top professor in the field. (Which, as it turns out, is an apropos example for yours truly. I recently took the Machine Learning course from Andrew Ng at Coursera online university and enjoyed it immensely. I marveled how I was able to take the course from my own (remote) home, on my own schedule, for free, whereas just a few years ago I would’ve had to apply to the university, pay potentially thousands of dollars for tuition and materials, and travel to be physically present for each lecture and lab.)
This internet-enabled dissemination of knowledge clearly has enormous global benefit, but Paul argues that it is just the beginning of what online education can become.
Paul describes how the established lecture-based learning format, with which most of us associate formal education, has been shown to be relatively ineffective in providing subject matter mastery to students. He argues that online technologies provide the opportunity to facilitate mastery-based learning, by building on personalization, social networking, and other existing technologies. Personalization of the curriculum, facilitated online tutoring, and other other techniques can fundamentally change the nature of learning.
Paul also discusses the creativity gap, and how employers are increasingly finding it difficult to find leaders with sufficient creative skills to confront the challenges of a quickly-changing landscape. He believes that online education platforms could eventually provide a more holistic learning experience that would allow the innate creativity of individuals to flourish, rather be tamped down by the existing structure.
Some Links around the Interwebs Related to the Discussion
Jeff makes the case that social media democratizes content creation, and provides valuable mechanisms for people to communicate and create content. While Myk suggests that forums like Twitter ‘cheapen’ social interaction by forcing it to be reduced to soundbites, Jeff sees it as more additive, portraying social media as a set of tools that simply amplify existing human behaviors – the good and the bad. Similarly, Myk wonders if social media is becoming a substitute for real-world interactions, but Jeff counters that in his own life he has had the opportunity to develop many ‘real-world’ relationships that he never would have had without social media.
Jeff touches on the growing importance of social media in our professional lives, which are increasingly being blended with our personal lives. Our online reputations are becoming increasingly important as our employers and customers change so frequently in this modern economy. He admits that the days of privacy are all but gone, and we as a society do not really know how that will affect us in the long-term.
The conversation ends with some observations about the way social media, like so much modern technology, plays on our biological predisposition to over-value new information – however meaningless it may be.
And I think the best quote of the episode is Jeff’s last statement:
we spend a lot of time missing events because we’re too consumed with trying to chronicle them. In the act of chronicling them, we’re not living them.
All together, It’s a really fun talk with a very smart and knowledgeable early-adopter.
Links Related to this Podcast
- Jeffrey Sass is @sass on Twitter, and http://www.jeffreysass.com on the web.
- Jeff’s social networking rehab blog is at http://www.socialnetworkingrehab.blogspot.com/
- Sherry Turkle (not Shelly, as I mistakenly said on the podcast) has a great book Alone Together that explores the topic of alienation via increased connectivity.
- Apologies to Sherry Turkle, whom I name-dropped as ‘Shelly’ during the recording of the podcast.
- Arthur C. Clarke‘s observation that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” formed the basis of my joke that “any sufficiently targeted advertising is indistinguishable from content.”
In this episode, Andrej expresses his optimism that future products, like Google’s forthcoming “Project Glass” wearable computer, will improve the way people interact with mobile technology. Later he weighs in with his thoughtful observations related to the potential for emerging technologies to negatively impact the human experience. He also talks about his involvement in the Lean Startup movement, and the growing South Florida technology ecosystem.
Readings and Links Related to this Podcast
- Andrej K on Twitter and Tumblr
- Andrej’s company, New Frontier Nomads.
- Google Project Glass. Yes, I think it’s freaky. Andrej doesn’t. What do you think?
- Eric Ries’ site on The Lean Startup.
- Kevin Kelly’s book What Technology Wants. Really interesting book from an even more interesting person
Other Companies mentioned