Will automation beget a jobless wasteland or more stimulating, creative employment? That's up for debate.
Editor’s note: We’re trying something new here. I read this back-and-forth exchange between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons, and decided we should give it a try. Or, more accurately, since we’re already having plenty of back-and-forth email exchanges like that, we just need to start publishing them. My friend Doug Hill, author of Not So Fast: Thinking Twice About Technology, agreed to be a guinea pig and chat with me about a subject that’s on both of our minds (and a lot of other people’s): technology and the jobless recovery. We’ll be diving into this topic again next week in a debate hosted at Strata. This post was lightly edited on 2/6/14 for clarity.
STOGDILL: I saw this Tweet over the holidays while I was reading your book. I mean, I literally got distracted by this tweet while I was reading your book:
— Ari Gesher (@alephbass) January 3, 2014
It felt like a natural moment of irony that I had to share with you. In the article Ari Gesher references in his Tweet, Vivek Whadwa obviously has an optimistic point of view, and Gesher was right to call out the inconsistency of his claims with our jobless recovery. I also recently read George Packer’s The Unwinding, his enlightening and disturbing look at the human stories behind our current malaise, and frankly it seems to better reflect the truth on the ground, at least if you get outside of the big five metro areas. But I suspect not a lot of techno optimists are spending time in places that won’t get 4G LTE for another year or two. Read more…
Jim Stogdill, Jon Bruner and Mike Loukides chat about soldier robots, malicious fridges, and smart contacts.
We were snowed in, but the phones still worked, so Jon Bruner, Mike Loukides, and I got together on the phone to have a chat. We start off talking about the results of the Solid call for proposals, but as is often the case, the conversation meandered from there.
Here are some of the links we mention in this episode:
- The U.S. Army is trying to go to 3,000 soldier brigades by replacing 1,000 soldiers with robots.
- Someone’s fridge is cyber attacking you.
- Om doesn’t really like Google’s contact lens for diabetics. Do tech companies get humans?
- One of the hundreds of articles about Google’s Nest purchase. Did you hear that Google bought Nest?
- The Corliss Engine at the 1876 Exposition. I couldn’t remember the name during our recording.
Software patents, in particular, have become little more than the re-enshrinement of the rentier in law.
When I was about 16, I went to visit my grandfather in Denver, where he’d decided to retire. He moved there after spending 30 years in Midland, Michigan working for Dow Chemical. I guess he went west for the dry air. I don’t know if it was good for his lungs, but it sure didn’t go well with wool carpet. I shocked myself every time I touched something. Sometimes the spark would arc three inches from my finger tip to a door knob. There would be a visible flash and pop, and then a reflexive jump. It was a bit terrifying after a while. My grandfather, being an engineer, had figured a simple solution to that problem: he just touched every door knob with his key to ground himself before he opened it. It worked fine, but I didn’t remember to do it. Not once. But that’s not the point of this post.
One evening, we got to talking about his work at Dow and he showed me his patents. He was proud to show them to me, and I was proud of him. The fact that he had all those patents struck me as a testament to his ingenuity. He was smart, and the U.S. Government was acknowledging it in a most formal way.
Most of his patents were about some chemical process or another, but one of them caught my imagination as particularly cool. He realized that the heat coming off of the leading edge of a high-speed aircraft could be used to pre-catalyze jet fuel. I loved airplanes (back then, I still wanted to fly jets), it seemed smart, and I think I just liked the cartoony nature of the drawing in the patent.
He worked for Dow, so naturally all of his work was assigned to the company. And really, that seemed fine to him, and to me. After all, to him that patent was probably less about the temporary grant of government-sponsored monopoly and more about the USPTO’s recognition of his intellect put to paper. It would have been nice for him if Dow had sold his invention to Boeing for lots of money, but it was sort of orthogonal to the intrinsic incentive framework he was working from.
As odd as this mindset seems to me now, it was a mindset I adopted explicitly at the time, and held onto implicitly for a long time after. That evening must have been important to me because I resolved then to patent some of my ideas some day. Years later in my career, when I was working for a small consulting firm, I started making patent applications with my colleagues. Read more…
Yes. And no.
We are more connected now than ever:
- You can chat with your kids when you’re on the road, so can a pedophile.
- You can access your bank account in your pajamas, so can the RBN.
- Your healthcare data is always readily at hand, but not just to your hands.
- You can tell your political representatives what you think; they can whip the “base” into a frenzy with what they want them to think.
- You can talk to people all over the world and share ideas with people with different points of view, but you probably don’t.
- You can easily organize against an unjust government (not just yours!), and they can watch you do it.
- You can stay in touch with friends no matter where they live, and companies can co-opt you into influencing their purchases.
- You can find information on any possible disease you suspect you might have, and your network and search provider will cheer for your recovery with pharmaceutical ads.
- You can live a rich, fulfilling expanded life experience outside of the constraints of physical space, without fourth amendment protections (or even locks on your doors).
- Everything is democratized, except for, it seems, our democracy.
Recently I was in New York City for our Strata conference and had the opportunity to host an Oxford-style debate. We debated the proposition that “A connected world is a better world.” In our preparations leading up to the debate, I asked our debaters not to hold back. I told them they could really help crystalize an understanding of the arguments by leaving nuance and subtlety at the door. I encouraged them to dive in, elbows out. I needn’t have. They would have anyway. These were real, not dramatic, passions on display. Take a look:
** Update We had a problem with the video and will put it back up as soon as we can!
Do minds, money, markets, or manufacturing matter most?
I sat down with Jon Bruner in New York City this week to talk about where innovation happens. Concentration still seems to matter, even in a networked world, but concentration of what? Minds, money, markets, or manufacturing know-how?
Links for things we mention:
- Highway One, hardware incubator.
- WeChat, fast growing voice chat application from Tencent.
- International Startup Festival
By the way, we clearly aren’t the only ones making comparisons between Silicon Valley and Detroit. Seems to be entering the zeitgeist. However, if you are interested in Detroit as a model for the unraveling of a dominant concentration of innovation, pick up a copy of the classic American Odyssey by Robert Conot or the more recent Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff.
Analysts use in memory databases for near real-time interaction.
I flew to the West Coast this week to attend Maker Faire with my computer-programming, ham-radio-building, hardware-curious teenage cousin. I’ve attended twice in New York but this was my first trip to the mothership. Wow. So much cool stuff to look at, interact with, talk about … and buy. Both of us bought one of these, among other things. He’ll actually use his, and I’ll pretend to, but mostly I was just overwhelmed with gadget envy and succumbed to the impulse buy. The end result of the weekend was a full brain, sunburn, lingering claustrophobia and a bunch of interesting stuff in my bag for TSA to radiate, plus lots of ideas for projects if I can find a bit of downtime.
While I was out West, Edd Dumbill, Roger Magoulas and I took advantage of our coastal proximity to get together in Sebastopol and have a conversation about in-memory databases. Roger, along with his colleague Ben Lorica, has been looking into this area for some time, and it seemed like a good opportunity for him to catch us up and share the conversation with all of you. I hope you enjoy it.
Update: I meant to add, if you would like to subscribe to these podcasts you can find them here.
After a sojourn into the virtual, Silicon Valley is turning back to the real world.
In this episode of the Radar podcast series, Jon Bruner and I are joined by Mike Loukides as we muse more on software and the physical world. No coffee shop clatter in the background this time around as we were forced by geography and time to talk on the phone, but I still managed to have a good cup from my favorite local cafe in my hand. In the course of our conversation, we discovered that Mike drinks tea, so this may be his last appearance.
Our discussion ranges from the declining cost of 3D printing to ham radio antenna design. Along the way, we touch on the ease with which data scientists can build data sensing motes with open source and open hardware components. We hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed talking.
When information collides with machines.
Jon Bruner and I continued our Radar coffee talk series of conversations at Astro Coffee in Detroit’s Corktown. In the shadow of the abandoned Michigan Central Station we reflected on what we think of as a collision between the second industrial revolution (electric mechanization) and the third (information and networks). Will Google’s driverless car be to the automobile industry what Amazon has been to publishing?
We hope you enjoy the conversation and we’re looking forward to your comments. You can listen to it here in the embedded player or you can also subscribe to them at iTunes.
p.s. If you have a favorite coffee shop, tell us about it in the comments. Maybe we’ll have our next coffee talk there.
Cultures coming together
Jon Bruner and I got together last week in Cambridge, MA to have a cup of coffee and talk about the industrial internet. During this conversation we mused on the inevitable collision of cultures when Silicon Valley meets industrial heartland, or, when software people meet hardware people.
Of course there have always been relationships between hardware and software, we aren’t discovering anything completely new here. But there are differences now, and they are turning up in interesting places. I attended Distributech recently, the biggest electric utility conference for power distribution, and was surprised to see that how big a push traditional IT vendors were making into the space. This is an event that five years ago would have only had electrical component vendors as sponsors but this time around Oracle was the most visible sponsor there with Cisco not far behind. The world’s first massive electrical network is now absorbing (and increasingly being controlled by) its second.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the conversation and we’re looking forward to your comments. And given that on the Radar team we like to talk at least as much as we like to write, if this goes well we’ll probably do a lot more of them. You can listen to it here in the embedded player or you can also subscribe to them at iTunes.