Centuries ago, most literate people belonged to the clergy. By controlling the means of transmitting knowledge, the church–birthplace of modern universities, was the gatekeeper of knowledge and exerted great influence over national policies. In the postmodern religion of technology, a new breed of gatekeepers will challenge governments and academia for the right to decide the future.
“Net neutrality” is about Internet service providers like Comcast abusing their monopoly power as the gatekeepers of the physical network in order to distort the free market. Perhaps it is about time we talk about “data neutrality” and the role that data monopolies like Google and Facebook play in determining the future of our economy.
The Computer Science department is celebrating a new milestone this year: for the first time, computer science is the most popular major for women at Stanford. While I could not find the percentage breakdown of the latest numbers, the trend from historical data over the past six years saw women as a percentage of undergraduate CS majors go from 13% in 2009 to a whopping 28% in 2014. I would not be surprised if the ratio for 2015 lies around 1/3 or higher.
Startups are often thought of as a risky business. We imagine founders to be fierce visionaries who can see a better future and are willing to bet on their personal success to realize it. They tread the thin line between genius and delusion and their ventures are constantly on the verge of utter failure right up to the moment they cross an invisible threshold and achieve the fabled “hockey stick” growth – the supposed mark of a scalable technology business.
Microsoft’s own investors think that the writing is on the wall and want the company to kill its Xbox, Bing and Surface divisions, essentially completing the transformation of the company into a pure enterprise service provider. But last Wednesday, Microsoft received a much needed boost to its public image as a tech innovator when it announced the HoloLens. Essentially it is a true augmented reality visor that renders 3D graphics directly into your field of vision.
Imagine if people majored in mathematics to learn to run a company, or trade stocks, or develop iPhone apps or sequence genes. That is an absurd situation, even if mathematical principles are essential to all those tasks. Yet, that is essentially what many Stanford CS students are doing in droves. As computing and coding as a whole are becoming indispensable tools for those who seek knowledge in other fields, CS appears to have become the learn-to-do-anything-and-everything major, even if most people really only want to learn software development.
No one sincerely believes that these companies are only looking hire the best global talents that they cannot find elsewhere. Yes, the immigration quota system for tech employees is broken right now, not because the annual H-1B quota of 85,000 plus additional exceptions is too low for Silicon Valley to hire all the software engineering superstars it needs – the world just is not producing anywhere close to 85,000 of these “100x” programmers every year – but because the H-1B is being used by large companies for undifferentiated IT and basic programming positions as an outsourcing visa, exactly the fear that reform skeptics have repeatedly brought up.
It is a basic tenet of the American Dream that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. Today, that is no longer true. As technology continues to widen the gap between the winners and losers of the economic rat race, we need to figure out how to incentivize people to try in spite of increasingly low odds of success.