Joshua Rothman writes about how a trivial problem reveals the limits of technology.
Tagged with “technology” (427)
As a young woman, Stephanie Shirley worked at the Dollis Hill Research Station building computers from scratch: but she told young admirers that she worked for the Post Office, hoping they would think she sold stamps. In the early 60s she changed her name to Steve and started selling computer programmes to companies who had no idea what they were or what they could do, employing only mothers who worked from home writing code by hand with pen and pencil and then posted it to her. By the mid-80s her software company employed eight thousand people, still mainly women with children. She made an absolute fortune but these days Stephanie thinks less about making money and much more about how best to give it away.
You type in a url and you get a website. But how did you get that website? What are all the little steps that happen when you request a page and (hopefully) see that page in your browser? Julia Evans breaks down how the internet works and gives us an amazing introduction to computer networking.
Julia is a software developer who lives in Montreal. She works on infrastructure at Stripe, gives talks and has published a collection of awesome free programming zines.
Claire L. Evans, Author of Broad Band- The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet | Internet History Podcast
Claire Evans is the author of the new book: Broad Band The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet. This is the best tech history book I’ve read in a while and you know I read them all. Of special note, considering our 90s-heavy focus on this podcast, the book includes the stories of Word.com, which was a competitor to Feed.com (which we’ve previously covered) and Women.com which was a competitor to Ivillage (which, again, we’ve spoke at length about). But you also get an amazing portair of tech in the 1970s, hypertext as a movement outside of the web, and stories about amazing women like Grace Hopper and Jake Feinler.
When Tim O’Reilly talks, Silicon Valley listens. In this special episode, O’Reilly tells us about his new book "WTF," which argues that the technology industry has become tone-deaf—and that the only way to avoid mass technological unemployment and achieve shared prosperity is to rethink the algorithms that govern our whole economy.
For a sane, humane, and skeptical perspective on what’s happening to Silicon Valley and why our high-tech economy seems to be failing us, there’s no better source than Tim O’Reilly, the master trend spotter and founder of computer book publisher and events company O’Reilly Media.
whatsthefuture-cover.png This week the podcast features an in-depth conversation with the admired entrepreneur, investor, and author, whose new book WTF: What’s The Future and Why It’s Up to Us was published by HarperCollins on October 10.
In the interview—and in the book—O’Reilly shares the mental maps he uses to make sense of emerging technologies and their impact. And he argues that if we want to avoid the worst side effects of AI and automation and learn the lessons of networked platforms like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, we’ll have to "discover what rules produce a better game" across government, business, and the financial system.
O’Reilly came to prominence in the 1990s as the publisher of the animal books, a famous series of technical and programming manuals, and as one of the first advocates and defenders of the open source software movement. In the 2000s he helped to define the boom in Web-based services that came to be called Web 2.0. Later, he cofounded O’Reilly Alphatech Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm that was one of the first to invest in startups like Chartbeat and Foursquare. In short, O’Reilly seems to possess a wide-angle lens on the technology industry that helps him see these big trends before they’re visible to everyone else.
One of the messages of the book is that "bad maps shape our view of the future," as O’Reilly puts it in the interview. Building off a reference to a 1650 map that mistakenly showed California as an island, O’Reilly argues that Microsoft’s outdated maps of the computer industry led it to stumble in the 1990s as the share-and-share-alike values of the open source software movement enabled the rise of new platforms like Amazon and Google.
But no one has a perfect view of the future, and even the makers of today’s defining platforms—Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and the like—have only recently begun to understand the nature of the platforms they’ve built, O’Reilly argues. He describes them as matching marketplaces that will only thrive when they’re designed to serve all sides—both passengers and drivers, both renters and hosts.
“That marketplace model is central to the business model of these companies—more central even in some ways than the app,” O’Reilly says. “The wonderful user experience, the automated payment, all these things, you see how they come together. And the point is that technology periodically makes new things possible, and it takes us a while to figure out how to put all the pieces together.”
Perhaps the most important theme running through the book is that lessons from today’s networked technology platforms can be applied back to the larger economy.
“We tell the algorithms what to do, and we don’t quite understand what we’re telling them,” O’Reilly explains in the interview. “Facebook says, ‘We had this great idea, we’ll create this reinforcement loop in the news feed,’ and their theory was that that would make for this rich social experience where people would be more connected to their friends. But what they didn’t realize was that it would amplify hyper-partisanship and that bad actors who would come in and try to influence people. And I try to draw, again, parallels to the broader economy, because we also have in our economy a set of algorithmic instructions to companies that are enforced by financial markets. In the same way that Facebook tries to tell their programs ‘Show people more of what they like,’ we tell companies ‘Make money.’ We tell companies, Optimize for shareholder value. Treat people as a cost to be eliminated.’ So again I’m trying to make the argument from technology. What we learn is: it’s time to adjust the algorithms.”
Lord Byron’s only legitimate child is championed by Konnie Huq.
From Banking, to air traffic control systems and to controlling the United States defence department there’s a computer language called ‘Ada’ - it’s named after Ada Lovelace - a 19th century mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace is this week’s Great Life. She’s been called many things - but perhaps most poetically by Charles Babbage whom she worked with on a steam-driven calculating machine called the Difference Engine an ‘enchantress of numbers’, as her similarly mathematical mother had been called by Lord Byron a "princess of parallelograms". Augusta ‘Ada’ Byron was born in 1815 but her parents marriage was short and unhappy; they separated when Ada was one month old and she never saw her father , he died when was eight years old. Her mother, Annabella concerned Ada might inherit Byron’s "poetic tendencies" had her schooled her in maths and science to try to combat any madness inherited from her father. She’s championed by TV presenter and writer -Konnie Huq, most well known for presenting the BBC’s children’s programme - ‘Blue Peter’ and together with expert- Suw Charman- Anderson, a Social technologist, they lift the lid on the life of this mathematician, now regarded as the first computer programmer with presenter Matthew Parris.
The Father Of The Internet Sees His Invention Reflected Back Through A ‘Black Mirror’ : All Tech Considered : NPR
The titans of Silicon Valley have a grand vision of the future. But they have a tendency to miss the downside of their inventions — think cybercrime and online harassment.
I interviewed Harris recently for my podcast. We talked about how the 2016 election threw Silicon Valley into crisis, why negative emotions dominate online, where Silicon Valley’s model of human decision-making went wrong, whether he buys Zuckerberg’s change of heart, and what it means to take control of your time. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For the full conversation, which includes the story of what happened when Harris brought legendary meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh to Google, listen or subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show.
Ethics, technology and the impact of our decisions on customers and employees - Interview with Cennydd Bowles, a designer and writer focusing on the ethics of emerging technologies. Cennydd joins me today to talk about ethics, technology, emerging technology, design and the impact of the decisions we make on customers and employees. This interview follows on from my recent interview – The Age Of Agile and why agile is more than a tool or method – Interview with Steve Denning – and is number 251 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.
Two ways to save humanity
Mann titled his talk “The Edge of the Petri Dish.”
He explained, “If you drop a couple protozoa in a Petri dish filled with nutrient goo, they will multiply until they run out of resources or drown in their own wastes.”
Humans in the world Petri dish appear to be similarly doomed, judging by our exponential increases in population, energy use, water use, income, and greenhouse gases.
How to save humanity?
Opposing grand approaches emerged from two remarkable scientists in the mid-20th century who fought each other their entire lives.
Their solutions were so persuasive that their impassioned argument continues 70 years later to dominate how we think about dealing with the still-exacerbating exponential impacts.
Norman Borlaug, the one Mann calls “the Wizard,” was a farm kid trained as a forester.
In 1944 he found himself in impoverished Mexico with an impossible task—solve the ancient fungal killer of wheat, rust.
First he invented high-volume crossbreeding, then shuttle breeding (between winter wheat and spring wheat), and then semi-dwarf wheat.
The resulting package of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizer, and irrigation became the Green Revolution that ended most of hunger throughout the world for the first time in history.
There were costs.
The diversity of crops went down.
Excess fertilizer became a pollutant.
Agriculture industrialized at increasing scale, and displaced smallhold farmers fled to urban slums.
William Vogt, who Mann calls “the Prophet,” was a poor city kid who followed his interest in birds to become an isolated researcher on the revolting guano islands of Peru.
He discovered that periodic massive bird die-offs on the islands were caused by the El Niño cycle pushing the Humboldt Current with its huge load of anchovetas away from the coast and starving the birds.
The birds were, Vogt declared, subject to an inescapable “carrying capacity.“
That became the foundational idea of the environmental movement, later expressed in terms such as “limits to growth,” “ecological overshoot,” and “planetary boundaries.”
Vogt spelled out the worldview in his powerful 1948 book, The Road to Survival.
The Prophets-versus-Wizards debate keeps on raging—artisanal organic farming versus factory-like mega-farms; distributed solar energy versus centralized fossil fuel refineries and nuclear power plants; dealing with climate change by planting a zillion trees versus geoengineering with aerosols in the stratosphere.
The question continues: How do we best manage our world Petri dish?
Can humanity change its behavior at planet scale?
Mann ended by pointing out that in 1800 slavery was universal in the world and had been throughout history.
Then it ended.
Prophets say that morally committed abolitionists did it.
Wizards say that clever labor-saving machinery did it.
Maybe it was the combination.
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