The Ignorant Computer

Consider the (likely tens of gigabytes of) software in your computer. What sorts of knowledge does that software embody? What things does it “know” so you don’t have to? A lot of details about hardware management, at a minimum: how to interact with thousands of different devices, the details of interfaces and protocols, the often complex algorithms necessary to make the best use of large but limited resources. Continuer la lecture de « The Ignorant Computer »

Direct Marketing 2

This story is the continuation of Direct Marketing.)

“How did you know we were coming?”

“I used Facebook to hack your computers.”

We looked at each other. What she said made no sense. Facebook was a social network, not a hacking tool.

The girl made an exasperated face. “Listen. What is the most powerful computer system online?”

“Google,” I said. “They are running who knows how many servers.”

“Facebook is running two hundred million human brains. That’s way more computing power.”

“Uh? Facebook is not a computer!”

“Yeah, right. Do you think chips know they are inside a computer? What do you believe is happening when you play games and chat? You are running subroutines for Facebook’s distributed processing system.” She smiled cheerfully. “You didn’t really think that a social network without a revenue stream could be worth ten billion dollars or more, did you? It’s the world’s biggest hypercomputer. Shifting around buying patterns and hacking into people’s laptops is the least it can do. And it’s not what it was built for.”

“What do you mean? What is Facebook for?”

She put a finger over her lips and passed me a piece of paper. There were a hundred and forty letters written on it, and I didn’t want to believe what they said.


Powerful Winds

Wind is one of the oldest sources of technologically usable energy, from its traditional role powering aquatic vehicles — application in which it was unsurpassed for thousands of years — to the first mechanical devices in widespread use not powered by a biological source. But there is more than historical interest in wind as a source of energy. As all energy sources except nuclear ones, it’s ultimately a form of solar energy, but it’s one in which energy is collected at a geographical scale. Continuer la lecture de « Powerful Winds »

Fear the Known

The key of investment is the management of risk, both upside and downside, and one of the things that made clear by the last market meltdown is that the tools we have developed to characterize, trade, and manage risk didn’t work as well as we thought — or at least as we said — they would. This doesn’t mean we won’t eventually develop and use new ones, as they are a cornerstone component of any complex economy. Hopefully, but perhaps not likely, with better organizational and conceptual foundations for them. Continuer la lecture de « Fear the Known »