Sunday, October 26, 2014

Connected World Wearables Free Cognitive Surplus

The immediate reaction to the Connected World (26 billion devices by 2020 as predicted by Gartner; more than four connected devices per human; or really 1 for some and 20 for others) is the notion that man is becoming infantilized: over-tracked, over-surveilled, and over-directed by technology, and certainly over-dependent upon technology. We no longer seem able to think for ourselves with the cloud automatically piloting all aspects of day-to-day life with reminders, notifications, and ambiently-updating data. Worse, our lives seem automated and automatonish; where is the caprice and serendipity, the humanness?

What is the Connected World?
Increasingly we are living in a seamlessly connected world of multi-device computing that includes wearable computing, Internet-of-Things (IOT) sensors, smartphones, tablets, laptops, Quantified Self-Tracking devices (i.e.; Fitbit), smarthome, smartcar, and smartcity. We enjoy the benefits of the automation that comes with this: cloud linkage of quantified-self wearable sensor data, online social profiles, calendaring, email, smart home controls, and smart transport connected to smart city data feeds. Google automatically wakes us up in the morning (knowing our schedule (Google calendar) and our biorhythms (sleep monitor)). Google contacts continuously monitor our glucose level, and in cahoots with MyBasis (number of steps walked) and Vessyl (drink detection), recommend food and drink choices during the day, and give us our fitness profile, calories consumed, and health biostatus reports at the end of the day. Apple HealthKit (iOS 8) automatically records and uploads 200 different biometrics to the cloud. Apply Pay automates payment. Amazon Fresh quadcopter drones could circle our homes with replenishment supplies within one hour of detecting an empty milk bottle. NFC/iBeacon proximity marketing could push-notify us at the aisle level when we are in the store. TrackR alerts us if we have lost our wallet or keys, and loved ones track our geo-presence and send us haptic hugs through our MyTJacket.

Cognitive Surplus Unleashed
The easy knee-jerk reaction is that this is bad news - the Connected World means the infantilization of man by technology. However, going beyond this, it must be asked what is really happening at the higher level with the connected world, and how this could be beneficial. In fact, what is happening at the higher level is that huge classes of human time-occupying planning and coordination activities are being removed from human purview and pushed onto technology. Currently we spend exorbitant amounts of time and energy on coordination, planning, and organizing our activity, and dynamically updating and re-organizing it on demand; all the while also engaged in the subordinate activity of seeking and obtaining information related to planning and coordination. Planning and coordination constitutes 100% of our time sometimes. What Connected World cloud technologies do at the higher level is automate all of this. 
The Connected World relocates planning as a whole class of human cognitive activity, it is outsourced to technology. 
While many people might enjoy relinquishing planning and coordination as a class of human cognitive activity, others might regard it as a humanness that should be preserved, that is some how unnatural to discard. However, the more relevant question is what we will do with all of the time saved once technology has automated our planning and coordination activities. The Connected World as automated life-planning could free up over 50% of our time and allow us to more fully cogitate higher-level problems and develop new learning and interest areas. The Connected World is the automation and outsourcing of lower-level cognitive tasks that currently consume prodigious amount of our time and effort. In the newly-freed cognitive expansiveness, we could become engaged in new classes of problems, and more fully actualize our potential as humans.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

iSchools: Contemporary Information Technology Theory Studies

The perfect merger of academic rigor and contemporary thinking has come together in the concept of iSchools, which give practical consideration and interesting learning opportunities to the most relevant issue of our time: information. So far there are over 50 worldwide iSchools; a global pool, like bitcoin for academia. The March 2014 conference was held in Berlin and the March 2015 conference will be at UC Irvine. With higher education under reinvention pressure from all directions, the possibility of making institutional learning relevant again cannot be underscored enough.

iSchools are the perfect venue to take up not just the practical agenda within the information technology field but also the theoretical, philosophical, and societal dimensions of the impact of information technology. There have started to be some conferences regarding ‘big data theory’ (Theory of Big Data, University College London, Jan 2015), and a calling out of the need for ‘big data theory’ (Big Data Needs a Big Theory to Go with It, Scientific American, Rise of Big Data underscores need for theory, Science News). These efforts are good, but mostly concern having theory to explain the internal operations of the field, not its greater societal and philosophical effect. In addition to how ‘big data theory’ is currently being conceptualized, an explicit consideration of the general theoretical and social impact of information technology is needed. Floridi’s distinction re: philosophy of information is apt; the main focus is how the field changes society, not the internecine methods of the field.

Research Agenda:
Contemporary Information Technology Theory Studies 
Here is a thumbnail sketch of a research agenda for Contemporary Information Technology Theory Studies. Early examples of topics taken up at institutes and think tanks (like Data&Society) are a good start and should be expanded and included in the academic setting. A more appropriately robust agenda will consider the broad theoretical, social, and philosophical impact of the classes of information technology below that are dramatically reshaping the world, including specifically how our ideas of self and world, and future possibilities are changing.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Bitcoin Newbie Series: How to Get and Spend Bitcoin

We aren't used to authority being a peer-to-peer responsibility as opposed to something imposed by a centralized institution. Authority floating freely has already happened in information - when information became decentralized with blogging and the restructuring of the media industry, and in entertainment, where individuals became their own taste-makers. In these cases individuals must examine content and think for themselves about its quality and validity. The bitcoin revolution is the same thing happening now with currency, economics, finance, and monetary policy. It might seem harder to let go of centralized authority in matters of government and economics as opposed to culture and information but we will mature into it (The number one 'still-not-getting-it' question with bitcoin - "But who is running it all?"). Ultimately we could have as many currencies as twitter handles and blogs, all of which may be fully useful and accepted in their own hyperlocal contexts. Blockchain technology is push (user pushes relevant information for this transaction only) not pull (credit card/bank info on file to be pulled anytime authorized). Financial intermediaries operating on blockchain technology (i.e.; Overstock) would not have information stores to have to protect that are inevitably hacked (i.e.; Target, Chase, etc.).

The word bitcoin is confusing because it means three different things. Bitcoin is used to refer to 1) the underlying technology concept (more appropriately called the blockchain, a decentralized ledger that allows individuals to engage in transactions without having to rely on a trusted third-party intermediary), 2) the technology protocol for the implementation of blockchain technology (individuals engaging in peer-to-peer currency transactions via encrypted electronic wallets with miners recording these transactions in the blockchain ledger), and 3) the actual currency itself. It is as if when Paypal launched, they would have called the Internet Paypal, upon which the Paypal protocol was run to transfer funds, and the currency of these funds was Paypal. More precisely, these 3 uses of bitcoin should be delineated as:
  1. The underlying blockchain technology (an information technology akin as a ‘class of thing’ to the Internet) 
  2. The Bitcoin protocol that runs on the blockchain for the tracking and transfer of cryptocurrency funds
  3. The Bitcoin currency (denoted as btc)

The blockchain is a record of where all the btc are, all the addresses they are associated with now, and this history over all time. It is continually updated, every 10 minutes, a new block (a new page is placed in the record book) with all the latest transactions.

Bitcoin is a digital currency. This means that you do not have physical custody of your btc, they are not in your physical possession, they are not on your computer or mobile wallet; they live on the Internet and are associated with addresses (like an email address but too complicated to store in mind). Per your address and encryption key (stored in the digital wallet on your mobile phone or computer), you have the authority to move your btc around and transact them. 'Stolen bitcoin' is a matter of having insecure storage and sharing of passwords and private keys.

How to get Bitcoin? (after step 1, get yourself a digital wallet mobile app like BlockchainInfo or Mycelium
  • (Easiest) Receive bitcoin as a gift or payment from someone else
  • Buy bitcoin locally through bitcoin meetups or Satoshi Square trading events
  • Exchange USD or other traditional currency for bitcoin without giving out your personal identifying information: Circle 
  • Exchange USD for bitcoin where you do specify your personal details at one of the exchanges/markets like Coinbase 
  • Buy bitcoin locally from an individual via LocalBitcoins or (coming) OpenBazaar 
  • Gift yourself bitcoin with giftcards: use Gyft,, Brawker, or Amazon giftcards 

Where to spend Bitcoin?
What is the Bitcoin Exchange Rate? 

How to accept Bitcoin if you are a merchant (save on merchant processing fees, welcome bitcoin customers):
Intro Presentation: Beginner Bitcoin Workshop
Advanced Presentation: Blockchain: The Information Technology of the Future