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.
In a tech industry where the word “innovation” is growing stale and most startup ideas are closer to micro-optimizations and slight improvements in efficiency than actually disruption, the long-awaited coming of immersive virtual reality is, more than mobile apps and food delivery services, the most promising candidate to give rise to the next Google.
True innovation in mobile payments that allows micro-transaction payments and affordable payment processing for small businesses and individuals will continue to be a pipedream as long as we continue to have layers of middlemen seeking tolls. It is unfortunate that Walmart’s CurrentC initiative, the closest thing we have to a challenger to the credit card duopoly, has demonstrated itself to be both incompetent and self-serving in the past week.
Moore’s Law is limited by the minimum size of a transistor, which in turn is limited by the size of atoms. A 2014 IEEE report concludes that, “Moore’s Law is not dead, but it has clearly reached old age, and no fundamental technology has emerged to replace it.” And just as the propeller did not imply the jet engine, quantum computing, widely seen as our best chance beyond Moore’s Law, still remains an uncertainty.
Today, the nerds seem to have been largely proven right. Tech companies have grown from scrappy underdogs into giant incumbents dominant in the various verticals they enter. Stanford, self-proclaimed “Nerd Nation” and birthplace of most of these giants, saw its social capital and prestige dramatically increased as a consequence.
In the great debate over government surveillance, we forget that for all the failings of the FISA court, there exist formal mechanisms in which government’s temptation to use data it has access to in unintended ways can be kept in check. If Google or LinkedIn ever decided to use their user data for more unambiguously selfish purposes, there seems to be little we can do about it. In the age of big data where every database is being turned into a commodity for sale, expectations of privacy and social norms have clearly failed to keep in check the power of data collectors.
In order to be widely adopted, a new technology must provide compelling value not just for the early adopters and technophiles, but the average user. This is where smartwatches, along with many other wearable devices, continue to fall short.
Two weeks ago, a peculiar event took place in the Auckland Town Hall and was streamed live to the world. After a short introduction in Maori, Laila Harré, leader of the Internet Party in New Zealand, proclaimed, “We are here to celebrate and protect our democracy.” As she introduced one of the guests, Glenn Greenwald,…
It is entirely likely that the analysts are right and Microsoft bought Minecraft just for the short-term goal of shoring up its mobile and gaming platforms. But in either case, the ball is now in Microsoft’s court and it should take full advantage of its new acquisition.
Just over a week ago, history was made when a team of five young Chinese men left Seattle with $5 million in winnings. The game they were playing was not poker but “Dota 2,” a multiplayer online game made by the Bellevue-based gaming company Valve. This year’s annual “Dota 2” Internationals tournament, the fourth one…
In the span of a single human lifetime, we went from powered flight to landing on the moon. Another lifetime passed and every one of us has in our pockets more computing power than was needed to take humans to the moon and back. Where will technology take us in this lifetime? Will our lives…
It is often said that history is written by the victors, but what it often neglects to mention is that victory does not always come in the form of diplomacy and military might. The real war takes place beneath the surface, at the level where fact and fiction blur because human memories are ephemeral and malleable, and human nature longs for meaning and grand narratives.
A huge part of the appeal of Bitcoin is its promise of being decentralized yet secure, but what happens when the system requires fundamental adjustments?