Tag Archives: technology

When speech becomes text, what happens to writing?

downey

I successfully put down the baby for her late morning nap half an a hour ago. After running quietly around in sock feet trying to do things while she was out cold, I sat down to answer email and messages. As I entered this post into WordPress, she awoke again.)

It’s not easy to respond quickly and at volume using one hand or thumb, though I’ve gotten much better at both over the past five months with a baby daughter.

Over that time, I’ve been struck by how good the voice recognition in iOS on my iPhone has become. I’ve been able to successfully dictate a rough draft of a long article into the email interface and respond to any number of inbound inquiries that way.

That said, neither the soft keyboard nor voice-to-text on the device are a substitute yet for the 15″ keyboard in my MacBook Pro when I want to write at length.

It’s mostly a matter of numbers: I can still type away at more than eighty words per minute on the full-size keyboard, far faster than I can produce accurate text through any method on my smartphone.

Capturing and sharing anything other than text on the powerful device, however, has become trivially easy, from images to video to audio recordings.

The process of “writing” has long since escaped the boundaries of tabulas, slate and papyrus, moving from pens and paper to explode onto typewriters, personal computers and tablets.

Today, I’m thinking about how the bards of today will  be able to reclaim the oldest form of storytelling — the spoken word — and apply it in a new context.

As we enter the next decade of rapidly improving gestural and tactile interfaces for connected mobile devices, I wonder how long until the generations that preceded me will be able to leave decades of experience with keyboards behind and simply speak naturally to connected devices to share what they thinking or seeing with family, friends and coworkers.

Economist Paul Krugman seemed to be thinking about something similar this morning, in a blog post on “techno-optimism”, when he commented on the differences between economic and technological stagnation:

…I know it doesn’t show in the productivity numbers yet, but anyone who tracks technology has a strong sense that something big has been happening the past few years, that seemingly intractable problems — like speech recognition, adequate translation, self-driving cars, etc. — are suddenly becoming tractable. Basically, smart machines are getting much better at interacting with the natural environment in all its complexity. And that suggests that Skynet will soon kill us all a real transformative leap is somewhere over the horizon, maybe not this decade, but this generation.

Still, what do I know? But Brynjolfsson and McAfee have a new book — not yet out, but I have a manuscript — making this point with many examples and a lot of analysis.

There remain big questions about how the benefits of this technological surge, if it’s coming, will be distributed. But I think this kind of thing has to be taken into account when we try to imagine the future; I’m a great Gordon admirer, but his techniques necessarily involve extrapolating from the past, and aren’t well suited to picking up what could be a major inflection point.

That future feels much closer this morning.

[Image Credit: Navneet Alang, "Sci-Fi Fantasies, Real-Life Disappointments"]

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Apple releases first transparency report on government requests for user data

Apple, one of the least transparent companies in the world, has released a transparency report on government requests for user data.(PDF). Requests from the United States of America dwarf the rest of the world — and that’s without including the ones that Apple cannot tell us about, due to gag orders and National Security Letters.

apple-transparency-table

Notably, Apple has indicated that it will join other tech companies in seeking the ability to disclose such requests:

“We believe that dialogue and advocacy are the most productive way to bring about a change in these policies, rather than filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government. Concurrent with the release of this report, we have filed an Amicus brief at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) in support of a group of cases requesting greater transparency. Later this year, we will file a second Amicus brief at the Ninth Circuit in support of a case seeking greater transparency with respect to National Security Letters. We feel strongly that the government should lift the gag order and permit companies to disclose complete and accurate numbers regarding FISA requests and National Security Letters. We will continue to aggressively pursue our ability to be more transparent.”

Apple did break new ground with the report, as FT reporter Tim Bradshaw observed: it was the first to disclose requests for device data.

device-data-requst

The U.S. government leads the rest of the world in device data requests by law enforcement as well, though not by as wide a margin: Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Germany have all made more than 1000 requests, according to the disclosure.

Be careful about what you put in that iCloud, folks.

Apple’s transparency report ends with an interesting footnote: “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.”

For those unfamiliar with that part of the law, it has been the subject of intense criticism for years from privacy and civil liberties advocates, particularly since the disclosures of mass surveillance of U.S. telecomm data by the NSA entered the public sphere this past summer.

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Will social search on Facebook be Google’s toughest challenge yet?

On further reflection Facebook’s announcement regarding upgraded search could be the biggest tech news today.

Why? Well, Facebook graph search for posts and updates will make the network MUCH easier to discover fresh content relevant to a given person, place or thing, both for journalists and regular users.

Right now, search just turns up profiles and pages, not posts.

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Combined with a “business graph,” locations and secure payment systems, such a search engine could become useful to a billion Facebook users quickly.

Over time, searches will generate a huge amount of interest data and potentially a new source of revenue, if Facebook adapts Google’s model of selling ads next to results.

Search for Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and other mobile social networks to come could well evolve similarly, if not at the same massive scale.

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts? Have links to better and/or relevant analysis? Please share in the comments.

Update: Commenting on Google+, open standards advocate Chris Messina agreed that this is notable news, although how big “depends on coverage for normal searches (which would determine search quality perception) and the relative impact of the corpus being mostly ACL’d content.”

Still, wrote Messina, “it’s a big deal, especially if Facebook can annotate that data with intent/verb-based apps. For example, query: “restaurants in New York City that my friends like and I haven’t been too”. I’d expect to see apps I use in the results, like OpenTable or Foursquare.”

He also raised a wrinkle I hadn’t considered: “That’s another aspect of this that becomes big for developers (at some point) — search as a personalized app platform.”

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5 Social Media Week DC 2012 Panels: Conversations, Politics, Technology, Public Diplomacy and eDemocracy

Social Media Week DC  is going to be a busy conference for me this year. If you haven’t heard about it yet, the week-long festival starts 12 days from now. The week will feature speakers, panels, workshops, events, and parties all across the District celebrating tech and social media in the Nation’s Capital, including a special edition of the DC Tech Meetup. I’m going to be moderating four panels and participating on a fifth. I’m excited about all five and I hope that readers, friends, colleagues and the DC community comes to one or more of them.

If the panels that I’m involved in aren’t your cup of tea, you might find something more to your taste in the full SMW DC schedule.

Social Media Week DC 2012

Following is the breakdown of the five panels that I’ll be participating in this year:

  • Creating & Managing High Quality Online Conversations
    Location: Science Club
    Date: Monday, February 13 at 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM |  Add to Google Calendar | Add to iCal
    Description: Discussions in online comment sections and social media can be tricky to manage. Some sites are bogged down full of low quality comments, spam, and more. How do we create high quality online discussions? How do we filter out the noise – the spam, the solicitation, harassment, and hateful speech that often becomes part of any online discussion? We will discuss examples of those that have done it well, and some that haven’t. We will also speak to individuals who have dealt with harassment and negativity online and learn how they fought back and still used social media tools for constructive discussion and engagement.
  • Politics and technology: the media’s role in the changing landscape: ASK QUESTIONS
    Location: Powell Tate
    Date: Tuesday, February 14 at 10:00 AM | Add to Google Calendar | Add to iCal
    Description
    : Digital platforms have changed the media landscape forever, but how has it changed the way the media covers politics? We’ll ask a panel of reporters from Gannett, National Journal, ABC News and Politico as they discuss 2012 election coverage.
  • Social Politics: How Technology Has Helped Campaigns: ASK QUESTIONS
    Location: Powell Tate
    Date: Tuesday, February 14 at 2:00 PM | Add to Google Calendar | Add to iCal
    Description: The social media landscape has changed drastically since 2008. We’ll hear directly from panelists from Google, Twitter and Facebook as they delve into the tools and innovations that candidates and campaigns have utilized as the 2012 campaign heats up.
  • Public Diplomacy in the Age of Social Media
    Location: New America Foundation
    Date: Thursday, February 16 at 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM | Add to Google Calendar| Add to iCal
    Description
    : How does social media change how statecraft is practiced in the 21st century? Who’s participating and why? What have been some lessons learned from the pioneers who have logged on to listen and engage? Three representatives from the U.S. Department of State will share case studies and professional experiences gleaned directly from the virtual trenches.
  • Social Media, Government and 21st Century eDemocracy
    Location: The U.S. National Archives
    Date: Friday, February 17 at 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM | Add to Calendar | Add to iCal
    Description: While Sean Parker may predict that social media will determine the outcome of the 2012 election, governance is another story entirely. Meaningful use of social media by Congress remains challenged by a number of factors, not least an online identity ecosystem that has not provided Congress with ideal means to identify constituents online. The reality remains that when it comes to which channels influence Congress, in-person visits and individual emails or phone calls are far more influential with congressional staffers.“People think it’s always an argument in Washington,” said Matt Lira, Director of Digital for the House Majority Leader. “Social media can change that. We’re seeing a decentralization of audiences that is built around their interests rather than the interests of editors. Imagine when you start streaming every hearing and making information more digestible. All of a sudden, you get these niche audiences. They’re not enough to sustain a network, but you’ll get enough of an audience to sustain the topic. I believe we will have a more engaged citizenry as a result.”

    This conversation with Lira (and other special guests, as scheduling allows) will explore more than how social media is changing politics in Washington. We’ll look at its potential to can help elected officials and other public servants make better policy decisions.

If you’re not in DC, check to see if there is a Social Media Week event near you: in 2012, the conference now include New York, San Francisco, Miami, Toronto, London, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, and Sao Paulo.

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Thank you, Steve Jobs

The world has lost one of the rarest of men: someone who not only thought differently but helped create objects that opened all of our eyes too. Tonight, the Associated Press reported that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had passed away. A letter from Apple’s board went online. And then apple.com changed to an iconic, arresting new image. Steve Jobs

Wired.com went black. Google.com linked to apple.com.

Social networks worldwide lit up with tweets and updates about the death of Steve Jobs.

And, at least for a night, the Web itself felt united in its grief.

Jobs told us “how to live before you die” in a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

While I listened to the speech, I ventured onto a Web absolutely ablaze with sadness, memories, elegies, celebrations and eulogies to Jobs. Following are a few of the voices and perspectives I found.

“Michelle and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Steve Jobs. Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.

By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Steve’s wife Laurene, his family, and all those who loved him.”-President Obama.

“Jobs proved the appeal of well-designed intuitive products over the sheer power of tech itself”-Wall Street Journal

Apple transformed “not only product categories … but also entire industries”-John Markoff

“Bill Gates put a computer on every desk. Steve Jobs put one in every pocket, purse, dorm room and bedroom.”-New York Times

“He completely changed how we interact with technology”-Wired

“The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.”-Bill Gates

“Steve Jobs saw the future and brought it to life long before most people could even see the horizon”-Mike Bloomberg

Steve Jobs “realized what we wanted before we understood it ourselves”-Ted Anthony

Jobs’ career merged the ’60s and Silicon Valley “in a way that re-imagined business itself”-Steven Jay Levy. “Steve Jobs’ reality field actually came into being. And we all live in it.”

Think back: “There’s about to be a new delivery vehicle in higher education in America”-Steve Jobs, 1987, C-SPAN.

“May the uncompromising vision of Steve Jobs live on, inspiring others, making them reach further, do better.”-Tim O’Reilly

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”-Gizmodo

“His ambitions took him, and us, to extraordinary places”-Harry McCracken

Steve Jobs “brought together art, humanities and tech: he was one of a kind”-Laura Sydell

Walt Mossberg wrote about “The Steve Jobs I Knew.”

“Yesterday, I lived on a world with a Steve Jobs in it. Tonight, I don’t.”-Andy Ihnatko

“Every generation has its heroes.”-Om Malik

Jobs embodied “a glorious piece of what it is to be American with all our contradictions”-Alexis Madrigal

Steve Jobs said “don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” I won’t.

He gave us inspiration to write our own melodies, to insist on hearing the songs in our heads voiced to the world, whether that vision was wrought in gleaming glass and aluminum, drawn in fanciful pixels or published, echoing Gutenberg’s first revolution.

Thinking back, my first computer was an Apple II+. In 1985, I wrote a story on it. In 1995, I made my first Web site on a Mac. In 2011, I share my world on an iPhone. 27 years later, I’m making my living on a Macbook Pro and tapping on an iPad.

Thank you, Steve Jobs.

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Awesome Foundation DC Launch Party warmly welcomed in District

Over the past year, the Awesome Foundation has been growing globally, providing micro-grants for creative genius in multiple continents. Last night, hundreds of people bought “Tickets to Awesome” and joined the DC chapter of the Awesome Foundation at a launch party in One Lounge in Dupont Circle.

Party goers mixed and mingled with the DC chapter’s microtrustees, including this correspondent, and checked out exhibits and demonstrations from the first four recipients of awesome grants. DC FabLab, Ward 8, Petworth and Counterpoint were in attendance for awards ceremony. Bonnie Shaw (@Bon_Zai), DC’s “Dean of Awesome,” gave a brief speech at the launch party ceremony:

Curious folks also checked out exhibits from My Dream of Jeanne, ExAparatus and ScrapAction, donating to the projects they liked the most using the awesome tokens that came with their tickets. Counterpoint even performed upstairs in front of a packed lounge.

You can follow the Awesome Foundation DC on Twitter for updates on new grants, performances, installations and other awesome events at @AFdnDC.

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Why including women matters for the future of technology and society

The Women of ENIAC

The "Women of ENIAC." For their history, read "Programming the ENIAC."

Some issues trigger a deeper response than others within communities. In the technology world, the education, opportunities and inclusion of women holds unusual resonance.

In the U.S., as Nick Kristof wrote, “schoolgirls are leaving boys behind in the dust.” After graduation, the narrative evolves further. As Claire Cain Miller wrote in the New York Times on Friday, “women now outnumber men at elite colleges, law schools, medical schools and in the overall work force. Yet a stark imbalance of the sexes persists in the high-tech world, where change typically happens at breakneck speed.”

Why the disparity in the world of Silicon Valley startups, venture capital and high technology? Why are so few women in Silicon Valley?

At least some of the issue runs deep, far back into the educational system. As Miller writes:

That attitude is prevalent among young women. Girls begin to turn away from math and science in elementary school, because of discouragement from parents, underresourced teachers and their own lack of interest and exposure, according to a recent report by theAnita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and the Computer Science Teachers Association.

Just 1 percent of girls taking the SAT in 2009 said they wanted to major in computer or information sciences, compared with 5 percent of boys, according to the College Board.

Only 18 percent of college students graduating with computer science degrees in 2008 were women, down from 37 percent in 1985, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

So what can be done? How could including women in FOO Camp or making a list of women in tech or unconferences matter?

As computer scientist Hillary Mason tweeted tonight, “We don’t need affirmative action. We need meaningful culture change and support.”

Based upon the research a colleague gathered tonight, some actions could make an important difference in three ways:

(1) It’s good for men. Inclusion of women and minorities reduce stereotypes, and promotes second-order reflection on latent stereotypes, by providing real, first-hand experience. (Mahzarin R. Banaji and Curtis D. Hardin, Automatic Stereotyping, 7(3) Psychol. Sci. 136-41 (May 1996).)

This leads to better, more accurate evaluation of people’s work – because when people unconsciously use stereotypes, they mis-evaluate work. For example women’s presence in high-level orchestras basically doubled once auditions started to be done gender-blind, focusing only on the music.
(Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse, Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians, 90(4) American Econ. Rev. 715-41 (2000).)

(2) It’s good for women. The absence of women (or very low numbers of women) signals to women that they aren’t welcome or don’t belong, which can in turn cause them to leave the field or choose not to enter it in the first place. (William T. Bielby, Minimizing Workplace Gender and Racial Bias, 29(1) Contemporary Soc. 120-29 (2000))

Research also suggests that when women are invited to the table, they have more energy free to do good work, instead of using half their energy just breaking down the door. Reducing cognitive load on subjects who have to work to overcome stereotypes is not a minor factor.

(3) It’s good for business & technology. Whatever the vertical, the entire industry benefits when the best work is being created and presented. As Miller writes:

Analysts say it makes a difference when women are in the garages where tech start-ups are founded or the boardrooms where they are funded. Studies have found that teams with both women and men are more profitable and innovative. Mixed-gender teams have produced information technology patents that are cited 26 percent to 42 percent more often than the norm, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

In a study analyzing the relationship between the composition of corporate boards and financial performance, Catalyst, a research organization on women and business, found a greater return on investment, equity and sales in I.T. companies that have directors who are women.

The number of senior women doing major research and running labs in traditionally male-dominated fields like physics also offers insight into how efforts to include women can lead to merit-based selection across the broadest set of the best candidates. For instance, consider Lisa Randall, one of the most cited theoretical physicists of the last half-decade. Or Marissa Mayer, a senior Google exec who, as Miller wrote, many women she interviewed cited as “someone who gives them hope.”

Where to learn more

I don’t believe that most people are consciously biased, nor that they intend to be biased. Research into implicit bias suggests, however, that the most pervasive forms of bias are unconscious. Those biases can have tremendous effects on how we evaluate others, mostly to our own detriment – but also to our communities and industries.

Does the issue of women in tech matter to the bottom line? Miller’s reporting suggests that’s so:

Studies have found that teams with both women and men are more profitable and innovative. Mixed-gender teams have produced information technology patents that are cited 26 percent to 42 percent more often than the norm, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

In a study analyzing the relationship between the composition of corporate boards and financial performance, Catalyst, a research organization on women and business, found a greater return on investment, equity and sales in I.T. companies that have directors who are women.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of conferences, groups and networks that celebrate and honor women in technology, including:

O’Reilly Community also features an excellent series of essays on women in tech. For the fascinating story of how women were involved in “hacking” the world’s first programmable computer, pictured at the top of this post), read ENIACprogrammers.org. And the recent Ada Lovelace Day listed dozens of inspirational women who are innovators, inventors and educators.

Finally, Nick Kristof has done the world a mitzvah by writing eloquently about womens’ rights in his most recent book, “Half the Sky.” Learn more at HalfTheSkyMovement.org.

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