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Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft

“A better world won’t come about simply because we use data; data has its dark underside.”*…

 

Data

 

Data isn’t the new oil, it’s the new CO2. It’s a common trope in the data/tech field to say that “data is the new oil”. The basic idea being – it’s a new resource that is being extracted, it is valuable, and is a raw product that fuels other industries. But it also implies that data in inherently valuable in and of itself and that “my data” is valuable, a resource that I really should tap in to.

In reality, we are more impacted by other people’s data (with whom we are grouped) than we are by data about us. As I have written in the MIT Technology Review – “even if you deny consent to ‘your’ data being used, an organisation can use data about other people to make statistical extrapolations that affect you.” We are bound by other people’s consent. Our own consent (or lack thereof) is becoming increasingly irrelevant. We won’t solve the societal problems pervasive data surveillance is causing by rushing through online consent forms. If you see data as CO2, it becomes clearer that its impacts are societal not solely individual. My neighbour’s car emissions, the emissions from a factory on a different continent, impact me more than my own emissions or lack thereof. This isn’t to abdicate individual responsibility or harm. It’s adding a new lens that we too often miss entirely.

We should not endlessly be defending arguments along the lines that “people choose to willingly give up their freedom in exchange for free stuff online”. The argument is flawed for two reasons. First the reason that is usually given – people have no choice but to consent in order to access the service, so consent is manufactured.  We are not exercising choice in providing data but rather resigned to the fact that they have no choice in the matter.

The second, less well known but just as powerful, argument is that we are not only bound by other people’s data; we are bound by other people’s consent.  In an era of machine learning-driven group profiling, this effectively renders my denial of consent meaningless. Even if I withhold consent, say I refuse to use Facebook or Twitter or Amazon, the fact that everyone around me has joined means there are just as many data points about me to target and surveil. The issue is systemic, it is not one where a lone individual can make a choice and opt out of the system. We perpetuate this myth by talking about data as our own individual “oil”, ready to sell to the highest bidder. In reality I have little control over this supposed resource which acts more like an atmospheric pollutant, impacting me and others in myriads of indirect ways. There are more relations – direct and indirect – between data related to me, data about me, data inferred about me via others than I can possibly imagine, let alone control with the tools we have at our disposal today.

Because of this, we need a social, systemic approach to deal with our data emissions. An environmental approach to data rights as I’ve argued previously. But first let’s all admit that the line of inquiry defending pervasive surveillance in the name of “individual freedom” and individual consent gets us nowhere closer to understanding the threats we are facing.

Martin Tisné argues for an “environmental” approach to data rights: “Data isn’t the new oil, it’s the new CO2.”

Lest one think that we couldn’t/shouldn’t have seen this (and related issues like over dependence on algorithms, the digital divide, et al.) coming, see also Paul Baran‘s prescient 1968 essay, “On the Future Computer Era,” one of the last pieces he did at RAND, before co-leading the spin-off of The Institute for the Future.

* Mike Loukides, Ethics and Data Science

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As we ponder privacy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1981 that IBM released IBM model number 5150– AKA the IBM PC– the original version and progenitor of the IBM PC compatible hardware platform. Since the machine was based on open architecture, within a short time of its introduction, third-party suppliers of peripheral devices, expansion cards, and software proliferated; the influence of the IBM PC on the personal computer market was substantial in standardizing a platform for personal computers (and creating a market for Microsoft’s operating system– first PC DOS, then Windows– on which the PC platform ran).  “IBM compatible” became an important criterion for sales growth; after the 1980s, only the Apple Macintosh family kept a significant share of the microcomputer market without compatibility with the IBM personal computer.

IBM PC source

 

Written by LW

August 12, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Chance favors the connected mind”*…

 

The Wall Street Journal‘s review of the web in late 1996– completely intact, with links still live…

Stroll down memory lane here.

[TotH to Benedict Evans]

See also “We haven’t learned anything about what the web is for since 1996.”

* Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

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As we try to remember, we might send well-connected birthday greetings to Bob Wallace; he was born on this date in 1949.  A software developer, programmer and the ninth employee of Microsoft, He was the first popular user of the term “shareware,” creator of the word processing program PC-Write, founder of the software company Quicksoft, and an “online drug guru” who devoted much time and money to the research of psychedelic drugs.

Bob ended his Usenet posts with the phrase, “Bob Wallace (just my opinion).”

 source

 

Written by LW

May 29, 2018 at 1:01 am

“It is not enough for code to work”*…

 

It’s been said that software is “eating the world.” More and more, critical systems that were once controlled mechanically, or by people, are coming to depend on code. This was perhaps never clearer than in the summer of 2015, when on a single day, United Airlines grounded its fleet because of a problem with its departure-management system; trading was suspended on the New York Stock Exchange after an upgrade; the front page of The Wall Street Journal’s website crashed; and Seattle’s 911 system went down again, this time because a different router failed. The simultaneous failure of so many software systems smelled at first of a coordinated cyberattack. Almost more frightening was the realization, late in the day, that it was just a coincidence…

Our standard framework for thinking about engineering failures—reflected, for instance, in regulations for medical devices—was developed shortly after World War II, before the advent of software, for electromechanical systems. The idea was that you make something reliable by making its parts reliable (say, you build your engine to withstand 40,000 takeoff-and-landing cycles) and by planning for the breakdown of those parts (you have two engines). But software doesn’t break… Software failures are failures of understanding, and of imagination…

Invisible– but all too real and painful– problems, and the attempts to make them visible: “The Coming Software Apocalypse.”

* Robert C. Martin, Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship

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As we Code for America, we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that Microsoft released its first software application, Microsoft Word 1.0.  For use with MS-DOS compatible systems, Word was the first word processing software to make extensive use of a computer mouse. (Not coincidentally, Microsoft had released a computer mouse for IBM-compatible PCs earlier in the year.)  A free demo version of Word was included with the current edition of PC World—  the first time a floppy disk was included with a magazine.

 source

 

Written by LW

September 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

“In any field, it is easy to see who the pioneers are — they are the ones lying face down with arrows in their backs”*…

 

The story of Vector Graphic, a personal computer company that outran Apple in their early days: “How Two Bored 1970s Housewives Helped Create the PC Industry.”

* Anonymous

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As we try to remember what “CP/M” stood for, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 (on the anniversary of the issuing of IBM’s first patent in 1911) that  Microsoft Corp. for the first time reported revenues of more than $1 billion for its fiscal year (1990), the first software company ever to achieve that scale.  While in this age of ‘unicorns,” a billion dollars in revenue seems a quaint marker, that was real money at the time.

As readers who followed the link above will know, Microsoft, founded in 1975, was an early purveyor of the CP/M operating system on which the Vector ran; but (unlike Vector) Gates and Allen embraced IBM’s new architecture, creating DOS (for younger readers: the forerunner of Windows)… and laying the foundation for Microsoft’s extraordinary growth.

Bill Gates in 1990

 source

 

Written by LW

July 25, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Wikipedia is a victory of process over substance”*…

 

The earliest extant version of the entry on Switzerland in Wikipedia

Wikipedia was born in January of 2001.  Initially only in English, it quickly became multilingual; the English version is now one of more than 200 Wikipedias, but remains the largest one, with over 4.6 million articles. Wikipedia is the sixth-most popular website and the Internet’s largest and most popular general reference work.  As of February 2014, it had 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors each month, and more than 22 million accounts…  But of course the site had much humbler beginnings.

First Drafts of History collects the earliest extant versions of Wikipedia entries– allowing users to compare, say, the entry above with the current article on Switzerland.

My, how we’ve grown!

* Ethan Zuckerman

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As we ruminate on reference, we might send gilded birthday greetings to William Henry “Bill” Gates III; he was born on this date in 1955.  Among his many accomplishments as the head of Microsoft, Gates oversaw the 1993 launch of Encarta, a disc-based encyclopedia.  Microsoft created Encarta by purchasing non-exclusive rights to the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia, using it as the basis for its first edition.  Microsoft had originally approached Encyclopædia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias for over a century, in the 1980s; but Brittanica’s owners, the Benton Foundation, declined, believing its print media sales might be hurt; in the event, the Foundation was forced to sell Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. at below book value in 1996 when the print sales could no longer compete with Encarta and the Microsoft distribution channel, which focused on bundling copies with new computer systems.  In 2009, Microsoft stopped updating and supporting Encarta, which had migrated to the web; it had been overwhelmed by Wikipedia.

 source

 

Written by LW

October 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

Pick Up Sticks…

Tim Fort has a fascination with kinetic art…

To the uninitiated, my kinetic gadgets are gnarly chain-reaction devices that collapse and explode in, like, really cool ways; to the discerning aesthete, they’re mechanically-iterative, entropy-generating entities designed to confront the observer’s pre-conceived notions about Newtonian physics and challenge their paradigms for processing reductivistic-mechanistic Weltanschauungen  from a post-modernistic perspective. (Well, not really…)

Much more than mere domino tumbling, my kinetic gadgets use a wide variety of chain-reaction techniques of my own invention and they have Dalíesque names like Experimental Polymodal Slack-Generating Apparatus #9 and Test Detonation of 0.2 Kilostick Boosted-Yield Xyloexplosive Device #1. Not only can my gadgets collapse and explode in many ways, but they can play music tunes and have animation in them.

The video above– 2250 colored tongue depressors woven together, then “detonated”– is Tim’s largest and most recent; see his others here.

Many thanks to reader CE for the tip.

As we marvel that all is in motion, we might remark that the Homebrew Computer Club held its first meeting in Gordon French’s garage in Menlo Park on this date in 1975.  The HCC was a forum devoted to making computers more accessible to folks-at-large, and included members like Bob Marsh, George Morrow, Adam Osborne, Lee Felsenstein, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak. and John “Captain Crunch” Draper– many of whom went on to found (and/or profoundly to influence) personal computer companies.

The first issue of its newsletter was published ten days later, and ran for 21 issues, through 1977.  It was hugely influential in the developing culture of Silicon Valley (e.g., it debuted the concept of the “personal computer”)– and in establishing the battle lines in the industry then still nascent: it published Bill Gates’s Open Letter to Hobbyists, which excoriated enthusiasts of the time for “pirating” commercial software programs, and set the tone for what would become Microsoft’s IP posture.

click image above to enlarge, or here

UPDATE: Further to yesterday’s “The Challenges of Social Media, Part 69…,” from reader KL (a link to reader MKM’s program): “Facebook faux pas for Israeli soldier.”

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