Trillions of things sending billions of messages

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Mickey McManus on preparing for an era of unbounded malignant complexity.

Tealia_crassicornis_Paul_K_Flickr

Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

In this week’s episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mike Hendrickson talks with Autodesk research fellow Mickey McManus about engaging with extreme users and what’s going to happen when we have trillions of things sending billions of messages. McManus also talked about how we can prepare for the coming era of unbounded malignant complexity.

Unbounded malignant complexity

In talking about Trillions, a book McManus co-authored with Peter Lucas and Joe Ballay, McManus explained what exactly we’re up against in the next five years as our world becomes more and more permeated with computation:

We are probably five years away from trillions of computing devices, and that wouldn’t be bad, but then imagine a world saturated with computers. It’s almost like a super-saturated solution. They’re not all connected, so maybe we could cope with that. But, concurrently, connectivity is joining Moore’s law — people like Intel are working on Moore’s law radio that basically puts all the parts of a radio on silicon. Which means that, suddenly, the cost of connectivity drops to dirt, to nothing, to dust.

We’ll have this super-saturated solution where that seed hits it, and we’re going to turn the sock inside out. We’re going to go from information in computers, like your super computer in your pocket, to us being surrounded by information. … The next information age will be an era of unbounded malignant complexity. Because there’s a lot of stuff. We have to get ready for that.

Read more…

Comment

To suit or not to suit?

At Cultivate, we'll address the issues really facing management: how to deal with human problems.

Attend Cultivate July 20 and 21, in Portland, Oregon, which will be co-located with our OSCON Conference. Cultivate is our event looking at the challenges facing modern management and aiming to train a new generation of business leaders who understand the relationship between corporate culture and corporate prosperity.

Ties_(Cravate_-_Larousse)_crop1What does it take to become a manager? According to one article, you should buy a suit. And think about whether you want to be a manager in the first place. You’re probably being paid better as a programmer. Maybe you should get an MBA. At night school. And take a Myers-Briggs test.

There are better ways to think about management. Cultivate won’t tell you how to become a manager, or even whether you should; that’s ultimately a personal decision. We will discuss the issues that are really facing management: issues that are important whether you are already managing, are looking forward to managing, or just want to have a positive impact on your company.

Management isn’t about technical issues; it’s about human issues, and we’ll be discussing how to deal with human problems. How do you debug your team when its members aren’t working well together? How do you exercise leadership effectively? How do you create environments where everyone’s contribution is valued?

These are the issues that everyone involved with the leadership of a high-performance organization has to deal with. They’re inescapable. And as companies come under increasing pressure because of ever-faster product cycles, difficulty hiring and retaining excellent employees, customer demand for designs that take their needs into account, and more, these issues will become even more important. We’ve built Cultivate around the cultural changes organizations will need to thrive — and in many cases, survive — in this environment. Read more…

Comment

Flattening organizations

It's easy to talk about eliminating hierarchy; it's much harder to do it effectively.

tangram_licensed_istock_crop

Attend Cultivate July 20 and 21, in Portland, Oregon, which will be co-located with our OSCON Conference. Cultivate is our event looking at the challenges facing modern management and aiming to train a new generation of business leaders who understand the relationship between corporate culture and corporate prosperity.

Do companies need a managerial class? The idea of a future without management takes many forms, some more sophisticated than others; but at their most basic, the proposals center around flattening organizational structure. Companies can succeed without managers and without grunts. Employees are empowered to find something useful to do and then do it, making their own decisions along the way. That vision of the future is gaining momentum, and a few businesses are taking the fairly radical step of taking their companies flat.

The game developer Valve‘s employee handbook is outspoken in its rejection of traditional corporate hierarchy. There is no management class. Teams self-organize around specific tasks; when the task is done, the team disappears and its members find new tasks. All the office furniture has wheels, so groups can self-organize at a moment’s notice. Employees rate each other, producing a ranking that is used to determine salaries.

More recently, Zappos and Medium have been in the news for adopting similar (though apparently more formalized) practices, under the name “holacracy.”

There’s a lot to like about this model, but I also have concerns. I’m no friend to hierarchy, but if I’ve seen one thing repeatedly in my near-60 years, it’s that you frequently are what you reject. By rejecting something, whether it’s hierarchy, lust for power, wealth, whatever, you make it very difficult to be self-critical. You don’t change yourself; instead, you turn what you dislike most about yourself into your blind spot. Read more…

Comment

Anti-circumvention rules limit reverse engineering

An overview of requested exceptions for the 2014-15 triennial review of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Editor’s note: this article originally published in the July issue of Communications of the ACM (CACM); it is cross-published here with permission.

Matthew_Walker_knot-slackComputer security researchers and hobbyists who want to tinker with the software in their cars are among those who will find out by the end of 2015 whether the U.S. Copyright Office has issued exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anti-circumvention rules. Exemptions would enable these actors to engage in reverse engineering that might bypass technical measures that protect access to copyrighted software or content. It is much to be hoped for that the Office will exempt all uses that pose no threat of copyright infringement, which is all that the anti-circumvention rules were supposed to be about. Unfortunately, the rules were drafted very broadly. Hence, the need to seek exemptions.

This column, written in March and originally published in the July edition of Communications of the ACM, explores examples of DMCA exemption requests submitted for consideration. Read more…

Comment

Building intelligent machines

To understand deep learning, let’s start simple.

neurons-582054_1280

Use code DATA50 to get 50% off of the new early release of “Fundamentals of Deep Learning: Designing Next-Generation Artificial Intelligence Algorithms.” Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of “Fundamentals of Deep Learning,” by Nikhil Buduma.

The brain is the most incredible organ in the human body. It dictates the way we perceive every sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. It enables us to store memories, experience emotions, and even dream. Without it, we would be primitive organisms, incapable of anything other than the simplest of reflexes. The brain is, inherently, what makes us intelligent.

The infant brain only weighs a single pound, but somehow, it solves problems that even our biggest, most powerful supercomputers find impossible. Within a matter of days after birth, infants can recognize the faces of their parents, discern discrete objects from their backgrounds, and even tell apart voices. Within a year, they’ve already developed an intuition for natural physics, can track objects even when they become partially or completely blocked, and can associate sounds with specific meanings. And by early childhood, they have a sophisticated understanding of grammar and thousands of words in their vocabularies.

For decades, we’ve dreamed of building intelligent machines with brains like ours — robotic assistants to clean our homes, cars that drive themselves, microscopes that automatically detect diseases. But building these artificially intelligent machines requires us to solve some of the most complex computational problems we have ever grappled with, problems that our brains can already solve in a manner of microseconds. To tackle these problems, we’ll have to develop a radically different way of programming a computer using techniques largely developed over the past decade. This is an extremely active field of artificial computer intelligence often referred to as deep learning. Read more…

Comment

10 principles for sane automobile manufacturing

A new, low-impact model for manufacturing using a dematerialized approach

autos-382993_1280_Pixabay

The current approach for manufacturing automobiles is expensive, wasteful, and energy-intensive; it hurts our environment as well as our economy. When it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to start a car factory, innovation becomes nearly impossible. As we triple the number of cars on the road in the next 30 to 40 years, the conventional approach will not be sustainable.

Dematerialization — reducing the material and energy required to build cars — is the only effective way to reduce the environmental and social damage stemming from automobiles. Dematerialization will lead to:

  • Far fewer emissions from both manufacturing and operation
  • Much lower material and energy inputs in manufacturing
  • Dramatically better gas mileage
  • Lower wear on roads
  • Fewer fatalities from car accidents

By focusing on dematerialization, my company Divergent Microfactories was able to build a car with only a third of the total health and environmental damage of an 85 kWh all-electric car. The objective: drive that impact down to a quarter or less. Read more…

Comment