Thursday, 31 May 2007

The Next Generation of software.

The future of operating systems and applications is online, everybody knows that, it's not exactly a secret. Google are leading the way into this new frontier with their web applications such as Google Docs (word processor and spreadsheet), Picasa web albums (photos) and Notebook (collaborative note taking), to name a few of the ones I use. Technologies like AJAX are making it possible to create a similar user experience in an online application as an offline application. Perhaps in the future Flash will also be used to create applications - it's certainly what Adobe would like.

The future isn't just online though, the future is also offline.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The path to 64 bit revealed?

As I wrote previously in my blog about the Windows Vista Ready Boost feature in Windows Vista, its memory model is vastly different to previous versions of Windows and indeed Windows XP. Essentially it splits the total physical RAM in a machine in roughly half, one half for programs and one half for a "cache" of what it loads from the hard drive. Needless to say this results in less overall Ram for applications to use and as a consequence requires a PC to have more physical memory in the system to give a comparable experience to what the user would be used to on, say, Windows XP on the same machine.

Is this the real reason why this memory model was adopted? Vista will drive users to 4GB RAM, and the 4GB limit will driver users to 64-bit

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Privacy? What the f->k does that mean?

We live in an age of empowerment through information technology. Data is available at our finger tips through simple search queries, content is aggregated right to our desktop without us even having to think about it and communication over long distances has never been so easy. As consumers, we are becoming better and better informed about what choices we can make.

Yet this rollercoaster ride also takes us places we may not want to go. Information, any information, is readily available, including about ourselves. As Professor Mayer-Schönberger pointed out in his recent paper about how computers must be made to forget this situation is going to worsen. There are companies publicly saying that they wish to collect more and more data on us as individuals because it will enable them to deliver better targeted ads ( Google’s goal: to organise your daily life although Google is by no means an exceptions, each of the big search engines has similar goals ) and of course there would be certain benefits to this. I'm no fan of irrelevent advertising, don't get me wrong. It is the other uses that this mountain of data that will be gathered about each of us that it can be put to that makes me feel uncomfortable.

It isn't just the commercial world that wishes to collect data about us to infer what we like and dislike, building up pictures of who we are. The UK government seems to think that solving a crime is more important than a person's right to privacy ( 100,000 innocents on DNA database - and these are children) as police now have the right to get a DNA sample from any suspect. No doubt this will lead to more crimes being solved but a side effect of this is that if someone on the database happened to have been at a crime scene recently before a crime they will be incriminated automatically. Interestingly, Google has taken a stake in genomics info startup, expect a dna google search option in future. I can see how all of this data, put together, could be used to track the movements of people. We here in the UK are already the most watched nation in the world, we have the most CCTV coverage. Couple all of this with RFID tag tracking possibilities and for the first time it may be possible for a government to track its citizens no matter where they are, not just eroding the idea of privacy but destroying it.

The US clearly doesn't have a good record for respecting human rights ( U.S. Blasted by Amnesty on Terror ), and privacy is a human right too . The potential to misuse all of this data that governments and commercial entities will have on us as people will be very real. Put all of this together and you have a very dark view of the future, a possible dystopia outside of science fiction that could occur within the next decade.

Update - looks like Im not the only one concerned about this: E.U. Probing Google Over Privacy

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Photographic memory bad, amnesia good!

I just read a very thought provoking post entitled Escaping the data panopticon: Prof says computers must learn to "forget" on Ars Technica which is well worth a read. It makes reference to a paper by a Professor Mayer-Schönberger who makes a good case for building amnesia into a system, in other words, an expiry date on the data that is stored. In a nutshell, he says that it could lead to a society where people are afraid to express themselves because it will be recorded forever and potentially could be used against them.

I see some examples of information being publicly available and being used against people. Recently a student did not receive a degree because of a myspace photo on her blog. Here is a long list of people who have famously lost their jobs because of their blogs. I first ran into this phenonema a few years ago when I heard about the Queen of Sky, a flight attendent who was fired for a (not very) raunchy photo (i.e. a tiny bit of cleavage) on her blog and instantly sided with her point of view. It's likely that a nasty manager will use anything to get rid of an employee no matter how unfair it is and blogs and myspace photos are all fair game, it would seem.

Imagine how bad this scenario could get projecting it into the future. Perhaps we all need to hide behind a veil of anonimity and stop being so trusting with the internet, perhaps we also need to start building an expiry date on the data stored on our computers too. Food for thought.