Collision Course? Privacy, Genetic Technologies and Fast-tracking Electronic Medical Information

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Andre Picard, writing in the Globe and Mail on June 14, made a poignant plea for speeding up the move to electronic health records for all Canadians. He says:

It’s not enough to create health records; it must be done right. That means including information on visits to physicians, hospital stays, prescription drugs, laboratory and radiology tests, immunization, allergies, family history and so on. It also means integrating all these records and making them compatible in every jurisdiction…

Picard points out that medical records should be accessible to all health professionals we consult, from the pharmacist close to home through the emergency room at the other end of the country. And then he adds, in parentheses: “With the requisite protection of privacy, of course.”

And there’s the rub. Just what is the requisite protection of privacy, and how should it be implemented? For example, in British Columbia a few years ago there was a huge, and quite public to-do about the contracting out of the Medical Services Plan databases to a U.S. company, and the need to protect the information from unwarranted access through the Patriot Act. The B.C. Privacy Commissioner, David Loukidelis, played a very visible role in helping to achieve a reasonable understanding of what would be appropriate in this case. But it turned out that, a year after contracting out the information collection and management to EDS Advanced Solutions, an employee of the company spent several months improperly and repeatedly surfing the files of sixty-four individuals, including the file of a woman whose ex-husband had claimed he could find out where she lived, despite her efforts to keep her location secret. And the source of that information, apparently, was to be the employee who had been doing the surfing. As it happened, none of this had anything to do with access through the Patriot Act.

EDS performed an audit that revealed “some unexplained accesses”, and then claimed there had been no privacy violations because they found no evidence that the information had actually been disclosed to anyone! Furthermore, it took nine months before the woman who had complained received notification about what had actually happened and what lay behind her ex-husband’s claims that he could find her. Various safeguards were subsequently put in place, but one can’t help wondering how much “snooping” of electronic health records might take place without being detected, especially considering the access that vast numbers of employees of pharmacies, hospitals and physicians’ offices would have to such information.

Meanwhile, British Columbia has embarked on a major effort to digitize all medical records, including providing electronic medical records technology to groups of doctor’s offices, much along the lines advocated by Picard. Indeed, B.C. plans to be a leader in Canada in this area of moving from paper records to electronic ones. It is clear that such a project could have the effect of improving medical care enormously by integrating records so that each physician or nurse or pharmacist with whom we interact has access to an overview of our medical histories and records. Advantages may include the fact that tests don’t need to be repeated endlessly, that many errors can be avoided, and that some diagnoses can be made without requiring patients to travel long distances. All good. But since many people are quite concerned about preserving their medical privacy, there is a remaining worry revolving around how we are to ensure the protection of that privacy within the system, and the related autonomy and dignity of patients.

So the first questions are about who needs to have access to all this information, and how we can ensure that access is not granted beyond those groups, except under carefully monitored conditions. Secondly, we need to devise ways to ensure that the information is never used to the detriment of patients, that patients are fully informed at all stages, and that they are involved to whatever degree they wish to be in all decisions about their testing, their results and their treatment. All of these are standard issues in designing good medical care plans – it is just that some of them are more likely to lead to problems when medical records are computerized and networked.

The situation becomes more complicated when we add the more recent developments in genetic and genomic technologies, which will, if they haven’t already, expand not just the amount of information available about individuals, but also the kind of information that is gathered. Individuals who agree to the collection of information are usually assured that their privacy will be protected by secure coding of the information and other means. But to what extent are these measures monitored, and how easy or difficult is it for the codes to be cracked? Even if the coding is secure now, it may well be easy to decipher with new information technology methods.

To be sure, not everyone worries about the privacy implications of these technologies. There has been much discussion surrounding the sequencing of individual genomes, two of the most recent highly publicized examples being J. Craig Venter, former president of the Celera Corporation and James D. Watson, one of the scientists who formulated the double helix model for DNA. And amidst the excitement about these developments the likelihood increases that certain genetic information pertaining to individuals will become part of their medical records and, in due course, so will their entire genomes. No doubt for some purposes this is all to the good in the sense that more information about an individual may well make it possible to provide better care.

But what if making this information available leads to refusal of treatment for people with certain “genetic diseases” or various other forms of discrimination such as denial of insurance or employment? Or what if the individual simply wishes to keep certain matters about his genetic make-up private? Or what if he does not wish to know that he is at risk for a disease such as Alzheimer’s, which manifests itself later in life? Or what if someone’s records are retained and used at a later time in a non-secure environment? We must also remember that genetic information about a given individual tells us quite a bit about his or her family, which may expose many people to having their genetic information widely known, whether or not they have consented to such exposure.

In discussions about information technology and medicine, one commonly heard complaint is that privacy advocates are holding up progress by making it difficult to implement the obviously necessary computerization and integration of medical records. On the other side, one might argue that the focus on technology in this area carries with it the danger that privacy considerations will be relegated to the sidelines and may even come to be seen as insignificant. Unfortunately, a consequence of failing to respect privacy is that the dignity and autonomy of individuals is likely to be impaired. In that case, we will all pay the price.

Bloggers’ likes—and dislikes!

Three days into the Blog Friends public beta, and a picture of the most common interests and dislikes of bloggers (as told us by our users) is beginning to emerge. Interesting for me, as a musician, to see music at the top of the likes list. Some of the dislikes are quite funny: I have highlighted my favourites for your chortling convenience.

Top dislikes

1. sports (6)
2. fashion (5)
3. gossip (4)
4. iphone (4)
5. politics (4)
6. dogs (3)
7. gadgets (3)
8. sport (3)
9. celebrity (3)
10. children (2)
11. pop (2)
12. football (2)
13. music (2)
14. kids (2)
15. microsoft (2)
16. sex (2)
17. cats (2)
18. games (2)
19. personal (2)
20. food (2)
21. tennis (1)
22. benjie (1) [our erstwhile developer]
23. us (1)
24. pretentiousness (1)
25. life hacks (1)
26. drugs (1)
27. fish (1)
28. advertising (1)
29. romance (1)
30. creationism (1)
31. parasites (1)
32. scarf (1) [?!]
33. criminal law (1)
34. business (1)
35. hype (1)
36. hot topic (1)
37. jof (1) [our wonderful project manager—hum, tit for tat?]
38. sms (1)
39. poetry (1)
40. fried worms (1)
41. monte cristo (1)
42. internet (1)
43. sap (1)
44. parliament (1)
45. bad (1)
46. nothing (1)
47. mac (1)
48. rants (1)
49. bioconservativism (1)
50. junky stuff (1)
51. h0|2r13u|_ (|-|4&i`c7£rs (1)
52. mpaa (1)
53. patent trolls (1)
54. arrogant. (1)
55. loads (1)
56. us politics (1)
57. hip-hop (1)
58. pineapple (1)
59. apache (1)
60. digital marketing (1)
61. silliness (1)
62. negative people (1)
63. h0|2r13u|_ (|-|4&i`c7£rs (1)
64. jem (1)
65. united states (1)
66. pinheads (1)
67. judgmental people (1) [these last two presumably by different users!]
68. investment. (1)
69. mats (1)
70. drinking (1)
71. general stupidity (1)
72. dogmatism (1)
73. fish&chips (1)
74. windows (1)
75. heights (1)
76. celebrities (1)
77. high maintenance people (1)
78. routers (1)
79. facebook (1) [a bit worrying for us, that one]
80. code (1)
81. dog shit (1)
82. brussels (1)
83. web 2.0 (1)
84. personal finance (1)
85. fascism (1)
86. bugs (1)
87. blogging (1)
88. apple (1)
89. lifestyle issues (1)
90. religious fundamentalism and ignorance of any kind (1)
91. colleges (1)
92. other things (1)
93. avocado (1)
94. journal (1)
95. when people do not respond or thank each other for (1)
96. aging (1)
97. web (1)
98. wifi (1)
99. annoying people (1)
100. environmentalism (1)

Bloggers’ likes—and dislikes!

Three days into the Blog Friends public beta, and a picture of the most common interests and dislikes of bloggers (as told us by our users) is beginning to emerge. Interesting for me, as a musician, to see music at the top of the likes list. Some of the dislikes are quite funny: I have highlighted my favourites for your chortling convenience.

Top dislikes

1. sports (6)
2. fashion (5)
3. gossip (4)
4. iphone (4)
5. politics (4)
6. dogs (3)
7. gadgets (3)
8. sport (3)
9. celebrity (3)
10. children (2)
11. pop (2)
12. football (2)
13. music (2)
14. kids (2)
15. microsoft (2)
16. sex (2)
17. cats (2)
18. games (2)
19. personal (2)
20. food (2)
21. tennis (1)
22. benjie (1) [our erstwhile developer]
23. us (1)
24. pretentiousness (1)
25. life hacks (1)
26. drugs (1)
27. fish (1)
28. advertising (1)
29. romance (1)
30. creationism (1)
31. parasites (1)
32. scarf (1) [?!]
33. criminal law (1)
34. business (1)
35. hype (1)
36. hot topic (1)
37. jof (1) [our wonderful project manager—hum, tit for tat?]
38. sms (1)
39. poetry (1)
40. fried worms (1)
41. monte cristo (1)
42. internet (1)
43. sap (1)
44. parliament (1)
45. bad (1)
46. nothing (1)
47. mac (1)
48. rants (1)
49. bioconservativism (1)
50. junky stuff (1)
51. h0|2r13u|_ (|-|4&i`c7£rs (1)
52. mpaa (1)
53. patent trolls (1)
54. arrogant. (1)
55. loads (1)
56. us politics (1)
57. hip-hop (1)
58. pineapple (1)
59. apache (1)
60. digital marketing (1)
61. silliness (1)
62. negative people (1)
63. h0|2r13u|_ (|-|4&i`c7£rs (1)
64. jem (1)
65. united states (1)
66. pinheads (1)
67. judgmental people (1) [these last two presumably by different users!]
68. investment. (1)
69. mats (1)
70. drinking (1)
71. general stupidity (1)
72. dogmatism (1)
73. fish&chips (1)
74. windows (1)
75. heights (1)
76. celebrities (1)
77. high maintenance people (1)
78. routers (1)
79. facebook (1) [a bit worrying for us, that one]
80. code (1)
81. dog shit (1)
82. brussels (1)
83. web 2.0 (1)
84. personal finance (1)
85. fascism (1)
86. bugs (1)
87. blogging (1)
88. apple (1)
89. lifestyle issues (1)
90. religious fundamentalism and ignorance of any kind (1)
91. colleges (1)
92. other things (1)
93. avocado (1)
94. journal (1)
95. when people do not respond or thank each other for (1)
96. aging (1)
97. web (1)
98. wifi (1)
99. annoying people (1)
100. environmentalism (1)

"CITIZEN, PICK UP YOUR LITTER": CCTV evolves in Britain [1]

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Planning to litter, hang around looking intimidating, or just generally be a public nuisance in England? Careful where you do it.

This past spring, Britain, already host to more video surveillance cameras than any other country in the world [2], rolled out a new crime prevention measure: ‘Talking CCTV’ (closed-circuit television). Government officials describe the new development as “enhanced CCTV cameras with speaker systems [that] allow workers in control rooms to speak directly to people on the street.” The ‘Talking CCTV’ initiative is just one component of the British Home Office’s Respect Action Plan a domestic program designed to tackle anti-social behaviour and its causes. [3]

What this means in practice is that when staff, operating from an unseen central control room, observe an individual engaged in anti-social behaviour they can publicly challenge the person using the speakers. At the moment the one-sided conversation is relatively unscripted, although workers are expected to be polite. The first time a member of the public is spoken to about her behaviour, she hears a polite request. If she complies, she is thanked. If not, she can expect to hear a command . If she fails to correct her behaviour, the anti-social individual may find surveillance footage of her alleged infraction splashed across the evening news.

While ‘Talking CCTV’ may be novel, video surveillance is nothing new in Britain. It is estimated that a person living and working in London is photographed an average of 300 times a day. [4] One commonly quoted figure is that there is one surveillance camera for every 14 people in Britain. [5] This year the government is spending half a million pounds to set up ‘Talking CCTV’ in twenty communities and it is likely that the program will be expanded in future funding cycles.

Critics of the program argue that the money spent adding speakers to existing surveillance cameras is being wasted. The human rights organization Liberty contends that 78% of the national crime prevention budget in the past decade has been spent on CCTV equipment without proper studies conducted to assess whether or not the expenditure is effective. The organization argues that spending the same percentage of the budget to increase the number of law enforcement officers on patrol would go a lot further to improving public safety. [6]

‘Talking CCTV’ supporters, on the other hand, cite statistics that would please any elected official. In Middlesbrough, where the pilot program took place, officials claim that the system adds an “additional layer of security”:

At the bottom end of the scale, we use the talking CCTV for littering offences, for which it's proven to be absolutely a 100% success. Middlesbrough's cleanliness has improved dramatically since the speakers were installed.' he said. 'As you move up the scale a bit on public order offences - like drunkenness or fighting - we're proving the speakers are coming into their own, and we're recording about 65% to 70% success rate for those kinds of offences.

But measured against what? In their 1999 study of CCTV in Britain, Clive Norris and Gary Armstrong demonstrated how government and law enforcement officials often present CCTV as a panacea without proving it provides the dramatic results attributed to it. Their review of the numbers suggested that, throughout the 1990s, publicly-quoted figures about the benefits of CCTV were often inaccurate or did not tell the whole story, yet they were used to convince taxpayers to buy into the surveillance system. [7] This is not to say that Middlesbrough is faking its numbers. It is quite likely that 100% of individuals exhibiting the anti-social behaviour of littering, who were publicly reprimanded when caught on camera, put their garbage in the bin as directed.

The ‘talking’ modification to the existing CCTV system is being sold to the public as a way to clean up the streets and create a safe, law-abiding community. The Home Secretary, John Reid, states that the new measure is aimed at “the tiny minority who make life a misery for the decent majority.” Safe, clean streets sound great but one academic has noted that public debate about CCTV tends to be shaped more by the government’s focus on how technology can improve law and order and far less on other, more complex, issues about the appropriateness of using the technology. [8]

Government employees now have a powerful tool to single out and shame an individual in public. The fact that “100%” of litterbugs in Middlesbrough obeyed the authoritative, disembodied voice ought not to be underestimated. They likely did so out of shame and embarrassment. Before signing on to such a program, it is worth noting that video surveillance operators, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, are human and they bring their very human biases to their jobs. Norris and Armstrong’s 1999 study showed that the workers watching the monitors disproportionately targeted males, youths, and black people as surveillance subjects. [9] Biases may change depending on the era and the community. The past few years, for example, has seen an aggressive crack-down on panhandling in Liverpool, along with laws designed to minimize youth loitering about urban shopping districts. [10]

Will youth people, the urban poor, and members of visible minority communities be disproportionately targeted by ‘Talking CCTV’? Officially, the answer is likely to be “no” but it has been observed that:

Unequal relations between rich/poor, men/women, gay/straight and young/old are precisely relations that have been managed and negotiated through state activities via combinations of welfare, moral education, and censure and exclusion from public space. For some who inhabit our cities, their identity, through the eyes of a surveillance camera, is constructed in wholly negative terms and without the presence of negotiation and choice that middle class consumers may enjoy. [11]

Public shaming of individuals engaged in so-called anti-social behaviour may result in British cities ‘designing away’ social problems as those who are targeted too often by authorities will find other spaces in which to spend their time. [12] The rest of the community may find itself enjoying litter-free streets and ‘Talking CCTV’ will be given credit. But it will all have happened without the benefit of serious public debate about whose behaviour is anti-social behaviour and why that makes people uncomfortable. Britain has been trying to rid itself of anti-social behaviour for a long time now and it seems unlikely that a few talking cameras will get to the root of the problem.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/2007/06/11/urban-surveillance-security-biz-21cities_cx_cd_0611futurecity.html
[2] Clive Norris et al., “The Growth of CCTV: a global perspective on the international diffusion of video surveillance in publicly accessible space.” Surveillance & Society 2:2/3 (2004).
[3] Anti-social behaviour has been seen as such a problem in Britain for the past few decades that the Crime and Disorder Act 1988 gave it a legal definition and criminalized it. That was followed by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. Legally defining the problem doesn’t appear to have helped much as the government continues to struggle with anti-social behaviour across Britain.
[4] Clive Norris and Gary Armstrong, The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise of CCTV (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999): 3. (Note that this was a 1999 study. While this continues to be the figure quoted it is possible the number has increased in the past eight years.)
[5] Clive Norris et al., “The Growth of CCTV”.
[6] Norris and Armstrong also quote the ‘78% of the budget’ figure in their 1999 work. It is unclear if this continues to be the expenditure or if Liberty is quoting their work. See Norris and Armstrong, The Maximum Surveillance Society: 54.
[7] Norris and Armstrong, The Maximum Surveillance Society, 60-7.
[8] William R. Webster, “The Diffusion, Regulation and Governance of Closed-Circuit Television in the UK,” Surveillance & Society 2:2/3 (2004): 237.
[9] Norris and Armstrong, The Maximum Surveillance Society: 109-10.
[10] Roy Coleman, “Reclaiming the Streets: Closed Circuit Television, Neoliberalism and the Mystification of Social Divisions in Liverpool, UK,” Surveillance & Society 2:2/3 (2004).
[11] Coleman, “Reclaiming the Streets”: 304.
[12] Bilge Yesil, “Watching Ourselves: Video surveillance, urban space and self-responsibilization,” Cultural Studies 20:4 (2006).

"CITIZEN, PICK UP YOUR LITTER": CCTV evolves in Britain [1]

trailmixbanner.gif

Planning to litter, hang around looking intimidating, or just generally be a public nuisance in England? Careful where you do it.

This past spring, Britain, already host to more video surveillance cameras than any other country in the world [2], rolled out a new crime prevention measure: ‘Talking CCTV’ (closed-circuit television). Government officials describe the new development as “enhanced CCTV cameras with speaker systems [that] allow workers in control rooms to speak directly to people on the street.” The ‘Talking CCTV’ initiative is just one component of the British Home Office’s Respect Action Plan a domestic program designed to tackle anti-social behaviour and its causes. [3]

What this means in practice is that when staff, operating from an unseen central control room, observe an individual engaged in anti-social behaviour they can publicly challenge the person using the speakers. At the moment the one-sided conversation is relatively unscripted, although workers are expected to be polite. The first time a member of the public is spoken to about her behaviour, she hears a polite request. If she complies, she is thanked. If not, she can expect to hear a command . If she fails to correct her behaviour, the anti-social individual may find surveillance footage of her alleged infraction splashed across the evening news.

While ‘Talking CCTV’ may be novel, video surveillance is nothing new in Britain. It is estimated that a person living and working in London is photographed an average of 300 times a day. [4] One commonly quoted figure is that there is one surveillance camera for every 14 people in Britain. [5] This year the government is spending half a million pounds to set up ‘Talking CCTV’ in twenty communities and it is likely that the program will be expanded in future funding cycles.

Critics of the program argue that the money spent adding speakers to existing surveillance cameras is being wasted. The human rights organization Liberty contends that 78% of the national crime prevention budget in the past decade has been spent on CCTV equipment without proper studies conducted to assess whether or not the expenditure is effective. The organization argues that spending the same percentage of the budget to increase the number of law enforcement officers on patrol would go a lot further to improving public safety. [6]

‘Talking CCTV’ supporters, on the other hand, cite statistics that would please any elected official. In Middlesbrough, where the pilot program took place, officials claim that the system adds an “additional layer of security”:

At the bottom end of the scale, we use the talking CCTV for littering offences, for which it's proven to be absolutely a 100% success. Middlesbrough's cleanliness has improved dramatically since the speakers were installed.' he said. 'As you move up the scale a bit on public order offences - like drunkenness or fighting - we're proving the speakers are coming into their own, and we're recording about 65% to 70% success rate for those kinds of offences.

But measured against what? In their 1999 study of CCTV in Britain, Clive Norris and Gary Armstrong demonstrated how government and law enforcement officials often present CCTV as a panacea without proving it provides the dramatic results attributed to it. Their review of the numbers suggested that, throughout the 1990s, publicly-quoted figures about the benefits of CCTV were often inaccurate or did not tell the whole story, yet they were used to convince taxpayers to buy into the surveillance system. [7] This is not to say that Middlesbrough is faking its numbers. It is quite likely that 100% of individuals exhibiting the anti-social behaviour of littering, who were publicly reprimanded when caught on camera, put their garbage in the bin as directed.

The ‘talking’ modification to the existing CCTV system is being sold to the public as a way to clean up the streets and create a safe, law-abiding community. The Home Secretary, John Reid, states that the new measure is aimed at “the tiny minority who make life a misery for the decent majority.” Safe, clean streets sound great but one academic has noted that public debate about CCTV tends to be shaped more by the government’s focus on how technology can improve law and order and far less on other, more complex, issues about the appropriateness of using the technology. [8]

Government employees now have a powerful tool to single out and shame an individual in public. The fact that “100%” of litterbugs in Middlesbrough obeyed the authoritative, disembodied voice ought not to be underestimated. They likely did so out of shame and embarrassment. Before signing on to such a program, it is worth noting that video surveillance operators, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, are human and they bring their very human biases to their jobs. Norris and Armstrong’s 1999 study showed that the workers watching the monitors disproportionately targeted males, youths, and black people as surveillance subjects. [9] Biases may change depending on the era and the community. The past few years, for example, has seen an aggressive crack-down on panhandling in Liverpool, along with laws designed to minimize youth loitering about urban shopping districts. [10]

Will youth people, the urban poor, and members of visible minority communities be disproportionately targeted by ‘Talking CCTV’? Officially, the answer is likely to be “no” but it has been observed that:

Unequal relations between rich/poor, men/women, gay/straight and young/old are precisely relations that have been managed and negotiated through state activities via combinations of welfare, moral education, and censure and exclusion from public space. For some who inhabit our cities, their identity, through the eyes of a surveillance camera, is constructed in wholly negative terms and without the presence of negotiation and choice that middle class consumers may enjoy. [11]

Public shaming of individuals engaged in so-called anti-social behaviour may result in British cities ‘designing away’ social problems as those who are targeted too often by authorities will find other spaces in which to spend their time. [12] The rest of the community may find itself enjoying litter-free streets and ‘Talking CCTV’ will be given credit. But it will all have happened without the benefit of serious public debate about whose behaviour is anti-social behaviour and why that makes people uncomfortable. Britain has been trying to rid itself of anti-social behaviour for a long time now and it seems unlikely that a few talking cameras will get to the root of the problem.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/2007/06/11/urban-surveillance-security-biz-21cities_cx_cd_0611futurecity.html
[2] Clive Norris et al., “The Growth of CCTV: a global perspective on the international diffusion of video surveillance in publicly accessible space.” Surveillance & Society 2:2/3 (2004).
[3] Anti-social behaviour has been seen as such a problem in Britain for the past few decades that the Crime and Disorder Act 1988 gave it a legal definition and criminalized it. That was followed by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. Legally defining the problem doesn’t appear to have helped much as the government continues to struggle with anti-social behaviour across Britain.
[4] Clive Norris and Gary Armstrong, The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise of CCTV (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999): 3. (Note that this was a 1999 study. While this continues to be the figure quoted it is possible the number has increased in the past eight years.)
[5] Clive Norris et al., “The Growth of CCTV”.
[6] Norris and Armstrong also quote the ‘78% of the budget’ figure in their 1999 work. It is unclear if this continues to be the expenditure or if Liberty is quoting their work. See Norris and Armstrong, The Maximum Surveillance Society: 54.
[7] Norris and Armstrong, The Maximum Surveillance Society, 60-7.
[8] William R. Webster, “The Diffusion, Regulation and Governance of Closed-Circuit Television in the UK,” Surveillance & Society 2:2/3 (2004): 237.
[9] Norris and Armstrong, The Maximum Surveillance Society: 109-10.
[10] Roy Coleman, “Reclaiming the Streets: Closed Circuit Television, Neoliberalism and the Mystification of Social Divisions in Liverpool, UK,” Surveillance & Society 2:2/3 (2004).
[11] Coleman, “Reclaiming the Streets”: 304.
[12] Bilge Yesil, “Watching Ourselves: Video surveillance, urban space and self-responsibilization,” Cultural Studies 20:4 (2006).

Identity & startups: the web (2)

Luke Razzell and Nic Brisbourne

The story so far

life, as you like itThis post is the second in a series that explores the strategic relevance of identity for startups (a full introduction to the series, and a link index of the posts, is here).

In our previous post, we identified a key challenge for any startup: to help users to personalise their experience according to their unique identity. We then looked at how while networked services are great at helping us to transcend the limitations of physical space and even time, they are not yet very good at helping us to integrate the diverse aspects of our networked presence (identity)—let alone doing so without jeopardising our privacy. And so long as these challenges of presence integration and privacy remain for networked services, we asserted that startups will struggle to deliver excellently personalised user experiences.

Exploring what a networked service ecosystem that did enable true personalisation—a notional "Identity Web"—might look like, we came up with four key requirements:

1) The Identity Web must allow us to integrate the various aspects of our presence (rather than forcing us to re-make our presence anew for each service we use).

2) The Identity Web must allow us to segment others' view of our presence (although relaxing attitudes towards privacy may erode this requirement for some or many contexts and demographics).

3) The Identity Web must support diverse, mutually-independent services if it is to offer true choice and privacy-enablement (benefits that cannot be provided by a mere handful of megabrands).

4) The user themselves must be the only unifying node in their presence network within the Identity Web (no-one else should be able to put together all the pieces of information about that user).

Finally, we identified a potential benefit of the Identity Web for individuals and services that mediate their online experience:
The individual should be able to monetise (directly, or indirectly through discounted/free services) the value of their identity by selling access to their identity information.

Where there's a successful startup, there's a great service and a successful business model: so just what might the business and service models that drive the evolution of an Identity Web look like?

Piecing the Identity Web jigsaw

We want to acknowledge at this point that thousands of businesses are of course already delivering incredible and diverse innovations in service personalisation. Hats off to them! However, such innovations—while often highly valuable in their own right—are mostly confined to tactical, rather than strategic aspects of the identity problem space: a bilateral personal information sharing arrangement with a third-party service here; a useful topic-specific, personalised recommendation feature there; a special offer for sharing your opinions with marketers over there.

The big identity picture remains fragmented, like a partially pieced-together jigsaw.
Google is watching you!Meanwhile, the big identity "walled gardens"—Google, Yahoo!, Facebook et al—continue their inexorable rise. One of the keys to success of these mega-networks is the way they tie each user into their suite of services (and partner services, in the case of Facebook) by integrating the presence of that user across those services (with a single login). These jigsaws are much better pieced together—but at the cost of users not being able to choose their own pieces, or indeed shield the big identity picture they create within the service from the view of the service itself.

Unless startups can find ways to create a commercially-viable, distributed identity ecosystem—an Identity Web—to compete with and complement the big network's identity lock-in power plays, there seems to be real potential for innovation around identity to become stifled, thereby eroding both choice and privacy for the end user.

Sabrewulf screenshotThere is everything to play for!

Yet without a good map of the identity jungle with which to plan their route, startups are having to hack their way through its dense undergrowth.

So let's make a start towards plotting such a map by taking a look at the business and technological drivers, blockers and unknowns for two service types that seem likely to underpin the Identity Web (and can already be seen embodied in embryo in diverse web services): identity aggregation and identity federation.

In the remainder of this post, we will explore the identity aggregation service type.

Identity aggregation—"lifestream" services
Identity Aggregation diagram
Identity aggregation or "lifestream" services help people to gather personal and personalised information from multiple sources. These services enable their users to integrate various pieces of their online presence into a more coherent whole—with a number of potential benefits detailed below.

So what are the business and technology drivers, blockers and unknowns for startups with regards to the identity aggregation service model?

Business drivers

+ Identity aggregation services allow users to re-aggregate the value of all their diverse fragments of presence, either for their own insight (e.g. Garlik, which helps individuals track what information about them is "out there") and/or for showcasing them to their community/audience in order to enhance their personal brand (e.g. Wink, which publishes aggregated information about individuals' presence across multiple services).
Where I'm At screenshot
+ Identity aggregation services also could enable users to personalise services via standardised preferences modules. This is the capability that Facebook is building with regards to third-party service integration into users' Facebook profiles (via Facebook Platform).

+ Identity aggregation services can leverage the value to marketers of their users' attention, selling attention information with users' permission, and possibly directly sharing that value with their users (in real or virtual currency).

+ Identity aggregation services have the potential to turn the advertising model on its head by enabling users to opt in to personalised offers, which they would be incentivised to do either by improved personalisation over push adverts, and/or by being paid.

+ Startups may be able to be more transparent about revenue sharing arrangements with users than incumbents (c.f. Google's opacity around AdSense royalties), thereby gaining user trust. Furthermore, startups can avoid the conflicts of interest around revenue sharing transparency that established companies with legacy business relationships can suffer from.

+ Startups within a distributed Identity Web may be in a better position to monetise users' presence information across a broad range of partner services than incumbents, who's identity lock-in approach effectively limits them to monetising their own properties (because they cannot track users' presence information beyond those properties).

+ In the medium term, it seems likely that major advertisers will continue to target fairly broad demographics with their branding messages, so a critical volume of users will still be necessary for advertising platforms (witness the success of Google Ads, targeted across the entire web). Therefore, media properties, with their limited subscriber numbers, are likely to struggle to leverage their users' presence data (e.g. clickstreams) effectively on their own. ISPs may well be in a stronger position to leverage presence data, partnering with ad networks to offer personalised ad services to e.g. media properties. Facilitating this process would seem to represent an interesting opportunity for startups—an opportunity toturn the current ad model (and maybe the whole internet model!) on its head. In this scenario, instead of sites selling space on their pages, the control goes back to the owner of the data “pipes”.

Business blockers

- The GYM club (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) and social network (MySpace, Facebook, Bebo) incumbents are busy building and/or acquiring their own identity aggregation capabilities—and it is not in their interests to share control of their users' presence information!

Facebook Platform logo
- Social networks and start page services (Netvibes etc.) can enable their users to integrate 3rd party services into their profiles (via widgets, Facebook Platform etc.), thereby potentially neutralising the competitive threat of a distributed identity ecosystem (on the other hand, this opportunity for exposure on the large networks does give startups a platform upon which to grow their user base).

- The large networks have the potential to enable users to segment their presence (in the context of a single account and login) into various personae, each with their own page. In fact, Netvibes is already doing this, effectively, with its Tabs, which can each be publicly shared independently of one another.
Netvibes tabs image
- Large networks, with ownership of or advantageous relationships with ad networks, are in a stronger position than small startups to monetise value of user's identity information to marketers.

- Micropayments to and discounts for users for divulging their personal information to marketers seem unlikely to take off in a big way as a business model in its own right: established services such as Pigsback and Greasy Palm have only seen relatively modest growth. It seems more likely that successful business models in this area will integrate cash incentives for personal information disclosure into a more rounded value proposition that includes personalised services and information provision that are useful in themselves.

Business unknowns

? No-one really knows how the issue of privacy will play out across diverse online demographics. Will people come to accept it is unviable to stop others viewing "their" information? Or will they demand ways of protecting it? Or will both the above be true, but in differing contexts? The answers to these questions may play a large role in determining the true potential of the information aggregation market.

? Could a few high-profile abuses of users' trust (such as the debacle over AOL's inadvertant exposure of its users' search history data last year) set back the identity aggregation service market significantly?

Technology drivers

+ The maturation of mobile web technologies will open up the "location" dimension of personal identity for innovation in identity aggregation services (although, given the lock-in on handset-generated location information that mobile network providers enjoy, startup business models in this area are unclear).

+ Widget platforms (Netvibes, Spring Widgets etc.) and distribution ecosystem (Netvibes, Snipperoo, Facebook etc.) are beginning to provide a springboard for startup identity aggregation services.

+ OpenID looks set to enable a distributed jigsaw approach to user authentication management across the web if adoption by services and then (more importantly) users reaches a critical mass.
OpenID logo
+ Microformats are beginning to enable a degree of automated rich-content discovery and exchange across services.

+ APML (Attention Profiling Mark-up Language) promises to enable the automated exchange between services of various kinds of personal attention data (information about what someone pays attention to—in other words, their implicit identity information).

+ The Atom publishing protocol has become established as a standard "wrapper" for rich content exchange;

+ Windows Cardspace looks set to provide desktop-based secure assertion management in forthcoming versions of Windows Vista, providing a degree of protection against identity phishing (a topic whose in-depth coverage is beyond the scope of this post—look out for a future post in this post series on the subject of identity assurance!).

CardSpace screenshot
Technology blockers

- People don't think or communicate according to "data standards"! We humans understand the meaning of information in a hugely complex and semantically and socially contextualised way—not according to a patchwork of standard, fragmented data types.

In this light, the standards-dependency of both Microformat and API-based data exchange (not to mention SOAP Web Services, the RDF-based Semantic Web and a host of other standards-dependent data exchange technolgies and data models, many of which have quietly fallen by the wayside over the years) appears to be a severely limiting factor for their potential applicability for the distributed exchange of rich and complex personal and personalised information.

It seems likely that we will have to evolve semantic, distributed data exchange technologies that reflect our innate, human ways of understanding and communicating information if we are to evolve an effective Identity Web. Yet progress in this area is at a very early stage—the data integration problem remains a massive and largely intractable one.

Technology unknowns

Ease of use questions over OpenID:

? How easy is it for anyone with a less-than-unique name or pseudonym to find a memorable, simple and appropriate personal URL? This issue alone may prove to be something of a stumbling block for OpenID in the mass market of non-geeks.

? Even if they can find an appropriate URL, it is currently far from easy for a non-geek to navigate the domain registration and hosting process. Will ISPs begin to be much more proactive in assisting their users to do this kind of thing in a pain-free way?

? Will the open-source aspects of Cardspace get implemented on the other major operating systems (Mac OS X and Linux), thereby creating a consistent cross-platform user experience for handling identity assertions?

A final question

? And finally, perhaps the most important question of all, and one that is relevant to both technological and business aspects of the problem space: will identity aggregation services in general become easy and useful enough to garner mass adoption, and if so, when? Clearly, execution is key here—many innovations at the user experience level will be necessary to get us to the point of having truly compelling and accessible identity aggregation services.

Conclusion

There are massive opportunities, sobering challenges and unknown factors, at both business and technological levels for startups who venture into the world of personal identity aggregation. After all, there has been a widespread recognition of the potential value of the market for personal identity aggregation services in the tech business world for some time now—and many, many more companies than we have space to mention above are striving to seize a share of that market.

But we are not yet finished with our survey of the problem space: identity aggregation only represents one side of a coin whose flip side turns out to be identity federation. In our next post, we will look at the opportunities, threats and unknowns for this service model—a model that represents the natural complement to that of identity aggregation.

Identity & startups: the web (2)

Luke Razzell and Nic Brisbourne

The story so far

life, as you like itThis post is the second in a series that explores the strategic relevance of identity for startups (a full introduction to the series, and a link index of the posts, is here).

In our previous post, we identified a key challenge for any startup: to help users to personalise their experience according to their unique identity. We then looked at how while networked services are great at helping us to transcend the limitations of physical space and even time, they are not yet very good at helping us to integrate the diverse aspects of our networked presence (identity)—let alone doing so without jeopardising our privacy. And so long as these challenges of presence integration and privacy remain for networked services, we asserted that startups will struggle to deliver excellently personalised user experiences.

Exploring what a networked service ecosystem that did enable true personalisation—a notional "Identity Web"—might look like, we came up with four key requirements:

1) The Identity Web must allow us to integrate the various aspects of our presence (rather than forcing us to re-make our presence anew for each service we use).

2) The Identity Web must allow us to segment others' view of our presence (although relaxing attitudes towards privacy may erode this requirement for some or many contexts and demographics).

3) The Identity Web must support diverse, mutually-independent services if it is to offer true choice and privacy-enablement (benefits that cannot be provided by a mere handful of megabrands).

4) The user themselves must be the only unifying node in their presence network within the Identity Web (no-one else should be able to put together all the pieces of information about that user).

Finally, we identified a potential benefit of the Identity Web for individuals and services that mediate their online experience:
The individual should be able to monetise (directly, or indirectly through discounted/free services) the value of their identity by selling access to their identity information.

Where there's a successful startup, there's a great service and a successful business model: so just what might the business and service models that drive the evolution of an Identity Web look like?

Piecing the Identity Web jigsaw

We want to acknowledge at this point that thousands of businesses are of course already delivering incredible and diverse innovations in service personalisation. Hats off to them! However, such innovations—while often highly valuable in their own right—are mostly confined to tactical, rather than strategic aspects of the identity problem space: a bilateral personal information sharing arrangement with a third-party service here; a useful topic-specific, personalised recommendation feature there; a special offer for sharing your opinions with marketers over there.

The big identity picture remains fragmented, like a partially pieced-together jigsaw.
Google is watching you!Meanwhile, the big identity "walled gardens"—Google, Yahoo!, Facebook et al—continue their inexorable rise. One of the keys to success of these mega-networks is the way they tie each user into their suite of services (and partner services, in the case of Facebook) by integrating the presence of that user across those services (with a single login). These jigsaws are much better pieced together—but at the cost of users not being able to choose their own pieces, or indeed shield the big identity picture they create within the service from the view of the service itself.

Unless startups can find ways to create a commercially-viable, distributed identity ecosystem—an Identity Web—to compete with and complement the big network's identity lock-in power plays, there seems to be real potential for innovation around identity to become stifled, thereby eroding both choice and privacy for the end user.

Sabrewulf screenshotThere is everything to play for!

Yet without a good map of the identity jungle with which to plan their route, startups are having to hack their way through its dense undergrowth.

So let's make a start towards plotting such a map by taking a look at the business and technological drivers, blockers and unknowns for two service types that seem likely to underpin the Identity Web (and can already be seen embodied in embryo in diverse web services): identity aggregation and identity federation.

In the remainder of this post, we will explore the identity aggregation service type.

Identity aggregation—"lifestream" services
Identity Aggregation diagram
Identity aggregation or "lifestream" services help people to gather personal and personalised information from multiple sources. These services enable their users to integrate various pieces of their online presence into a more coherent whole—with a number of potential benefits detailed below.

So what are the business and technology drivers, blockers and unknowns for startups with regards to the identity aggregation service model?

Business drivers

+ Identity aggregation services allow users to re-aggregate the value of all their diverse fragments of presence, either for their own insight (e.g. Garlik, which helps individuals track what information about them is "out there") and/or for showcasing them to their community/audience in order to enhance their personal brand (e.g. Wink, which publishes aggregated information about individuals' presence across multiple services).
Where I'm At screenshot
+ Identity aggregation services also could enable users to personalise services via standardised preferences modules. This is the capability that Facebook is building with regards to third-party service integration into users' Facebook profiles (via Facebook Platform).

+ Identity aggregation services can leverage the value to marketers of their users' attention, selling attention information with users' permission, and possibly directly sharing that value with their users (in real or virtual currency).

+ Identity aggregation services have the potential to turn the advertising model on its head by enabling users to opt in to personalised offers, which they would be incentivised to do either by improved personalisation over push adverts, and/or by being paid.

+ Startups may be able to be more transparent about revenue sharing arrangements with users than incumbents (c.f. Google's opacity around AdSense royalties), thereby gaining user trust. Furthermore, startups can avoid the conflicts of interest around revenue sharing transparency that established companies with legacy business relationships can suffer from.

+ Startups within a distributed Identity Web may be in a better position to monetise users' presence information across a broad range of partner services than incumbents, who's identity lock-in approach effectively limits them to monetising their own properties (because they cannot track users' presence information beyond those properties).

+ In the medium term, it seems likely that major advertisers will continue to target fairly broad demographics with their branding messages, so a critical volume of users will still be necessary for advertising platforms (witness the success of Google Ads, targeted across the entire web). Therefore, media properties, with their limited subscriber numbers, are likely to struggle to leverage their users' presence data (e.g. clickstreams) effectively on their own. ISPs may well be in a stronger position to leverage presence data, partnering with ad networks to offer personalised ad services to e.g. media properties. Facilitating this process would seem to represent an interesting opportunity for startups—an opportunity toturn the current ad model (and maybe the whole internet model!) on its head. In this scenario, instead of sites selling space on their pages, the control goes back to the owner of the data “pipes”.

Business blockers

- The GYM club (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) and social network (MySpace, Facebook, Bebo) incumbents are busy building and/or acquiring their own identity aggregation capabilities—and it is not in their interests to share control of their users' presence information!

Facebook Platform logo
- Social networks and start page services (Netvibes etc.) can enable their users to integrate 3rd party services into their profiles (via widgets, Facebook Platform etc.), thereby potentially neutralising the competitive threat of a distributed identity ecosystem (on the other hand, this opportunity for exposure on the large networks does give startups a platform upon which to grow their user base).

- The large networks have the potential to enable users to segment their presence (in the context of a single account and login) into various personae, each with their own page. In fact, Netvibes is already doing this, effectively, with its Tabs, which can each be publicly shared independently of one another.
Netvibes tabs image
- Large networks, with ownership of or advantageous relationships with ad networks, are in a stronger position than small startups to monetise value of user's identity information to marketers.

- Micropayments to and discounts for users for divulging their personal information to marketers seem unlikely to take off in a big way as a business model in its own right: established services such as Pigsback and Greasy Palm have only seen relatively modest growth. It seems more likely that successful business models in this area will integrate cash incentives for personal information disclosure into a more rounded value proposition that includes personalised services and information provision that are useful in themselves.

Business unknowns

? No-one really knows how the issue of privacy will play out across diverse online demographics. Will people come to accept it is unviable to stop others viewing "their" information? Or will they demand ways of protecting it? Or will both the above be true, but in differing contexts? The answers to these questions may play a large role in determining the true potential of the information aggregation market.

? Could a few high-profile abuses of users' trust (such as the debacle over AOL's inadvertant exposure of its users' search history data last year) set back the identity aggregation service market significantly?

Technology drivers

+ The maturation of mobile web technologies will open up the "location" dimension of personal identity for innovation in identity aggregation services (although, given the lock-in on handset-generated location information that mobile network providers enjoy, startup business models in this area are unclear).

+ Widget platforms (Netvibes, Spring Widgets etc.) and distribution ecosystem (Netvibes, Snipperoo, Facebook etc.) are beginning to provide a springboard for startup identity aggregation services.

+ OpenID looks set to enable a distributed jigsaw approach to user authentication management across the web if adoption by services and then (more importantly) users reaches a critical mass.
OpenID logo
+ Microformats are beginning to enable a degree of automated rich-content discovery and exchange across services.

+ APML (Attention Profiling Mark-up Language) promises to enable the automated exchange between services of various kinds of personal attention data (information about what someone pays attention to—in other words, their implicit identity information).

+ The Atom publishing protocol has become established as a standard "wrapper" for rich content exchange;

+ Windows Cardspace looks set to provide desktop-based secure assertion management in forthcoming versions of Windows Vista, providing a degree of protection against identity phishing (a topic whose in-depth coverage is beyond the scope of this post—look out for a future post in this post series on the subject of identity assurance!).

CardSpace screenshot
Technology blockers

- People don't think or communicate according to "data standards"! We humans understand the meaning of information in a hugely complex and semantically and socially contextualised way—not according to a patchwork of standard, fragmented data types.

In this light, the standards-dependency of both Microformat and API-based data exchange (not to mention SOAP Web Services, the RDF-based Semantic Web and a host of other standards-dependent data exchange technolgies and data models, many of which have quietly fallen by the wayside over the years) appears to be a severely limiting factor for their potential applicability for the distributed exchange of rich and complex personal and personalised information.

It seems likely that we will have to evolve semantic, distributed data exchange technologies that reflect our innate, human ways of understanding and communicating information if we are to evolve an effective Identity Web. Yet progress in this area is at a very early stage—the data integration problem remains a massive and largely intractable one.

Technology unknowns

Ease of use questions over OpenID:

? How easy is it for anyone with a less-than-unique name or pseudonym to find a memorable, simple and appropriate personal URL? This issue alone may prove to be something of a stumbling block for OpenID in the mass market of non-geeks.

? Even if they can find an appropriate URL, it is currently far from easy for a non-geek to navigate the domain registration and hosting process. Will ISPs begin to be much more proactive in assisting their users to do this kind of thing in a pain-free way?

? Will the open-source aspects of Cardspace get implemented on the other major operating systems (Mac OS X and Linux), thereby creating a consistent cross-platform user experience for handling identity assertions?

A final question

? And finally, perhaps the most important question of all, and one that is relevant to both technological and business aspects of the problem space: will identity aggregation services in general become easy and useful enough to garner mass adoption, and if so, when? Clearly, execution is key here—many innovations at the user experience level will be necessary to get us to the point of having truly compelling and accessible identity aggregation services.

Conclusion

There are massive opportunities, sobering challenges and unknown factors, at both business and technological levels for startups who venture into the world of personal identity aggregation. After all, there has been a widespread recognition of the potential value of the market for personal identity aggregation services in the tech business world for some time now—and many, many more companies than we have space to mention above are striving to seize a share of that market.

But we are not yet finished with our survey of the problem space: identity aggregation only represents one side of a coin whose flip side turns out to be identity federation. In our next post, we will look at the opportunities, threats and unknowns for this service model—a model that represents the natural complement to that of identity aggregation.

Blog Friends public beta is now live!

I'm really pleased to be able to announce that Blog Friends public beta is now open to all! (Well ok, all bloggers with facebook accounts then, if you must nit pick.)

My sincere thanks to all my friends who participated in the private alpha test. In particular, special mention must be made of Alex Newson, who not only gave great feedback on the alpha service, but also provided us with some invaluable pro bono legal advice, and Andy Roberts, who has been tireless in seeking out bugs and feature improvement opportunities.

Also, thanks again to the guys at Brain Bakery, who have done an amazing job at bringing to life the service specifications I delivered to them just 16 days ago.

Finally, my thanks to Savvas Voudouris of Peelme Visual Communications, who has brought an elegance and sophistication to our graphic identity that is second to none. : )

Blog Friends public beta is now live!

I'm really pleased to be able to announce that Blog Friends public beta is now open to all! (Well ok, all bloggers with facebook accounts then, if you must nit pick.)

My sincere thanks to all my friends who participated in the private alpha test. In particular, special mention must be made of Alex Newson, who not only gave great feedback on the alpha service, but also provided us with some invaluable pro bono legal advice, and Andy Roberts, who has been tireless in seeking out bugs and feature improvement opportunities.

Also, thanks again to the guys at Brain Bakery, who have done an amazing job at bringing to life the service specifications I delivered to them just 16 days ago.

Finally, my thanks to Savvas Voudouris of Peelme Visual Communications, who has brought an elegance and sophistication to our graphic identity that is second to none. : )

Free as in beer

freeIPA logo

There is a new project on the block: freeIPA. This is an effort to shore up the existing identity infrastructure such as kerberos, LDAP, Samba and RADIUS. and make it all work together out of the box. For version 1 we’ll be concentrating on the I for identity and in later versions we’ll be adding the very important policy and audit capabilities. If this kind of thing interests you enough to want to contribute we have plenty to do.

Project blurb:

FreeIPA (so far) is an integrated solution combining:* Linux (currently Fedora)
* Fedora directory server
* FreeRADIUS
* MIT Kerberos
* NTP
* DNS
* Samba
* Web and commandline provisioning and administration tools

The goal of this version is to allow an administrator to quickly install, setup, and administer one or more servers for centralized authentication and identity management.

Motivation

For efficiency, compliance and risk mitigation, organizations need to centrally manage and correlate vital security information including

* Identity (machine, user, virtual machines, groups, authentication credentials)
* Policy (configuration settings, access control information)
* Audit (events, logs, analysis thereof)

Because of its vital importance and the way it is interrelated, we think identity, policy, and audit information should be open, interoperable, and manageable. Our focus is on making identity, policy, and audit easy to centrally manage for the Linux and Unix world. Of course, we will need to interoperate well with Windows and much more.

We are looking to take concrete and useful steps and so have chosen initially to focus on Identity solutions for the Unix/Linux world with some support for Windows login.

We intend to tackle centralized management of policy and audit information next.

Blog Friends private alpha launched today!

The Blog Friends facebook application private alpha launched today—hooray!

There has been some great feedback from Blog Friends alpha testers so far, which is hugely gratifying. My heartfelt thanks to all my Blog Friends who are currently giving us the benefit of their experience and insight. Also to the tireless Benjie of BrainBakery Ltd, who has coded like a demon over these last twelve days. We are aiming for public beta early next week—at which point I can spill the beans on exactly what it is we are building.

It strikes me that I've been working, with various friends, on myriad iterations of business plans and a number of prototypes for i-together for three and a half years, yet it has only taken three and a half weeks to take Blog Friends (i-together's first service offering) from a twinkle in my eye to launch.

Go figure!

Blog Friends private alpha launched today!

The Blog Friends facebook application private alpha launched today—hooray!

There has been some great feedback from Blog Friends alpha testers so far, which is hugely gratifying. My heartfelt thanks to all my Blog Friends who are currently giving us the benefit of their experience and insight. Also to the tireless Benjie of BrainBakery Ltd, who has coded like a demon over these last twelve days. We are aiming for public beta early next week—at which point I can spill the beans on exactly what it is we are building.

It strikes me that I've been working, with various friends, on myriad iterations of business plans and a number of prototypes for i-together for three and a half years, yet it has only taken three and a half weeks to take Blog Friends (i-together's first service offering) from a twinkle in my eye to launch.

Go figure!

The Turing Event

A few (10~15) years from now, I will get a phone call from my friend's assistant requesting that since we have not touch bases in a while, that we should meet up over dinner. I think it's a good idea, pull out my PDA/calendar, and start working a meeting time and place with his assistant. In the course of our interaction, we joke about the kinds of food my friend detests and make casual chatter about the weather. After I hang up the phone, I would realize that I have no idea if I just talked to a human being or a machine.

Alan Turing proposed that the way we measure machine intelligence is by comparing an interaction with a machine to our interaction with humans. And if we can't tell them apart, then the machine can be labelled as "intelligent". (This test is known as the Turing Test.)

The first time in history when society can't tell the difference between machines and humans is what I refer to as the Turing Event.

Think about the impact of machines in a post Turing Event world... think seriously, because most of us will still be alive and kicking when we get there. How will economies be impacted? Which occupations will be considered "suitable" for humans, and which not? How much social unrest will there be?

Think about what identity would mean in that world. Do our assistants assume our identities, or do we give them their own? What are the questions we should be asking today that we're not asking?

I didn't write this article to give answers; just to ask questions.

What do you think?

P.S. Mitch Kapor has a bet with Ray Kurzweil that this will not happen by 2029.

The Turing Event

A few (10~15) years from now, I will get a phone call from my friend's assistant requesting that since we have not touch bases in a while, that we should meet up over dinner. I think it's a good idea, pull out my PDA/calendar, and start working a meeting time and place with his assistant. In the course of our interaction, we joke about the kinds of food my friend detests and make casual chatter about the weather. After I hang up the phone, I would realize that I have no idea if I just talked to a human being or a machine.

Alan Turing proposed that the way we measure machine intelligence is by comparing an interaction with a machine to our interaction with humans. And if we can't tell them apart, then the machine can be labelled as "intelligent". (This test is known as the Turing Test.)

The first time in history when society can't tell the difference between machines and humans is what I refer to as the Turing Event.

Think about the impact of machines in a post Turing Event world... think seriously, because most of us will still be alive and kicking when we get there. How will economies be impacted? Which occupations will be considered "suitable" for humans, and which not? How much social unrest will there be?

Think about what identity would mean in that world. Do our assistants assume our identities, or do we give them their own? What are the questions we should be asking today that we're not asking?

I didn't write this article to give answers; just to ask questions.

What do you think?

P.S. Mitch Kapor has a bet with Ray Kurzweil that this will not happen by 2029.

SCO vs. Novell … the Copyrights.

Tonight I read through the following filing that I found on the SCO web site.  It is "SCO’S MEMORANDUM in Support of its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on its First, Second, and Fifth Causes of Action and for Summary Judgment on Novell’s First Counterclaim"

Wow!

In this filing, there is testimony from a whole list of Novell executives - who actually negotiated the deal with SCO - who all testify that they *did* sell the Copyrights to SCO.  When I read through this, I can only sit here thinking about what the current Novell management team was thinking ... and what they will ever be able to pull out to refute this evidence.

In addition, this filing contains testimony by a reporter who states that Chris Stone told her he was going to announce that Novell never sold the Copyrights with full intention to damage the SCO stock price, and impact shareholders.  Amazing if this is true ... to think that an executive would do this and believe that he could get away with it.

Although all of the press wants people to believe this is all over ... it seems that there is still a lot of life left in the SCO lawsuits.


Need a professional Alibi?

Amazing ... but I guess that anything goes in this day and age.  The Alibi Network ... a professional organization that will cover for you and create an alibi for anything!  You need a "virtual buddy" to answer calls for you, or make them?  You need a phone number of the "hotel" that you are staying at where they will answer and say anything that you want?  You need to fake where you are calling from?  Read their FAQ and they even give an example real-life alibi.

What truly is an indicator of the level of integrity in our society is that these guys are in business, and probably doing very well.  It floors me to see the direction that so many people would choose to take in their life.  Stunning.

Brain / Machine Integration Continues

Nice . .. we are getting closer and closer to neural implants to augment the operation of the brain.  These first ones are oriented towards memory.  I wonder when we'll be able to get additional memory added via this technology.  Anyone for a memory upgrade ... for their brain?
The Memory Hacker. USC's Center for Neural Engineering researchers have developed a chip that can communicate with brain cells, a first step toward an implantable machine that could restore memories in people with brain damage or help them make new ones.

... [KurzweilAI.net Accelerating Intelligence News]

Designer Dogs … coming soon!

I can only imagine ... in a world like ours ... when we'll see the 100lb. Chihuahua being walked (dragged?) by its master.  Or maybe it'll be the miniature Great Dane?  Now that we are discovering the inner working of the genome, I can only imagine the business opportunities that will come to mind.  Genetically modified pets are only a short time away!
What Makes Little Dogs Small? Researchers Identify Gene Involved In Dog Size. Science Daily Apr 6 2007 6:54AM GMT [Moreover Technologies - Genetics news]

Google wants MORE of your identity!

Ok ... this is one place where I like Local.Live.com even more than Google Maps ... again!  I was long a user of Google Maps, however they didn't allow me to mark-up the maps and add my own annotations.  Yes ... I could hack code, but c'mon ... Local.Live.com has had the ability for a long time.

Well FINALLY, Google adds the ability to annotate and more through their new My Maps features ... BUT ... I MUST create an account and be tracked by Google in order to use the features!!  What the heck?  I can't just hack out a quick annotated map for a friend or family without providing information to Google about who I am and having them permanently note my interest in some specific point on earth?

Once again ... the average person has NO idea they are now going to have even more records kept of every place they have marked or annotated, and when they did it.  Google continues to gather even more information about you ... who you are ... what you do ... where you do.  Amazing.  I'll stick with Local.Live.com.
Google makes mashups easy, even for me. The search giant's new My Maps feature lets anyone create customizable maps with photos and video, regardless of technical know-how.
Photos: Google maps out mashups [CNET News.com]

Measuring the accuracy of computer models

It really impresses me as we continue to make advances in the reproduction of human senses or capabilities in silicon and software.  What really caught my eye about this article was thinking about the fact that the accuracy of the model can be measured not only by it's success at mirroring human-like abilities ... but that it also makes errors in a way that is similar to humans.

Once the models are solid enough, then they will be able to learn from the errors in humans ... and potentially due to shear quantity, scale, or speed exceed our human abilities.  Closer and closer to the Singularity we move each day ...
Computer Model Behaves Like Humans On Visual Categorization Task. In a new MIT study, a computer model designed to mimic the way the brain itself processes visual information performs as well as humans do on rapid categorization tasks.

The model even tends to make similar errors as humans, possibly because it s... [KurzweilAI.net Accelerating Intelligence News]