Cambridge: Internet of Things

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View of Boston from the MIT Media Lab

On April 27, 2016, I attended a panel discussion about the Internet of Things at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA. The discussion was sponsored by the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the panelists were:

 

  • Sanjay Sarma, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT
  • Jeff Baer, Founder and CEO, LinkeDrive, Inc.
  • Frank E. Gillett, Vice President, Principal Analyst Serving CIOs, Forrester Research
  • Dip Patel, Co-Founder and CEO, Ecovent

The invitation to the event describes the excitement about the Internet of things this way:

Far faster than we realize, the objects around us are being embedded with sensors and intelligence that let them talk to one another, make decisions, and talk about us. The next tech wave isn’t just an economic battlefield — it’s a revolution likely to touch everyone personally.

Here’s a summary of the discussion. What is IoT? It is not a technology or product (you can’t buy it), and it is not a platform. IoT is a new design language that enables an entirely new way of thinking about the world. This is evident when you observe a child interact with objects such as Amazon’s Echo. Children expect the device to respond intelligently, and also expect the device to have awareness of its surroundings — their brains are wired differently. We need to adapt and find new words for this type of thinking and these types of interactions, otherwise we’ll fall behind. IoT is about applying technology to things, not people. A digitally enabled device is able to answer three questions about itself: 1) What is it? 2) What’s happening? and 3) What action can it take? By building devices with this capability, IoT connects the digital and real world, allowing business to better respond to their customers. Interoperability is not about making all devices talk to each other (it is unlikely that a door lock will need to interoperate with a toaster, but it might with a video camera or other security device ), it is about creating value from meaningful device interactions. Many companies are vying to get into the home. To position themselves for this future market, they are selling cheap devices to get their foot in the door (Apple sells AppleTV for only $100.00).

My recording of the entire session is here:

 

This was one of a series of events, in different cities, that MIT Sloan has sponsored, and the Twitter feed (#MITIoT) can be found in Storify.

 

 

We need a media revolution

Why don’t national media outlets spent less time covering Donald Trump (who is completely unqualified to be President) and more time covering Bernie Sanders (who challenges us to move toward a better society)? As reported on Alternet (and witnessed by anyone watching TV last Tuesday):

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was among the presidential candidates speaking on Tuesday night. But as the Young Turks reported during their coverage of the evening’s primaries, national media outlets refused to show his remarks.

Here is the video, “Bernie Sanders Primary Night Speech on Super Tuesday #3 March 15,2016 Phoenix Arizona [FULL]:”

You may or may not agree with Bernie Sanders, but we should be discussing the issues of our time, not the ridiculous claims of a narcissistic demagogue. To quote David Brooks:

Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship. He pollutes the atmosphere in which our children are raised. He has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible. In his savage regime, public life is just a dog-eat-dog war of all against all.

Sensational stories improve ratings, but they also rob voters of knowledge. National media outlets can and should do better. They need to cover all the candidates and focus on the real issues. Enough is enough.

 

An economy for our shared future

Allan: Irving Wladawsky-Berger writes a very good post about current and future economic challenges. Put aside the debate as to whether this is best characterized as the third or fourth industrial revolution, and instead focus on what we all need to do to cope with these changes and build an inclusive society. Inside this post are many good references, which I would also encourage people to read. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, writes:

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

For those that read this Blog, you know that I have long been concerned about challenges that will face the workforce between now and 2025. Irving Wladawsky-Berger references a Pew Research Center study, Digital Life in 2025, that predicts the impact of the Internet on humanity by 2025. This is a perfect follow-up, and this study makes expert predictions that can be, “grouped into 15 identifiable theses about our digital future – eight of which we characterize as being hopeful, six as concerned, and another as a kind of neutral, sensible piece of advice that the choices that are made now will shape the future.” The most important conclusion, I think, is #15:

Foresight and accurate predictions can make a difference; ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’

The issues are extremely complex; nevertheless, the future is ours to build.

Originally posted February 23, 2016
Irving Wladawsky-Berger: The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond was the central theme of the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) that took place earlier this year in Davos, Switzerland.  The theme was nicely explained by Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman, in the lead article of a recently published Foreign Affairs Anthology on the subject.

Dr. Schwab positions the Fourth Industrial Revolution within the historical context of three previous industrial revolutions.  The First, – in the last third of the 18th century, – introduced new tools and manufacturing processes based on steam and water power, ushering the transition from hand-made goods to mechanized, machine-based production.  The Second, – a century later, – revolved around steel, railroads, cars, chemicals, petroleum, electricity, the telephone and radio, leading to the age of mass production.  The Third, – starting in the 1960s, – saw the advent of digital technologies, computers, the IT industry, and the automation of process in just about all industries.

“Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century,” he noted.  “It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

Most everyone agrees that there was a major qualitative distinction between the First and Second Industrial Revolutions.  While some believe that the Fourth is merely the evolution of the Third, Schwab argues that they’re qualitatively different for 3 major reasons:

  • Velocity: Compared to the previous three revolutions, “the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace.”
  • Scope: Disruptions are taking place in “almost every industry in every country.”
  • Systems impact: “The breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”

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Conversations with Bob Livesay

IMG_0445On February 4, 2016, I flew to Corvallis, OR to visit with my 91-year-old father-in-law, Robert Benton Livesay, Jr. Bob lives at Timberhill Place, which is a 10 minute drive from his son Dave, and his wife Maggie. During retirement, Bob and his late wife Louise wrote a substantial number of stories about their lives, which I read ahead of time. At 91, Bob’s physical activities are limited, but his mind remains sharp and he enjoys conversation. As I was visiting Bob, Dave and Maggie for four full days, I decided that Bob and I should do a project together. With his agreement, I recorded a series of conversations where we discuss his life. In this post, I collect his writings and these recordings.

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Air Force Plane

Let me begin with my collection of Bob Livesay’s writings:

  • My Father: Bob talks about his father and best friend, Robert Benton Livesay
  • Great Depression: Bob describes the great depression through his eyes, as an eight year old boy
  • My First Car: Bob reflects on his 1936 Chevrolet coupe after learning to drive in 1940
  • Brown outs and black outs, World War II — Beginnings: Bob describes how people in California cope with the break out of World War II, as seen through the eyes of a high school senior
  • My Hidden Talent: Bob talks about being the star of the high school play, “Incognito” in 1942
  • Incognito Playbill: A high school production where Bob Livesay plays the lead, Fred Collins
  • The Import of Pearl Harbor: Bob describes how the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in the summer of 1941, changed his life
  • Learning to Fly: Bob shares his impressions and feelings as an 18-year-old man, who had enlisted in the Army Air Corps on March 1, 1943
  • Joy: Bob reflects on how the birth of two sons, Robert and David, fills him and Louise with joy
  • A Christmas Story: Bob and Louise each tell their story of a difficult pregnancy that ultimately resulted in a special Christmas gift: the birth of a daughter, Luanne
  • The Hat: Bob attempts to adjust to New York City customs while working for Texaco, and buys his first (and only) “top of the line” Stetson hat
  • My Retirement Toy: After retiring from Texaco in 1987, Bob embarks on off-road adventures in a Jeep Cherokee with Louise
  • A Visit Evokes Memories: In August, 2004, Bob and Louise visit the newly dedicated World War II memorial
  • Grandad’s Hair -o- wing Experience: A story written for Devon by Grandad Robert Livesay
  • Smoked Turkey Breast: Bob shares secrets for making smoked turkey breast
  • A Letter from Bob Livesay: June, 2010, Bob writes to Rob and Jo, Dave and Margaret, and Allan and Luanne to express appreciation for a trip to the east coast
  • A Sushi Experience – Up Close and Personal: Bob and Louise learn to make sushi from their friend Vi Omoto

Next, here is a series of the four conversations that we had during my visit.

As an aside, since this is my first attempt at incorporating an audio format into the blog, I uploaded the audio files to two sites, Soundcloud and Mixcloud. I will likely settle on one or the other for future projects, but for these interviews you have a choice. Here are links to the playlists, as well as the individual tracks.

Talking about Bob’s life would be incomplete without including the writings of his wife Louise. They were married two weeks shy of 65 years. Here are Louise’s writings.

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Louise Livesay

Talking to Bob and collecting this material was a lot of fun for both of us. Being able to speak from 91 years of experience gives Bob and unique and valuable perspective on the world. He and Louise lived dignified lives that enriched the world through their actions, as well as through their children and grandchildren. As an aside, by compiling all their information here, it will be included in the internet archive, which is a non-profit internet library. Thus, historians, researchers and scholars will have access to this post, and the contents of all the links, for years to come.

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Add a seat to your table this Thanksgiving

Almost six months have passed since my last post. I’ve warned readers that my writing schedule would be irregular, and so it is. I could say that I’ve been busy, which is true, but there is more to it. I’ve taken a break not just from blogging, but from social media in general. Maybe, I needed some time to reflect. Nevertheless, I’ve posted on Thanksgiving day the past two years, and I want to continue this emerging tradition.

The first post was a poem written by Rev. Megan Lynes and shared at the Thanksgiving service at First Parish in Bedford on Nov. 24, 2013. I feel a personal connection to Megan because I was a member of the search committee that recommended that she be asked to join our congregation. Her poem captures Thanksgiving’s essence, and is as relevant today as it was two years ago.

The second post was a poem written by Wendell Berry, and read in honor of Ivan Robinson, who died on Aug. 4, 2014. Ivan was my brother-in-law. He survived my sister Joyce, who died in 2006. Ivan and Joyce were proud Atheists who practiced tolerance and hope. As part of their legacy, they left 42 acres of land in a conservation trust. I was the executor of their estate, which is a task that I will complete this year.

I want to again share a message of hope from a personal connection. This year I offer a video featuring Josh Leach, who is the new student minister at First Parish. Josh spoke at the service on Nov. 8, 2015, “Barring the Golden Door” (beginning at time 24:17 on the replay). I recently started my third year on the First Parish Internship Committee, and Josh is the second student that I have worked with. Josh is a young man who, like my own children, has grown up in difficult times. I have witnessed the stressors that are causing rising anxiety levels in this generation. Josh’s words give me hope that our children will overcome the challenges that they will face.

When I listen to a student’s sermon, I am listening for ideas that will give people hope and help them find meaning in their lives. When I visit a traditional Christian church, I know that the minister will achieve this by talking about the idea of God. In my church, where many view God only through a historical lens, the minister must speak to hope and meaning in more creative ways. We experience highly complex issues that cause suffering as part of the human condition. These issues are begging for solutions. The minister is not a scientist, policy analyst, activist or politician. Therefore, I neither expect nor want the minister to articulate comprehensive solutions to problems. What I do expect is that the minister will understand the complexity, acknowledge the difficulty in finding practical solutions, and most importantly shine a light in the direction of hope and justice.

On this Thanksgiving day, I am sharing Josh’s sermon because his wisdom inspires me. He begins with a poem by Warsaw Shire, about the reasons people leave their homes. He then reflects on the struggles of refugees around the world. Listening to him helped me set aside my fears of terrorism, most recently exacerbated by the Paris attacks, and be more understanding of the plight of people in Syria, Central America, and other places besieged with violence. Josh has increased my awareness, and I will strive to view refugees with compassion. Each year we take part in the UUSC Guest at Your Table Program, but this year I will do more. While complete solutions to problems associated to refugees remain elusive, I know the direction to go. I will “welcome others to freedom” and be more free myself.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Our youth come of age

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First Parish in Bedford

Today my wife, Luanne, who this year began coordinating the Coming of Age program at First Parish in Bedford, read these words to introduce our youth who are entering adult life.

In religious traditions around the world, young people are invited into the adult life of their spiritual communities in many ways. Usually, they participate in lessons, reflections, and formal preparations before being welcomed ceremoniously into adulthood. Here, at First Parish, we offer a Coming of Age program to recognize and honor this rite of passage. We value personal growth and the religious freedom to develop for ourselves a credo that will help guide us through life. We covenant that we are a religious community of individuals committed to independent spiritual paths and a shared religious journey.

This morning we will honor seven youth who have worked all year in First Parish’s formal Coming of Age program. By participating in this program, they learned about Unitarian Universalism through monthly meetings, readings, social action projects, two retreats, and many lively discussions with some of our own Parishioners, as well as people from other churches.

We asked them to consider how our UU principles impact their own behaviors. We asked them to move these words off the printed pages of their RE lessons and into to the actions of their daily lives. We asked them to imagine living a life of meaning as a Unitarian Universalist.

This group has responded. They have reflected on their own evolving beliefs as Unitarian Universalists. They have written down ideas about their faith, hopes for their future, and their responsibilities as members of the community. They have prepared a Credo that they will read to you today.

Their journey through the Coming of Age program is symbolically captured on the necklaces 20150517_124003-CoA Beadsthat they are wearing today. Each bead represents the completion of a specific task within one of the program components, which are worship, community building, social action, learning, leadership, and walking their faith. These necklaces are a symbol of their accomplishments, as well as a symbol of our collective hope. We celebrate their achievements as these youth cross the bridge into adulthood. We feel enriched and rejuvenated by their spirit. We share joy and hope knowing that these youth will be citizens who are empowered to make the world a better place.

Today, at this recognition service, you will hear from this remarkable group of individuals, who are thoughtful, passionate, insightful, and creative. They will share their ideas with you through their artwork displayed in the sanctuary windows, their belief bags, their song choices, their selected opening/closing words, their personal chalice-lighting words, and their own Credo Statements. After the service today, you will have a chance to mingle with them, talk to them, and discover more about their beliefs and ideas. Most importantly, however, we ask that you welcome them into your hearts, and support them on their spiritual journey as peers. On this day, and joined by these young adults, our circle is larger, our hope is stronger, and our future is brighter.

As our world grows every more complex, kids like this, who have open hearts and open minds, give me hope for the future. Congratulations to Bharat, Zach, Eleanor, Briny, Noah, Gus and Kate. Thanks also to the co-leaders and mentors Bob, Peggy and Luanne.

 

Reviews of “The Second Machine Age” that inspire me

Andrew McAfee, Hotel Jerome (pic by aspeninstitute-internal)

Andrew McAfee, Hotel Jerome (pic by aspeninstitute-internal)

In an earlier post (May 2014), I reviewed the The Second Machine Age, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Recently, two other reviews came to my attention that contribute to the conversation about technology and its impacts on society. Both reviewers have unique and interesting points of view, very different from mine, which they back up with their own research. If you read the book, then I highly recommend that you also read these thoughtful reviews. While the coming technological changes are interesting, the more important issue is how to channel the power of technology for everyone’s benefit. Along with the book, these reviews inspire me to engage in the conversation and advocate for policies that make technological progress a force for good.

The first review, “To Replace or Respect: Futurology as if People Mattered,” by Frank Pasquale came to my attention on Twitter:

Pasquale writes that, “the question of distribution of the gains from automation is just as important as the competitions for dominance it accelerates” and “2MA invites readers to consider how societies will decide what type of bounty from automation they want.” This is exactly the point: we can (and must) shape our future world.

He discusses the idea that ownership of data, as opposed to innovative algorithms, is a source of competitive advantage. He says, “it is a commonplace in big data literatures to say that the more data one has, the more valuable any piece of it becomes—something Googlers would agree with, as long as antitrust authorities aren’t within earshot.” He also writes about intellectual property law, bringing up many interesting points.

Pasquale challenges the policy recommendations made by Brynjolfsson and McAfee, and I agree that the policy issues are difficult and need vigorous debate. I think Pasquale does a good job surfacing issues that cast a shadow on technological optimism. There is no question in my mind that we need to confront the issues he identifies head on.

In this review, Pasquale references “Justice for ‘Data Janitors’,” by Lilly Irani. I appreciate the hard questions Irani asks, “Will technology produce new jobs, new industries, and new forms of comparative advantage? Or will technology take away jobs and concentrate wealth among those who own the machines?” I also appreciate her distinction that, “Automation doesn’t replace labor. It displaces it.”

Irani makes the case that underpaid and hidden workers power the magic of many advanced technologies. She writes about how, “Twitter deploys an army of cultural data workers to sort and classify tweets in real time.” Such workers are organized via systems such as Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), which allow programmers to invoke human workers for “cognitive piecework on demand.” Irani writes that, “As contractors, AMT workers are excluded from the protections of minimum-wage laws.”

Irani makes good points that deserve further discussion as she summarizes the situation this way:

The pleasures and conveniences of human-powered technology will continue to fuel a growing market for technology’s hidden laborers. Employers, driven by profit margins and stock prices, have great incentives to keep these workers off the books and out of sight. Inside the machines, inequality will persist. Unless, that is, we discredit and challenge the industry’s hierarchies of value that grant managers and programmers rock star status and wealth, while confining data workers to a life of underpayment and insecurity.

There is one point in both reviews that I believe requires clarification. Pasquale says of Brynjolfsson and McAfee, “By seriously considering the possibility of a basic income (232), they evince a moral sensibility light years ahead of the “devil-take-the-hindmost” school of cyberlibertarianism.” Irani says, “Despite the shortcomings of their analysis, Brynjolfsson and McAfee propose a weapon that could strengthen the hidden workers of the digital age: a basic income guarantee (BIG).” To be clear, what Brynjolfsson and McAfee said in the book was, “Will we need to revisit the idea of a basic income in decades to come? Maybe, but it’s not our first choice.” Brynjolfsson and McAfee consider BIG, but don’t advocate for it. There was a recent basic income experiment in India that I discussed in this blog, and the embedded video shows Brynjolfsson engaged in a discussion on this topic. I can’t read minds, but I would guess that Brynjolfsson and McAfee, if asked today, would agree that BIG needs more research and should remain on the table as an option for the future. As Irani says, “An income guarantee would allow workers to walk away, or at least starve the algorithms of their data until managers shape up.” In brief, BIG has the potential to level the playing field and empower workers.

Although both authors uncover dark sides of technological progress, the result is an inspiration to shape our future such that technology benefits everyone. Pasquale concludes:

All too often, the automation literature is focused on replacing humans, rather than respecting their hopes, duties, and aspirations. A central task of educators, managers, and business leaders should be finding ways to complement a workforce’s existing skills, rather than sweeping that workforce aside. That does not simply mean creating workers with skill sets that better “plug into” the needs of machines, but also, doing the opposite: creating machines that better enhance and respect the abilities and needs of workers.  That would be a “machine age” welcoming for all, rather than one calibrated to reflect and extend the power of machine owners.

We need more discussion about the impact of technology on society, and we need business leaders who think about more than maximizing profits. In a world where technology produces an unimagined bounty, we need inclusive policies to make sure that everyone benefits.