Sunday, February 20, 2005

Sox Compliance: automated corporations next?

US public companies are struggling to implement the 2002 Sarbanes Oxley Act which is designed to protect shareholders and improve company internal controls and responsibilities in the wake of the Enron, WorldCom and other corporate scandals and malfeasance that hallmarked the early 2000s.

On the surface, Sox compliance is about complying with requirements to store records of business activity for five years. Less ostensibly, Sox is about the significant ongoing process of turning abstract perceptions of strategy, risk, security and control into measurable definitive processes that can be tracked over time. Companies may spend up to 2% of revenues to become compliant in year one, and to stay compliant, are hiring additional finance officers and staff. Accounting and consulting firms are enjoying a boom of engagements to aid firms in meeting compliance deadlines. Maintaining compliance is a moving target, it means having a company's accounting, finance, IT systems and other internal controls and security keep pace with the dynamism of the business.

To some degree, Sox sounds wasteful, bureaucratic, artificial and innovation-stifling, and it is not clear that it will resolve and prevent corporate abuse. Are formerly competitive US companies becoming more like the regulation-burdened enterprises of Europe? However, when seen with a slightly different frame, Sox may actually be quite helpful. Companies are developing a layer of consistent practice across entities and industries. Corporate business execution is becoming more standard and streamlined, paving the way for systems, not people, to administer both compliance and general business functions in the future. Greater standardization and clarity also facilitates process improvement as a next step.

Since Sox is so recent a corporate phenomenon and standardized physical implementation tools are still being created and refined, primarily by accounting and consulting firms, appropriate software automation solutions are evolving slowly but will presumably play a significant future role. It will be wonderful to start having self-discovering, self-healing, self-securing, self-monitoring, and self-executing software running a lot of the routine human tasks that keep processes moving within corporations. Another added benefit of the Sox compliance process is that humans are getting better at specifying and defining and standardizing concepts and tools in more abstract realms like business strategy and corporate risk.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Shortcomings of being carbon-based

Artificial Intelligence and other science exploits celebrate the currently unknowable, non-understandable parts of humans like those parts that make consciousness, universal problem solving capability and emotion, probably mainly since they are given undue importance because they aren't understood yet.

But humans are also still weak and inconsistent and indulge in reptilian brain emotions and unhealthy short-term behaviors at the expense of long-term goals. We see it everywhere, maybe especially internally in our own self. At the national level, the currently proposed revisions to social security accounts seem to magnify this human weakness, with the accounts, if not mandatory, likely going under-unused just like health insurance. Current retirement account participations are already low, and 17% of the country elects to be uninsured when given the choice, with a far larger number being under-insured. Record worldwide adult and child obesity rates are another example of short-term pleasure behavior at the expense of more healthy longer-term goals.

We must keep learning clever tricks to get around the shortcomings of being carbon-based!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

I want my personalized video media on demand!

It will be interesting to see how the trend to personalized media from mass media plays out in the video world. In audio, everyone can easily mix and match their favorite play lists, including e-books and MP3 lecture files, from hundreds of albums on their iPod or other digital audio player. The devices, tools, capacity, cost and ease of use allow millions to run their audio on demand.

After accessing and manipulating all existing audio media, the next step is being able to create it. With podcasting we can easily create audio files, with other recording equipment and on-line tools, music files. Though of course not everyone wants to create music files and additional tools could still make it easier for people without musical training to create music.

With video, there are more complications like the DMCA and other copyright protection and the much larger files require more storage and aren't as portable yet as audio files. Once these roadblocks are solved, we should have the same access, manipulation and control over video files as with audio. But this only pertains to existing video files, the full body of existing video content. The real power will be when we can create custom video content.

There are many underserved audiences for current video content. The target market for movies made in the US is teenage boys and the theme of these mainstream films has shifted from (already not illustrious nor widely-appealing) sex to violence and crude humor, probably somewhat because sex is widely available for free on the Internet. As a result, women, already in mostly underwritten sex kitten roles, are appearing even less in mainstream films. There is a huge market for more people to see actors similar to them in gender and age navigating issues that are real in their lives, including work, cultural, family, friends and personal issues. Independent films and changes in distribution have helped to create and disburse a broader range of content, but probably the dramatic shift will be when more can be done via computer rather than with real actors. We will likely see the advent of personal actors hired for short to long custom stints performing in a black box to which the computer adds background and context, similar to the vid actors Neil Stephenson describes in Snow Crash. Extending this, real actors and computer automated characters will be hired for a multitude of purposes from entertainment to learning to caretaking to companionship/friendship/relationship.

With new virtual reality applications, entertainees can view/experience a typical film or series either selecting or being surprised by the characters, background, storyline, issues and emotional range. There will also be many other applications at a variety of levels of interactivity such as learning knowledge and skills, running simulations of real or imagined situations (e.g.; asking for a raise, discussing an issue with a family member or friend, competing in an athletic, gaming or other context), and interacting with other humans or characters in a more robust way (e.g.; one small example is superceding the limiting Sims Online or Second Life instant messenger text bubble interactions).

As William Gibson points out in Neuromancer, you can dial up any channel you want on the entertainment console, even one for being bored and not knowing which one to choose. In our future, the concept of entertainment may be redefined as a multifaceted ability to create and experience content and interaction.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The New Service Providers

The eventual squeeze-out of telcos and cable companies is starting to become clear, or at least the radically new model which threatens them. Since wireless bandwidth and storage are becoming so cheap in such massive scale, all kinds of new service providers can supplant telcos/cable, from individuals to municipalities. Many countries and municipalities have universal broadband coverage initiatives underway, California has, for example, the GBOB, gigabit or bust initiative. Old-world service providers are already scrambling as we see with the mighty AT&T succumbing to SBC's merger advances and Qwest attempting to snap up MCI. Home media centers are starting to supplant cable. There will start to be much more of teleco's display of litigation, their true core competency, and the direction set by the new FCC chairman will be important and hopefully pro-progress and pro-US competitiveness, anti-entrenchment.

With broadband a utility and perceived birthright, other individuals and companies will have the freedom to create a whole variety of applications and services, continuing the trend to personalized media from mass media.

Can widespread acceptance of ectogenesis be far behind?