Living by the Numbers: Big Data Knows What Your Future Holds
By Martin U. Müller, Marcel Rosenbach and Thomas Schulz
Forget Big Brother. Companies and countries are discovering that algorithms programmed to scour vast quantities of data can be much more powerful. They can predict your next purchase, forecast car thefts and maybe even help cure cancer. But there is a down side.
On balmy spring evenings, Hamburg’s Köhlbrand Bridge offers an idyllic postcard view of the city’s harbor. The Elbe River shimmers in the reddish glow of sunset, forklifts, cranes and trucks seem to move in slow motion, and occasionally a container ship glides by. But from the standpoint of Sebastian Saxe, the area is primarily an equation with many variables. For the past four-and-a-half years, the 57-year-old mathematician has been working on his trickiest computing task yet at the behest of the company that manages the Hamburg port.
The port covers an area of 7,200 hectares (about 28 square miles). Roughly 200 trains a day traverse its 300-kilometer (186-mile) network of rails and its 130 bridges to transport goods that have arrived by ship. Saxe, as chief information officer of the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA), faces the enormous task of optimizing this logistical nightmare.
The amount of land is finite, and further expansion is not possible. Nevertheless, the Hamburg Senate has announced its goal of almost tripling container transshipment volumes in the city by 2025. This will only work if Saxe and his 60-member IT team manage to optimally exploit another resource: data. He certainly has plenty of it.
The port is already filled with sensors today. Trucks and freight trains are constantly transmitting their positions while incoming container ships report their location and speed. Sensors that constantly monitor port traffic are built into the Köhlbrand Bridge.
"Our goal is a totally interconnected, intelligent port, a Smart-port," says Saxe. He envisions a port in which, for example, a railroad drawbridge would no longer open at specific times, but rather just before a ship actually reaches it. This eliminates unnecessary delays for the railroad and at the terminal. Even the Köhlbrand Bridge would become "intelligent," in that it would report its current condition and predict future maintenance needs, all through the use of sensors. The frequency of scheduled maintenance dates was recently increased because significantly larger numbers of heavy trucks were crossing the bridge than had been planned for. This was of interest to Saxe and the HPA, but also to police and the customs agency, because some of the trucks were carrying illegal loads.
In the end, the complex harbor logistics will create a machine that controls itself. Saxe’s vision of the future is a sort of port exchange, allowing shipping companies to predict, down to the minute, how quickly their containers will be moved from the water to the road.
Many other companies worldwide are in the same position as the HPA. They are rediscovering a raw material that they, their facilities and their customers produce in excess every day: data.
The expression "Big Brother" has become dated. Experts would seem to have reached consensus on the term "Big Data" to describe the new favorite topic of discussion in boardrooms, at conventions like Berlin’s re:publica last week, and in a number of new books. Big Data promises both total control and the logical management of our future in all aspects of life. Authors like Oxford Professor Victor Mayer-Schönberger are calling it a "revolution." According to Mayer-Schönberger, Big Data, which is also the title of his current book on the subject, will change our working environment and even the way we think.
The most important factor is not the sheer volume of data, even though it is currently growing faster than ever. An estimated 2.8 zettabytes of data were created in 2012. One zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilobytes. Experts predict that the volume of new data could increase to 40 zettabytes by 2020. It would take about 250 million DVDs to store the amount of data being transmitted on the Internet in a single day. This volume doubles about once every two years.
New is the way companies, government agencies and scientists are now beginning to interpret and analyze their data resources. Because storage space costs almost nothing nowadays, computers, which are getting faster and faster, can link and correlate a wide variety of data around the clock. Algorithms are what create order from this chaos. They dig through, discovering previously unknown patterns and promptly revealing new relationships, insights and business models.
Though the term Big Data means very little to most people, the power of algorithms is already everywhere. Credit card companies can quickly recognize unusual usage patterns, and hence automatically warn cardholders when large sums are suddenly being charged to their cards in places where they have never been. Energy companies use weather data analyses to pinpoint the ideal locations for wind turbines down to the last meter. According to official figures, since the Swedish capital Stockholm began using algorithms to manage traffic, drive times through the city’s downtown area have been cut in half and emissions reduced by 10 percent. Online merchants have recently started using the analyses to optimize their selling strategies. The widespread phrase "Customers who bought this item also bought …" is only one example of the approach.
Turning Data into Dollars
Google and Facebook are pure, unadulterated Big Data. Their business models are based on collecting, analyzing and marketing information about their users, through advertising tailored as closely as possible to the individual. This gigantic database and the notion of what can be done with more than a billion individual profiles in the age of Big Data was worth at least $100 billion (€78 billion) to Facebook investors.
The prospect of turning their treasure troves of data into dollars is now fueling the fantasies of businesses in many industries, from supermarkets to the automobile industry, and from aviation to banks and insurance companies. According to figures published by industry association Bitkom, global sales related to Big Data applications amounted to €4.6 billion in 2012. That number is expected to increase to about €16 billion by 2016.
Countless Big Data applications are also being tested in medicine and science. Even the public sector, especially police departments and security agencies, not always the most progressive when it comes to IT, have recognized the potential benefits in their fields.
What captivates so many people is the promise of gazing into the future, thanks to the lightning speed at which massive amounts of data can be analyzed. In fact, algorithms allow for astonishingly precise predictions of human behavior, be it in front of supermarket shelves, in traffic or when it comes to credit-card payment patterns.
In 2010, Google predicted a wave of flu outbreaks on the basis of user searches. American data specialist Nate Silver predicted the outcome of the last US presidential election well in advance and more precisely than all demographers.
‘The End of Chance’
Some cities even predict the probability of crimes in certain neighborhoods. The method, known as "predictive policing," seems like something straight out of a Hollywood film, and in fact it is. In Steven Spielberg’s "Minority Report," perpetrators were arrested for crimes they hadn’t even committed yet.
Finding the presumed delinquents also doesn’t seem to present a problem. Scientists have figured out that, with the help of our mobile phone geolocation and address book data, they can predict with some certainty where we will be tomorrow or at a certain time a year from now.
The increasing accuracy of such forecasts have led American tech guru Chris Anderson to proclaim that we are arriving at the "end of theory." Austrian media executive Rudi Klausnitzer, who has just written a book on the subject called "Das Ende des Zufalls" ("The End of Chance"), has reached a similar conclusion.
It is a prospect that is not altogether appealing to some. But many already rely on the prognostic ability of soulless algorithms in the most intimate spheres of life. The extensive questionnaires used by online dating agencies are fed into algorithms designed to increase the probability of finding a compatible partner.
A gold rush of sorts is taking shape in companies, research laboratories and some government agencies. In many places, the mantra of data is extolled as the new "oil" or "gold" of the 21st century. Some people are already benefiting financially: statisticians, physicists and so-called data scientists or data miners, who advise companies on Big Data applications. As with the classic American gold rush in the 19th century, most of the money is being made by those who sell equipment, tools and expertise, Big Data specialists like Blue Yonder, a company with 85 employees.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun May 19, 2013 4:39 pm
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Juan Carlos Hidalgo
Yesterday we hosted a very interesting event with Google Ideas about the use of new media and technology information in Mexico’s war on drugs. You can watch the whole thing in the video below.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest casualties from the bloodshed that besets Mexico is freedom of the press. Drug cartels have targeted traditional media outlets such as TV stations and newspapers for their coverage of the violence. Mexico is now the most dangerous country to be a journalist. However, a blackout of information about the extent of violence has been avoided because of activity on Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels.
Our event highlighted the work of two Mexican researchers on this topic. Andrés Monroy-Hernández from Microsoft Research presented the findings of his paper “The New War Correspondents: The Rise of Civic Media Curation in Urban Warfare” which shows how Twitter has replaced traditional media in several Mexican cities as the primary source of information about drug violence. Also, we had Javier Osorio, a Ph.D. candidate from Notre Dame University, who has built original software that tracks the patterns of drug violence in Mexico using computerized textual annotation and geospatial analysis.
Our third panelist was Karla Zabludovsky, a reporter from the New York Times’ Mexico City Bureau, who talked about the increasing dangers faced by journalists in Mexico and the challenges that new media represent in covering the war on drugs in that country.
Even though Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s new president, has focused the narrative of his presidency on economic reform, the war on drugs continues to wreak havoc in Mexico. Just in the first two months of the year over 2,000 people have been killed by organized crime.
At the Cato Institute we closely keep track of developments in Mexico and we have published plenty of material on the issue, including:
- The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America, by Ted Galen Carpenter
- “Time for an Alternative to Mexico’s Drug War,” Jorge Castañeda
- “Mexico Is Still Bleeding,” by Ted Galen Carpenter
- “Undermining Mexico’s Dangerous Drug Cartels,” by Ted Galen Carpenter
Watch the full event:
And for those who speak the language of Cervantes, here’s a ten minute interview that Karla Zabludovsky and I did on CNN en Español about the Cato event.
View full post on Cato @ Liberty
Google says FBI watching the Web
Google says the FBI is monitoring the Web for potential terrorist activity. But it can’t say how extensive the surveillance is.
AFP – Google says the FBI is monitoring the Web for potential terrorist activity. But it can’t say how extensive the surveillance is.
As part of the Google Transparency Report, the Internet giant this week released data on so-called National Security Letters — official requests for data under the Patriot Act passed after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But Google said it was only allowed to provide broad ranges of numbers: in the years from 2009 to 2012, for example, it received between zero and 999 requests.
The requests affected between 1,000 and 1,999 accounts, except in 2010 when the range was 2,000 to 2,999 accounts, Google said.
"You’ll notice that we’re reporting numerical ranges rather than exact numbers. This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations," said a blog post from Google law enforcement director Richard Salgado.
Salgado added, "We’re thankful to U.S. government officials for working with us to provide greater insight into the use of NSLs."
The numbers, while inexact, were believed to be the first data from a private company about the National Security Letters which have been criticized by civil liberties groups for giving the government too much power to conduct surveillance without a warrant.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls the letters "dangerous" and has challenged the authority along with the American Civil Liberties Union.
One inspector general review found "serious deficiencies" in the FBI’s handling of the process and noted that the letters concerned tens of thousands of US citizens and non-Americans.
EFF said public records have documented "the FBI’s systemic abuse of this power."
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Wed Mar 06, 2013 1:59 pm
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British judge who ruled in favour of Samsung against Apple in patent lawsuit has new job – with Samsung
Sir Robin Jacob will testify on Samsung’s behalf in dispute with Ericsson
He previously accused Apple of a ‘lack of integrity’ over its publication of a statement acknowledging it had lost patent dispute with Samsung
Patent experts question move which they say ‘just doesn’t feel right’
By DAMIEN GAYLE
PUBLISHED: 18:10 GMT, 1 March 2013
Lord Justice Jacob at his swearing in as Lord Justice of Appeal: He has been hired by Samsung as an expert witness in a patent dispute
The appeals-court judge who forced Apple to make a high profile apology to Samsung has been hired by the South Korean firm as an expert witness in its latest patent dispute.
Sir Robin Jacob will testify on behalf of Samsung during the US International Trade Commission investigation into the company’s patent dispute with Ericsson.
The retired judge, who is now a professor of law at University College, London, made headlines last year when he accused Apple of a ‘lack of integrity’.
It came the Silicon Valley said it would take them two weeks to properly comply with a court order that it publish a notice that it had lost an earlier legal fight with Samsung.
Sir Robin’s involvement with Samsung has raised eyebrows in the legal world. Such expert witnesses are often paid thousands of dollars for appearances.
Florian Mueller, a patent blogger and intellectual property consultant, who first spotted Sir Robin’s name in the case in filings to the ITC, said the involvement with Samsung’s latest patent dispute ‘just doesn’t feel right’.
‘For someone so concerned with ‘integrity’ it is utterly unusual to issue a high-profile and extreme ruling in favour of a particular party … only to be hired as an expert by that same party in another dispute,’ he said.
He added: ‘It gives the impression that a judge who deals Samsung’s number one rival a huge PR blow, in a way that I found very extreme and unjustified, will be generously rewarded.
‘For that reason alone, I think both Samsung and Sir Robin Jacob should not have done this.
‘What would people say if Judge Lucy Koh, a few months after denying Apple a permanent injunction against Samsung, returned to private practice and was hired as an "expert" by Samsung in a German litigation with Ericsson?’
In November last year, Sir Robin was one of three Court of Appeal judges who ordered Apple to alter a statement on its website acknowledging it had lost a legal dispute with Samsung over the Galaxy Tab.
Apple had complained that the Samsung Galaxy Tab was too similar to its iPad.
An Apple iPad (left) is displayed next to Samsung’s Galaxy tab: A High Court judge ruled the Galaxy Tab was not ‘cool’ enough to be confused with Apple’s iPad – a decision upheld on appeal
But a judge at the High Court in London ruled last July that the Samsung Galaxy Tab was not ‘cool’ enough to be confused with Apple’s iPad – a decision upheld on appeal.
In the subsequent litigation, Samsung said Apple had on October 26 published a notice on its website acknowledging defeat – in ‘purported compliance’ with a Court of Appeal order.
But the firm complained that Apple had added an account of court proceedings in Germany and the United States which was ‘inaccurate and misleading’.
Judges agreed. ‘What Apple added was false and misleading,’ Sir Robin said in a subsequently published written decision.
‘There is a false innuendo that the UK court’s decision is at odds with decisions in other countries whereas that is simply not true.’
Order: The final statement that Apple linked to on the homepage of their website in the UK
Bad Apple: The original notice posted on Apple’s website, which a court said did not comply with its orders
He added that Apple bosses had shown a ‘lack of integrity’ by saying staff would need two weeks to make ‘minor changes’ to the company website – and gave them 48 hours to comply.
The court also ordered Apple to run a newspaper advert with the amended text telling the public of the ruling that Samsund had not infringed its patents.
In a written statement to the Financial Times, a Samsung spokesman defended Sir Robin’s appointment as an expert witness for the company’s latest intellectual property dispute.
‘Sir Robin Jacob is not a legal representative of Samsung Electronics,’ the spokesman said.
‘A highly reputed intellectual property expert and academic, Sir Robin has been contracted as an expert by a law firm that represents Samsung Electronics in its case against Ericsson.’
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Fri Mar 01, 2013 2:41 pm
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Sources: White House to issue cybersecurity order Wednesday
By Jennifer Martinez – 02/11/13 05:00 PM ET
The White House is poised to release an executive order aimed at thwarting cyberattacks against critical infrastructure on Wednesday, two people familiar with the matter told The Hill.
The highly anticipated directive from President Obama is expected to be released at a briefing Wednesday morning at the U.S. Department of Commerce, where senior administration officials will provide an update about cybersecurity policy.
The executive order would establish a voluntary program in which companies operating critical infrastructure would elect to meet cybersecurity best practices and standards crafted, in part, by the government.
Observers are expecting the president to briefly mention the need for the country to improve its defenses against cyberattacks during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined Monday to say whether the president would discuss cybersecurity during his Tuesday address to Congress, saying the president believes that it’s "a very important issue."
"It represents a huge challenge for our country. He has called on Congress to take action. Unfortunately, Congress has thus far refused legislatively," Carney said at a press briefing with reporters. "But I don’t have any previews to provide."
During last year’s address, the president made a brief mention about the cybersecurity legislative blueprint that his administration put forward in May 2011.
The White House began crafting the executive order after Congress failed to pass cybersecurity legislation last year. Officials said the threat facing the United States was too great for the administration to ignore and that it needed to take action as Congress grappled with passing a bill.
During his second term, the president is expected to exert his executive power on issues such as climate change, and it appears that cybersecurity is also on that list.
Yet administration officials have also stressed that the executive order is not a substitute for cybersecurity legislation, which is needed to protect the country’s water plants, electric grid and other critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.
They note that an executive order cannot, unlike congressional legislation, grant new powers or authorities to federal agencies or departments.
"We need comprehensive cybersecurity legislation," Andy Ozment, a senior director for cybersecurity at the White House, said at a conference in Washington last week. "We cannot do everything under our existing authorities."
White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel, Commerce Department Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute and National Security Director Gen. Keith Alexander will be among the officials participating in Wednesday’s briefing, according to details obtained by The Hill.
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on the timing of the executive order.
It has been revised several times over the past few months and would also encourage agencies to share intelligence about cyber threats with companies that operate critical infrastructure.
Over the past few months, the White House has engaged in outreach efforts to industry groups, think tanks, companies and advocacy groups to solicit feedback on what should and should not be included in the order.
A leaked copy of the draft order this fall revealed that the White House had incorporated some changes into the order that were an attempt to smooth over concerns that the high-tech industry had raised.
The White House began work on the executive order after the Senate failed to pass a sweeping cybersecurity bill by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The bill included a measure aimed at improving information-sharing about cyber threats between government and industry.
However, it also had a more controversial provision that would encourage companies that operate critical infrastructure to adopt cybersecurity best practices and standards into their computer networks.
Critical infrastructure operators would receive incentives, such as added protection from legal action if they are hit with an cyberattack, in exchange for adopting those measures.
That section of the Senate bill, the Cybersecurity Act, provided the backbone for the White House’s executive order. The bill failed a second time when it was brought to the Senate floor before the end of 2012.
GOP senators and the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce fought hard against the Senate bill, warning that it would apply burdensome new regulations to businesses. Business groups argued that new cybersecurity rules would slow down companies’ ability to respond to cyber threats because they would be more focused on complying with regulations than on securing their networks.
Instead, Republican lawmakers and business groups have advocated for Congress to pass legislation that is aimed at removing legal hurdles that prevent the government and companies from sharing intelligence about cyber threats in real time with each other.
House Intelligence Committee leaders Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) are set to re-introduce an information-sharing bill on Wednesday. That bill passed the House last year despite receiving pushback from the White House.
The bill aims to thwart cyberattacks by making it easier for private companies to share information about cyber threats and malicious source code with the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security.
Last year, privacy advocates argued that the bill would increase the pool of people’s electronic communications flowing to the military and the secretive National Security Agency (NSA). The White House issued a veto threat a day before the bill was taken up on the House floor for a vote, saying it repeals "important provisions of electronic surveillance law without instituting corresponding privacy, confidentiality, and civil liberties safeguards."
The bill went untouched by the Senate last year. The upper chamber is expected to revive its work on cybersecurity legislation this year.
Rockefeller, Feinstein and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the new chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said enacting legislation would be a priority this year and introduced a resolution stating that cyberattacks are one of the most serious threats facing the United States.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:33 pm
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Texas Instruments warns of weak demand
6:23 p.m. CST, January 22, 2013
(Reuters) – Texas Instruments Inc posted quarterly revenue that was ahead of Wall Street expectations but the chip maker warned of uncertain demand and a widespread customer reluctance to order until the last minute due to macroeconomic worries.
TI, which makes chips for everything from industrial equipment to cars, said on Tuesday that while orders appeared to be following a normal pace for this time of year, customers were still worried about increasing their inventory of chips.
Chief Financial Officer Kevin March told Reuters that quarterly revenue was at the high end of TI’s expected range because customers had made some orders late in the quarter.
But he said that weakness in European economies and in China as well as uncertainty about government policies in the United States were making customers wary of ordering too many chips.
"You’ve got the lingering uncertainty in Europe. You’ve got the slowdown in China that seems to be reversing itself now and you’ve got the (U.S.) fiscal cliff taking up all the headlines," March told Reuters. "Combined, it’s got everybody really conservative right now and not willing to go out on a limb."
On top of this, the company’s previously announced wind down of its cellphone chip business will cut revenue much more than it otherwise would have fallen in the first quarter, March said.
Even though January order trends are looking better than December’s, executives told analysts on a conference call that it was too soon to estimate when the market might recover.
Since customers are still ordering at the last minute, Bernstein analyst Stacy Rasgon said it would be hard for TI to predict the timing for a turnaround.
"The signs look like they’re slowly improving," he said.
TI said its fourth-quarter profit fell to $264 million or 23 cents per share compared with $298 million or 25 cents per share in the year-ago quarter. Revenue fell to $2.98 billion from $3.42 billion but was ahead of Wall Street expectations for $2.95 billion according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
For the first quarter the company warned that revenue could decline further as it forecast a range of $2.69 billion to $2.91 billion. This is expected to include a $135 million decline from the wireless business.
"If the weakness in revenue is more wireless than the core business that’s a good thing," said Bernstein’s Rasgon.
TI had said in November that it was eliminating 1,700 jobs as it is winding down its smartphone and tablet chip business due to stiff competition from rivals such as Qualcomm Inc .
Instead TI is focusing on analog chips and embedded chips that are used in a wide range of products.
TI forecast earnings per share in a range of 24 cents to 32 cents for the current quarter. This include a charge of 6 cents related to restructuring and acquisition and a tax benefit of 6 cents related to a credit for research and development.
On December 10 the company had forecast fourth-quarter revenue of $2.89 billion to $3.01 billion and earnings per share of 5 cents to 9 cents, including 21 cents per share of charges from its previously announced restructuring of its wireless business.
TI shares fell slightly to $33.35 in late trade after closing at $33.46 in the regular Nasdaq session.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Jan 22, 2013 11:19 pm
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Wal-Mart selling Apple iPhone 5 at big discount
The writer has posted comments on this articleReuters | Dec 15, 2012
Wal-Mart Stores said that it began selling Apple’s flagship iPhone 5 smartphone at a big discount in thousands of its stores.
Wal-Mart said it is selling the 16 GB Apple iPhone 5 for $127, versus an original price of $189.97. The price is valid with a two-year contract from wireless carriers Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, the retailer added.
Wal-Mart said it is also selling the 16 GB iPhone 4S and the 16 GB iPad with Retina display and Wi-Fi at discounts.
The offers will be available for 30 days in about 3,000 of Wal-Mart’s stores, which were not identified. They are not available online, according to the retailer.
Apple has focused on high-priced, premium gadgets for many years and has strictly enforced its prices with retailers and other distributors. However, a Walmart spokeswoman said on Friday that the discounts were arranged with Apple.
"We worked together with them on this," the spokeswoman, Sarah Spencer, said. "They are a great partner."
Wal-Mart is pricing the iPad starting at $399, down from $499. Beginning December 17 the retailer said it will throw in a $30 iTunes card.
Wal-Mart is selling the 16 GB iPhone 4S for $47, versus an original price of $89.97, it said.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Wal-Mart’s cooperation with Apple is a contrast to its relationship with Amazon.com, the world’s largest internet retailer.
In September, Wal-Mart said it would stop selling Amazon’s Kindle e-readers and tablets, placing a bet that consumers would be more interested in Apple’s gadgets. This spring, Target stopped selling Kindle devices.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:09 pm
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What’s bad for Apple is good for America
I hate Apple, for what it is as well as what it represents, and have watched with Schadenfreude the 25% decline in its stock price since the mid-September peak. Sony also rose like a skyrocket, and then lost almost all of its market capitalization. I wish the same outcome on the brainchild of "billionaire hippy" Steve Jobs. Tech stocks are not my field of study, and I don’t presume to make a prediction. But I can hope.
Sony’s demise saddens me. Once it was a great company that led through technological innovation. Apple, by contrast, adapted existing technology – most famously the graphic user interface and mouse pioneered by Xerox – into something cool. Steve Jobs marketed ersatz individuality to the conformist masses. In the face of his success, I feel like the fellow in the back in Monty Python’s Life of Brian who hears a Roman centurion instruct the crowd, "You are all individuals!," and protests, "I’m not!"
Putatively intuitive devices infuriate me. No machine can anticipate what I might do, and I don’t want software that presumes to do so. Not a single Apple product remains in my possession after I discarded an aging iPod in favor of a cheaper and more robust Sandisk MP3 player. On occasion I have had to use Apple computers, but with reluctance and distaste. That’s just my personal preference, and I mean no disrespect to people whose cognitive handicaps cause them to prefer Apple. They are also God’s creatures.
What I despise utterly is Apple’s supposed patent on creativity, the bourgeois-bohemian ethos promulgated by the brilliant, odious Steve Jobs. His untimely death last year was a sad event, and I do not want to besmirch his memory; it’s just, as Will Rogers said, I didn’t like the way he made his living.
No-one was better than Jobs at guessing what consumers did not yet know they wanted. When the first tablets appeared I was astonished. One either carried a smartphone in a pocket, or a small computer in a briefcase. If one has to carry a briefcase, why carry something without a proper keyboard? Doesn’t everyone need an econometrics package to calculate the principal components of returns to a portfolio of assets just downloaded to a spreadsheet? That is not to mention a word processor and a keyboard amenable to typing 80 words a minute.
What Jobs understood, and I did not, is that the vast majority of computer users employ the device as a toy. They surf the net, leer at pornography, download music, and play games. They do not write. They text. Their ideal instrument combined a maximum of screen resolution with a minimum of writing capacity and computation. Jobs gave them a funnel to pour mass culture into their brains in the guise of a stunted computer.
This would not be so bad if Apple did not stake a special claim to creativity. My animus against the firm began with Apple’s iconic "1984" television ad for the Macintosh shown during the Super Bowl. Director Ridley Scott depicted a scene out of George Orwell’s eponymous dystopia. An endless line of grey-clad, androgynous drones shuffles through a drab industrial structure into a giant hall where the projected image of Big Brother proclaims the triumph of a totalitarian state. A young woman in bright athletic gear breaks into the room and hurls a hammer at the screen, destroying it and liberating the drones. "1984 won’t be like 1984," the clip concludes.
Apple persuaded people to buy the means to disseminate mass culture on the premise that it was promoting individuality. It was the slickest and most insidious piece of salesmanship in modern times.
That gave Apple the largest market capitalization of any stock in the world earlier this year. But it brings up a paradox. As long as Apple could represent its products as the favorite of hip, creative people, relegating the market-leading PC format to dull cubicle-dwellers, the illusion of individuality held. Now Apple has grown to the point that the Life of Brian paradox applies. If everyone uses Apple, and everyone is a hip individualist, then no-one is.
That was the upshot of Apple’s iPhone pitch: "If you don’t have an iPhone, you don’t have an iPhone", meaning that you won’t have as many apps available for the alternatives. That was IBM’s line in the old days before the Windows program ran on the Apple operating system. The apps gap is closing, and Apple’s competitors offer a more robust product at a better price.
Apple’s arrogance, meanwhile, manifests itself in important details, for example, the lack of a removable iPhone battery. I go through two and sometimes three batteries a day, especially when I use my Samsung phone as a hotspot for my laptop. Even if Apple’s product were superior, which it isn’t, that problem alone would keep me with the competition.
The tablet helps dumb the culture down. Easier access to streaming movies and video games makes people stupider. Tablets can be used to read books, to be sure, but a tablet user is less likely to read a book and more likely to be distracted by other things. Writing in Forbes Online on August 14, Jeremy Greenfield observed that tablets are slowing the growth of e-books:
"Tablets will adversely affect the e-book business in that the tablet is a multifunction device and will therefore draw the reader into non-book activities and therefore cause them to consume books slower and therefore buy fewer books versus a single function e-reading device," Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publishing services at Bowker Market Research, told me in May when it started to become clear just how tablet sales were affecting e-books.
Rather than read books, tablet users are more likely to waste time with that great enforcer of conformity, social media. Last May, I observed that Facebook’s business plan contained an inherent flaw (see What if Facebook really is worth $100 Billion, Asia Times Online, May 22, 2012). It was supposed to supplant Google push-ads by using social media posts to identify personal idiosyncrasies, such that advertisers could reach the consumers most likely to buy their products.
Sometimes this is helpful; one can reach all the alumni of one’s university, for example, and similar subgroups. For the most part, though, Facebook does exactly the opposite: it allows its users to exalt the insignificant (the Denny’s breakfast menu, or the dress rack at Marshall’s) into an item of conversation. It generates a great deal of positive feedback from mass consumer culture and little else.
What irks me the most about Apple, though, is the way in which its stock performance – now somewhat tarnished – encourages false conclusions about the state of American entrepreneurship. Doesn’t Apple’s success as a global brand demonstrate that animal spirits are still roaring in the American economy? The trouble is that venture capital committed to high-tech manufacturing has fallen next to nothing in the United States, as I a reported recently in this space (see Post-US world born in Phnom Penh, Asia Times Online, November 27, 2012). After Facebook’s IPO fell on its face last spring, Apple’s stock-price surge offered the last hard evidence of American entrepreneurial genius. Or did it?
In fact, Apple trades like a stable consumer business rather than an aggressive tech company. A simple way to put a number on this change is to examine the implied volatility of options on Apple stock vs options on the overall stock index. The price of an option (the right but not the obligation to buy or sell a stock at a specified price) reflects the likelihood of big moves.
Start-up tech companies have a huge variation of possible outcomes, and options are costly; stable businesses trade in a tighter range and options are cheap. As we observe in Figure 2, Apple’s implied volatility in the early 2000s was a multiple of the index volatility. Now they trade on top of each other.
Apple’s business strategy these days seems driven by its legal department more than its designers, let alone its tech people. I do not know whether the recent losses in its stock price demarcate a Sony-style turning point, but it makes sense. Once you are a global monopoly, you can’t also be edgy and hip. Samsung and other competitors are eating away at Apple’s franchise and might topple it.
The American economy has do to more than market video games and streaming movies. Apple may yet become a byword for a stock bubble borne by illusions. The sooner it pops, the sooner we can address the urgent tasks at hand.
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman. His book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion and economics, It’s Not the End of the World – It’s Just the End of You, also appeared last fall, from Van Praag Press.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Dec 10, 2012 11:36 pm
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IBM work force in N.C., U.S. keeps dropping but grows in India
By RICK SMITH, WRAL Tech Wire Editor
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Where does IBM now employee more workers than anywhere else?
Meanwhile, IBM’s work force in North Carolina is now well below 10,000.
And across the Triangle, where Big Blue employed more than 10,000 just a few years ago alone, the headcount has dropped to some 7,300.
IBM (NYSE: IBM) won’t talk about where it employees people geographically. So people trying to figure out what’s up with job numbers have to rely on sources and the occasional document that might be leaked.
Last week, ComputerWorld reported that it had seen a "document" showing IBM employs 112,000 people in India. That’s up from just 6,000 in 2002, the news site reported.
Indian media sources have reported similar numbers, and we’ve cited those in Tech Wire reports.
Meanwhile, Alliance at IBM, the union that seeks to represent IBM workers in the U.S., says its sources have provided information that says Big Blue headcount in the U.S., is down to 92,000.
Locally, the numbers are grim with under 10,000 workers across the sate and just 5,500 in RTP with another 1,800 in Durham, the Alliance tells WRAL News.
Some reductions are not surprising, given that IBM sold off its PC business and point-of-presence retail units, both of which were primarily based in Raleigh and the Triangle.
IBM’s headcount keeps dropping in N.C. and across the U.S. even as the ranks of Big Blue keep growing in India. According to Computer World, IBM has 112,000 workers across India. Meanwhile, the U.S. workforce is down to 92,000, says the union seeking to represent Big Blue employees.
"It does not surprise us that IBM India has more employees than IBM U.S.," Lee Conrad, national coordinator for the Alliance, said.
"For years we have been sounding the alarm that IBM corporate management has and is abandoning the U.S. for low cost countries, like India."
ComputerWorld reported that Indian IBM workers average $17,000 a year in compensation.
Conrad didn’t dispute the ComputerWorld story.
"Our sources tell us the information is accurate," he said.
Meanwhile, IBM’s numbers decline even as it does announce new hires such as an analytics center in Ohio that will employ some 500 people. That news was disclosed last week.
The latest IBM headcount estimate from Alliance at IBM follows. The asterisk notes Alliance estimates based on its own sources. IBM stopped reported employee count by geography in 2009.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Dec 03, 2012 5:33 pm
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