After reading as much as I can, and after talking to many smart folks in the space, I’ve come to a few conclusions: (1) The block chain as a computer science innovation is for real; and (2) there are 101 business applications that can be rewritten by harnessing its attributes; but (3) it is very early days and right now, most of the best minds working in this space are focused on payments and stored value.
That is, a central strategic problem for both Amazon and Facebook, amongst others, is that their businesses have moved from the essentially neutral platform of the web browser, where there has been no real change in the user interaction model in 20 years, to the much messier, mediated and fast-changing platform of smartphones, where the web is just one icon and platform owners are continually adding new ways that users much discover and engage with content, such as iBeacon or Google Now. They didn’t need to make browsers because browsers had become transparent commodities, but smartphones aren’t. This of course is why Google itself made Android - to make sure that it would not be shut out in this new environment. Making an entire new OS is not an sensible option for Amazon or Facebook at this stage, but building on top of a free, open-source one is worth at least thinking about. But, again, in doing that you need to solve the users’ problems, not just your own.
The Kade children are as children elsewhere: agile with machines. They quickly learn to landscape them, magnify the font size, prop them up like tablets for relaxed reading. They have no trouble with the interface. They make the Kindle do things I didn’t know it could do. The children find hidden features, text-to-voice features, make the devices read to them — robotically but surprisingly clearly — and follow along as the text moves in unison, helping them navigate words that might be a bit out of their English register. Most importantly, the children learn to find books. Books they love, books they must read for homework. Books with curious titles.
One way to think about this is if you imagine the very first tool made, say, a stone hammer. That stone hammer could be used to kill somebody, or it could be used to make a structure, but before that stone hammer became a tool, that possibility of making that choice did not exist. Technology is continually giving us ways to do harm and to do well; it’s amplifying both. It’s amplifying our power to do well and our power to do harm, but the fact that we also have a new choice each time is a new good. That, in itself, is an unalloyed good—the fact that we have another choice and that additional choice tips that balance in one direction towards a net good. So you have the power to do evil expanded. You have the power to do good expanded. You think that’s a wash. In fact, we now have a choice that we did not have before, and that tips it very, very slightly in the category of the sum of good.
Technological progress may ultimately usher in an era of affluence so great that our main dilemma each day will be trying to decide whether we should write a symphony or paint a masterpiece. But in between then and now, there will be great dislocations and the wealthy can be counted upon to use their riches to make government work for their own interests rather than for the general welfare. Because that’s obviously what’s happening right now, and it’s very difficult to see how simply getting out of Silicon Valley’s way will change that fundamental dynamic in any meaningful way.
If, as entrepreneur Marc Andreessen has said, such “software is eating the world”, then apps like Uber are just the hors d’oeuvres. The next course contains the more interesting questions: what happens when we apply those affordances and dynamics to the core services of everyday life that are not just serving desires — as Spotify, Vine or Amazon do — but needs, like mobility, health, waste, energy, food, water and education?
Note that all talk about “percentages” in judging TT performance is just numerology. Designing a machine to exhibit 100% Turing indistinguishable performance capacity is an empirical goal, like designing a plane with the capacity to fly. Nothing short of the TTT or “total” flight, respectively, meets the goal. For once we recognize that Turing-indistinguishable performance capacity is our mandate, the Totality criterion comes with the territory. Subtotal “toy” efforts are interesting only insofar as they contain the means to scale up to life-size. A “plane” that can only fall, jump, or taxi on the ground is no plane at all; and gliding is pertinent only if it can scale up to autonomous flight.
But most of the debates about online privacy aren’t really about privacy at all. They’re about informed consent and how we make the decision to make the privacy / convenience trade. Most of the convenience benefits are seen best from inside the graph. And most of the privacy invasion is only apparent when you step outside and look down. Which makes things tricky.