Tag Archives: justice

Electronic terrorism and anti-terrorism

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the CIA is warning of possible cyber-terrorism against U.S. and Taiwanese computer systems by the Chinese Army. The United States Secret Service is considering proactive defense strategies.

Connecticut To Store Biometric Information

I just got word that when I renew my driver’s license, I will have to submit to allowing the CT DMV to store biometric information, as well as smile for facial recognition software from Viisage to be able to continue driving. With national law enforcement agencies opening up their databases to each other, survailance systems such as cameras in public places will be able to identify my face and build a general path of the places I’ve been. Recordings of sufficient quality can probably be analyzed to build the path retroactively. Hmmm.

Contract and Legal Reference Engine

An instant and well documented history of legal rulings – based on fact sets, and legal documents for typical related work – could be produced through information management of historical legal documents. The system would format contracts of a firm with fields that identify important entities and information in each contract (For example, the company later referred to as “COMPANY” would have a corresponding database table field). Then the interface would allow a lawyer – or anyone – to enter information for any fields they thought were relevant, and the system would identify the contracts and cases that are most similar, providing appropriate pre-populated contracts and historical rulings when available. This system would vastly improve efficiencies in the legal industry. In addition, it could provide a tool for judges to research other decisions, and ask for public opinion with a forum for discussion threads. Within a law firm, laywers could enter case or client information and select what kinds of results they would like to receive (Contracts, referrences, etc.)

The Future of Productivity and Culture

Productivity will continue to increase – and at an increasing rate. This trend inevitably leads us to the average person only working a small amount to support their basic needs. While this will be true on average, in reality we will most likely see a few individuals working very productively and supporting the needs of growing groups of underemployed people.

Social safety nets will become easier to support (assuming that the standard of social safety does not increase faster than the improvements in productivity). Vast portions of the population will stop working. Cultural differences will become pronounced as individuals and groups ‘specialize’ in non-work activities. Quality and breadth of entertainment, interpersonal interaction, and self-expression will greatly improve.

There will be a growing conflict between the highly productive individuals and companies and the large numbers of people who are underemployed. Managing this conflict will be a major political task.

Competition in the information age

Consolidation is the result of economies of scale – essentially horizontal integration, vertical integration, and resource sharing. These methods create competitive advantages in powerful ways that make it difficult for smaller players to compete in the same markets. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this trend, but it creates large barriers to entry and often leads to larger profit margins than would be otherwise possible.

In the information age – yes, now – this effect is greatly increased, and the limitations of transportation and capacity have been eliminated. The ability to integrate and share resources is much easier, and new extra-strength synergies are created. For example, if a website allows you to shop for both books and music, then it is possible to tailor your music shopping experience based on your book purchasing preferences. This is a very simple example of a much more powerful trend. It may be impossible to enter into any sort of competition with large information companies after the next 20 years.

You can already see it beginning to happen: Yahoo builds from scratch any web business that seems to make sense. Then because of its existing market coverage, and the ability to integrate new businesses with existing businesses and data, Yahoo is able to capture so much synergistic value that they gain an insurmountable competitive advantage. In this way, I think that Yahoo and the other major aggregators and integrators are great companies.

There are risks. Big ones. And the FTC may not be able to do anything about it.

It may be inevitable that the consolidation will lead to a stable equilibrium under monopoly – where there would be no reason to be a competitor because the types of services being provided rely on historical information and broad business integration that is impossible to recreate or beat. Then this monopolist would have virtually limitless pricing discretion, and the ability to manipulate markets and cultures in unprecedented ways. Humanity, in many ways, would be at the mercy of the monopolist. (I hope that its leaders are benevolent democrats with philosophically sound motivations and long time horizons – but what if they are not?)

The only way to eliminate this market dynamic is to eliminate the factors that make it possible, namely, the opportunity to use your market dominance in one field to create dominance in another field. More specifically, eliminate the competitive advantage created by archival data. This can be accomplished by sharing archival data freely. But what about my privacy? Good question. We have a big problem here. The private information about you and your preferences plays a large role in creating the value that leads to this consolidation. If you want to eliminate this competitive advantage, then you either eliminate the value or you share private information.

There is another way.

What if users owned their own archival data? Amazon could still track my click streams, and do whatever they wanted with them. But I would also be tracking my own use, and have control over my own preferences and historically available data. Amazon would quickly learn that the personalization algorithms produce much more valuable customization using the users’ data than the Amazon archives. Market entry for this standard benefits from this implication. Now what happens if you go to a small competitor – one with little history, but better value than the others? They would be able to provide you with services that took advantage of your archival data, just as the monopolist would have. Competition is restored, and the advantages for humanity are regained as well.

Somebody should create a standard – probably using an XML document editable from within your browser. I’d love to help. Somebody has to do it eventually, and the sooner the better for all of us (except the monopolist, of course!)