Why Tech’s Best Minds Are Very Worried About the Internet of Things

20. May 2014

Date: 20-05-2014
Source: WIRED

The Internet of Things is coming. And the tech cognoscenti aren’t sure that’s a good thing.

For years, the prospect of an online world that extends beyond computers, phones, and tablets and into wearables, thermostats, and other devices has generated plenty of excitement and activity. But now, some of the brightest tech minds are expressing some doubts about the potential impact on everything from security and privacy to human dignity and social inequality.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey from the Pew Research Center. For ten years, the Washington, D.C. think tank has surveyed thousands of technology experts–like founding father Vint Cerf and Microsoft social media scholar danah boyd–about the future of the Internet. But while previous editions have mostly expressed optimism, this year people started expressing more concern. “We had a lot of warnings, a lot of people pushing back,” says Janna Anderson, co-author of the report.

The Internet of Broken Things
The 1,606 respondents said they saw many potential benefits to the Internet of Things. New voice- and gesture-based interfaces could make computers easier to use. Medical devices and health monitoring services could help prevent and treat diseases. Environmental sensors could detect pollution. Salesforce.com chief scientist JP Rangaswami said that improved logistics and planning systems could reduce waste.

But most of the experts warned of downsides as well. Security was one of the most immediate concerns. “Most of the devices exposed on the internet will be vulnerable,” wrote Jerry Michalski, founder of the think tank REX. “They will also be prone to unintended consequences: they will do things nobody designed for beforehand, most of which will be undesirable.”

We’ve already seen security camera DVRs hacked to mine bitcoins as well as a worm that targets internet connected devices like home routers. As more devices come online, we can expect to see an increase in this kind of attack.

Beyond security concerns, there’s the threat of building a world that may be too complex for our own good. If you think error messages and applications crashes are a problem now, just wait until the web is embedded in everything from your car to your sneakers. Like the VCR that forever blinks 12:00, many of the technologies built into the devices of the future may never be used properly. “We will live in a world where many things won’t work and nobody will know how to fix them,” wrote Howard Rheingold. Read the rest of this entry »

Management consulting: From advising to doing

16. May 2014

Date: 15-05-2014

Source: The Economist

McKinsey tries its hand at the restructuring business

THE lawsuit makes the case sound like a spy novel. Two executives at a prestigious multinational organisation hold secret meetings with a competitor who hopes to poach them. Before jumping ship, they send a lot of confidential files, such as strategic plans and contact lists, to their personal and relatives’ e-mail accounts, in a “frantic effort to steal whatever documents [they] could”. On May 9th a judge issued an order requiring the defendants to return them and barring their new employer from using the information.

AlixPartners v Eric Thompson and Ivo Naumann, which was filed last month, will probably not become a Hollywood film. The mundane truth is that AlixPartners is a professional-services firm specialising in corporate restructuring and that Mr Thompson and Mr Naumann, the defendants, now work for McKinsey, a firm of consultants. The suit does not claim that the documents were given to McKinsey, and McKinsey has said the alleged trade secrets would have been of little use anyway. Nonetheless, the case illustrates the heating-up of competition between corporate-turnaround advisers and strategy consultants. It is the most striking example so far of the risks for both.  Read the rest of this entry »

Companies Choose Profits Over Productivity

16. May 2014

Date: 16-05-2014
Source: BusinessWeek

Companies Choose Profits Over Productivity

When the U.S. economy emerged from the recession in June 2009, productivity was rising at a fast clip. Companies had spent the downturn cutting jobs and were lean and efficient. Productivity—output per hour worked—jumped 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier as workers did more with less. But as the recovery has chugged on, productivity growth has stalled, averaging less than 1 percent a year since 2011. Workers were actually less efficient in the first quarter of 2014, producing fewer goods and services per hour than they had during the previous quarter.

Although there are many reasons for the productivity rut, one of the primary ones is that businesses aren’t investing in their workers. Business investment fell almost 25 percent during the recession and hasn’t come back the way many economists had expected, especially given that low interest rates make borrowing less expensive. Growth of capital spending during this recovery is about 30 percent below the average of the prior five recoveries, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That’s left many workers without the equipment, software, and structures—which economists call “capital”—that they need to be more productive. Whether it’s a computer or a forklift, workers are stuck using outdated machines. The average age of equipment in the U.S. is 7.4 years, the highest in 20 years, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Read the rest of this entry »

Genes and intelligence: The 3% solution

9. May 2014

Date: 08-05-2014
Source: The Economist

A potent source of genetic variation in cognitive ability has just been discovered

Genes IntelligencePEOPLE are living longer, which is good. But old age often brings a decline in mental faculties and many researchers are looking for ways to slow or halt such decline. One group doing so is led by Dena Dubal of the University of California, San Francisco, and Lennart Mucke of the Gladstone Institutes, also in San Francisco. Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke have been studying the role in ageing of klotho, a protein encoded by a gene called KL. A particular version of this gene, KL-VS, promotes longevity. One way it does so is by reducing age-related heart disease. Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke wondered if it might have similar powers over age-related cognitive decline.

What they found was startling. KL-VS did not curb decline, but it did boost cognitive faculties regardless of a person’s age by the equivalent of about six IQ points. If this result, just published in Cell Reports, is confirmed, KL-VS will be the most important genetic agent of non-pathological variation in intelligence yet discovered.

Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke made their discovery when they looked at 220 volunteers aged 52 to 85, to study the effects of KL-VS on ageing. They assessed their volunteers’ faculties of memory, attention, visuo-spatial awareness and language. From these, they constructed a composite measure of cognition. Read the rest of this entry »

Wanted: 1.4 million new supply chain workers by 2018

1. May 2014

Date: 01-05-2014

The logistics industry has a recruiting problem. It’s huge, making up 8.5% of GDP, and growing fast. But to most job seekers, it’s misunderstood — or invisible.

FORTUNE — How can a $1.3 trillion industry, getting bigger every year, be hidden in plain sight?

Easy. The vast U.S. logistics business, which delivers 48 million tons of freight (worth about $48 billion) daily and already employs roughly 6 million people, operates mostly behind the scenes.

“When you order something from, say, Amazon, you know it arrives on your doorstep in two days, but most people don’t think about how,” observes George Prest, president of logistics trade group Materials Handling Industry (MHI). He adds that the field gets overlooked by new grads in particular, who think of supply chain work — if they think of it at all — as “a guy driving a forklift in a dusty old factory.”

That outdated image is a huge hurdle for an industry that badly needs new talent in high tech, analytics, robotics, and engineering. Career changers, take note: Seasoned managers, marketers, data analysts, and human resources executives are also in demand. “There are currently six to eight management jobs available for each applicant we get, and the median salary is about $80,000,” notes Prest — and that’s even before the wave of Boomer retirements the MHI projects over the next few years. In total, says a new MHI report, the logistics business will be looking to fill about 1.4 million jobs, or roughly 270,000 per year, by 2018. Read the rest of this entry »