Is the person and technology becoming one?

Learning to live with a pervasive internet

Have just spent a couple of weeks on vacation – without broadband access at my fingertips.  Continued to monitor email and SMS – from my phone.  Probably online three times over the fortnight – had to make an effort.  Posted a few photos to facebook from the phone.

Real difference was not interacting with twitter and other social networks on a regular basis throughout the day.  Also – listened to the radio for news and read a few newspapers.

Just watched Kevin Kelly video/ presentation on future of the web.  KK (of Wired) sees the internet as one computer.  We use various devices to access the one computer.  ‘Things’ e.g. cars, clothes, devices which incorporate chips (e.g. RFID) are effectively part of the one computer.  And, indeed, we are in many respects sensors for this one computer – as more and more information ends up in the one computer.

This is enough to scare off a lot of people.  In the Q&A session KK fields a number of interesting questions, including what are the opt out options, is the one computer and the human race in conflict?  Interestingly seems that most people are happy to go along with what’s happening.  He has a great line ‘No personalisation without transparency’.  Effectively you have to open up, provide information about yourself, your business, whatever, if you want a personalised experience.

This morning read a posting about Gordon Bell – a Microsoft researcher who is attempting to record everything in his life digitally.

Interesting line in this from GB: ‘By using e-memory as a surrogate for meat-based memory, he argues, we free our minds to engage in more creativity, learning, and innovation (sort of like Getting Things Done without all those darn Post-its)’.

I have often thought that this is the case.  An example being that sometimes overprep for a meeting (reading all the material, anticipating the questions, etc) results in a less creative, open discussion.  Another example would be whether examinations are still bogged down in being largely tests of memory rather than tests of reasoning.

All of this relates closely to one of my own areas of primary interest – linked data and the semantic web.  Linked data requires entities to share more data – for the benefit of being able to correlate this with other shared data.  The semantic web aims to enable ‘intelligent’ processing of data by computers – ie the one computer referenced by KK.

I think KK is right.  The one computer is more and more a fact of life.  There are many benefits – and a number of threats.  While there are opt outs – and ways to escape e.g. go and live on a deserted island off the west coast of Ireland – inevitably the internet continues to be more pervasive (and invasive).

Looking forward to another few days of restricted broadband access.  And then back to life interacting with the one computer.

Ireland – continuing to play our part on the world stage

In my working life (25 years since graduating from engineering school in Trinity College) I have never before experienced the challenges now seen in Ireland. At the time I commenced my training contract in KPMG (then SKC) in 1984 I recall many recently qualified accountants being very concerned for their future. In 2000/2001 – three years into running our own consulting company (www.ciall.com) we faced real challenges in the post ‘.com’ dip. Today’s challenges are on a different scale.

During those 25 years Irish people have been to the fore in international affairs – be it commerce, arts, politics, education, charity. And by Irish people I refer to the 70 million or so who make up the global Irish population – including the 5 million or so on this island.

There must be a temptation within the international community to look at us – on the island of Ireland – as having had the benefit of major inward investment and squandered it. Part of facing our challenge now is to continue to take our place on the world stage. Those of us living and operating within the island of Ireland need to continue to play our part. There is a quid pro quo for looking to the greater diaspora and to Europe for further assistance and investment – we must play our part. We cannot simply get out the begging bowl. We are an established country and we’ve made some major mistakes, much of them rooted in greed. The most recent budget was the first step in convincing the international community that we are going to address our issues. The next budget must show real conviction about getting our cost base sorted.

Dan O’Brien’s article in the Irish Times is pretty hard hitting. He questions the calibre of the people representing Ireland in international affairs. He questions the effort made by the main political parties in the run up to the first referendum and their current effort in the runup to the second referendum. It does not make for pretty reading – but is deserving of reflection.

The next few years are going to witness more largescale emigration of talent from Ireland – without a doubt. Just for now the emigration options look limited – but given the changes we are beginning to see in overseas locations those opportunities will arise again. Many young talented Irish will choose to work and live overseas – not interested in staying to pay high taxes to pay off the sins of the past. A political system which is unwilling to cut overhead to match income will not provide the economic and social opportunites for many of our young talented people. Depressing though this may be, it will happen.

So let us at least recognise that this will happen – and that we need to play our part. Let’s make an effort to make it easier for international companies and individuals to interact with us. I had recent experience of an overseas student (seond generation Irish – US based) relocating here for 1 term of his undergraduate degree. He contacted the university – they advised him to come 4 weeks early and sort out his own accomodation. Given the level of fees we charge overseas students for this privilege I think this is a simple example of what’s wrong with this country at present.

Let’s make sure that the talent that goes abroad wants to continue to be part of Ireland – although they may never actually relocate to live here again. Let’s figure out a way to have them continue to be involved in the development of this country. Some of them may never contribute to our income tax revenues – but some of them may, down the line, bring the next Dell, Intel or Boston Scientific to Ireland. I, for one, would like to have them continue to have a direct role in electing our government.

I would not underestimate the challenges faced by our political leaders at present. (Nor should they underestimate the challenges faced by those of us trying to drive the economy forward). It’s not an easy time to be striding the world stage and advising the rest of the world how to do it. Nevertheless we must have a voice, have a view and play ourt part. The future for Irish business is the world stage – building international and global businesses out of Ireland, building products and delivering services to the global business community. Our innovators and our future business leaders need Irish political leadership which participates and contributes on an international level.

The first step – ensure Lisbon success.

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'Friends' in facebook

Been making more use of facebook in the last few weeks.  Hard not to – when 250m people are using it.

Was discussing it with a few different friends.  One said he uses it to keep track of/ stay in touch with people overseas, ie does not see a lot of benefit in using it with people located close by.

I’ve certainly found it useful in terms of renewing acquaintances with people based overseas (e.g. fellow College grads) – and then staying in touch with them.  Interestingly I had two such friends visit Ireland recently and in both cases we failed to catch up, physically.  So my question was: are you pretending you have more friends than you have?  Or has the technology made you so lazy that you don’t make the effort to track someone down physically when they are here on a short vacation?

The truth is that we all continue to live very busy lives.  On a short vacation to the old ‘homeland’ there is not a whole lot of time for all the ‘one on one’ catchups.  But then I was thinking about it – ‘presence’ would probably have made the difference.  We have the technology (google, brightkite, etc) to be aware of someone’s location e.g. if I’m based in the office in the city centre and the overseas visitor happens to be in town then this may be the easist way to catch up for a coffee or whatever – without any mahor diary planning, etc.

To some this will feel like another invasion of privacy – to others a way fo making the technology work to support physical relationships.  And the technology should be good enough for you to control who may be aware of your presence, in which time frame and even in which general location.  All just about possible now.

Would suggest that www.brightkite.com is worth a look.

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Irish government to appoint a CTO?

So the government published its paper: Knowledge Society Strategy: Technology Actions to Support the Smart Economy.

There is already plenty of comment – on twitter, in the blogs, on the news and there will be more over the next few days.  Comments ranging from ‘a lot of waffle’, ‘telling us what we already know’, ‘where’s the meat?’, etc.  But buried in the report are enough reference points to show where we’ve been making progress and where we’ve been falling behind.

When I read Friedman’s ‘The world is flat’, listing his concerns about the state of education, engineering in the US, I felt he could have been writing about Ireland.  Ironically he references Ireland as a country pulling itself up and leveraging the flatness of the world.  However the shortage of maths proficient secondary school leavers is a major concern and cannot be fixed over night.

The topics discussed in the paper are very worthy of attention – and do represent opportunities for Ireland Inc e.g. cloud, green data centres, networking.  Delighted to see reference to semantic web – not really that surprising after €25m of government investment.

I just picked out one small detail from the report (p45):

The Government should appoint a high level CTO with the authority to drive cultural change across the many departments and agencies.

I have commented previously on such appointments in the US – within the Obama administration.  I would strongly support such an initiative – though she/he will need plenty of support from Mssrs. Ryan and Lenihan.

Seeking changes in Health & Education in Ireland

Interesting to read Paul Rellis (CEO Microsoft Ireland) pushing significant amounts of technology in Education and Health as ways to address much of the problems we have.

Would agree 100% with Paul Rellis’s ideas around uses of digital technology.  However seems to me risk putting cart before the horse.  First we need a clear vision of what we are looking to achieve, then commitment from those in Health & Education to achieve the vision, commitment from the investor (govt.) in terms of any required investment.  The technology bit is not actually that hard – using Microsoft technology, other proprietary technology and open source technology – in any, to be agreed, configuration.

But first let’s set vision, get some commitment and manage the change.

Ireland – leading the way in eLearning and semantic web

Spent the morning at a workshop run by DERI (Digital Enterprise Research Institute) at Enterprise Ireland.  If we spent more time focusing on what we can achieve through the likes of DERI and the Irish Learning Alliance (ILA) we might begin to dig ourselves out of our current difficulties.

Excellent presentations by Johnny Parkes, Bill McDaniel, Liam Moran and Mark Leyden.

Web 3.0 – in terms of getting at the data across the web – has great potential.  Poses interesting challenges/ questions for organisations traditionally obsessed with confindentiality of their data.  However for those who understand and resolve the connundrum (sharing their data) web 3.0 offers the potential of much greater insights and decision making.

Where are health costs headed?

Great presentation illustrating the trends in healthcare spending in the US – up to 2007.  Includes one slide comparing with a number of other countries – including UK.

Brought to my attention by @endamadden on twitter.

Do we have similar information available for Ireland?

Semantic web in Ireland

Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 and then some!

On a day of doom and gloom – the emergency budget in Ireland – was lucky enough to spend a couple of uplifting hours in the Institute of European Affairs, Ireland (www.iiea.com).

I was listening to and interacting with Liam Moran, business development manager, Digitial Enterprise Reseach Institute (Galway, Ireland).  DERI (www.deri.com) is the type of thing this country needs (‘The vision of the Digital Enterprise Research Institute is to be recognised as the leading international web science research institute interlinking technologies, information and people to advance business and benefit society’).  Set up with some real foresight, backed by the Irish government and Europe, real leadership (including Tim Berners Lee) and lots of brilliant minds.

Very exciting applications emerging from the research – the latest being SIOC to be adotped by the US government.  Visit the site (www.deri.com) for a better insight.

Liam gave a comprehensive review of Web o, 1, 2 & 3 and painted some great images of what could happen.

One particular observation caught my attention – how do we avoid getting bogged down in simply copying (even plagiarising) others to the exclusion of original, creative, thought?  Not being a music composer I often wonder where song writers continue to come up with new ideas?  Reminds me in some wasy of being back in school – when you were studying Shakepeare did you try to understand Hamlet for yourself and provide your own analysis/ commentary or did you simply buy ‘Coles Notes’ and regurgitate the standard bumph?

Ireland – rugby champions of Europe!

What a drama – playing out the final game in the caulron that is the Arms Park. Ireland triumphed – just- over a brave, gallant Welsh team. As in all of the Irish games the two leaders – Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell led from the front. No other team they’ve met has had this calibre of leadership

What a drama – playing out the final game in the caulron that is the Arms Park.  Ireland triumphed – just- over a brave, gallant Welsh team.  As in all of the Irish games the two leaders – Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell led from the front.  No other team they’ve met has had this calibre of leadership.

We can rejoice.  The monkey is off the back.  The Irish team have gone to the citadel and won.  Yes they made mistakes under pressure – but they aslo played some wonderful rugby under pressure.  On balance there is some justice in the match being won by the team that scored two tries.  but the reality is that it came down to a kick here and a kick there.

There will be a temptation to read too much into what a team of rugby players – wearing the Irish jersey – has achieved.  What they have done is win five international Championship rugby matches on the trot – and been the first Irish team to go unbeaten in the Championship for 61 years.  A fantastic achievement for this group of players and all of those in the backroom who have backed them up.  It’s also a great day for all Irish supporters – who have followed Irish teams through highs and lows.  And for all the schools, clubs, players, former players, coaches and administrators.  And for all of those who have sustained injuries over the years.   To say nothing of the sponsors who should not be overlooked in touch challenging times.

A great season and a great finale to the international season.  And now we can look forward to following Munster and Leinster in the Heineken Cup.  And the Lions tour later this summer – surely today’s match will provide almost the full line up – Scotland and England players may struggle to find many slots in the Test team lineup.

Great news on Technology readiness/ adoption in Ireland

ICT improves in Ireland

Last Friday’s Irish Times reports that Ireland has climbed from 26th to 18th place in the ICT league (compiled by the Information Telecommuniction Union). 

This measures progress over the period 2002-2007.  It is good news – in amongst the boring bad news.  To get ourselves back on our feet we need to stimulate business – what this survey is telling us is that some of the building blocks which were not there previously are now in place.

Our broadband rollout may not be perfect.  It may also seem expensive in many cases.  But the real failing is that we as a country are not maximising the opportunities quicky enough around the infrastructure we already have.

Rather than thinking of the web as a way to source cheaper resources overseas we need to see the web as a way to internationalise all our businesses (and a reason to build out a range of new businesses).