Technology - Will it set us Free?

November 15 2008 / by StuartDobson / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

Computers have absolved our responsibilities in many areas of our lives so far. What will happen as this increases?

When computers were first invented, users had complete freedom and power, there was no other option but to allow it. However, if they didn’t follow the computer’s strict set of rules, the computer would break or just not work. Even in the days of Windows 3.11, computers remained obscure and frightening to the masses.

Once computers infiltrated more and more of our lives, it became necessary to remove the need to for “user rules”, computers had to become “user friendly”. Computers were forced to shed their unforgivable interfaces in order to increase their popularity.

So now, computers, when used by the general public, no longer have that level of freedom. To avoid them being used wrongly, computers simply limit the options general users are allowed to access. Then, instead of telling users how to act, they simply guide users through their processes, anticipating rule-breaking, and absolving responsibility. Users lost their fear of computers, complying with the rules not because they are asked to, but because any possibility of breaking them is simply removed. General users no longer have raw power over computers, they just follow the guidelines provided for them to achieve what they need from the machine. As such, even the desire to break the rules is diminished.

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The Future of Google: Golden City of Innovation or Corporate Black Hole?

September 19 2008 / by Mielle Sullivan / In association with Future
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

Google has been the Golden City of Silicon Valley and indeed the whole world wide web for the past several years.  The savvy start-up that grew from a garage in Menlo Park to one of the biggest companies in the world in less than a decade is not only a business wunderkind, but a cultural icon whose name has become a verb for finding information on the Internet. Yet as Google’s rise to fame attests, the Internet is a fast and fickle place where a good new idea can change everything.

In a recent interview with Mad Money host Jim Cramer, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that Google can avoid the flat-line in growth that eventually plagued it’s high tech giant predecessors IBM & Microsoft.  Google will accomplish this, Schmidt says, through increasingly targeted advertising, breaking into new businesses and keeping to the mantra of not being “evil.”

Is this a realistic forecast? Can its very size and success be a detriment to Google’s innovation? Can it really conquer new markets?  Though the company’s stock has consistently outperformed expectations and grew an impressive 26% last quarter, there are some tell-tale signs that Google’s empire is not immune to the forces of time or economics.

Innovation by Acquisition: By Schmidt’s own admission, Google will need to innovate at a high rate to remain competitive.  The company has released several products in the last few years including Gmail, Google Earth, Google Docs (which I am using to type this article), Google Calendar, Knol, and most recently its web browser Chrome.  But much, if not the bulk, of the company’s innovation has been generated through acquisitions.  While many of the purchases have been a big boon for Google, i.e. DoubleClick is estimated to have brought in $90 million dollars for Google last year, several of the innovative companies acquired have mysteriously entered the ever widening Google black hole.  Jaiku, a twitter-like micro-blogging company was purchased in October of 2007  and is still closed to new users. GrandCentral a site the allows you integrate all your phone numbers and voicemail boxes into one account, accessible from the web, had a markedly similar fate. Even Blogger, once the king of blogs, has withered from lack of development and upgrading since being acquired. It now seems doomed to forever live in the shadow of it’s successors Wordpress and Movable Type. 

A quick look at this comprehensive list of Google’s acquisitions reveals many great ideas that either are dead in the black hole, being developed by Google, or in use but just not being promoted. It’s hard to say which, but considering how old some of these acquisitions are and how quickly the Internet world moves, even in the best case scenario of “development” Google is proving it simply hasn’t been able integrate and develop it’s acquisitions quickly enough.

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CCTV Nation — Security at What Cost?

December 30 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Social Issues   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

cctv.jpgA lot of people keep telling me that if one has nothing to hide, then why worry about wire-taps or security cameras?  If you're not planning to rob a bank or kidnap a spoiled celebrity then you should be fine, right?

I have to admit, that argument is pretty solid.  I don't plan on doing anything like kidnapping rich kids (at least until the economy gets worse) so I shouldn't worry.  But the real issue here is privacy.  Humans love privacy, and yet we're afraid of just about everything.  Finding a balance between the two can be difficult at times and rarely easy.  You might not be doing something illegal that would cause you to fear security cameras, but think again.

Chances are you've done something that could be construed as illegal and fined.  Not coming to a full stop at stop signs lands you a ticket for every mistake.  Urinating in public when you're coming home from the bars at 2am could land you an indecency ticket and possible jail time.  Any prank you've ever pulled from toilet papering a house to stealing a road sign would be prosecuted (for those that notice these crimes are kinda specific examples, I've never TP'd a house, it's a waste of paper).

Someone will always be watching and to think that minor offenses will be ignored is naive since cities are always looking for new sources of revenue.  And as it becomes clear that the cameras don't actually prevent any crime (London has 1.5 million CCTV cameras and bombings still happen) people will rely more and more on security cameras which do more.  Facial recognition is the next step, following people from camera to camera, tracking their paths.  Your entire path from when you leave your house to when you finally return is on record.  Great for Alzheimers patients, but I think I'll pass.

I prefer a world where I can enjoy anonymity and freedom to do silly things like hit golf balls off my front lawn, or drop water balloons from a parking garage, or streak on campus.  Would I like to find out who broke into my car?  Yes.  But not at the cost of killing my privacy.

What do you think about privacy?

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Invisibility Cloak: What for art thou?

August 18 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Social Issues   Year: General   Rating: 5

Just about everyone at some point in their lives (mostly childhood) has desired to possess a Harry Potter style invisibility cloak. The boundaries would have been limitless. No candy store would have been safe, no locker room unwatched, and no secret whisperings left unheard. Our infatuation with invisibility has gotten so intense that researchers are working nonstop to try and perfect an invisibility cloak for who knows what market. The military? The budding private eye? What could we possibly use them for?

The civilian applications of such a device all seem to have nefarious agendas. Think about it — What would you do with an invisibility cloak? Would you follow your kids to school? Sneak out to get the mail in your birthday suit? Like a t-shirt with the slogan “I just do what the voices tell me,” the novelty would soon wear off. There just isn’t any reason why the average person should have an invisibility cloak.

What about the military? Invisibility cloaks could come in handy for all sorts of missions and tactical situations. Someone invisible can get a lot closer to a target and disappear a lot quicker than someone without.

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Combating Big Brother — How Far Will You Go?

September 11 2008 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Social Issues   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

We’ve seen it in all the best science fiction movies — people going to extreme lengths to avoid being seen by big brother. There’s Quaid removing a tracking device in his head through his nose, there’s Anderton having his eyes replaced with someone else in order to escape iris scans, and let’s not forget Vincent in GATTACA having to go through extreme morning rituals to make sure none of his own DNA is picked up by the Hoovers.

Already today there are some interesting products that claim to protect your privacy from “Big Brother.” There’s the software you can load onto a USB storage device making your Internet activities not only encrypted, but portable to any computer you happen to use (you can put it together yourself or buy one through Paypal). There’s Hide My Ass!, one of a group of websites that allow you to keep your IP address anonymous as well as visit sites your work or school may have blocked. And for people looking over your shoulder? You may want to check out Ghostzilla which quickly makes any webpage you look at appear as part of a regular computer application.

So if these are the lengths we’re already going to in order to ensure you keep your privacy, what might we see in the future?

DNA Altering — Fingerprint removal is so 90’s (Se7en, Men in Black), and with DNA evidence able to be pulled from just about anything, getting rid of your fingerprints just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be anymore. In fact, even if you manage to burn off your fingerprints, chances are the scars that are left will be unique in themselves which means you’re still out of luck. Already we’re seeing DNA evidence going through such scrutiny that even the slightest difference in DNA down to just a few different nucleotides might be enough to convince a jury of a person’s innocence. That’s where DNA altering comes in. With about 95% of what makes up DNA classified as Junk DNA, chances are messing around with a few nucleotides isn’t going to kill you or make you grow an extra leg. But if it does, at least you won’t be found guilty.

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The Growing Impact of Towns and Cities in Google Earth

July 28 2008 / by justinelee / In association with Future
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 3

In its effort to catalog and effectively share the world’s information, Google continues to improve its dynamic representation of earth and has now extended its reach to cities and towns.

The first time I experienced Google Earth, I was pretty impressed. Accessing satellite information, I was able to navigate most any location on the planet that I was interested in, from a bird’s eye view. Of course the first thing I did was check out my street, the homes of my past, and landmarks around my town.

Next I was introduced to Street View, a visualization composed of photos taken from automobiles that allows full 3D street navigation. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when Street View was at last integrated with Google Maps, that I could travel down my street take a glance at my house and my car parked neatly on the curb. That was really cool to me. I found myself wondering where I was the time the photos was taken, and being thankful they hadn’t caught me outside my house in an early morning stupor.

After some light research I found that Google isn’t just concerned with satisfying my curiosity. It has found ways to make money with this technology while expanding its functionality for important, decision-making parties.

Google introducing advanced versions of the platform with Google Earth Pro ($400/year), a collaborative tool for commercial and professional use and Google Earth Plus ($20/year) for everyday map enthusiasts. It also provides non-profit organizations with Earth Outreach, a program that allows organizations to map their projects to help engage users.

In March 2008, Google Earth introduced Cities in 3D which is unsurprisingly a complete 3D visualization of numerous cities. To contribute to this effort, users can submit and share renditions of structures and buildings using Google’s SketchUp. The program primarily relies on city governments to submit their 3D information electronically (for free) and invites them to review the benefits.

The benefits for local governments seem rather extensive. They include: engaging the public in planning, fostering economic development, boosting tourism, simplifying navigation analysis, enhancing facilities management, supporting security and crime prevention, and facilitating emergency management.

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Website Aims to Map Every Camera That Infringes on Privacy

January 14 2009 / by John Heylin / In association with Future
Category: Social Issues   Year: General   Rating: 3

berkeley.jpgI am pleased to announce the launch of Project Paranoid, a website which hopes to map out the location of every external camera in the world.  While some of you might think that a site such as this is unnecassary, there are enough that believe it is.  Currently the site only features about 600 camera locations are ound Berkeley, CA (the liberal stronghold) but with user help we hope to expand this all over the globe.  London itself has over 1.5 million CCTV cameras, so it's going to be a lot of work.

Currently the site is in a pretty rough form since we're going public ahead of time in order to get support.  If you're interested in helping out with designing, writing, programming, cash or even logging cameras, email us at so we can give you some sort of idea on what we're looking for.

(The image above is a screenshot of what the city of Berkeley looks like currently on our site.  Clicking the bubbles will give you a picture of the camera and soon other relevant information about it.)

Poll: How much will people know about YOU in 2020?

March 11 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Social Issues   Year: 2020   Rating: 1

The question asked in last week’s community poll was, “How many planets will a child born in the year 2000 visit in his or her lifetime?” Nearly 43% of those who responded answered either 1, 2, or 3. However, the number one answer was 9 or more, with 54.05% of the vote.

Due to the Future Blogger piece The Inevitability of Transparency and Future Scanner scan The Myth of a Transparent Society , today’s poll is about transparency and privacy. The question is: How much will people know about YOU in 2020?

- You’re still alive.
- You live in a developed country.
- “people” does not include the government or CIA-equivalent.

We welcome you to explain your reasoning in the comment thread below!

How much will people know about YOU in 2020?

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