Category Archives: New technology

This is the category for posts about new technology — like new inventions and new products.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is a topic that, since the beginnings of computers, has come up time and time again. People seem to be fascinated at the idea that machines could perform tasks just as well or better than humans.

This year in particular has been particularly interesting already for artificial intelligence. Google just payed £400million for an AI research company, IBM is pouring $1billion into it’s newly branded Watson division, a movie about a man falling in love with an AI meets success, and Eric Schmidt warns that the Jobs problem will be ‘the defining one’. Why so much buzz about AI? In my opinion, I think it’s because artificial intelligence suddenly seems real to us as a people. We live in a world where computers beat humans at everything from chess to Jeapordy, a game that is uniquely human in so many ways.

Ethically, artificial intelligence is very interesting. In a world where tasks normally reserved for full time employees can be automated, it creates questions of morality. For instance, is it ethical to replace somebody with a machine? What if that machine could perform this task more accurately and safely. However, without that task to perform a worker may have trouble finding employment. Without employment, the worker contributes to a global trend of growing economic inequality.

AI is interesting stuff. Looking forward to comments.


Race with the machines

This post is ties really closely with the Software is eating the world post. In this TED talk, Erik Brynholfsson addresses the problem how as machines take on more jobs more and more people find themselves out of work. “Is this the end of growth? No, says Erik Brynholfsson — it’s simply the growing pains of a radically reorganized economy.” The description of the talk also suggests to watch the opposing viewpoint from Robert Gordon. (I watched his video too, but it doesn’t relate as much to our class).

Anyway, Erik argues that indeed at this moment people are losing their jobs, but this is just a growing pain for what he calls “The New Machine Age”. According to Erik at this moment in time productivity is at an all time high, and actually the numbers used to make this hypothesis are understated. He says that because a lot of the Internet is “free” economists miss about 300 billion dollars for the total GDP. Interestingly enough he will go on to incorporate a lot of the ideas that we have discussed throughout this course. He says that this new machine age will promote grow for three reasons. It’s digital, meaning it’s at virtually no cost. It’s exponential, like what Ray Kurzwiel says, and it’s combinatorial, meaning that new things will be building blocks for future implementation. His final point provides the most hope for our job situation. He states as an example that when Deep Blue played grandmaster Garry Kasparov, the machine won. And even today, a cell-phone app can beat even the most skilled grandmaster, but what is most hopeful is that today, the world champion is not a human or a machine. Today when humans work with machines, they can beat any human or any machine. This means that we need to race with the machines rather than race against the machines.

He also talks about Watson during the talk which can relate to the singularity.

And finally here is another TED talk that is unrelated to the first one, but I’ve been meaning to post it for some time. It describes the purpose of this class, and what we as developers should be doing, when making new software.

More discussion of e-waste

We really spent only one class session discussing e-waste, but I think it is a really important topic. The starting point of our discussion was “The Electronic Wasteland”, which originally aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes. It is a startling video. I think it is something we should be sharing with our friends and families

When I have had old computers to recycle, I have taken them to either FreeGeek Columbus (which seems to be defunct) or Ohio Drop Off. I assume my old electronics were reused or recycled responsibly, but I have no way of knowing for sure. And even if there are good places that recycle electronics responsibly, there will be others that don’t. It is much cheaper to recycle electronics in developing countries that have little health and environmental regulation or enforcement than it is to do the recycling around here. As long as that is true, there will be businesses that send electronics to the “wasteland” in order to save money — even if it means making people sick and polluting the land.

In class, we mentioned a few possible solutions to the e-waste problem. One idea was to design electronics with more replaceable and upgradable parts. That way things do not become obsolete as quickly, and there is less total e-waste. Another idea was to add to the cost of electronics a fee that would be refunded only if the item was returned to an authorized center for recycling. (This is similar to how some states handle recycling of bottles and cans.)

What are some other solutions? What are the pros and cons of each solution?


Today I read an article about two Navy lieutenants named Scott Cheney-Peters and Matthew Hipple. In the journal of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, the pair talked about the growth of 3D printers and that in the future these printers could change almost everything about the way the Navy builds things “through the design and construction of ships, submarines, aircraft, and everything carried on board.” As 3D printers evolve, their hope is that the Navy can use them for everyday logistics and producing tools and supplies. Cheney-Peters and Hipple want 3D printing to be so heavily incorporated into Navy use that it is used to print plates, tools, medical supplies, and even ships. They even hope that 3D printers can be placed in Naval hospitals so doctors can use them to print medical tools and prosthetic limbs. At this point in time, 3D printers are not capable of being used to the degree that these lieutenants are hoping, such as for printing ships and aircraft. The highest quality 3D printers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they still cannot print high quality rubber or metals that the Navy needs in production.

In our class, we have discussed 3D printing a number of times. We have also discussed drones. What is they were combined? Researchers in Virginia and the United Kingdom have printed working, flyable drones (without engines of course). As 3D printing becomes more popular and affordable, we will continue to hear more stories like this. However, the time is coming where it will be possible to print ships. If we can print ships, why not a nice car? Printable houses are already possible. What will be done to keep this all in line? Will the Government soon make limits on what can be done with 3D printers? Or will we continue to print 3D guns and whatsoever we desire as 3D printing evolves?

Documentary explores 3D printed guns

I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked about this but I recently stumbled on a documentary about the potential of printing assault rifles and high capacity magazines that I don’t believe we’ve talked about yet.

The documentary found here takes a realistic view on the potential of the new and rapidly developing technology. The documentary focus on a 25-year old who is advocating the creation and open distribution of CAD blueprints for various weapon parts and demonstrates their functionality. His main argument is that gun control and bans are futile and pointless due to the availability of new these new technologies(internet + 3D printing). The self-described crypto anarchist uses his own website, along with friends in the field, to host and create new and better pieces available to the open public. Anyone with internet can access these files and anyone with a 3D printer can create these objects. There is a chilling resemblance between his methods of addressing a situation and that of firesheeps’s. He has also recently been approved for a federal firearms license. This means that he will be able to sell his printed guns, as well as host blueprint of the files via his website. No one can predict the impact of this new technology but everyone agrees it is getting easier and cheaper to do. It’s only a matter of time until 3D printers become common household items.

Obviously new technologies bring change but what is the potential for this new technology? Do you think the danger lies with the ability to create a gun at home, the open source nature of the blueprints or both?

Do you agree with Cody’s methods of spreading awareness or do you think he is going too far?




As technology increases and people get smarter, there will always be a new technology or service that pushes the limits of what is “acceptable” in society. Today, I was reading an article about an new app called Koozoo. Basically, it allows people to stream live video from a phone to anyone using the Koozoo app. Other people can also “tune in” to a video feed to watch what is being broadcasted. Sounds intriguing, right? The creator of Koozoo based this app upon an old website that had a live video stream of a bar in Michigan that people could log onto in order to see if the bar was busy that day or something. Koozoo seeks to be similar, but less complicated doing so. They want you to take an old smartphone (“There are billions of dollars of smartphones sitting in sock drawers all over the world”), download the app, and set up a live stream of whatever using that phone. It could be a stream of a city intersection, the outside of a library, whatever. They just want it to be a stream of a public place.

The cool thing about Koozoo is that a 24/7 feed is not actually being streamed, but your phone is actually taking a picture every few minutes to use as a thumbnail, then takes a live feed once someone “tunes in.” The stream is geo-tagged so people know where it originates from. Also, no audio is streamed, only the video itself. However, I believe that Koozoo is already doomed to privacy struggles. In Koozoo’s terms of service it states that only public spaces can be streamed. Koozoo’s founders said “unless a front yard is obscured in some way, it is visible to the general public.” According to this rule, if people can see my backyard from the street, they can stream me swimming.. This would be considered a public spot, and could be streamed. Koozoo says that they are going to be working hard to make sure that only acceptable content is streamed, but how successful will they be? Already, it sounds like privacy can be infringed here and Koozoo will not have a problem with it. What do you think? Is Koozoo a bad idea that will cause privacy concerns, or will it be a beneficial app?

Copyright Alerts System

The Copyright Alert System (CAS) is coming to the US next week.

AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon have come together and created a 6 strike system where every time it detect “pirated content” being download on your internet connection it sends you an email/telephone message, makes you watch an education video/view anti-piracy material, slow down your internet connection, demote you to lower tier of service, and/or disconnect you from the internet completely until you complete an anti-pirating class. All depending on how many strikes your have.

CAS does this by scanning your internet packets, a violation of 4th amendment rights (assuming we still have have it at this point). After all if your ISP is already scanning your internet packets I *doubt* the CIA, FBI etc. will ask to see then. Also who knows how much of a bottleneck the scanning process will slow down the internet. (Think TSA in an airport)

The company making the CAS software MarkMoniter has already had many false positives problems accusing of pirating HBO content. The CAS scanning system would also wouldn’t be able to identity “fair use” cases like sharing a family video with music in the background.

The only way to appeal strikes to is pay $35 to have your case heard in front of the American Arbitration Association (not a court of law).

This quote sums up CAS perfectly.

So, basically, it’s an unelected body of industry-connected officials who get to police the Internet?

Read more about CAS here: Primer GuideUnintended Consequence.

Inventing on Principle

This is a fantastic lecture I ran into earlier today about the effects of ideas on the world we live. This is one of the best lectures I have ever seen and although the full lecture is about 50 minutes long it is absolutely worth it. The lecture starts by exploring new and revolutionary ways of interacting with code and computers in general and toward the end of the lecture dives into ethics and the idea of social change through invention and through ideas. Although it doesn’t directly relate to the things we are discussing in class  it does go into several important things like “living by a principle” and the idea that “ethic rights and wrongs are different at different points in time” specifically in regarding things like women rights and mode based software. In my opinion  this way of viewing code, and in general, this way of viewing ideas is absolutely revolutionary and in many ways a large step toward a day when humans and computers can interact seamlessly and a time when any good idea can become a reality.

Additionally, for anyone interested this is an IDE built on top of the principles of this lecture and directly relates to the post on Kickstarter earlier in the semester.

The eye in the sky

An article on talks about a new type of surveillance camera called the ARGUS-IS which is capable of recording an area “half the size of Manhattan”. The articles goes on the say that “The newest in the family of “wide area persistent surveillance” tools, the system can detect and track moving objects as small as six inches from 20,000 feet in the air.” This technology also allows the operator to search for “suspicious activity” even after the recording has been made.

Could something like this eventually be an attack on the populations fourth amendment rights? What if a drone picks up what would be considered “suspicious” and could then fall under the Patriot Act? Would that persons fourth amendment rights really matter?

Here they list a few different ways local police and government officials are using such technology and also give a map where drones are being used. In the event of drug trafficking I could see how this could be beneficial as well as for fighting forest fires.

From what we’ve learned in class a Kantian view would make this morally wrong, as this would cause a lot of unrest within the population and would minimize “happiness” if applied universally. The same would fail in accords to utilitarian points of views. But what about cultural relativism?

Newegg defeats patent troll

A “patent troll” is a company that is set up just to make money off of patents it owns. Usually, such companies do not do any R&D themselves. Instead, they strategically purchase patents from other companies, especially companies that are going bankrupt or having other financial difficulties. Then they use these patents to make money from other larger companies. They say, “Hey, you use technology that we have patented. Either pay us some royalties or we will sue you.”

It is important to be aware that patents are different than copyrights. A copyright covers the creative work itself — that piece of data itself, as written or recorded. Examples include source code, an executable binary, some song lyrics, a book, a musical recording, a photograph, a video, etc. A patent covers an invention, in other words, an idea. So, for instance, you could have a certain kind of pulley system patented. And you could have the blueprints (or CAD drawings, etc.) copyrighted. Roughly, the patent covers the idea, while the copyright covers a data object.

According to Title 35 §101 of the US Code, the things you can patent are these: “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof”.

Well, what if someone had a patent on e-commerce? That is the issue in this Ars Technica article about the legal fight between Newegg and Soverain Software. (Read the article. It’s great.) Soverain Software is a patent troll, in the sense described above. And, at one point, they acquired a patent for the idea of an internet shopping cart. They didn’t actually do the “invention” or file for the patent. Apparently they got it from a software outfit that was going out of business in 2001. Well, who uses web shopping carts? Everyone. Soverain has sued the likes of J.C. Penney, TigerDirect, Avon, Victoria’s Secret, Best Buy, Office Max, Home Depot, IBM, and others. Not all the cases have been resolved, but Soverain was pulling in millions of dollars.

Newegg was also being sued by Soverain, and they said, “This is bullshit.” (That’s a quote from Newegg’s Chief Legal Officer.) Instead of settling with Soverain, they fought. Finally, they got Soverain’s patents declared invalid. This saves them and many other e-commerce businesses tons of money.

It seems extreme to be able to patent an idea as general as internet shopping cart. But are there other ideas that potentially should be covered by patent protection? What would be the justification for that? Would copyright be enough by itself?

My guess is that act utilitarianism would favor a policy of no software patents but some level of copyright protection for software and source code. However, I haven’t worked through the act utilitarian evaluation step-by-step. Furthermore, there are many ways copyrights can be structured, and that is another complication. We will be talking about this more in class in a couple of weeks. But please weigh in with your initial thoughts!

3-d printed high-capacity magazines

In class Monday we talked for a moment about whether and how news stories about new technology could be ethically significant. I said that if technology changes the ways we live and interact with each other, then a new piece of technology might be very ethically significant.

Here is a great example. Forbes has an interesting write-up about Defense Distributed, a group using 3-d printers to create high-capacity ammunition magazines. (See also this article at The Verge.) People are using 3-d printers to print high-capacity magazines to hold bullets for assault rifles. Magazines holding more than ten rounds used to be banned. Since the Newtown shooting, there is growing support for banning them again. Well, how effective would a ban be if people could just download the design and print one from home?

Of course this issue goes well-beyond just gun magazines or even firearms in general. 3-d printing promises to allow DIYers to manufacture things that, up to now, have had to come from large factories. In many ways, this should be great. But what about people who want to manufacture something illegal or dangerous?

Kickstarter-funded projects at CES

The Verge has a long write-up about the Kickstarter-funded projects exhibited at CES. The new prevalence of Kickstarter-funded tech ventures might show us a model of how the path of technological progress — especially for consumer products — might become more democratic.

If you don’t know about Kickstarter, here is the basic idea: Someone has a project in mind but not enough money to do it. For example, maybe the project would cost $50,000. The person starts a Kickstarter project and asks for support. People pledge monetary support, but they only have to pay if enough other people pledge so that the project reaches its threshold, in this case $50,000. A benefit of this system is that it is safer for donors. They are less likely to end up spedning money on a project that never even gets rolling.

In the article, some of the projects in question were high tech “smart” watches, mobile phone accessories, Bluetooth-enabled stickers (for locating easily lost items), and an electric skateboard.

It seems that these new Kickstarter-funded projects will result in a wider array of available products. This means there will be more possible paths along which technology can evolve. Furthermore, the paths will be more often chosen according to the actual needs of consumers, instead of just whatever the large tech companies think they can sell. A consequence of this will likely be happier consumers. This makes Kickstarter a positive development from a utilitarian perspective.

Also, Kickstarter gives innovative people an opportunity to make money by working creatively on their own projects. That means they are less dependent for their personal income on large companies, organizations, or governments that decide what projects developers and engineers are to work on. This seems positive from the perspective of Kantian ethics. Kickstarter allows gives people autonomy and allows them to have work where they are not treated as mere means to someone else’s ends.