I get called all sorts of things by friends; colleagues; fellow OU students etc, but a common description I get applied to me is “random“. Personally I prefer to think of it not so much as “being random”, as more making connections between things that I come across. It’s just that sometimes I don’t make all of the connections explicit which is why some of my thoughts may be hard to follow.
Anyway, I saw something recently that, for me, clicked into place and frankly worried me a lot. So, below is my attempt to bring to bear the connections and hopefully elaborate on what concerned me so much. Here goes…
Thought # 1
I must start by admitting to having made a bit of a mistake. For several years I have disregarded friends & relatives who have, to my mind, been overzealous in their protestations that social networking is insecure and betrays their privacy. My argument has been that if you (a) want to be an early adopter, and (b) are happy anyway to share whatever you share on these sites, then you have only yourself to blame if your privacy is breached.
Over time, Facebook, Twitter et al, have all moved from being something that was the preserve of our young children to being pervasive. As I drive to work in the morning I pass advertisment hordings which include Twitter & Facebook monikers, the BBC news reporters proudly have their Twitter names displayed. Familiarity has made these things acceptable to us all, and now we all entrust our thoughts, photographs and comments to them with impunity.
Thought # 2
From time to time I read about more developments from Intel (other CPU manufacturers are available!) about the research efforts to squeeze multiple CPU cores onto a wafer & deploy them to get higher & higher levels of compute power. The efforts, called Intel Tera-Scale are steadily making progress. Parallel computing is nothing new, I wrote a research paper as an undergraduate back in 1981 on methods for parallel computing, but then it was all in the domain of the large corporations and academic research. Now you can watch videos of Intel researchers doing mundane things with 80-core processors: porting Linux, running graphical networking tools. How long will it be before I upgrade my PC to a 64-core I wonder.
Thought # 3
A piece in SmartPlanet called Meet your new boss: a machine. In essence a Gartner Analyst called Nigel Rayner was making some rather off-the-wall claims. Now I’ve met Nigel a couple of times, and he’s a good guy, so his claims are more to provoke thoughts but he’s saying that we’re now developing decision rule capabilities in software that allow us to take multiple inputs, crash them together and evaluate complex rules about them so that the software can take very complex decisions quickly. [Notice I say “take” not “make” – the rules are still followed automatically, so we’re not at SkyNet yet]
The problem is that the software needs a mass of compute power, which many years ago (when I was an undergraduate writing my paper) would have been multimillion dollar stuff. Nigel’s view is that we’re making hardware cheaper and commoditising the parallel processing software which is starting to put this sort of complex decision-making not only into the realm of the possible, but also into the realm of the affordable.
First “Ahhh” Moment
But our friends at Intel research (and frankly other places too) are developing multiprocessor silicon and parallel processing software to drive into the commodity market. It’s now not whimsy to ask “When can I have a 64/128/256-core PC?”. This stuff is coming and we’re seeing the large software companies working on applications around complex business rules.
Thought # 4
There is a new trend which I’m finding disturbing. Today I was looking at an innocuous web site, the San Jose Mercury News tech pages (yes, laugh a minute stuff but very useful in my line of work) when I noticed that it had pulled through my Facebook details, inviting me to like the page. My concern was that I was at work, on a PC that I only use on Facebook very occasionally, yet SJMN had found the necessary on my PC, & then read my Facebook profile. Thank goodness it hadn’t found my LinkedIn profile.
The “Arghhh” Moment
But what if it had? What if the SJMN, or any other online journal, decided to look at my LinkedIn connections, and the article I was looking at and then automatically sent them a link to it on the grounds that if I was interested, then they might be?
Or what if it had checked the connections for a certain demographic, and then intelligently forwarded to my contacts it felt were worthy of the content, creating a set of “cyber haves” and “cyber have-nots”.
How about it isn’t a media site but a product company? And the product company is automatically trawling my social network to see who I know that would be useful for them to approach based on decisions, from a complex rules engine based on commoditised multi-cpu processors that are now available.
Or better still, how about it measures how influential I am from how well I am connected and then uses some complex business rules, again enacted via some large multi-core parallel processing to decide how worthy I am of seeing the site content? Now I’m becoming the one categorised as “cyber-worthy” or “cyber unworthy”.
To be honest, I’m still not too worried about this until I get to the last point. Some of that capability will be with us soon and some, as Nigel Rayner says, will take longer. In one sense, I’m not too fazed by this march of progress, as long as the machines aren’t “thinking” then there are benefits to be had.
What scares the wits out of me is the social change that this brings about. I’m already modifying my behaviour around software. I used to turn on the TV or radio and they came on immediately, but now in the digital world they need time to boot up and initialise. I now know not to press buttons on the remote control until the TV has had time to initialise the various functions, my behaviour is influenced by the software in the TV.
But if I get into the wider implications of software making decisions based around my long-term online lifestyle, then I’m going to start modifying how I work with social networking etc so that I change my ratings. And furthermore the few who stay away from this stuff will rapidly be penalised.
We already have skills based accreditations around technicla products. I can be a very clever CISCO implementer with a vast experience, but if I haven’t passed the exams then my value on the jobs market is reduced. What we are potentially talking about here is that my value could also be reduced if I don’t know, or worse still don’t have recommendations from, the right people.
So, the social network privacy issues become more important as we go forward. I can’t afford to be public, but soon I could end up not being able to afford not to be. I’m not convinced it’s a good thing….