Terrorism. It seems like every month some new ISIL (or other) terror gets the world’s attention, and I take time from my suburban life to think about how fortunate my family is to be so far from these horrors. And if I’m being honest with you, fear starts creeping into my mind; it’s scary to think that the next one could be in my neck of the woods. Perhaps it makes me fear a little more intensely since having my one and only child… So when I started hearing officials on the news talk about how encryption is hindering terrorist investigations, I listened.
Make no mistake, I currently work for Microsoft, and we’ve made it very clear where we stand. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and many other tech companies provide the services that literally billions of people rely on for their personal information and communication. Despite my fear of terrorists, and supporting the government’s protection, I wonder about my rights as a citizen.
In case you haven’t been following in the news, or if everything seems a little too complicated, here’s a fictitious conversation which outlines the for and against backdoor access arguments regarding encryption:
Intelligence Agencies/Law Enforcement: We need back door access to investigate against child pornographers, kidnappers, and terrorists.
Tech Companies: If we give you backdoor access it will make it easier for hackers to gain access as well.
Intelligence Agencies/Law Enforcement: Come on tech companies, you’re really smart and can figure out a way that will be safe (read: that’s your problem not ours).
Tech Companies: People are afraid of the government abusing this power, and we can’t blame them considering what’s been brought to light the last few years (read: Edward Snowden exposing the NSA).
Intelligence Agencies/Law Enforcement: Law abiding citizens shouldn’t have anything to hide.
Tech Companies: Many of these communications travel over international boundaries, and the information is stored in different international locations; the laws of several countries for protecting their citizens’ private information often will not align with a backdoor policy for the US Government. Oh, and the White House doesn’t support you either.
Intelligence Agencies/Law Enforcement: Change your business model to accommodate (read: handicap your business).
Tech Companies: No.
Although I am far from being an expert in law enforcement or the law in general, it seems there might be a middle ground here. I think if we’re talking about domestic problems, we can make proper laws for device manufacturers who allow encryption to build in requirements for users to log in biometrically. That way, if local law enforcement has the appropriate search warrant, they can physically compel the suspect to log in to their device. No back door needed.
It gets a little more tricky once you think about terrorists whose devices are physically inaccessible because they are protected by some kind of militant force, or just simply that they’re on foreign soil, or in an unknown location. That’s when having a remote “backdoor” into the system becomes necessary if you want to access information. Although I’ve thought about things like “we can fight terrorism by other means” or “if we offer backdoors to encryption then terrorists will just start using some foreign company’s products who offer true encryption” and finally “third party apps can offer encryption independent of the device or service maker”, it just seems kinda wrong. Whereas I understand the point of having a device encrypted by default may empower criminals and terrorists, I think it actually also empowers all the people in the world to communicate better. Technology and globalization are influencing nations, religions, and ordinary people to come together. Trust is a big part of that communion, and encryption enables trust.
What do you think?
What Apple is deciding to do with their watch is truly ambitious. Consider the two camps of luxury smart-watches and geeky activity trackers, no front runner has really been established on either side, and quite frankly, neither of the markets have impressive numbers at present. Apple is looking to both bring together the luxury smart-watches and activity trackers into one base product, and build a farther reaching one overall. Kudos Apple, I like bold moves.
There are three iterations: The Apple Watch Sport $349 starting, Apple Watch $549 starting, and Apple Watch Edition $10,000 starting (yup that’s right). According to what Apple has detailed in their keynote, the only differences between these versions are the finish and available straps. There is no functionality difference at all. So that begs the question, why $10,000 for the Apple Watch Edition?
In the past, Apple has shied away from making products that had a significant premium price without providing additional horse power or functionality. Make no mistake, this is a very important detail to consider when thinking about Apple as a company and the products it will make moving forward. Creating classes of devices based on a customers ability to pay more for a finish, reduces the dignity of common people to their financial worth. Really, that’s enough for me to pass on the Apple Watch. I don’t appreciate Apple’s purposeful segregation.
Principles not withstanding, is there a market for the Apple Watch Edition? I’m sure there are plenty of people with cash to burn who will be happy to purchase the latest limited release status symbol. However, when someone purchases a luxury watch, do they really want to charge it every 18 hours? Do they really want a brightly colored bubble interface? Do they really want a thick rounded-square device? Will they really want to worry about software updates or phone compatibility? I understand creating a lasting battery in a device that small, with a display, and high level of functionality is difficult, but 18 hours in unacceptable. The colorful bubbly app interface is childish, not elegant. Watches can be thick, but thick and rectangular is not a good look. And lastly, compatibility had better not be something the customer will need to give a thought to ever.
Apple, you’re better than what you’re releasing, I hope you make some big changes, or at least inspire competitors to do a much better job.
I hear a lot of talk about what the next big thing in mobile will be and usually the conversation leads to apps. “I found this app that can control all of my smart home devices in one place” or “Do you use (insert cute name here)? I just couldn’t live without it”. And don’t get me wrong, no doubt, mobile applications on smartphones are absolutely incredible these days and there’s still a huge amount of opportunity for innovation and new services. However, I think we’re missing two very important areas which aren’t considered enough, namely, developing mobile markets, and cloud computing.
It’s incredible to think that there are nearly 2 billion smartphones in the world today. I still remember less than a decade ago having a smartphone meant you were pretty much a serious businessperson or a nerd (I was one of the nerds). Nowadays in the US, it’s a given, if you’re not in your 70’s or older, you have a smartphone. Yet if you consider the almost 8 billion mobile phones in the world (that’s a 6 billion device difference for those mathematically challenged) and realize there are still many developing markets for smartphones, it becomes clear just how much growth potential we’re looking at. But what will that look like? From the perspective of the US, it’s easy to think it will be simply a continued dominance of Apple and Samsung spread over the rest of the market; after all, they make great phones, but what about the high cost? In many developing markets abroad, we’re seeing new OEMs (Xiaomi and others) coming out with very respectable low cost smartphones which access the same apps and services we enjoy with our pricier models. When the developing markets become a larger percentage of smartphone users overall, we’ll see how the likes of Apple and Samsung will continue to be relevant on a global scale. Of course there’s always the high end of the market, but as innovation and services becomes more localized and contextualized for developing markets, how sustainable will that model be?
So let’s talk about cloud computing and it’s relevance by starting with a question: why do people hate dealing with technology? Well, because it’s not even as smart as a dumb human. Por ejemplo, even someone with marginal intelligence wouldn’t interrupt me to make sure I took out the trash if I was in an extremely distressed emotional state, but my phone’s alarm will if it’s set. As mobile networks continue to improve, most of the actual computing that’s happening is not taking place on our device but rather on clusters of servers somewhere in the cloud. This means that service providers can allocate an incredible amount of super computing power (both hardware and software) to start making our devices a whole lot smarter. When you consider what Microsoft is doing with Bing and Cortana, what IBM is doing with Watson, and what Google is doing with Google Now and mix in new sensors like the Microsoft Band, all of a sudden the implications lead us to something else entirely, will the phone itself really matter? Let’s take the scenario above, I just had a disastrous life altering situation and I’m completely devastated crying in a corner somewhere. I also have an alarm that’s set with something annoying like “Take out the trash”; if that alarm interrupts me at this time, I’ll probably literally throw it through the window. However, my band has a Galvanic Skin Response Sensor and Heart Rate Monitor which means it can tell I’m unusually stressed, and my alarm app has a priority setting but the alarm isn’t set to urgent, so instead of having the inappropriate alarm go off, my trusted-service-provider/OS/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, shoots me an email instead of sounding the alarm and in the email explains why it didn’t allow the alarm to go off and provides a link to adjust the settings if I didn’t wish this to happen in the future. And just like that, intelligent computing scenarios can become a reality.
In my opinion, I don’t think Apple is ever going to be in a place to offer that level of cloud service (don’t even get me started on Siri) and yet they can’t outsource it to IBM because they would have to open their OS. So for me, the question becomes, does Google, IBM, and Microsoft rule mobile in the future, or is there something else coming? Will people prioritize overall user experience over security and go with an open platform, or will there be businesses who can provide enough relevant experiences to customers on traditional secure platforms? I guess the answer lies with developers as to whether they want to develop their products from the ground up on a truly open platform, or if they’d rather just publish another app in the app store.
I was excited to hear that Google designed a car from the ground up. Ever since news spread of their modified self-driving cars, discussions regarding the future of transportation have been sprouting up on the interwebs mentioning innovation in an industry where the incumbents are marred with one scandal after another. Frankly, the auto industry is ripe for ingenious competitors to change the landscape and disrupt assumptions. Google asks one very important question, why do humans need to drive? Why indeed. On average, one in three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime, and more than 10,000 people were killed in the US from drunk driving accidents in 2012. Whether someone is driving under the influence, exhausted and driving, or texting and driving, the consistent problem with these accidents and fatalities is people driving vehicles. Advocates for creating cars which drive themselves (at least from a safety point of view) are extremely convincing. Yes, one can argue about hacker safety concerns, but like anything, wherever there’s innovation some will try and corrupt it.
Assuming that time, laws, security, and growing consumer confidence help alleviate the aforementioned concerns, we should ask, did Google get it right? My answer: yes and no. To begin, for an innovative self-driving car, Google chose to assume that the passengers in the car should be facing forward. Why not make a car with rear facing seats? As confirmed with a couple of friends who are aerospace engineers, making a car with rear facing seats would be a safer design should an accident happen. Also, Google says “the project is about changing the world for people who are not well-served by transportation today”; why then is this a two-seater? I think people who buy cars with only two seats are very well served today with sports cars at many price levels and smart cars for the more environmentally friendly. Google should be a little more concentrated on those who want to open up their car to others for ride services, or college friends trying to pick up their drunk friends, or even families with children. All of these groups are not well-served. As a father, I’m actually surprised at the lack of consideration current vehicles give to families with children despite claims and advertising.
Albeit disappointing in some respects, you’ve got to hand it to Google for what they’ve accomplished. Imagine the empowerment of a blind man who has never been able to drive anywhere alone, those who are crippled and can’t operate pedals, the elderly who can no longer safely drive; what amazing empowerment and freedom! Here’s another question, when was the last time you as a consumer paid Google for anything? The answer is, you’ve never paid them a dime, so why should this be any different? What if Google made this car free and had advertisers pick up the tab? Imagine Google serving and empowering those who cannot typically afford to purchase a vehicle. I’ve been reading about impoverished families who are pushed out of cities because of high prices, and then can’t afford transportation to jobs which aren’t in their immediate area. So in a nutshell, this car could possibly save lives, empower the disabled, and even fight freakin’ poverty, all with zero emissions. Sign me up.
All in all, this is only a prototype and it seems that Google is interested to have partners make the self-driving cars which consumers can purchase. It makes you wonder though, who are these partners going to be? I certainly hope GM isn’t at the top of their list. We need new ethical companies who are going to take this opportunity to make a better world, not those who hope to beat the street’s expectations, although I would definitely make an exception for Tesla. So Google, you’ve shown us a bright possibility, what does the ecosystem look like?
I bought a pair of shoes from Nike.com and love the fit and the style, but one of the surfaces near the top has an area that’s worn through after light use. Of course my life has been really busy lately and time for arranging an exchange just hasn’t presented itself until after the 30 day exchange window.
I call customer service with my hat in hand waiting to endure overseas representatives telling me that I’m outside the 30 day window and having to insist on speaking to an overworked manager.
I was shocked when someone who spoke like he was my next door neighbor picked up the phone. After explaining my story and saying that I wanted an exchange, the representative said “Oh man that sucks, yeah I’ll help you out with an exchange.” My jaw nearly hit the floor. He explained that they were going to inspect the returned shoes and said they would have to be approved. I asked what these meant and he said, “Basically if you return them and have a railroad spike through them, we’ll first be concerned about your foot. But then assuming that’s okay, we’ll wonder why a railroad spike is through your shoe and probably won’t refund it.” I literally laughed out loud. This guy was answering my question in a informative and funny way that was definitely not scripted. I felt like I was talking to a real person, and it was great.
It made me realize just how much scripted customer service reps annoy me, and what working with a real person means.
The Nike brand is elevated in my mind because of this interaction, and frankly, I want to go buy more Nike products.
Azure is now a place where enterprise and game development meet. A good read.
Our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation. -Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft