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Archive for the ‘Comment’ Category
I’ve long been a supporter of the campaign to put Alan Turing on the back of a ten pound note in recognition of his mathematical achievements. So I was pleased to get an email over the weekend confirming that the national e-petition has reached 21,996 signatures. This is good news for the campaign and as the e-mail from HM Government says:
“As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response: The Bank of England has been including historic characters on its notes since 1970. The Bank welcomes suggestions from members of the public for individuals who might feature on future banknotes, and publishes a list of these suggestions on its website. These suggestions inform the process when a new note is under consideration.”
So all good. A glance at the published list, however, shows the competition that our Alan is up against. There must be around 150 names, ranging from philosopher Roger Bacon to singer Robbie Williams (yes, you read that correctly).
More signatures on the petition can only help. Surely the inventor of the founding theory of digital computers can beat the singer of 90s hit ‘Angels’?
It makes for a cracking headline, but Internet ‘trolling’ is not the abusive behaviour that has been reported in various newspaper articles this week.
Subs from both the Guardian (‘Internet troll told by court to keep away from public figures’, 12 June) and the Telegraph (‘Trolling abuse got worse for victim Nicola Brookes after Facebook victory’, 11 June) have had fun with this word in the last few days.
The truth is though that the word ‘trolling’ has been widely used in Internet circles for years to refer to the act of tying up online forums, and other social media, in meaningless and time wasting discussions. The idea is to post something that is deliberately incorrect and lure other users, particularly newbies, into wasting time arguing about it. According to net scholar Susan Herring and colleagues at Indiana University it derives from a fishing term whereby a baited line is dragged behind a boat (see an example paper here).
The behaviours described in the newspapers are more accurately described as ‘flaming’, or more succinctly, just abuse.
My new book on Web 2.0, which comes out later this month, concludes with a brief review of the prospects of us entering a second Internet stocks bubble. Although somewhat forgotten now (eight years is an eon in computing), the original concept of Web 2.0 emerged out of the dot-com crash that followed the Internet bubble of the late 1990s. With the Facebook flotation and recent purchase of Instagram this has become a topical issue, and I was interested to read a piece on GigaOm which reviews the evidence for and against.
The turning of the year is always a time for foresight, but 2012 has been imbued with special significance thanks to the Mayan Long Count calendar. Despite our impending doom, on the Web there’s the usual slew of new year prediction stuff: a proper Apple TV – to be or not to be; will cloud computing continue to storm; can Windows 8 save Nokia, or even Microsoft; how long will e-mail last as a form of communication. However, amongst the low-hanging fruit there was a handful of more interesting and thought provoking predictions so here goes (in no particular order):
On the Web 2.0 front, entrepreneur Elad Gil has predicted that 2012 will be the year of what he calls ‘social curation’ – with services such as Pinterest and Storify showing the way. Fast Company predict a significant new player will emerge in online social networks in 2012 whilst Gartner are arguing that by the end of 2014, at least one social network provider will become an insurance sales channel.
In the wider technology arena, Intel predicts that 2012 will be the year that ultra-books – razor-thin laptops which use very little battery power – will come to dominate the PC market, whilst Vivek Wadhwa at the UC Berkeley blog argues that it’s ultra-cheap tablet computers that will become all the rage. Silicon Republic predict that the London Olympics will be the key event to kick-start serious interest in electric wallets using Near Field Communications (NFC) as an enabler of mobile commerce.
Finally, the television looks set to become an important technology battleground in the coming year. As well as the plans for Apple to enter the TV market, Google has announced various developments in this area. However, something that hasn’t received the attention it’s due (and which we were trying to get people to think about back in 2007) has been highlighted by MSNBC: 2012 will be the most significant year in TV display technology since 1997, thanks to the introduction of super-high definition OLEDs, a technology that uses a lot less energy than LCD.
All this assumes, of course, that we make it to the end of the year without galactic alignment, geomagnetic reversal, or alien invasion.
How excited do you get playing with your iPad? Would you give up your lunch hour to spend a few precious moments staring into its ten inches of LCD loveliness? Philips thinks there are plenty of us who would, and they have developed the VitalSigns app to provide us with an excuse – if we feel we need one.
You place your iPad on a table, set the app running and then just look at the screen. The iPad’s camera tracks tiny colour changes in your face – undetectable to the human eye – and equates them to heart rate. It also detects the movement of your chest to calculate how fast you’re breathing.
The disclaimer says that the app is strictly for fun – you can email the results or post them to Facebook or Twitter – and that readings are not intended for diagnosis or clinical monitoring or decision making. While this may sound a trifle strange, in the wider world the app is part of an emerging trend of self-measurement. There is, according to a recent article in MIT Review, a growing movement of ‘self trackers’ – fitness fanatics, geek obsessives and the genuinely ill – who are using an array of new gadgets to obtain near-constant feedback on their health. Building on techniques used in sport and hospital intensive care wards, these devices allow the user to monitor, record and analyse different health-related functions.
Of course we shouldn’t be surprised. Smart meters that report back details of our energy use are now old news, even if we haven’t quite got round to installing them yet. The Philips device and similar self-tracking systems are just part of the first wave of technology that feeds data back to us.
There have been whispers about the Raspberry Pi über-mini computer for several months now, but in recent days the project has come out of skunk works and is garnering some press attention. Essentially, the plan is to design and build a credit card-sized, programmable computing device for as little as $25 (around £15). The technology is based around an ARM 11 microprocessor and the GNU/Linux operating system. An SD card provides storage (unsurprisingly at this price there is no hard disc) and a HDMI connection means that a consumer TV can be attached.
The organisation behind it is the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK registered charity that wants to put the fun back into studying computing by manufacturing an ultra-low cost computer and distributing it to schools so that they can teach computer programming to children. Genius. In the late 1970s, people like me cut their programming teeth on similar, although much less powerful, single board hobbyist computers such as Nascom and Kim. With the rise of commodity computing, and brands such as Apple, IBM, Dell and Microsoft, these kinds of machines all but disappeared. The Raspberry Pi team are trying to recreate that spirit of adventure, and as one of the developers, Eben Upton, puts it in a YouTube video:
“Young people don’t have a platform they can learn to program on. I’ve been programming since I was ten, most of my friends who are in the industry have been programming since they were ten, [but] there aren’t a lot of ten-year-old computer programmers anymore. This is going to be an enormous problem for our industry.”
The overall aim seems to be to get these devices into schools, particularly in the UK, and there is talk of a scheme that asks every purchaser to donate one to a local school. As the UK’s coalition government continue to scratch their heads over how to get growth going again it could do far worse than look at this scheme to help fire up the imagination of a new generation of coders.
At lunchtime today the UK’s Department of Business announced the first round of government cuts, including: “£18 million by stopping low priority projects like the Semantic web”
Could this be right? Was the new coalition government really going to stop the next stage of the Web – sometimes referred to as Web 3.0 – in which artificial intelligence (AI) techniques are introduced to the Internet? How would they do this? Ban the use of RDF (one of the key standards involved) or close down the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the standards body that oversees it?
After an outbreak of fevered twittering, the Department updated its text to read:
“stopping low priority projects like the Institute of Web Sciences (researching semantic web technologies)”
So, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The Semantic Web is safe. But this is a breathtaking example of short-sightedness on the part of UK Plc.
The Institute was announced in March with Web inventor, and Englishman, Sir Tim Berners-Lee slated to be heading it up. It was to be based at Oxford and Southampton, universities with strong Internet and AI research pedigrees. With British companies having pretty much missed out on Web 1.0 and 2.0 explosions (look at the roll call of names of the top twenty Web companies: Google, Facebook, E-Bay, Amazon etc.) we had a good chance not to miss out on Web 3.0. Looks like as a nation we are about to drop the ball yet again.
So well done on yet another own goal. The UK’s new government has shot down one of the few emerging industries in which we could genuinely claim some world-class prowess.