Quote for Unicum Beruf on How IT Changes Your Job (in German)

German student magazine Unicum (Beruf) asked for a quote on the impact that IT and the software industry is having on everyone’s job, so here it is:

Die IT verändert die Arbeitsweisen in vielen Berufen. Initial galt dies nur für die IT-Branche selbst und hier insbesondere für die Softwareentwicklung, inzwischen aber sind deren Arbeitsweisen auch in nicht-IT-Unternehmen und Fachabteilungen angekommen. Von der inzwischen ubiquitären Email und der elektronischen Text- und Tabellenverarbeitung über Text-Messaging hin zu heutigen Formen dezentraler entkoppelter Zusammenarbeit wie sie Dienste wie git und GitHub ermöglichen. Aber nicht nur spezifische Software beinflusst die Arbeitswelt, Unternehmen folgen häufig auch den Metaphern der Softwarewelt und wollen heutzutage “agil” sein, wie von der agilen Softwareentwicklung seit 20 Jahren vorgelebt.

The quote or whatever they’ll make of it will appear in an upcoming Unicum issue.

You might also like my paper on the open source developer career.

High-tech and the Rights to Your Body

A friend’s post alerted me to the potential overreach of copyright and commercial law when it comes to the human body. The particular post was about tattoo artists who tried to make money of sport professionals who had integrated the tattoos into their professional persona: The company who had bought the tattoo artists’ designs claims that the copyright to the art extends to the performances of professionals showing the art. Hence they wanted money for any performance, here as part of the professionals appearing in video games.

It is easy to extend this to high-tech. The consequences could be dire, if the enhanced human body would become subject to overreaching intellectual property rights held by companies. Imagine a pacemaker for your heart that has only been licensed to you and you lack the necessary data and rights to make it work over time. I’m sure some company will come up with a pacemaker that needs to get a license key every year or so from the company’s license server. Would the company let the person die, if he or she fails to pay the annual license fee? In case you wonder whether anyone would accept such a pacemaker into their heart (pun intended): Just imagine being poor enough to not be able to pay for the medical procedure. Or imagine requiring a particularly innovative pacemaker function that only this one manufacturer offers and you can’t pay for the perpetual license.

If this seems far-fetched, you should note that this is already happening in other contexts. For example, John Deere, a leading manufacturer of tractors and other farming equipment is only leasing its tractors and the software to farmers. John Deere argues that farmers don’t own the tractor and its data any longer, John Deere remains the owner. As a consequence, all data from the farmers’ tractors is planned to end up in John Deere data centers and farmers who don’t keep paying might be cut of their equipment and its data.

The Internet and interconnectedness is making it happen. It is indeed time to clarify ownership and limits of ownership, in particular when it comes to the human body and its rights. Indeed an interesting time for lawyers (and everyone else).

Putting on Their #Gearface (no Google Daydream)

With all the hoopla on Google Daydream coming up, I thought I’d share two photos of people high on Samsung’s Gear VR. I think Samsung chose a better name for their product. The second photo clearly shows a person with a gearface. Can’t imaging calling this a daydreamface. The future is so bright, you’ll have to wear a mobile.

Re: Your unsolicited email / our joint problem

To: ana.tackett@orcapr.com, eastonjohnston@iodimpact.com, digitalpragency@gmail.com, RobertP@informationhub.biz, gina@bloc.io, pms990@gmail.com, jillr@blackswansmedia.com, davidf@lfpr.com, khurst@harriswilliams.com, nancyt@vorticom.com, james@planet-dm.com, …

Dear PR professional:

With respect to our joint problem, Stanford researchers have found a solution!

Please see here for the answer: http://www.scs.stanford.edu/~dm/home/papers/remove.pdf

With kind regards,

Dirk Riehle

PS: If the research paper above doesn’t load, please see this copy: https://dirkriehle.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/remove.pdf

Follow-up on the Discussions about Knowledge for Knowledge’s Sake

I’ve been enjoying the discussion around Patek’s recent video argument for knowledge for knowledge’s sake in several forums. I thought I’d summarize my arguments here. To me it looks all pretty straightforward.

From a principled stance, as to funding research, it is the funder’s prerogative who to fund. Often, grant proposals (funding requests) exceed available funds, so the funder needs to rank-order the grant proposals and typically will fund those ranked highest until the funds are exhausted. A private funder may use whatever criteria they deem appropriate. Public funding, i.e. taxpayer money, is more tricky as this is typically the government agencies setting policies that somehow rank-order funding proposals for a particular fund. It seems rather obvious to me that taxpayer money should be spent on something that benefits society. Hence, a grant proposal must promise some of that benefit. How it does this, can vary. I see at least two dimensions along which to argue: Immediacy (or risk) and impact. Something that believably provides benefits sooner is preferable to something that provides benefits later. Something that believably promises a higher impact is preferable to something that provides lower impact.

Thus, research that promises to cure cancer today is preferable over research that explains why teenage girls prefer blue over pink on Mondays and are generally unapproachable that day. Which is not to say that the teenage girl question might not get funded: Funders and funding are broad and deep and for everything that public agencies won’t fund there is a private funder whose pet peeve would be solving that question.

The value of research is always relative, never absolute, and always to be viewed within a particular evaluation framework.

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The Downside of the “Knowledge for Knowledge’s Sake” Argument

On the PBS Newshour Duke University biologist Sheila Patek just made a passionate plea for “why knowledge for the pure sake of knowing is good enough to justify scientific research” using her own research into mantis shrimp as an example. While I support public funding for basic research, Patek makes a convoluted and ultimately harmful to her own case argument.

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An Alternative View of Funding for Innovation

My rant on what’s wrong with Industrie 4.0 argued that it focuses too narrowly on too incremental a domain.

The real tectonic change of the last 20-30 years in my opinion is the speed of innovation that software gives you over any other technology domain. Whatever the gadget or concept, if you can add software to it, you can speed up innovation by a major factor. The reason for this is that software can be modified and brought to market within seconds, rather than weeks or months. This is the result of the last ten years of development of “continuous delivery”.

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What’s wrong with Industrie 4.0?

Short answer

A lot. The overly narrow focus on a particular domain of innovation starves the support for innovation is other domains, making Germany lose out in those domains.

This has been bugging me for some time now.

Longer answer

Somehow German politics declared “Industrie 4.0” (industry 4.0) to be a major area of innovation for Germany. Focus, attention, and funding followed. Industrie 4.0 is supposed to be the next evolutionary step in industrial production based on the convergence of the various technology streams we are currently witnessing (software, biotech, hightech, what have you).

Continue reading “What’s wrong with Industrie 4.0?”