Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't Blame the Tool

A few months ago, I discussed Kranzberg's Laws of Technology which got me thinking more on the First Law:
Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
It's a fascinating statement and worth deeper discussion. 

First, let's change the word "technology" to "tools." I find that it is helpful since, to paraphrase Alan Kay, people think is technology anything invented after they were born. That's a very limited viewpoint for such a broad subject. Ergo, Tools are neither good nor bad; nor are they neutral.

At the heart of this argument is the assertion that tools have no morality, they are neither good nor bad, but it certainly has a purpose (not neutral). 

The purpose of any tool must always be examined when devising any rules around it's application. You can use a defibrillator to save a life or to kill. You can use a gun to hunt or to murder. The tool itself is free of morality. However, some tools have no purpose other than to propagate immorality. A computer virus is a great example. It is an tool that only has immoral use, regardless if the target is my mother's computer or Iranian centrifuges

Because a tool is misused isn't enough cause to abandon the tool. Just because a computer virus is only used for immoral purposes, the virtuous side is that it has created a whole industry for digital security and has forced software developers to write better, more secure code. Can you imagine throwing away all the computers because you got a virus once? 

When you examine a new tool for your business, keep all of Kranzberg's Laws in mind, but especially the First Law. You need to fully appreciate how this tool will impact your business and why.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Technological Unemployment & the Future of Jobs

As more jobs are lost to technology, a new series of "pain points" will emerge that cannot easily be solved by machines. These pain points are the future careers that humans workers will fill. Sadly, there is an enormous delay between the loss of a career and the discovery of a pain point that only a human can fill.

Despite all the political arguments, taxes have little bearing on employment. I have never met an entrepreneur who cried that if only his taxes were a little lower, he could afford to hire. Its a silly argument. The reality is that businesses hire people to solve problems -- to alleviate a pain point. The moment that pain point no longer exists, so too does the job vanish. It is the nature of industry and work.

The simplest example of a major pain point that led to significant new job creation is federal legislation or regulation, like Sarbanes-Oxley or Dodd-Frank. In these cases, the federal government introduced a host of regulations which included the threat of significant pain for non-compliance. As such, the industries in question hired people to alleviate those pain points.

Before my Conservative friends start sending me nasty emails, let me say I am not in favor of heavy handed federal regulations as a means to create jobs. Quite to the contrary. I am simple listing this as an example of how corporate pain creates jobs.

In the absence of immediate pain, the reason it takes time is because pain points tend to emerge gradually. At first it starts as an individual, minor nuisance. Over time, those individual nuisances accumulate until they blossom into a full blown pain in the corporate ass. That's usually the moment when someone in a position of authority decides to hire ANYONE to take care of that nuisance. If enough of that kind of pain is felt throughout an industry, then a new career is born. If it gets to be a big enough career, eventually, they'll even teach classes about it in universities all over the world.

As robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing approach ubiquity, we will start to see more pain points emerging. I predict that many of those pain points will emerge at the intersections of those technologies and their interaction with humans. Aside from the obvious technician to service your 3D printing robot, we will see other careers emerge which, today, seem to be the stuff of science fiction. That's OK. You'll be able to talk it over with your AI Human Resources Therapist.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kranzberg's Laws of Technology

Melvin Kranzberg (1917-1995) was a really smart guy. He earned his PhD from Harvard and was a professor at Georgia Tech. He also served in George Patton's army during World War II, so he had to be tough too. I respect smart, tough people so I pay attention to their ideas. He studied how technology and culture shape each other, which led him to some impressive insights.

Kranzberg is best known for his six Laws of Technology which state:

  1. Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
  2. Invention is the mother of necessity.
  3. Technology comes in packages, big and small.
  4. Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
  5. All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
  6. Technology is a very human activity - and so is the history of technology.
At the heart of Kranzberg's laws is the simple understanding that humans are tool making animals. It understands that there is a coevolution between human kind and the tools we build

In any conversation about the development of a new technology, keep a copy of these rules nearby. Whenever I meet with entrepreneurs who want to enlist me in their new tech business venture, I always pull up a copy of Kranzberg's Laws. It helps me to frame the potential of the invention, and to look for the unintended consequences. I try to see beyond the immediate profit potential of the idea, and look to how culture and technology will interact to propel, or hinder, the business idea. It is surprisingly useful. 

Click for a deeper analysis of Krazberg's Laws

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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Monday, December 5, 2016

SMB Tech Mistakes - I Can Squeeze Another Year Out of These Old Computers

I'm certain my long silence on this blog has left many of you in terrible grief. Let's just say it has been a year of spectacular challenges that have left me with no time for anything but the necessities. I'm not alone in saying that I will be happy to see the end of 2016. Also, I want to start writing again, but no promises about publishing schedules. Onward...

Now that that is out of the way, allow me to vent a recurring frustration...the need for regular, planned IT upgrades. Otherwise known as "I Can Squeeze Another Year Out of These Old Computers." Allow me to cut to the chase: it's stupid thinking.

I get that the economy has been tough for many small businesses. I understand that cash flow problems are forcing budget cuts, and all the other bean counter excuses which fly around during budget meetings. Trust me. As a small business owner, I have learned to pinch a penny until old Abe Lincoln screams, but you just can't run your business without computers! And a broken computer is as good as no computer at all.

Old computers are absolute business liabilities! They're slow, buggy, cranky, and downright bitchy. They sap worker productivity to the point where you're basically throwing away their salaries. They consume more electricity than newer models. They require more time, attention, and hard-to-find (AKA expensive!) spare parts from your IT personnel. Old computers are costing you more money than you think!

Then there's the nightmare of a server failure. One client was out of business for a week because of a total failure of an old server. The downtime was caused by having to order a new server (made more expensive because we had to rush the shipping, which still took 3 business days), then we spent two days restoring the backups onto the new machine. Why? Because they refused to replace a 7 year old server even after I warned them it was heading towards a failure. I estimate that, because they didn't want to spend $10,000 for a new server when I asked them to originally, they ended up losing about $350,000 in lost productivity and business for the entire week they were down, and they still had to buy the new server. That's just a dumb business move.

Or the other client that refused to replace a 15 year old laser printer. The printer was so old it still used the old LPT port interface, which no modern computer even carries anymore. To make the antique printer work, they ordered an LPT to USB converter, which should have been fine, in theory. In reality, the converter blew out the motherboards on two separate computers because of some kind of bad power regulation. The converter manufacturer refused to accept responsibility, so everyone is waiting on the results of that lawsuit. However, my client lost two computers in one day which hurt their productivity, forced them to replace both computers, and they ended up buying a new USB laser printer. Because they didn't want to spend $200 on a new laser printer, they ended up spending $2,500 on new computers, plus whatever the lawyers will cost them.

Don't get caught in the same trap! Old machines need to be retired before they hurt your business. All it takes is planning ahead and smart budgetting. There are times to be prudent and cautious, but not at the expense of your operations! In the 21st Century, computers are integral business tools. Don't risk your business on old computers. It's really not worth it.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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Monday, January 19, 2015

How Technology Changes Us

Every major technological advance exerts a biological change on humanity. In truth, the things we create, reshape us. Today we hear the frightening statistics on declining attention spans, expanding waistlines and shouts that the Internet makes people stupid. But this is nothing new. Each major technological advance has remade humanity. From our cultures to our biology, as we reshape our technology, we exert evolutionary pressures on ourselves.

One million years ago, the earliest humans napped stones to make hand axes. These axes made our ancestors much more effective meat eaters. It also increased caloric intake which allowed us to develop larger brains. Oddly enough, new research shows a connection between the parts of the brain involved in napping stones and the speech centers of the brain. It could be the simple act of banging rocks together (with incredible patience and precision!) is responsible for human speech.

Forty thousand years ago, humans started creating art. All over the world, Ice Age humans painted representations of animals and hunters on cave walls. Art was the moment where our species realized we could create representations of things that exist in the real world. We could capture a moment in time by using pictures. This small step opens the door to writing and math. The fact you are reading this is proof that those were significant advances.

Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors figured out farming and animal husbandry. This let them abandon their previous nomadic existence and let them settle down. This gave them more reliable sources of calories and, for the first time in history, created times of surplus. This freed up some of the society to specialize in tasks that would be useful. This change led to population growth which led to towns. Over time, towns grew into cities, and formal governments were born. This led to organized societies better able to manage resources and protect the citizenry. Which led to stability, which encouraged commerce, which increased wealth. You get the idea.

But the Agricultural Revolution had negative physical effects on our Neolithic ancestors. Because human diet and lifestyle changed, we know from archeological evidence that human height actually declined. When people started living off the land, they shrunk. To add insult to injury, it also shortened their lifespans too. Hunter-gatherers could live into their 30's, while Neolithic folks rarely made it to 20.

This is clear evidence of how our technologies change us. In the early stages, they cause us physical harm. It makes us shorter, dumber and we die younger; but only for a short span of evolutionary time! By the time of Ancient Rome, if you survived childhood, you had a fair chance of living into your 40's. The negatives were eventually overcome through a combination of new technologies (plumbing, hygiene, diverse diet) and human adaptation. In some ways the discovery of agriculture was a step backwards that allowed us to take several more steps forward.

The Digital Age is reshaping what it means to be human. Right now we are in the process of re-inventing humanity for this new technological age. As the discoveries of the Digital Age roll out in all their splendor, our species is being reshaped by new environmental pressures which will select for certain attributes. We will adapt, mentally and physically, to the new digital environments we craft. At first, it will have negative effects but, given time, those negatives will be surpassed. As a species, we will have to take a step backwards so we can leap into the future.

Want to know more about the leap into the future? R-Squared Computing can help you prepare for tomorrow. 305-423-9574

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

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