Digital

Jaron Lanier on Facebook and the Creepy Possibilities for Virtual Reality

(Flickr / The American Library Association)

When Facebook announced last week that it had agreed to acquire Oculus VR, “the leader in virtual reality technology,” for $2 billion, techies and journalists everywhere wondered: What does Jaron Lanier think of this? Lanier, the dreadlocked futurist now working at Microsoft Research, was a virtual reality pioneer—he coined the term. More recently, he’s been a prolific critic of so-called Web 2.0 companies like Google and Facebook, bucking very publicly against their business models in books like "Who Owns the Future?" The Fiscal Times spoke with Lanier this week to get more of his thoughts about the deal, Mark Zuckerberg’s vision, and the future of virtual reality. Among his insights: “The biggest variable as to how creepy Facebook will be in the future is whether Zuck has kids or not.”   More

Global Tech Government

Can We Hold Back Data-Secessionism?

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German Chancellor Merkel has called for a "European data network" that would prevent Europe-to-Europe information from passing through the U.S., and the EU has joined with Brazil to build a new undersea fiber optic cable that would be out of the control of U.S. telecoms companies. Up until now, however, Net infrastructure outside of countries like China has sent data packets on routes based on efficiency, not on national origins. Now a former German Defense Minister in Merkel's own government has come out against the mindset that leads to these parochial policies that would "balkanize" the Internet. In an article for Techonomy, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg argues against what he calls "data secessionism."   More

Global Tech Government Opinion

European Legislators Face “Data Secessionism”

The key players in the public and private sector are now working to protect their interests in a world that is shifting from government to “Googlement”—driven by the unprecedented ability of companies to gather, store, and evaluate vast amounts of personal data. Adding to the challenge will be unabated progress on more invasive technologies such as biometrics, household robotics, smart homes, and connected cars, coupled with widespread adoption of cloud computing. Even overconfident U.S. tech titans must concede that Europe is in the pole position to shape this process and that the Old Continent’s success or failure will reverberate around the world.   More

Cities Startup Culture

Idea Village: 5 Things We Can Learn from the Folks Bringing Startups to New Orleans

New Orleans Skyline During Sunrise

In the mid-1980s, New Orleans was in a downward spiral, in part because of its longstanding political corruption and failing education system, but also because the once-thriving Louisiana energy industry tanked as soon as oil prices fell to $10 a barrel. Statewide, one out of every eight people was unemployed. Economic hardship drove residents toward opportunities in more prosperous places such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, New York, and Boston. The exodus was most prevalent among 23-to-35-year-olds, the very demographic that could have provided the fresh ideas and innovative businesses essential for growing the state’s economy and addressing its pressing social issues.   More

Government

The Inefficiency Bunker

(Image via Shutterstock)

It's housed 230 feet underground in an old mine in rural Pennsylvania. The official government paperwork it processes follows a long and winding procedure that takes more than three months to complete. And despite all of today's advanced computing technology, its operations rely on physical paper records and manual data entry. This is the Office of Personnel Management, which The Washington Post calls "one of the weirdest workplaces in the U.S. government." It is the department that processes the retirement papers of government employees. From the time the office receives a retiree's papers to the time it issues a retirement check, the process takes about 61 days. That's not a day less than it took back in 1977.   More

Jobs

The Online, Freelance, Globalizing World of Work

(Image via Shutterstock)

The monthly ups and downs of American employment as recorded by the Department of Labor don’t track the full story of modern jobs. The agency doesn’t take into account U.S. freelancers. This is a major omission. There are 70 percent more self-identified independent or freelance workers (17.7 million) than unemployed professionals (10.5 million). While the most recent report eased concerns about the jobless growth (the economy added 175,000 new jobs this February), we will continue to see the transformation of the way we work and hire. Many of today’s traditional office jobs will soon be a relic of the 20th century.   More

Life Science

NYU Scientists Lead Synthetic Chromosome Breakthrough

(Image via Shutterstock)

Another huge milestone has been reached in synthetic biology. Scientists have created a working chromosome and inserted it into a living cell. The cell continued to act normally—what scientists consider a key measure of success. While chromosomes have already been created for bacteria, accomplishing the feat with a brewer's yeast cell, a more complex organism, is a major accomplishment. Jeff Boeke, director of NYU's Institute for System's Genetics and the leader of the research team, was quoted as saying, "We have made of 50,000 changes to the DNA code in the chromosome and our yeast is still alive. That is remarkable… It is the most extensively altered chromosome ever built." The potential efficiencies created by these synthetic strains of yeast open doors to remarkable medical and biofuel opportunities, to name just a couple.   More

Analytics & Data Life Science

Forensics’ Next Frontier: Translating DNA into a Mug Shot

Claes P, Liberton DK, Daniels K, Rosana KM, Quillen EE, et al. (2014) Modeling 3D Facial Shape from DNA. PLoS Genet 10(3): e1004224. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004224

Anthropological genomics researcher Mark Shriver at Penn State has teamed up with scientists in the university's forensics department to leverage big data, DNA, and 3D imaging to translate a drop of blood into a facial recognition tool. Shriver's lab conducts various studies using a method known as "admixture mapping," which helps them identify ancestral genes linked to facial traits, combined with population genomics to understand those genes' evolutionary histories.   More

Jobs

These Companies Are Giving Virtual Workers a Home

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Last year we profiled Web engineering company 10up (which developed this website). Aside from its near-fanatical devotion to all things WordPress, one of the hallmarks of 10up is that it’s a distributed company—its 60-plus full-time developers and project managers live and work all over the country. That model is catching on, with “virtual” companies becoming more and more common in the tech sector. Some, like Mozilla, Basecamp, and Upworthy, are fast-growing software or media companies. Others are developers, marketers, digital designers, or online learning platforms. “Web based” best describes all of the companies that made a list compiled by job search site FlexJobs (which has the distinction of appearing on its own list), but each blend offline and online collaboration in different ways and to varying degrees.   More

Digital Life Science

Using Software to Program the Building Blocks of Life

Andrew Hessel (l) with Stewart Brand and Eri Gentry at Techonomy 2013 in Tucson, Ariz.

“What’s beautiful about software is that it makes complex jobs easy,” opines Andrew Hessel, a distinguished researcher at Autodesk, the software company best known for the design software, AutoCAD. What’s really beautiful about what Hessel and others at Autodesk are working on is what they’re building new design tools for—life itself. Hessel, who spoke at Techonomy’s November conferences in 2011 and 2013, sees the work Autodesk is involved in as a way to create greater access to the burgeoning field of synthetic biology and, along the way, turbocharge fields like energy and food production, manufacturing, and hopefully developing personalized, genetic-level tools for fighting, maybe even curing, things like cancer.   More

Digital

From Messaging to Gaming, Mark Zuckerberg Is Buying

Just five weeks after acquiring mobile messaging app WhatsApp (for a whopping $19 billion), Facebook announced Tuesday it plans to buy Oculus, the virtual reality headset startup that's been the talk of the town—the gaming town, that is—even though it has yet to send a single product to market. The $2 billion buyout includes 23.1 million shares of Facebook stock and $400 million in cash. Techonomy CEO and Bloomberg contributing editor David Kirkpatrick appeared on Bloomberg Surveillance Wednesday to talk about Facebook’s objectives in acquiring Oculus, both now and in the future. “They can win with this purchase,” Kirkpatrick said, adding that Oculus can help Facebook achieve its short-term goal of building a stronger gaming platform.   More

Analytics & Data IoE Manufacturing

Techonomic Top 5: Predicting War with Data, Biological Manufacturing, the IOE Economy, and more

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Every week we spotlight techonomic happenings on the Web and beyond, picking people, companies, and trends that exemplify tech’s ever-growing role in business and society. Here’s what’s got our attention.   More

Business Digital

Techonomists Weigh in on Tech’s Future at Our San Francisco Salon

Techonomy hosted a salon dinner in San Francisco, in partnership with BlackBerry, and we took a few guests aside for further insight. We asked them, among other things, our usual—how is tech innovation changing society? Michael Chui of McKinsey Global Institute celebrated having such conversation in the Bay Area, noting its world-class universities and venture capitalists, adding up to a “cauldron of interpersonal connections” that spur innovation. But with more and more people coming online, Chui foresees developing countries playing an increasing role in a more global cauldron of innovation. BlackBerry’s John Chen thinks the future is in the machine-to-machine interconnectivity, as software and devices help make our lives “more automated, more information driven.”   More

Global Tech

Huawei Eyes Big Growth, ZTE Rolls out Game Box

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Telecoms giants Huawei and ZTE are in the headlines for their newer product initiatives, as each tries to offset slowing growth in their core telecoms equipment business. Of the pair, Huawei’s news looks the most bullish, with the company targeting a sharp rise in smartphone sales as it sets its sights on overtaking Apple as the world’s second largest seller. Meanwhile, ZTE has formally rolled out its new gaming console, the FunBox, which looks a bit more exciting that I’d originally imagined and carries an extremely low price tag.   More

Analytics & Data Global Tech

In Future, Data May Help Predict Even Wars

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Amazon predicts what you want to buy, political pundits predict who you'll vote for, search engines predict what you're looking for. And now researchers and social scientists are looking to similar techniques to predict mass violence and atrocities like war, civil unrest, and genocide. The "GDELT" Project (Global Database of Events, Language and Tone), created at Georgetown University, is updated every morning and catalogs more than a quarter billion event records from across the globe since 1979. The hope is that by mapping and tracking human societal-scale behaviors and beliefs we can learn from the past and better forecast the future.   More

Life Science Manufacturing

This Manufacturing Technique Will Make 3D Printing Seem Old-School

Cell image via Shutterstock

Getting living organisms to do our manufacturing work for us may be the next big shift in materials science. This Quartz article explains how it becomes not inconceivable that in the nearish future we will have biological materials helping us assemble solar panels, for example, or possibly helping work with a variety of different non-biological materials. The ability of living cells to help assemble non-living ones is a big breakthrough the article reports on. It suggests that future capabilities might even include things like tape that repairs itself biologically if it detects that its adhesive is weakening. Wow.   More

Analytics & Data

Nate Silver Is Not the Only Useful Pundit

Nate Silver at South by Southwest, 2009

Data is nothing new. We at Techonomy get excited because there is now more of it, in more massageable forms, which will likely assist society in adding efficiency to all sorts of processes and systems that have heretofore been sloppy or unfair. However, we don't worship at the foot of data, especially not at the cost of deprecating other forms of analysis and interpretation. Which is why we found this essay by the redoubtable Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic gratifying. We admire Nate Silver's election work as much as the next citizen, but I and we agree with Wieseltier that thinking and arguing based on experience and values can be equally, and sometimes more, valuable.   More

Business

Techonomy Tips Our Hat to the Great Pat McGovern

(Image via IDG)

The worlds of technology, business, science, and philanthropy lost a true revolutionary when Patrick J. McGovern passed away on March 19th of this year. McGovern was best known as the founder of International Data Group and its many related interests, including tech magazines, research, and events. He spent much of the past decade and a half promoting and championing research and discovery around the field of neuroscience. In 2000 Pat and his wife, Lore Harp McGovern, made a $350 million commitment to MIT, one of the largest philanthropic contributions in the history of higher education, which led to the formal establishment of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. According to its website, the Institute is, “committed to meeting two great challenges of modern science: understanding how the brain works and discovering new ways to prevent or treat brain disorders.”   More

Digital Startup Culture

SwiftKey CTO Debuts Our “Three Questions” Video Series

Techonomy hosted Ben Medlock, CTO and co-founder of Britain's SwiftKey, in our Manhattan offices for a short video interview. It was the first episode of a new online series we call "Three Questions from Techonomy." Medlock talked about his company, the growing importance of AI, and how tech is changing the world. This modest CTO has a company with outscale success—now on about 150 million smartphones globally, including most Samsung phones. His software autocompletes typing on the Android keyboard, and is the state of the art in keyboard technology. The company recently completed a $20 million funding round with venture capital firms Accel and Index Ventures.   More

Life Science

Talking with the Government’s $1,000 Genome Man

(Photo courtesy NHGRI)

There’s been a lot of attention paid to the tremendous progress in making DNA sequencing so cheap that scanning a person’s genome could cost just $1,000. This pricing free-fall has occurred markedly faster than with comparable drops for other technologies, such as computers. Most people would assume that credit is due mostly to the progress made by companies, but in reality the man most responsible for approaching the $1,000 genome is Jeffery Schloss, an unassuming federal employee who works as a program director for the National Human Genome Research Institute.   More