Is it in the bits or atoms?
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
— Arthur C. Clarke
I spent Wednesday at Penn Medicine’s Connected Health event in Philadelphia. We saw an array of technologies that wouldn’t even have been imaginable when I came into this world. Mobile telepresence systems, tele surgery, the ability to remotely detect depression with merely a phone and its analysis, real-time remote glucose monitoring, and on and on.
But nothing in technology surprises me anymore. I have Meh’monia, a condition wherein all of the magic and surprise has been drained out of technology, probably by Apple. Today I expect anything that can be imagined to be possible, available, and to be executed beautifully.
A tiny but powerful computer in my pocket with greater than VGA screen resolution? Meh. Glasses with interactive heads up display? I’ll take the designer version. Hall-roaming robots that bring me my meds and let me make video calls to my family? I saw that on the Jetsons.
On my way home I dropped in at the Penn Museum and spent an hour roaming the collection. Two days later the magic I’m still thinking about is the magic in those galleries. Atoms arranged with human intellect (and vast amounts of human labor) into form with awe-inspiring scale and beauty. Many of the objects on display left me transfixed.
I can believe that almost anything can be designed and manufactured in modern facilities with modern methods, but the idea of a perfect 50-pound crystal sphere emerging from a piece of rock with nothing but years of hand labor seems like magic to modern me. As does a 12-ton sphinx of red granite that was quarried 600 miles from where it was carved.
The technology of our virtual world, which until very recently inspired such a sense of magic in me, has become the every day. And for me at least, those artifacts of a previous physical world now seem like the work of ancient magicians.
Balancing grid supply and demand one pump and compressor at a time.
I went to San Diego two weeks ago for DistribuTECH as part of our ongoing investigation into the industrial Internet. DistribuTECH is a very large conference for electric utility operators in the U.S. and while I was there ran into Keyvan Cohanim of Enbala Power Networks. We had an interesting conversation, the upshot of which was my realization that given the magic of absolute values, as far as the grid is concerned, slowly warming frozen turkeys are thermal batteries.
Enbala’s business is conceptually simple. They use information to optimize the match between electrical supply and demand to help utilities avoid capital expenditure in under-utilized peak-load generation assets. Then they share those supply side savings with the participating loads. The deal is simple, let Enbala control your loads within your process constraints, and you’ll earn additional revenue. At the risk of gross over-simplification, they are sort of like an Uber or AirBnB of the electrical grid, but made interesting by the complexity of constraints and the fact that it all has to happen in real time. Read more…
DreamIt, UPenn, and IBC offer you an unfair advantage.
I sit down now and then with Roy Rosin at the East coast hub of health care business networking, the Gryphon Cafe in Wayne, PA. (I’m saying that only slightly tongue in cheek.) Roy was the long-time Chief Innovation Officer at Intuit and now holds that role with the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Our conversations tend to be wide ranging, but this morning he let me know that he’s been working on a partnership between Penn Medicine and Independence Blue Cross to fund a health care incubator with DreamIt Ventures in Philadelphia.
If you are working on a health-related startup this is worth your time because it’s being funded by the largest provider and payer in the region. This will give your startup access to both sides of the payer/provider equation in a meaningful way (the aforementioned “unfair advantage”). The application deadline is coming up fast on February 8. Details can be found here.
The open web depends on my ability to have a permanent address. However, my privacy depends on my ability to hide who I am. At least sometimes.
Margaret Lord: “Oh, dear. Is there no such thing as privacy any more?”
Tracy Lord: “Only in bed, mother, and not always there.”
The Philadelphia Story, 1940
Over the summer I wrote a post lamenting IPv4 address scarcity and how it contributed to a deformed and centralized web, one that is substantially less open than the one we started with. Most of us don’t have permanent registered host addresses so we live our web lives on other people’s property, perpetual renters. We have been thus excluded from the House of Lords – there is no peerage for the landless.
To support the open web I want, I want IPv6 to be adopted quickly, for NAT to die, and for me to get a whole bunch of IP addresses of my very own. In fact, I might even want IP address portability when I switch providers. I might love those addresses so much I never want to lose them. I don’t know, I just thought of it and haven’t considered it carefully, but I might.
Except actually I don’t want think I want that at all. Through the lens of the open, decentralized, democratized web I want all of that. But through the lens of privacy, anonymity and a different framing of freedom I want the complete opposite. I have enough trouble with cookies. If I had a fixed IP address the work of the trackers would be made just that much simpler. Read more…
Hidden economy, industrial Internet, consumer AI, data journalism, and other themes Radar will explore in the coming months.
The Radar team got together in December to work through our priorities for 2013. This blog is where we narrate our work, but our real goal is to identify and create new products and businesses for O’Reilly. This year we plan to be more intentional with our focus areas, and more transparent as well, with the hope that it will engage you in shaping the topics and where we go next.
In our discussions we worked through about 35 potential themes and narrowed them down to 10 that we are actively working on in the first quarter of 2013. Here’s the list along with the Radar team member who is focused on it.
Hidden/Sharing Economy — Tim O’Reilly
Consumer AI — Edd Dumbill
Data Journalism — Alex Howard
Future of Programming — Edd Dumbill
In-Memory Data Management — Roger Magoulas
Industrial Internet — Jon Bruner
Open Data Economy — Alex Howard
Professional Making — Mike Loukides
Robotics — Mike Loukides
Synthetic Bio / Bio Hacking — Mike Loukides
Each topic will launch here on Radar with “intention casting” posts like this and this so I won’t bother expounding on them here. The idea of being more explicit and transparent up front about our interests is to more actively engage you in the discussion. We know you’ll point us at things we wouldn’t otherwise find. Read more…
3Scan is building an Internet-connected 3D microscope as a service
I don’t remember when I first met Todd Huffman, but for the longest time I seemed to run into him in all kinds of odd places, but mostly in airport waiting areas as our nomadic paths intersected randomly and with surprising frequency. We don’t run into each other in airports anymore because Todd has settled in San Francisco to build 3Scan, his startup at the nexus of professional maker, science as a service, and the industrial Internet. My colleague Jon Bruner has been talking to airlines, automobile manufacturers, and railroads to get their industrial Internet stories. I recently caught up with Todd to see what the industrial Internet looks like from the perspective of an innovative startup.
First off, I’m sure he wouldn’t use the words “industrial Internet” to describe what he and his team are doing, and it might be a little bit of a stretch to categorize 3Scan that way. But I think they are an exemplar of many of the core principles of the meme and it’s interesting to think about them in that frame. They are building a device that produces massive amounts of data; a platform to support its complex analysis, distribution, and interoperation; and APIs to observe its operation and remotely control it.
Do a Google image search for “pathologist” and you’ll find lots and lots of pictures of people in white lab coats sitting in front of microscopes. This is a field whose primary user interface hasn’t changed in 200 years. This is equally true for a wide range of scientific research. 3Scan is setting out to change that by simplifying the researcher’s life while making 3D visualization and numerical analysis of the features of whole tissue samples readily available. Read more…
When contexts collide.
Since the advent of Twitter I’ve often found myself laughing at funerals, crying at parties, and generally failing time and again to say the right thing. Twitter is so immediate, so of the moment, but it connects people across the globe who may be experiencing very different moments.
This first struck me during the Arab Spring. Maybe I was just finishing a nice dinner in Philadelphia and was lingering over a drink, tweeting the usual crap, while a world away Egyptians (and later Libyans and Syrians) were out by the thousands throwing themselves into mortal danger. Of course, they weren’t paying attention to my banalities while they filled Tahir Square and defended Aleppo, but I still floated by. And in any case, my tweet stream was full of their moment, raging past me. Once I noticed the dichotomy, my political witticisms and flippant comments on the news of the day tossed out between bites of my dessert seemed ridiculous as they bobbed downstream amidst all that anger, action, and danger. It just felt so, … inappropriate. I couldn’t help but go silent. A more primitive sense of decorum, evolved while our voices shared common place and time, welled up and shut me up.
I thought of this again the other night but in reverse. I was very fortunate and came through Sandy basically unscathed. But in the late afternoon of the storm I was out in the wind and rain for about an hour and a half trying to stop a water leak that was flowing through my foundation into the basement, while the whole time I had one eye on a 100-foot pine tree that was swaying threateningly over me. When I came back in, soaked through, and with my mind 100% on Sandy and my immediate safety, I checked Twitter out of habit. Naturally, the first tweet I saw was from Darrell Issa, snug in California, tweeting about the latest non-hurricane-related thing he wanted us to rage about. Dammit Darrell, we’re in the middle of a hurricane, we’ll get pissed about Benghazi next week ok?
During Sandy most of us east coasters had just one thing on our minds while our west coast friends’ normal lives continued unabated. We were tweeting about threatening trees, power outages, and 14th street fire balls while they were tweeting about Windows 8, a Yammer user conference, and whatnot. Lots of people on both coasts, who didn’t feel immediately threatened, were making light and telling jokes. In response I saw more than a few tweets along the lines of “not really appreciating the jokes while I watch the water rise.”
When I went about my business during the Arab Spring I used to feel weird, like they might read my tweets and think “Don’t you know we’re dying out here? There you are just living your life. What’s wrong with you?” The other night I had to remind myself that 2,500 miles and the continental divide separated my moment from those of my friends in California. Two streams, naturally bifurcated by geography and current experience, flowed together to mix awkwardly on my phone. Read more…
Makers: don't worry about what DARPA will do to you. Think about what you can do to DARPA.
I read this piece in the New York Times the other day and have read it two or three more times since then. It dives into the controversy around DARPA’s involvement in hacker space funding. But frankly, every time I come across this controversy, I’m baffled.
I usually associate this sort of government distrust with Tea Party-led Republicans. The left, and even many of us in the middle, generally have more faith in government institutions. We’re more likely to view government as a tool to implement the collective will of the people. Lots of us figure that government is necessary, or at least useful, to accomplish things that are too big or hairy for any other group of citizens to achieve (in fact, a careful reading of Hayek will show even he thought so – commence comment flame war in 3 ..2 ..1 …).
So, to summarize, the right dislikes big government and typically the left embraces it. At least, right up until the moment the military is involved. Then the right worships big government (largely at the temple of the History Channel) and the left despises it.
Of course, I don’t know anything about the politics of the people criticizing this DARPA funding, just that they are worried that defense money will be a corrupting influence on the maker movement. Which would imply that they think Defense Department values are corrupting. And they might be right to have some concerns. While the U.S. military services are probably the single most competent piece of our entire government, the defense industrial complex that equips them is pretty damned awful. It’s inefficient, spends more time on political than actual engineering, and is where most of the world’s bad suits go to get rumpled. And there is no doubt that money is a vector along which culture and values will readily travel, so I suppose it’s reasonable to fear that the maker movement could be changed by it.
But what everyone seems to be missing is that this isn’t a one-way process and the military, via DARPA, is essentially saying “we want to absorb not just your technology but the culture of openness by which you create it.” That’s an amazing opportunity and shouldn’t be ignored. The money is one vector, but the interactions, magical projects, and collaboration are another, perhaps more powerful vector, along which the values of the maker movement can be swabbed directly into one of the most influential elements of our society. This is opportunity! Read more…