India and Social Media: A Bit of an Issue

September 5, 2018

Spam is a pain for your inbox, feed, social network messages, and pretty much anything else you do online.  One of the worse things about spam messages is when someone does not know how to identify spam from the real stuff.  According to Reuters, the Indian government is getting fed up with spam, says the article, “WhatsApp To Clamp Down On ‘Sinister’ Messages In India: Ravi Shankar Prasad.”

Facebook apparently said it would develop tools to help the Indian government detect spam and other content with the purpose of sparking mass hysteria.  India is not any different from other countries when it is whipped into a frenzy: people get angry, there is collateral damage, and people get hurt.  WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels commiserated with India’s chief information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.  Prasad wants Facebook to design a way to track rabble rousing messages’ origins.  The IT minister does not think it is rocket science to figure a message’s origins, seemingly not knowing what work is required in order to read the metadata and program the code.

WhatsApp’s biggest market is India with a 200 million strong market and where, quite astonishingly, people forward more content than any other country.  We learned:

“There are also concerns that supporters of political parties could use social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread false messages in the run-up to India’s national elections in 2019.In July, WhatsApp said message forwards will be limited to five chats at a time, whether among individuals or groups, and said it will remove the quick forward button placed next to media messages.”

India is also a very social country, meaning your reputation, education, connections, and family status can mean the difference between success and failure.  Social networks are more complex than anything you could find in the West, China might be the only country that compares.  It does not come as a surprise WhatsApp could be used as a political tool and also to incite violence.

Whitney Grace, September 5, 2018

China Charts a Course in Cyber Space

August 19, 2018

I am not much a political thinker. But even with the minimal knowledge I possess about world affairs, it seems to me that China has made its cyber technology objective clear. Of course, I am assuming that the information in “When China Rules the Web” is accurate. You will have to judge for yourself.

The write up states:

Chinese President Xi Jinping has outlined his plans to turn China into a “cyber-superpower.”

My reaction to this statement was to ask this question, “When US companies make changes in order to sell to China, does that mean those companies are helping to make the Chinese cyber space vision a reality?”

There are other questions swirling through my mind, and I need time to sort them out. Companies define the US to a large part. If the companies go one way, will other components of the US follow?

Worth considering. A stated policy that is being implemented is different from a less purposeful approach.

Stephen E Arnold, August 19, 2018

How Long Is the Artificial Intelligence Leash?

August 17, 2018

The merger of AI technology and facial recognition software have been on the minds of the industry’s brightest thinkers lately. With developments coming at a furious clip, it seems as though there is no shortage to the benefits to this amazing prospect. We learned bout just how seamless this software is getting after reading an Inquirer story, “IBM’s Watson AI Used to Develop Multi-Faced Tracking Algorithm.”

According to the piece:

“IBM Watson researcher Chung-Ching Lin led a team of scientists to develop the technology, using a method to spot different individuals in a video sequence…. The system is also able to recognize if people leave and then re-enter the video, even if they look very different.”

Seems positive, doesn’t it? The idea of facial recognition software sweeping across a crowd and pulling out all the individuals from that sequence. However, this could become an issue if used by those with interesting intentions. For example, in some countries, excluding the US, law enforcement uses these systems for drift line surveillance.

Will governments take steps to keep AI on a shorter leash? Some countries will use a short leash because their facial recognition systems are the equivalent of a dog with a bite.

Patrick Roland, August 17, 2018

Google Becomes an Adviser to New Zealand about Copyright

August 16, 2018

We learned about a controversial meeting in New Zealand from an article at Stuff provocatively titled, “Google and Rights Holders Battle Over Copyright Reform.” Writer Tom Pullar-Strecker reports that in late June, Google lobbyist Kent Walker met with New Zealand Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi to discuss reform of that nation’s copyright laws. Apparently, Google was not sure search engines like theirs quite comply with existing law—so he offered suggestions on modifying the law. To be fair, that was an action already under consideration, but Google had to add its perspective to the mix. Naturally, Walker’s arguments must go beyond the well-being of his company, so the “more liberal” approach is being billed as key to New Zealand’s tech industry, particularly in AI. Others are not so certain; we learned:

Paula Browning, chief executive of interest group Copyright Licensing NZ, said one of the benefits of the existing law and the certainty it provided was “we don’t go to court every five minutes. The idea we would slip that on its head and be burdening the court in order to make law doesn’t sit very well with me,” she said. Browning also rejected the suggestion that copyright laws were holding back innovation. “There is an awful lot of business happening in New Zealand involving tech startups that suggest the law is not broken. We have got 28,000 tech companies under the Act we have got, so it doesn’t seem to be stopping us doing fabulous things.” There were only impediments to machine learning if people wanted to use other people’s information, she said. “If you are looking at companies that are doing AI, they are using data that is theirs. “If you want to have a ‘data grab of other people stuff’ to use for your business then, okay, maybe there are things in the way of you doing that.”

The official has a point. The article goes on to note Walker brought up Content ID (used by Google-owned YouTube), suggesting such a measure could be worked into the new law. (We’re told the EU is also considering the technology.) Notes on the meeting were taken and shared by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE). Browning expressed concern about upcoming decisions made “behind closed doors,” but believes the MBIE is working to ensure all stakeholders, large and small, have a say in that country’s copyright reform process. Meanwhile, we’re told, Walker is now senior VP of global affairs at Google; quell surprise.

Cynthia Murrell, August 16, 2018

Technology and Government: A Management Challenge for the 21st Century

August 15, 2018

Throughout history, government funding has led to some of the greatest technological advances known to man. Thank NASA next time you strap on your Velcro shoes or sip some Tang. Recently, some voices in Silicon Valley spoke out to try and repair the rift among tech and government. We learned more from a recent Washington Post Op-Ed, “Silicon Valley Should Stop Ostracizing the Military.”

According to the story:

“The world is safer and more peaceful with strong U.S. leadership. That requires the U.S. government to maintain its advantage in critical technologies such as AI. But doing so will be difficult if Silicon Valley’s rising hostility toward working with Washington continues. In June, Google…announced that it would not renew a Pentagon contract for an AI program called Project Maven when it expires next year.”

The biggest concern is that Russia and China are rapidly advancing their AI weaponry and leaving behind the US. This, they argue, weakens the freedom-loving world, so it is time for these often diametrically opposed organizations to make up for the good of the planet.

With the Department of Defense moving toward a decision about the $10 billion cloud procurement, Beyond Search anticipates more employee-management tension at the high technology giants jockeying for US government contracts.

Should employees expect a company’s Board of Directors and senior management to go in the direction employees want?

MBAs and high school math club thinking may create administrative friction. Whom does a tech slow down benefit? Electric scooter riders?

Patrick Roland, August 15, 2018

Internet Platforms Are Something New. But What Does “New” Mean?

August 12, 2018

“New” is an interesting concept. A new car suggests a vehicle that emits the mix of polyvinyls, warm electronics, and snake oil. “New” in a camp in Yemen means a T shirt abandoned by a person and claimed by another. “New” in a temple in Kyoto means repairs made a century ago.

But I learned in “Platforms Are Not Publishers”:

Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the internet are not media. They are something new we do not yet fully understand.

Would it be helpful to have the context and intended connotation of “new” defined?

Nah, after the Internet revolution, everyone knows the meaning of the word.

The problems generated when flows of data rip across the digital landscape is that these bits and bytes erode. The impact is more rapid but less easy to detect than the impact of a flash flood gushing through the streets of a Rio hillside slum.

The notion that commercial enterprises are the context. The platforms emerged from the characteristics of digital technology; that is, concentration, velocity, disintermediation, etc.

The large platforms are like beavers. Put a beaver in the observation deck of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan and the beavers are going to do what beavers do. They may die, but their beaverness makes them behave in a way that to some degree is predictable.

I like the idea that individuals in the “media”—another term which warrants defining—have to shoulder some of the blame. Better hurry. I am no longer sure how long the real media and the real journalists will survive.

Their future will be finding a way to exploit the digital flows.

In short, Internet platforms today are not much different from the BRS, DataStar, Dialog, and Lexis type systems before the Internet.

What’s different is the scope, scale, and speed of today’s digital flows. In the context of the information environment (what I continue to call the datasphere) is unchanged.

The problem is that today’s digital experts have a limited perception of “new” and the context of online systems and services.

In short, too late folks. Russia, Turkey, Iran, and other countries have figured out that the shortest distance between A and B is censorship.

Censorship is now a content fashion trend. That’s “new” as in governments are punching the “off” button. The action may be futile, but it is a reminder that old school methods may deliver because responsible commercial organizations ignore what may be their “duty.” Publishing? What’s that?

Stephen E Arnold, August 12, 2018

How Do You Track an Amtrak Train?

July 25, 2018

Passenger trains are expensive and vulnerable to delays in most countries. Riding trains in the UK can be darned exciting. Amtrak, the outfit responsible for passenger trains in the US, has made it easier to figure out where a train is on its route. No more futile calls to the Amtrak 800 number or, if one lives in a city where there is an easy-t0-access train station with a human attendant, and no more visits to the Amtrak Web site for information. Forget Bing, Google, Qwant, and Yandex queries.

Navigate to Track a Train. This is an Amtrak service which answers this question:

When will a train arrive?

Here’s what the site looks like:

amtrak 1

I clicked on the blue icons with arrows. These reveal information about a particular train. I selected North Dakota because there were two dots in the vast expanse of that region.

amtrak 2

I also figured that unlike the Northeast corridor, the trains would be able to zoom along. Here’s what I learned when I clicked on the left hand east bound blue icon:

amtrak 3

The train, which departed from Seattle, appears to be running a mere seven hours and 26 minutes behind schedule.

The purple dots which look like this provide one click views of trains in the heavily used north east corridor:

amtrak 4

Click one of these purple icons and you see:

amtrak 5

I used to ride the train between Washington and New York when I lived in DC. What’s notable about this information is that it does not provide the date and time of the information. But a tiny green flag explains that this train is on time. That’s a plus.

Several observations:

  1. The train track data is from July 23, and I clicked on July 25. Not exactly semi real time or remotely useful.
  2. Most of the Amtrak blue icons report that trains are running behind schedule. This begs the question, “Why not adjust the schedules to real world performance or, as some might suggest, non performance?
  3. For a big country, there are not many trains; for example, there is no service connecting Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis. Options worsen as one moves west. South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho? Better fly or drive?

Net net: The information on the map does not paint a particularly positive picture of Amtrak on time performance. The wonky date information makes it difficult to determine how fresh or how stale the information on the map is.

Maybe those super coach rides are worth checking out?

Stephen E Arnold, July 25, 2018

China Senses Silicon Valley Weakness: The Art of Digital War in Action

July 23, 2018

In the early 2000s, China was referred to as the “sleeping dragon,” because it was believed the Middle Kingdom would overtake the US as the world’s top economic power. It did not happen. China still remains a major economic powerhouse, but instead of total economic dominance China is challenging Silicon Valley. The Atlantic looks at how in the article, “How China’s Tech Revolution Threatens Silicon Valley.”

Beijing is a hotbed for young, educated professionals working in startups. Once upon a time college graduates applied for jobs at state-owned businesses and banks, because of job security. It is not like that anymore. People who had those jobs were unengaged with them. The new economic boom fueled by public and private funding allows the young to walk a different path free of the monotonous labor of their fore parents.

There are many Chinese startup success stories: Alibaba, search engine Baidu, and phone manufacturer Xiaomi. Beijing is a startup epicenter and it is very much like walking in New York City, London, Los Angeles, Paris, or another modern city except it is Asian. Since the end of the Cold War, China’s economic and cultural identity has been a group mentality followed by a US copycat status.

China, however, wants to be the world’s technology leader in robots, AI, clean energy cars, and more. The government that used to stymie creativity is now actively calling for it:

“Chinese leaders are looking to young entrepreneurs to spearhead the transformation. It helps that much the world’s hardware, such as smartphones and computers, is already made domestically, with many key parts produced in the southern factory metropolis of Shenzhen. Also supporting China’s strength is an influx of venture capital into Chinese start-ups, from both home and abroad, and from private investments by rich Chinese individuals who lack safer options given China’s volatile stock market and restrictions on investments in housing. Last year, Chinese-led funding accounted for nearly a quarter of worldwide venture capital, a 15-fold increase from 2013, with most of the investment going to Chinese companies, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis. During that period, U.S.-led funding doubled.”

The Chinese government is giving money to people with startup ideas. But what does the Chinese government demand in return? China does not like anything that gives them a bad name and they also are controlling. What is the Chinese government going to demand when the interest on their loans comes due?

What will US companies do if certain products and services are no longer affordable, economically viable, or available?

Whitney Grace, July 23, 2018

Some Happy, Some Sad in Seattle Over Cloud Deal Review

July 12, 2018

I know little about the procurement skirmishes fought over multi billion dollar deals for cloud services. The pragmatic part of my experience suggests that the last thing most statement of work and contract processes produce is efficient, cost effective contracts. Quite a few COTRs, lawyers, super grades, and mere SETAs depend on three things:

  1. Complex, lengthy processes; that is, work producing tasks
  2. Multiple vendors; for example, how many databases does one agency need? Answer: Many, many databases. Believe me, there are many great reasons ranging from the way things work in Washington to legacy systems which will never be improved in my lifetime.
  3. Politics. Ah, yes, lobbyists, special interests, friends of friends, and sometimes the fact that a senior official knows that a person once worked at a specific outfit.

When I read, “Deasy Pauses on JEDI Cloud Acquisition,” I immediately thought about the giant incumbent database champions like IBM Federal Systems and Oracle’s government operations unit.


Department of Defense CIO Dana Deasy wants a “full top down, bottom up review” of the JEDI infrastructure acquisition.

But there was a moment of reflection, when I realized that this procurement tussle will have significant impact on the Seattle area. You know, Seattle, the city which has delivered Microsoft Bob and the Amazon mobile phone.

Microsoft and Amazon are in the cloud business. Microsoft is the newcomer, but it is the outfit which has the desktops of many government agencies. Everyone loves SharePoint. The Department of Defense could not hold a briefing without PowerPoint.

Let’s not forget Amazon. That is the platform used by most government workers, their families, and possibly their friends if that Amazon account slips into the wild. Who could exist in Tyson’s Corner or Gaithersburg without Amazon delivering essential foods such as probiotic supplements for the dog.

Microsoft is probably thrilled that the JEDI procurement continues to be a work in progress. Amazon, on the other hand, is likely to be concerned that its slam dunk for a government cloud game home run has been halted due to procedural thunderstorms.

Thus, part of Seattle is really happy. Another part of Seattle is not so happy.

Since I don’t’ have a dog in this fight, my hunch is that little in Washington, DC changes from administrative change to administrative change.

But this Seattle dust up will be interesting to watch. I think it will have a significant impact on Amazon and Microsoft. IBM Federal Systems and Oracle will be largely unscathed.

Exciting procurement activity is underway. Defense Department CIO Deasy Deasy’s promise of a “full top down, bottom up review” sounds like the words to a song I have heard many times.

With $10 billion in play, how long will that review take? My hunch is that it will introduce the new CIO to a new concept, “government time.”

Stephen E Arnold, July 12, 2018

WhatsApp: Electronic Messages Exert Force

July 11, 2018

WhatsApp, the social messaging wunderkind app, has been making major headway in the market, nearing usage rates of early Facebook and Twitter. Nowhere is WhatsApp making a greater impact than in Brazil, where the political landscape itself is being transformed via the app, as we discovered in a recent Washington Post story, “WhatsApp is Upending the of Unions in Brazil, Next it May Transform Politics.”

According to the story:

“Nearly two-thirds of Brazil’s 200 million people use WhatsApp to share memes, set up meetings and, increasingly, vent about politics. Now, the messaging app is helping Brazilians undermine established power structures, injecting a level of unpredictability and radicalization into a country beset by economic and political crises.”

It’s not just Brazil that is being impacted by WhatsApp and its ability to connect people. The South American nation is only one of a handfuls of examples, many of the life-and-death variety. For example, The Guardian claims that several political activists embedded in repressive regimes have been using WhatsApp to skirt punishment and organize groups aimed at upending the government. This is promising news and a great example of the disruption that many Silicon Valley startups envisioned when they created their social media platforms. Three cheers for more of this.

Patrick Roland, July 11, 2018

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