March 21, 2013
Al Gore on the Environment, Healthcare, Guns & Democracy at #SXSW
I've met Al Gore a few times now over the years and have heard him speak about a dozen times, maybe more, particularly since he became so entrenched with technology while he was in office and after the fact. It should be no surprise that he was in full form at South by Southwest (SXSW) this year on the main stage in Austin in a fireside chat with WSJ's Walt Mossberg.
Those of us who know his agenda and his passion for climate change were waiting for him to dive full force into his 'green' agenda, which he did towards the end of his talk. They started with the digital revolution, appropriate given the "Southby audience." Print media are devastated he said, which is a very old discussion in the world of social media, where SXSW is the Queen Bee conference that takes such discussions to the next level...and this one started eight or so years ago.
That said, mainstream consumers in small towns are still reading newspapers and while they all may have a cell phone, they don't necessarily all use it to get their news. He refers to the 'now' economy as a 'stalker one,' where kids are even wearing 'chips' and being tracked by governments.
"I hope this stalker economy will create a gag reaction," he said. Gore suggests that we're seeing a shift in power that is bigger than what we've seen in 500 years. He also brought up Asia and how China will quickly surpass the U.S. as the largest economic power in the world.....because of that concentration and shift of power, 93% of extra income has gone to the 1% who are in power.
He added, "that's an economic fact," and then went onto say, "while our country is in serious trouble, it doesn't mean I'm not optimistic," but in order to take that power back, he suggested that "we as a country need to TAKE democracy back." Democracy as we know it he asserted, has been hacked. Said Gore, "Our OS (operating system) for the U.S. is our constitution."
He noted that earlier in this career when he was part of the 'system,' they'd spend about 1% of their time raising money versus the 5 or so hours a day today. While modern democracy has never been perfect, the will of the people did drive policy he believes. He said, "Congress is incapable of passing any reform of any significance unless its passed through special interest groups." Mossberg referenced Shapiro's The Last Great Senate at this juncture, reaffirming just how much has changed between the mid 1960s and the 2013 Congress of today. While the world knows about his hunger to educate the world about the negative impact of global warming, it's not as if Gore wasn't convicted and passionate about a number of other topics and issues, including healthcare and the NRA.
On healthcare, he reminded us that the federal government is the biggest purchaser of medicare and medicaid and if that's the case, then "why can't government negotiate like big corporates can to bring the costs down for American citizens?" That received a huge applause from the audience, no surprise given how many of us have been and continue to be screwed by insurance company premiums, wopping high deductibles and taxes. It would be impossible for guns not come up given the random and shocking killings this year in schools, small towns and beyond, and so when it did, Gore was not shy about how he felt. He scratched his head.
"C'mon, the NRA is a complete fraud. A lot of people belong to it, I used to belong. It is financed by the gun manufacturers and the organization has puppet strings. Same thing with the Smoker's Alliance." I wish they spent more time there frankly. On overall growth, Gore suggested that we should no longer use DGP as a guide for economic policy since it doesn't take externalities into account, like a negative one such as pollution or a positive one such as investment into a city in core areas such as mental health, music, culture, education, all of which counts as an 'expense,' not an investment. "They don't take into account future benefits of that investment in a city or region," said Gore. He threw out a few stats demonstrating just how far behind the U.S. is in so many areas including social and economic growth. He said, "We have worse upward social mobility than Tunisia and Egypt. Inequality is growing in the U.S. and so much of it is because our tax code is ridiculous." Hear hear Gore, go go go, not that these kinds of pep talks ever change anything back in Washington. People I know who were Middle Class are now in a struggling Working Class and those who were Working Class are either now working 100 hour weeks destroying their family life and health or on the streets.
And. then there's a wealthy Silicon Valley which seems to be numb and oblivious to how the rest of Americans actually live and think. I know - I live there. Gore asserted that we need to find ways to communicate with other and more effectively in a way that restores democracy.
"We need to TAKE BACK AMERICAN DEMOCRACY," he said firmly to a packed room in the main SXSW auditorium. And, since he couldn't wait to get to climate change, he finally migrated there but softly starting with garbage suggesting that we toss garbage into our 'country' as if its an open sewer, filling up the 'sewer' of gaseous unhealthy waste that is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.
With 53% of the country in drought, he also suggested that this shift we've been seeing is also related to global warming. Like garbage, like open sewers, like car fumes and everything else we've leaked into this environment without a care for the consequences, he threw out another alarming stat: we've seen $110 billion in climate disasters alone.
On the upside, he claimed that the investment in solar and wind is rising and the more we invest here and use it, the cheaper it will become, making it more inexpensive for us to rely on solar than coal, gas and oil over time. In order to get there however, he said that we need to reverse organizations, not people. Yes, organizations AND government Al.
Photos by Renee Blodgett.
March 07, 2013
Dan Pallotta: Think About a Charity's Dreams, Not Their Overhead
Dan Pallotta's work brought the practice of four-figure philanthropy within the reach of the average citizen who had never raised money for charity before in their lives. 182,000 people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds participated in these inspiring, often grueling, long-distance events that raised $582 million in nine years - more money raised more quickly for these causes than any private event operation in history. Three million people donated to the events.
Then, he faced issues because of how things are currently structured for non-profits. Dan spoke on the TED 2013 stage this year and below are a mish mash of my notes from his talk.
He notes that there are many discriminatory issues that the philanthropy industry faces today:
1. Salaries: the median compensation for a Stanford MBA is $400K, but for a medical charity, it is roughly $232K. For a hunger charity, it is about half of that. You can’t get people to do that year after year and take that kind of financial hit when in the for profit world, you can yield so much more.
2. Marketing and Advertising: He says, "we don’t like to see our donations spent on advertising and marketing." It has remained at 2% of GDP in the United States and hasn’t grown. How can it grow if you’re not allowed to market?3. Taking Risk on New Revenue Ideas: If you don’t produce 75% return in the first year, then a non-profit's reputation goes through the mud. You kill innovation because of fear for failure.
4. Time: Amazon didn’t produce profits for years and yet we had patience, yet the rules are different for a non-profit.
5. Profits: You can’t pay profits in the non-profit sector. He says, "you don’t have a stock market to fund any of this like you can in the for profit sector. From 1970 to 2009, we were dealing with social problems which were massive in scale but things still didn't grow to help them over that time and they're still not beyond the 2% mark.
Dan says, "this dogma comes from puritan beliefs. The Puritans were Calvinists so they were taught to hate themselves and self-interest was a path to damnation. Making a lot of money was a way to send them to hell so charities were created to deal with that."
In 400 years, nothing has intervened to say that this approach is counter-productive and unfair.
He remarks, "it makes us think that overhead is not part of the cause, particularly if its being used for cause. This belief that overhead is the enemy means that people are reluctant to contribute. The notion is that the less you spend on growth of the non-profit, more can go to the cause."
Fundraising has been stagnant. He shares his own failure which was the result of this broken, out-dated system, "we made $71 million in 2002, our best year and then we went out of business since we reinvested 40% back into the organization. So in one day, 350 of our employees lost their jobs because they were labeled overhead.”
He asserts that this is what happens when we confuse morality with frugality.
How this all impacts the bigger picture? If we could move charitable giving from 2% of GDP to 3% by investing in that growth, that would be an extra $150 billion extra in contributions. He says, "it’s never going to happen by forcing these organizations by demoralizing organizations to keep the overhead low. We need to change the game."
As for advice, he offers, "Think about the scale of an organization's dreams, not their overhead and how they measure the progress towards their dream. Who cares what the overhead is if these problems are getting solved?"
His mission is to change the way the world thinks about these issues and suggests that this needs to be our endearing legacy....that we in fact took responsibility for the legacy that has been handed down to us and change the way we think about philanthropy, so real problems can be solved, changing the scale dramatically.
Photo credits: sunyocc.edu (hands) and Dan's shot from his site.
January 01, 2013
The Pain of Upgrades: Migrating from a Lenovo to a MacBook Pro
It's a Lenovo, my second over an eight year period. We all knew the day was coming.
“We” is anyone and everyone who has stopped by my office or seen me using it at an event. They'd hover over me and remark: I can’t believe how slow your machine is, yowsa – how do you get anything done?
The thing is…I've only had it for four years and it's been on its way out for half of those four.
It seems as if I grew up in a world with different standards. The thought of a piece of machinery you paid $2,500 for with all the bells and whistles dying within a few years wouldn’t be acceptable…it’s absurd and yet we've all been brainwashed into thinking it’s not.
Manufacturers and reviewers alike are both to blame for creating such a consumable world where we're constantly shelling out more money for more reliable hardware, which it should have been reliable in the first place.
My refrigerator didn't cost that much nor did the stove in my kitchen and yet both have been purring along for more than a decade. I paid $300 for a car once that lasted longer than my laptops do today and it’s likely that some old guy somewhere in Maine probably is still using it for trips to the grocery store.
When someone sees my two year old iPhone, they look at me as if I'm as outdated as the guy who’s driving that old Oldsmobile. A few friends are trying to get me to upgrade my four year old 24 inch Samsung flat screen monitor when it works perfectly fine.
Call it old fashioned wisdom of sorts, or just common sense, but who said, "if it works, don't mess with it?" Oh yeah, that was my grandfather, not Winston Churchill or Steve Jobs.
When I ask "why upgrade?" I'm told there's better pixels, faster speeds or I’m bound to have compatibility issues.
While Windows 8 is now available, consumers are forced to pay an extra $100 for Windows 7, now outdated. It's the exponential growth thing haunting my every day, the pressure of keeping up with the speed at which technology is accelerating not to mention the pressure we all have financially of trying to keep up with it all too.
Silicon Valley tells me to ‘get over it,’ and just upgrade, but Silicon Valley doesn’t live in the real world where salaries are one fifth of what they are elsewhere in the country and that’s if you aren’t one of the 20 something year olds who made an exit from a not so innovative of an app that got sold to someone with more money than brains.
eMarketer made a 2012 tablet sales prediction of 81.3 million tablets, up from 15.7 million in 2011, and Gartner estimates that sales will multiply to 54.8 million in 2011 and more than 208 million by 2014.
Forrester Research numbers have laptop sales continuing to grow from 26.4 million in 2010 to 38.9 million in 2015, however, while desktop PC sales will decline from 20.5 million in 2010 to 18.2 million in 2015. Mobile is hot and we’re all moving to smaller form factors – the trends make sense.
Take a look at research firm Canalys figures: they have vendor shipments of smartphones close to 489 million smartphones in 2011, compared to 415 million PCs. Smartphone shipments increased by 63% over the previous year, compared to 15% growth in PC shipments.
While mobile will win at the end of the day, the need for laptops and in some cases desktops isn’t going away tomorrow, although some will argue they can do nearly everything they need to on their iPad. While I use one, particularly when I travel, my efficiency on the thing is less than half what it is on a power laptop, even my poor dying Lenovo.
While many of my laptops over a decade have died a slow horrible death, some of them still turn on…..they’re just not usable. As I took a hardware account, I was shocked by the list, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been! Two HPs, a mini HP, a baby MSI wind notebook I bought for a trip to Africa, a Toshiba, an Acer, two IBM/Lenovos and a partridge in a pear tree.
The power chords are out of control because none of them are compatible with each other, even the ones made by the same manufacturer. The result? A digital me and a digital life that doesn’t make things more efficient and yet productivity is the #1 thing I need these devices to deliver me and my business.
The advancements in the last decade are remarkable. For those who argue that the Singularity isn’t on its way, they might want to pause and reflect on just how fast things are moving and that it’s more difficult than ever to keep up with the advancements being thrown our way.
Clearly I'm not a luddite and I love shiny new cool gadgets and toys as much as much as my fellow geeks; remember that next week I'm off to CES for the umpteenth year in a row.
Yet, we need to remind ourselves that technology is an enabler; it needs to enhance our lives not be a hindrance to a more fulfilling life. Dealing with technology glitches, whether that be hardware or software, is something I deal with daily and these issues increase in less than a year after purchasing a brand new laptop. Shouldn’t we demand more from the hardware manufacturers?
I’m about to switch to Mac and while the artist in me is thrilled, I worry about compatibility issues and the learning curve to get me to what people say, will be a ‘simpler life.’
That said, the decision is final. I finally made the plunge and as I write, there’s a Mac Book Pro on its way to me directly from Apple.
While there’s no question, I’m a power user, I decided not to order the ‘very top of the line’ since it offers more than I’ll need. Did I mention that the price is nearly double what I’d pay to get the ‘same specs’ in a Lenovo or an equivalent? Additionally, these beautifully designed machines are heavy, roughly 30% heavier than had I gone for the latest Lenovo or Toshiba.
While I’m eager to start my 'simpler technology life,' I have my doubts. For the Apple fan boys who claim Macs are perfect and problem-free, I’d love to know why I own five iPods and only two of them actually work. My iPhone hasn’t given me any issues so far nor has my iPad, but I haven’t put it through the ringer by loading hundreds of apps like I need to do on my laptop.
While many of you may be okay with upgrading every piece of hardware we own every two years, should you be? How thin do we need our phones to be? How many apps do we really need? How many pixels do we need? How much memory do we really need? If I hear one more person insisting that I spend an additional $500 for a solid state drive, I’m going to scream. These are the same people who will insist I upgrade to an even faster solid state drive in a year and spend $500 again.
It's no wonder we keep spending to keep this senseless pattern alive. We get dished language that goes something like this:
For the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, it's the screen -- all 2880 x 1800 pixels of it -- that will leave others scrambling to play catch-up. Of course, to push that many pixels you need serious horsepower. And the next-gen MacBook Pro (starting at $2,199) delivers just that with a quad-core Core i7 processor, Nvidia Kepler graphics and super-fast flash memory. Did we mention the MacBook Pro is only 4.5 pounds and is nearly as thin as the Air?
Manufacturers stick together, use glossy language to woo us in and build in the same obsolescence. When the industry and consumers comply, no one can complain since they all seem to die a slow horrible death much faster than they should given how much we spend. (see blog post entitled the iPad Mini: Why Apple Thinks You're an Idiot).
But alas, a dozen blog posts from now, I’ll be on a new machine, a Mac Book Pro, and hopefully in some magical way, my technology life will be transformed for the additional $800 I'm spending.
While I’m looking forward to what the Mac Book Pro will deliver, sometimes I want to just toss all of it into the ocean, or give a little pain back to the hardware that has cost me so much value time over the years, not that I’ll ever have the courage of course. That said, it appears not everyone shares my constraint.
Also refer to two posts I wrote a year or so ago on digital personas and digital 'silence.' Here's a blog post on social media turning you into a low confidence anxiety-rich freak.
Photo credits in order of appearance: A mashup created with Webdoc, Scott Kline, CoolGizmotoys.
January 1, 2013 in America The Free, Magic Sauce Media, On Innovation, On Mobile & Wireless, On People & Life, On Technology, On the Future, TravelingGeeks, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 05, 2012
The Singularity Understood & Misunderstood
I've been attending Singularity events since they started having them, before people really knew what singularity meant.
Frankly, most people still don't.
Outside high powered technology circles and intellectuals, singularity isn't a topic that is discussed on dates or at the dinner table, even in Silicon Valley where technology and deals are sexier than toned women in miniskirts.
According to Wikipedia, "the technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which events cannot be predicted or understood."
Advocates talk about an "intelligence explosion", where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, AND most importantly, that they won't stop until the cognitive abilities surpass the human mind.
Whoah Nellie! That's what I said when I first read Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity is Near and on many occasions since being involved in "singularity circles" since then. It's a scary concept for mere mortals to comprehend, at least until you better understand the landscape.
The term was popularized by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, who I had an opportunity to hang with at the latest Singularity Summit in San Francisco in October. He argues that artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement or brain-computer interfaces might be possible causes of the singularity.
Think of it as an era in time where civilization as we know has dramatically changed. The Singularians (yes, that's what they call themselves), believe that this era will "transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity."
I love that but wonder if technological singularity is the only way (or the best way) to transcend and amplify humans.
There is a group of spiritual and creative types like me who are intrigued by the singularity. We find some truth to it and while some of it sounds attractive and appealing, there's a whole subsection of the singularity world that takes me back to "Whoah Nellie" again and again.
When you sit on the right brain side of the fence for most of your life, you find yourself arguing (oops, debating) with scientists and technologists about all the issues that are often left out of the discussion, like emotions, love and feeling. Oh yeah, and intuition, something women have notoriously 'owned' because we're so damn good at it.
One could argue that in this new era, things like emotion and love will be transformed also, so how we view matters of the heart will not be the same way we view them today. In other words, there's no point trying to figure out how they'll matter in this new era because everything will be transcended: our intelligence and our emotional states.
What I love about singularian culture (if there is such a thing), is the commitment to progress, technological advancement (largely for positive change) and the ongoing, intriguing debate about the future and where we're heading. And, oh btw, it's an opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds who are pushing the needle forward today.
If you have a discussion with someone about singularity who knows what they're talking about, you shouldn't be too far along in the conversation before the phrase exponential growth comes up, a phrase referred to by Moore's Law as a logical reason why we can expect the singularity to happen sooner than some believe.
So, who's among this circle aside from respected futurist Ray Kurzweil (below) and scientist fiction writer Vernor Vinge? It's broad and growing every day.
They've even formed a university around it, whose mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilize exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.
Hans Moravec and Eliezer Yudkowsky are also cited as singularity theorists and the circle is expanding as "its" tentacles dip into other industries.
Speakers at the recent Singularity Summit included thinkers and entrepreneurs such as Julia Galef who spoke on rationality, cognition and the future, Linda Avey who addressed personal genomics, and professor Steven Pinker (below) who took us through a history of violence. (video here)
We also had an interactive dialogue with Daniel Kahneman, heard about artificial intelligence and the barrier of meaning from Melanie Mitchell, and our 'viral' future from Carl Zimmer. (below)
A quest in metaphysics was explored by Jaan Tallinn (below), Robin Hanson's topic was: A Tsunami of Life: The Extraordinary Society of Emulated Minds and Stuart Armstrong discussed how we're 'predicting' AI.
Temple Grandin who has done a lot of work with autism spoke to us about different types of thinking. There's the photorealistic visual thinker (poor in algebra), the pattern thinker (poor at music & math), the verbal mind (poor at drawing) and the auditory thinkers (who are poor at drawing). She brought up the power of bottom up thinking rather than bottom down, where you learn by specific examples. In other words, get out and discover things, citing travel as a great educator. Hear hear.
She says, "many talented, quirky and gifted students are going nowhere because they have no mentors to help them through their quirkiness." So right. While I received emotional support from my grandparents along the way (they raised me), I received more emotional support from random mentors who fell into my life path, amazing accidents in time I thought as a child.
Pinker, who took us on a journey of violence, talked about its connection to literacy. Much of his research wouldn't surprise anyone since its logical: literacy matters for a decrease in violence since it brings reason into the equation, winning over superstitious thinking.
Literacy is also a mixture of cosmopolitanism, where you increasingly consume fiction, drama, journalism and the arts.
The implication of this over time resulted in the need to redefine modernity...what culture means: our tribes, family, community and religion.
Like Kurzweil, I always love hearing Pinker speak. My brain is better off at the end of it.
So, if singularity thinking is drawing some of the best and the brightest, what's the real controversy aside from fear of the unknown, which is inevitable?
Carl H. Flygt quotes Bill Joy in a paper he wrote in 2005 on singularity theory:
“A traditional utopia is a good society and a good life involving other people,” says Bill Joy. “This techno-utopia is all about: ‘I don’t get diseases; I don’t die; I get to have better eyesight and be smarter’ and all of this. If you described this to Socrates or Plato they would laugh at you.”
But the paper goes on to say, "But Socrates or Plato would not laugh at the idea of pure conversation, which cuts off the me-talk before it can start and puts the human being directly in community with the reality of his (her) cosmic consciousness, of his (her) ontological impulses and of his (her) capacity for self-control and settlement into the higher bodies given human nature by its cosmic mereology."
I have no clue whether this paper has any credibility and note that it's also now seven years old...but, it was and is a viewpoint. Naysayer LogicPriest who calls himself an atheist, skeptic, anti-authoritarian and crazy person who likes cat and among other things, science, doesn't discount that AI isn't possible because any system of enough complexity can emerge into intelligence. He feels we may have very little to say to it however.
He writes: "we would need to emulate much of ourselves in an AI. We would need some pretend body and environment, some emulated limbic and nervous system (the brain is only PART of the nervous system, something most futurists forget). We would also need to build a completely different type of computer, one where the architecture is structurally tied to certain actions, one with DNA instructions, separate abstracted layers like our 'reptile' brain to work it's normal, computer functions and higher order processors for complex thought."
Regardless if you're an outside observer who is merely curious, a student of science, or writers like those I discovered in my search who have strong opinions on the topic, technology is accelerating with a force that's hard to deny. It is working its way into our every existence.
Consider that we use it get directions, read digital books, buy products and communicate to the outside world not to mention the people who email a loved one in the very next room rather than have a "human" conversation with them.
We use it for voting, research, asking questions on the most basic things like how to start a lawnmower or how to cook a turkey, sending photos to grandparents, watching a movie and monitoring our diets. We even use it to virtually talk to doctors about our health, consultants about our finances and teachers about our children's education. There's no end to how and where we use it or will use it in the not too distant future. Augmented reality is here and expanding.
The real question is a moral and ethical one. How conscious, present and aware are those who are building and executing the stuff that brings us into the next era, the one singularity promises is nearer than we think? What is their mission for "it" and for "us" as a species?
How will this explosion impact life as we know it? And, for women, artists, creative right brains and expressionists of the world, how will it impact things we hold so dear like love, emotion, physical relationships and our identity around spirituality?
What do you think?
Note: Twitter handles of some of the people either in this world or who talk about it from time-to-time: @raykurzweil2035 @labenz @lukeprog @laurademing @sydney_uni @ricolution @Sydney_ideas @jayrosen_nyc @biotechbusdev @elonmusk @robertwrighter @stephenfry @edge @rkurzban @temple_grandin @laurademing @lindaavey @sapinker @melmitchell1 @carlzimmer @robinhanson @wilbanks @ch402 @magicsaucemedia @noorFSiddigui
November 5, 2012 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Robotics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 04, 2012
Steven Pinker Speaks on Violence in San Francisco
His topic amongst a large group of singularians, scientists, authors, thinkers, students and technologists? Violence.
He took is on a journey of the decline of violence over time as a persistent development, showing methods that showed prehistoric violence versus the modern violence of today aka life before states and life after states.
It's obvious that literacy matters for a decrease in violence since it brings reason into the conversation ruling out and winning over superstition, which is still alive in a lot of more primitive cultures today.
See my latest write-up on singularity and the future of technology based on my most recent experience at the Singularity Summit. Below is a short video excerpt from his talk.
Video and photo credit: Renee Blodgett.
October 05, 2012
Ray Kurzweil on Ethics & Natural Language Processing
Kurzweil, known for his work in voice recognition, natural language processing, singularity and future predictions, I'm always curious to hear what he's going to share, especially when he moves onto the brain.
Says Ray in a response to the question of why natural language processing has taken so long to advance, "you have to take a hierarchial approach just like human language - you have to build it that way. We learn things layer by layer and we have to educate our synthetic neocortexes too."
When you start to dive deep into a discussion about synthetic neocortexes, where do you go from there, particularly when the majority of the audience are Web 2.0 and mobile geeks not scientists or researchers. Venture Beat's Matt Marshall interviewed Ray, his next to last stage interview before leaving the DEMO Conferences as producer.
Matt asked about ethics, which was a perfect segway into artificial intelligence. You can't have a discussion with Ray without artificial intelligence coming up at least once.
"Technology has always been a double edged sword," says Ray. "Just like fire has been used for good and evil, AI can be as dangerous as fire when put in the wrong hands." He reminded the audience that AI is already widely distributed however and that it's not just being used in a dark lab in some government building.
And, look how far we've come. A kid in Africa now has access to more knowledge and information than the President of the United States did 20 years ago. If that's not an example of exponential growth, I don't know what is...
See below for the interview on video. Even though it is a HD video clip, bear in mind that the sound quality may not be crisp.
September 30, 2012
MIT's Jodie Wu, an Inspiration & Force Behind Change in Tanzania
Enough people know I love Africa and the fact that I have spent time there and lived there.
Combine these known facts with her entrepreneur and technology work and it makes sense that we'd have a lot to talk about.
I also love meeting women CEOs who are an inspiration to be around and in the midst of all this background, did I mention that she's only 25?
She was a speaker this September at the event, the second year I made my way across country to Louisville Kentucky to meet interesting people who are help shaping the world.
Her company Global Cycle Solutions is a social enterprise developing bicycle attachments that improve the lives of smallholder farmers. In May 2009, as an undergraduate in mechanical engineering at MIT, she led her team to win the MIT 100K Business Plan Competition, and in August 2009, she moved to Arusha, Tanzania, to launch her company.
Her vision is to end "cycled poverty." I had an opportunity to spend time with her before and after her talk. She says, "so much money is going into foreign aid and it's not being spent effectively. The typical person just needs tools and investment in their education. If they buy it, they need it, if they don’t buy it, then it isn’t good enough.
Fair enough. Even if the technology is advanced and might work in the U.S. or Europe, if Africans don't buy the product, then it means its not solving real needs they have every day.
In Tanzania, Bernard their inventor, is creating water pumps, grinders and pedals and working on designing a better bike for Africa.
Her favorite product they're working on right now is the solar lantern. She says with a smile, "it actually bounces like a ball but it doesn’t break. The most significant thing about the light right away is that when people use it, their productivity goes up right away. People can charge their phones at their houses rather than them having to walk five kilometers just to charge their phone, which is what people are doing today."
When she was asked by someone from the audience about how they decided on price, she said that narrowing down the "right price" was difficult, because it depends on their harvest and the timing of it. In other words, $50 is not a lot but they may not have the money to buy it until their harvest comes in. They are testing the pay per use model and when they have all the money, they can opt to buy their own.
Not a boat load of MIT graduates take off for Africa to start a company. Why Tanzania? She says she asked herself after graduation, “is it really going to make me happy working to make a larger corporation richer? What I love about working in Africa, you can see the impact of your engineering immediately – there’s an immediate satisfaction."
Having lived in Africa myself, I resonate with her sense of satisfaction and the immediate reward. I also remembered such a stronger sense of gratitude and appreciation than we have in the west.
On lessons learned? The best advice she received from one of her MIT mentors was “Just do it.” She also learned that change doesn’t happen instantaneously. She thought she’d be in Tanzania for two years and then move onto other countries, but she learned that two years wasn’t realistic at all. Jodie thought that they'd break even in two years, but they’ve been there for four years and she thinks she probably has another two years before she can move her projects into other African markets.
Other great advice she received along the way is one that everyone can learn from: “if any one task is taking more than 20% of your time, delegate and outsource it.” I laughed out loud when she talked about experiences hiring: “if I don’t love you during the interview process and want to go to lunch with you next week, then I won’t love working with you.” It's so true and yet sometimes we are blinded in the interviewing process because we think of skills more than we think of synergy, at least right away.
Jodie apparently pays all of her employees through her phone. She sees so many opportunities in that area and countries like Tanzania are miles ahead. “LEDs are becoming so efficient and that could change things dramatically for Tanzania and other parts of Africa. Remember that 90% of the population is off the grid,” says Jodie.
They’ve set up a group of village ambassadors who have become their evangelists. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of a virtual sales force but it’s organic...the way it should be.
Jodie is an inspiration and it's great to see her MIT education and knowledge pouring into an eastern African country that needs it so much.
August 03, 2012
Cory Doctorow on the Century of War Against Your Computer
Cory Doctorow spoke this week at the LONG NOW Foundation. The topic? A provocative one entitled: The coming century of war against your computer.
The war against computer freedom will just keep escalating, Doctorow contends. The copyright wars, net neutrality, and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) were early samples of what is to come. Victories in those battles were temporary.
Conflict in the decades ahead will feature ever higher stakes, more convoluted issues, and far more powerful technology. The debate is about how civilization decides to conduct itself and in whose interests.
Stewart Brand's fabulous summary of the event below where Doctorow kicked things off by framing the issue this way: “Computers are everywhere. They are now something we put our whole bodies into---airplanes, cars---and something we put into our bodies---pacemakers, cochlear implants. They HAVE to be trustworthy.“
Sometimes humans are not so trustworthy, and programs may override you: “I can’t let you do that, Dave.” (Reference to the self-protective insane computer Hal in Kubrick’s film “2001.” That time the human was more trustworthy than the computer.) Who decides who can override whom?
The core issues for Doctorow come down to Human Rights versus Property Rights, Lockdown versus Certainty, and Owners versus mere Users.
Apple computers such as the iPhone are locked down---it lets you run only what Apple trusts. Android phones let you run only what you trust. Doctorow has changed his mind in favor of a foundational computer device call the “Trusted Platform Module” (TPM) which provides secure crypto, remote attestation, and sealed storage. He sees it as a crucial “nub of secure certainty” in your machine.
If it’s your machine, you rule it. It‘s a Human Right: your computer should not be overridable. And a Property Right: “you own what you buy, even if it what you do with it pisses off the vendor.” That’s clear when the Owner and the User are the same person. What about when they’re not?
There are systems where we really want the authorities to rule---airplanes, nuclear reactors, probably self-driving cars (“as a species we are terrible drivers.”) The firmware in those machines should be inviolable by users and outside attackers. But the power of Owners over Users can be deeply troubling, such as in matters of surveillance.
There are powers that want full data on what Users are up to---governments, companies, schools, parents. Behind your company computer is the IT department and the people they report to. They want to know all about your email and your web activities, and there is reason for that. But we need to contemplate the “total and terrifying power of Owners over Users.”
Recognizing that we are necessarily transitory Users of many systems, such as everything involving Cloud computing or storage, Doctorow favors keeping your own box with its own processors and storage. He strongly favors the democratization and wide distribution of expertise. As a Fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who co-sponsored the talk) he supports public defense of freedom in every sort of digital rights issue.
“The potential for abuse in the computer world is large,” Doctorow concluded. “It will keep getting larger.”
For more information on future LONG NOW Seminars in San Francisco, visit their site. They bring one amazing speaker after another to speak, so it's worth attending one if you haven't and live in California or don't live closeby but can plan a trip around one of their upcoming events.
Photo credit: Oreillynet.com.
July 30, 2012
Singularity University, Women@TheFrontier & 10 Incredible Women Design the Future
The program: "Designing the Future 2012", brought together some of today's female game-changers who are designing the future and disrupting the status quo.
Women@TheFrontier's Susan Fonseca and KristinaMaria T-Gutierrez introduced inspirational women who had one heart warming story after another to share.
NASA's Yvonne Cagle also paid a sentimental tribute to astronaut Sally Ride who passed away on July 23.
Ray Kurzweil kicked things off and also closed the event in a unique appearance with his daughter Amy Kurzweil who interviewed him in fireside chat style.
Ray's son was also in attendance with a beaming smile throughout the interview as he watched father and sister chat informally in front of a few hundred people on everything from inspiration and life lessons to technology, health and the future.
Below is Women@TheFrontier founder and CEO Susan Fonseca.
A poised and graceful Kay Koplovitz took the stage with confidence, something certainly not new to her as the first woman to head a television network; she founded USANetworks under the banner of Madison Square Garden Sports in the seventies.
She is also known for founding the Sci-Fi Channel which has become a top ten rated cable network and USANetworks, which runs in 60 countries worldwide.
President Clinton also appointed Kay to chair the bipartisan National Women’s Business Council. With a success record that keeps going, she is a great reminder that persistence and tenacity pays off.
She reminded the audience that 57% of women have masters degrees and 52% of women have doctorate degrees as she threw a quote from Coca Cola CEO onto the screen who said in 2010: "The drivers of the post American world won't be led by China but led by women."
She added a quote from Hilary Clinton who had encouraged companies and individuals to "unlock potential of women by investing in girls and women" at the Global Impact Economy Forum this year.
Lakshmi Pratury, who I first met in the early days of TED, then stepped onto the stage to share her magic as a natural storyteller, using humor, authenticity and life examples in her tales on India and inspiration.
Lakshmi is the Founder of INKTalks, the INK Conference and Ixoraa Media, whose mission is to strengthen the ties between United States and India through sponsored corporate, cultural, and media events.
She says of her time spent in America, "the one thing I learned from my time in America is how to tell a story." And let's be honest, all great stories ignite emotion through shared resonance and reflection, which is something Lakshmi does so well.
She says: "what we are is who we focus on feeding and the community we build around us - it's never about us individually." Hear Hear.
Lakshmi talked on the early days of India before the economy took off, which frankly is the only India I know. My first and only visit was in 1989 and rest assured, it is a very different country today.
Says Lakshmi of the perception of India, then and now, which is one of the things that led her to start the INK Conference: "the way people describe India from inside out has always been one dimensional, so I felt we needed to bring the depth and complexity of Indian culture to the world."
The notion of diving in even if you don't have the experience, is not only a great message to all girls and women, but to every and anyone who has an idea. "Every time I say I'm going to do something without really knowing how to do it, it just happens," she says. "You always have to remember that whatever you do or embrace, you don't have to do it alone."
Like me, she is a collector of people, and says that "collecting people IS HER passion." How wonderful is that? Connecting those human dots isn't a bad way to spend your life. Extraordinary things always happen as a result, like the work she is doing in India.
Wearing bright pink/red shoes and a necklace made from a 3D printer, she connected with the audience with her own great storytelling.
Ping describes herself as an artist and a scientist whose chosen expression is business. It's in her bio and it's something she says often in her presentations.
She co-founded Geomagic, a leading US software company which pioneers 3D technologies that fundamentally change the way products are designed and manufactured around the world...from repairing vintage cars at Jay Leno's garage to preserving US treasures and digitally recreating the Statue of Liberty.
Another woman who has faced challenges and adversity, she has shown that staying close to your passion and not giving up works if you believe in what you're doing. She is known for her work with geometry processing, and computer graphics as well as her time as a writer for The China Times.
Inspirational on and off the stage, she has spent many years lecturing on such subjects as feminism, cultural criticism, and was news commentary at National Taiwan University and Taipei National University of the Arts, also serving as ambassador at large for Taiwan for a few years.
While we're on the topic of inspiration and female role models, it doesn't get much better than Amy Purdy who lost both her legs to Neisseria meningitis, a form of bacterial meningitis, at the age of 19.
As a double amputee, competitive snowboarder and spokesperson for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, she talks to people around the globe about her experience and overcoming life obstacles in order to reach your life dreams and goals, regardless of what is thrown your way.
Amy has played a runway model in a music video for Madonna, taken on a role in an independent film and has modeled for a number of photography projects.
She says to the audience, "When you face adversity and rough patches of trying to fit in, ask yourself what defines normalcy, beauty and what defines you? Embracing your uniqueness whatever that is turns your life from ordinary to extraordinary." Hear hear Amy. You were truly an inspiration to watch and meet.
Hannah Chung is the co-founder and force behind Jerry the Bear, a stuffed bear that helps children learn how to manage their diabetes. Inspired to help children, she says she is never looking back and laughs as she shows us a photo of her in a stuffed bear costume.
"I'm happy to wear a bear costume for years to come if it means making an impact on kid's lives," she tells us.
When Jerry’s eyelids close, he is showing that he is low in energy, until he is fed certain foods or given a pretend insulin injection which then boost his glucose levels. The results are shown on a little screen that is implanted into Jerry's belly.
Hannah’s father and grandparents have Type II diabetes and after her grandfather passed away from hypoglycemia, she was inspired to make a difference by helping others manage diabetes as effectively as possible.
Kudos to the Singularity University and Women@TheFrontier teams for pulling off an incredibly inspirational and moving event with a group of remarkable, dynamic women.
I look forward to future events they plan to host in other cities around the U.S.
Below is the video of Amy and Ray Kurzweil in a fireside chat:
Photo credit of Laskshmi taken in Munich: Nadine Rupp/Getty Images Europe. Hannah: From the Mccormick.northwestern.edu site. Amy Purdy and Legs: AmberB Photography. All other photos: Renee Blodgett.
July 09, 2012
Is Social Media Turning You Into a Low Self Esteem Anxiety-Rich Freak?
Roughly half of the survey’s nearly 300 participants, reported that their use of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and others reduces the quality of their lives.
Confidence is affected, they say, self esteem is lower they say and two-thirds claim they find it difficult to relax or sleep after spending time on social networks.
This isn't rocket science. Ask anyone you know who spends a lot of time in front of a screen, glued to online games, social networks, management platforms like Hootsuite or sites where they're engaging in any way.
Roughly a quarter cited work or relationship difficulties due to online confrontations and more than half of the participants say they feel “worried or uncomfortable” at times they are unable to access their Facebook or email accounts. I have seen anxiety arise around me when people can't access their worlds online, including something as small as a Foursquare check-in.
Spend more time in an always on digital world and of course you're anxiety will increase. This isn't rocket science. But people are so hooked into the notion that it connects us 'more' that they don't look for the obvious negative side effects.
Sure, I can meet new people across the globe if I am constantly glued to my Hootsuite stream, and given that I run a travel blog, there's a lot of pluses to that, but bottom line, it takes us away from real human connections - there's only so many hours in a day.
It doesn't help that tools like Klout, Kred, PeerIndex and others assign us grades on a daily basis that encourage high school "who's the popular kid of the day" behavior. Offline for a day or a week and your Klout score goes down.
The tools are so one dimensional and dare I say "unheathily addictive" that it keeps you drawn into a social media online game you can never win, particularly if you want to have healthy relationships offline. Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains doesn't lie. Not a new book, but the behavior shift is real whether or not you agree with everything in the book. Also see my post from last year on multiple digital personas.
I find it ironic that a post entitled: How Social Media Makes Romantic Relationship Thrive is immediately above a post entitled: Social Media Fuels Low Self Esteem & Anxiety on Mashable, where I originally learned about the study. Here's a link to a video reporting some of the results.
People I talk to seem to be fighting to get quality time with their other halves and the main culprit in the way? Mobile Devices and their PCs. Enuf said.
July 9, 2012 in America The Free, Europe, On Geo-Location, On Mobile & Wireless, On Technology, On the Future, Reflections, Social Media, TravelingGeeks, United Kingdom, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack