Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the specs and quirks of our current technology that we forget how far we have come.
To put it in perspective, consider a smartwatch. There are many ways to measure computer performance – CPU speed, amount of ram, amount of storage memory, network speed, etc. A common way to compare basic performance, though, is by FLOPS, or floating operations per second.
A smartwatch can do somewhere in the range of 3 to 9 gigaflops. To put that in perspective, the Cray-2 supercomputer in 1985 could do about 1.9 gigaflops. You could buy one then for about $17,000,000. It used 200 kilowatts of power (that’s several times the power a typical home electrical system provides), occupied 16 square feet of floor space (if you ignore its separate cooling system) and weighed 5500 pounds. (A pdf brochure with the details is here.) I’m sure no one then thought we would ever strap something like that on our wrists, let alone order one online and have it arrive a couple days later.
Makes one wonder what the next few decades will bring.
Cross-posted to Slaw
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has released their analysis of how privacy advocates trigger waves of public fear about new technologies in a recurring “privacy panic cycle.”
The report is an interesting read and makes some valid points. In general, people fear new things more so than things we are familiar with. Like the person who doesn’t fly much being nervous about the flight when statistically the most dangerous part of the journey is the drive to the airport.
While a privacy panic for emerging tech is indeed common, we can’t summarily dismiss that panic as having no basis. The key is to look at it from a principled basis, and compare the risks to existing technology.
New tech may very well have privacy issues that need to be looked at objectively, and should be designed into the tech (called privacy by design).
Even if the privacy fears are overblown, purveyors of the technology need to understand the panic and find a way to deflate the concerns.
Cross-posted to Slaw
A common rebuke to self-driving cars are thoughts about cars behaving like computers – like freezing or rebooting while driving. Those make amusing sound bytes or twitter comments, but there is a grain of truth to it. Self driving technology has come a long way, but while computers and software can follow programmed instructions, and can learn over time, humans are still better at many things.
An article in the New York Times entitled Why Robots Will Always Need Us does a good job of putting this in context, in part by the experience of aircraft.
Author Nicholas Carr points out that:
Pilots, physicians and other professionals routinely navigate unexpected dangers with great aplomb but little credit. Even in our daily routines, we perform feats of perception and skill that lie beyond the capacity of the sharpest computers. … Computers are wonderful at following instructions, but they’re terrible at improvisation. Their talents end at the limits of their programming.
In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration noted that overreliance on automation has become a major factor in air disasters and urged airlines to give pilots more opportunities to fly manually.
That’s not to say that we should smugly dismiss automation or technology. Lawyers, for example, who dismiss the ability of software to replace certain things we do are in for a rude awakening.
In general, computer code is never bug free, is never perfect, and is not able to do certain things. (You can say the same for us humans, though.) For example, the aircraft industry spends huge amounts of time and money testing the software that operates aircraft. On the other hand, the types of things computers can do well are increasing, and will increase over time. At some point there may be breakthroughs that make computers more reliable and better at the things us humans are more adept at. But we are not there yet.
Cross-posted to Slaw
Depending on how you define a self driving car – probably sooner than you think.
Sometimes new technology seems to come out of nowhere, but it often creeps up on us. Legal disruptions that new tech spawns often follows the same path – usually a combination of lagging behind new technology, and getting in the way of new technology.
Current advances that come to mind include smart watches, drones, electric cars, and Tesla’s Powerwall.
Take self driving cars for example.
Its not as if we will go directly from a totally human driven car to a totally autonomous car. They will creep up on us. The Google self driving car gets a lot of press, and understandably so, but mainstream auto makers are rolling out these features now. We already have cars with features such as self parking, adaptive cruise control, cross traffic alerts, and lane departure warnings. Over time these will morph from warning systems to taking control for a brief time to driving for longer period of time. Self driving will start on highways before it moves to city driving.
Actually, self driving trucks might become prevalent sooner than self driving cars.
Cross-posted to Slaw.
If you are an Apple fan, April 24 2015 marks the beginning of the smartwatch era – the date the Apple Watch is available. (Preorders start Apr 10th.) Smartwatches have been around for a while, but given the Apple reality distortion field, they will initially sell in large numbers, even though they are the most expensive ones available. The basic Apple watch is functionally the same as the most expensive gold watch edition that starts at $10,000. (Someone said that if you can afford a $10,000 watch, you probably don’t need to know what time it is.)
But there are alternatives, including several Android versions, the Pebble, and the Microsoft Band. Version 2 of several of these are expected soon.
Smartwatches are designed to be an interface to your smartphone. But if you want something that comes at this from a different approach, check out the Neptune – from a Canadian company that takes the intriguing approach of making the device on your wrist the main computer. There are still a few days left to take advantage of their indiegogo campaign.
Personally – as much as I want one – I’m waiting for the upcoming second gen Android versions. But then again that Neptune is rather cool…
Cross posted to Slaw
The Annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is under way in Las Vegas. Its a mecca for those into the latest and greatest and biggest and fastest and most innovative consumer tech.
For example, the latest in TV’s are 4K (4 times the resolution of HD) that are impossibly thin with tiny bezels. While the high end models are unaffordable, the improvements eventually become mainstream.
Trends include wearables (fitness still dominates) and the smart home (aka internet of things). Everything seems to be connected somehow – even teakettles. (Some might say that an internet connected teakettle belongs to the internet of stupid things :))
So what might be useful in the office? Getting around might be easier with the Rollkers “personal transit accessory” – essentially electric roller skates that attach to your shoes – or with the IO Hawk – which is a cross between a Segway and a skateboard. Or perhaps a food printer for the lunch room.
The tech press has extensive coverage of the CES – check out coverage by Shelly Palmer, CNET, Wired
Cross posted to Slaw
I recently traded in my iPad for a Nexus 9. It has made me look at the phone/tablet thing a bit differently.
When I had an Android phone and an iPad, they felt like very different devices, each with a different role. But now that my tablet and phone work the same, and seamlessly share information, they don’t seem so different anymore. For example, if I make a note on google keep, it instantly shows up on the other device.
The only real difference is the size of the screen, and that the tablet can’t make phone calls or send texts. (Actually that’s not really true as you can make free calls over WiFi using google hangouts.)
That’s why phablets are growing in popularity. For those who can put up with carrying around a larger device, they are the best of both worlds. I want a phone I can put in my pocket though, and phablets are too big for my taste.
So what we really need is a modest sized phone with a screen that appears to be several times the size of the phone. Or better still, are we that far off from a full-fledged computer the size of a smartphone with a holographic display the size of a monitor, and a virtual keyboard? Would that be a complet? – a comphone?
Cross posted to Slaw
November 16, 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of this blog – over 1500 posts since November 16, 2004.
To put that in perspective, twitter was launched in March 2006, Facebook didn’t open to non-college students until September 2006, Linkedin was launched in May 2003, and Pinterest was launched in March 2010.
In 2004, you could count the number of lawyers who were blogging in Canada on one hand. The frequency of posting has slowed over the years given the rise of other social media, but for anything of substance or of enduring value, a blog post reigns supreme.
We have changed the look of the blog a couple of times. An image of what it looked like in 2006 (courtesy of the Wayback Machine) is below. That was a typical design at the time – before the trend to simpler, cleaner designs.
The internet of things and big data are separate but related hot topics. As is often the case with new technology, the definitions are fluid, the potential is unclear, and they pose challenges to legal issues. All of these will develop over time.
Take privacy, for example. The basic concept of big data is that huge amounts of data are collected and mined for useful information. That flies in the face of privacy principles that no more personal info than the task at hand needs should be collected, and that it shouldn’t be kept for longer than the task at hand requires. Both of these concepts can lead to personal info being created, while privacy laws generally focus on the concept of personal info being collected.
Another legal issue is ownership of information, and who gets to control and use it. If no one owns a selfie taken by a monkey, then who owns information created by your car?
If anyone is interested in taking a deeper dive into these legal issues, I’ve written a bit about it here and here, and here are some recent articles others have written:
The ‘Internet of Things’ – 10 Data Protection and Privacy Challenges
Big Data, Big Privacy Issues
The Internet of Things Comes with the Legal Things
In addition to the anti spam provisions of CASL, it contains provisions against malware starting in January 2015. It imposes disclosure and consent requirements for software providers in certain situations.
Unfortunately, those provisions are perhaps more ill-advised and unclear than the anti-spam provisions. They have the potential to make life difficult for software companies, create additional record keeping responsibilities where none are needed, and could even hurt Canadian consumers if foreign software developers simply don’t sell their products in Canada to avoid compliance.
The IT law bar is collectively scratching their heads trying to understand what the provisions mean in practice.
When I last mentioned this, the CRTC was collecting questions to help them frame their guidance on the sections.
The CRTC will reveal their interpretation thoughts in an IT.Can webinar on November 11.
Cross posted to Slaw