Tech and Trump Collide!

Figuratively speaking that is.  But this all about how technology has expanded as an industry that has a global reach.  Not only in terms of the powers of the Internet, but its effect on humanity around the world.  Many different races and people from all corners of the globe can now benefit and contribute to its continuing growth and reach.  Silicon Valley has brought some of the most talented tech “workers” from around the world into the U.S.  We are talking about companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft.  Trump’s proposed immigration ban could impair the ability of top U.S. companies to recruit and retain such talent in order to better compete globally.

In a company-wide email, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, stated his opposition very clearly, particularly in terms of its impact on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.  “I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.  I share your concerns.  It is not a policy we support.”  In open letters and other public statements during the Presidential campaign, tech executives and workers also objected to Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, and some signed onto a commitment not to help design his proposed Muslim registry.

Well, it’s the start of another work week at the White House.  Although it’s only the second one, it already seems like a long time from the inauguration.  I’m still waiting for the part where we become “great again!”

Ray Myers

It’s News to Me, Fake or Real?

As reported in the New York Times, Google and Facebook “stroll to the starting line.”  I am not talking about a foot race here, but rather the rate of responsiveness in their efforts to vett or block the reporting of fake news on their websites.     Here is one account of what these two companies have been doing:  “Google and Facebook have been taking steps to curb the number  of false news articles propagated across their sites.  On Wednesday, the Silicon Valley companies showed that they were still in the early stages of their battle to limit misinformation online.”

Just this week, these tech giants announced that recent updates to their sites will help prevent hoaxes and fake news from being posted.  Still, industry watchdogs remain skeptical about the effectiveness of these moves.  Some experts remain unconvinced: “Nothing drives clicks better than when the headline is exactly what people want to hear or believe. . . without significant changes to the economies and the technology of online ads, banning individual sites would not produce change in the long run.”  In many ways, these efforts showed how the fight against fake news remains a work in progress.

So I guess it all comes back to the individual reader of the news.  Whether it’s digital or print, what we choose to believe may all still be in the “eye of the beholder.”

Ray Myers

Play “Misty” for Me, or Maybe Something More Artificial?

Please allow me to explain.  One of the things that artificial intelligence (A.I.) can do with relative ease seems to be  writing music that we all have probably heard as background music for commercials on TV, or in elevators, etc.?   It would likely be a gentle piano piece.  Its melody is simple, and is unsubtle in its melancholy and tone.  What do you expect?  It was written by a machine.

Most people working on A.I. have focused on classical music, but many are convinced that composing a short, catchy melody is probably the more difficult task.  A compelling song is actually a rare and fragile object.  It can only work if all the dimensions are right: the melody, the harmony, the voice, the dress of the singer, the discourse around it – like, “Why did someone write this song?”  No one is able to model all that right now, but many are interested in the problem.  Some rock groups are experimenting with computer-generated music, but do not foresee their listeners accepting it entirely.  “Music fans need to fall in love with musicians.  You can’t fall in love with a computer.”

We all obviously have a choice in what we like to listen to, computer-generated or something more “human.”  Even with all the contributions that the computer can make in creating music, some still observe that they “don’t know why they want to make music.  They don’t have any goal, any desire.”

Ray Myers

Twitter as Part of the Presidential Digital Transition

As part of the “digital transition” plan laid out by the Obama White House shortly before the election, the incoming administration begins with a clean slate.  Well, at least that’s the plan, but with Mr. Trump one really doesn’t know for sure?  This may be too confining for our new “head (hair?) of State.”  But as a public service I would like to report on what the normal procedures are, and, I guess, we can all wait and see.

Both of the Obamas have their own Twitter accounts, @BarackObama, and @MichelleObama, which are run by staff at Organizing for Action, a nonprofit advocacy group.  They’ll host future tweets from these accounts, since the @POTUS44 and @FLOTUS44 are basically just archives.  Of course, Trump has his own Twitter handle – @RealDonaldTrump – which has several million more followers than @POTUS (maybe that’s why he won?).  Trump recently expressed a preference for keeping his Twitter presence on his personal account, but like many things with the Trump administration, we’re going to have to wait and see what actually happens.

But do we really have to wait and see?  As with most of the actions of this current White House resident so far, he will do whatever he wants with no one to stop him.  No one will the tell the “Emperor that he has no clothes.”

Ray Myers

Obama Farewell: Education Needed to Keep Up With Automatiom

Thank you, President Obama, for all that you have done for this country.  Please keep helping us in ways that only you can do.  You have clearly seen the power of technology as an added instructional tool for the twenty-first century, but you are definitely not obsessed with the instant self-gratification of social media/Twitter as a tool to attack political and personal enemies (real or imagined).  Are you listening, Mr. Trump?  It’s not all about the technology.  Education is still the key as advocated by President Obama.

Maybe a little history lesson will help.  When the United States moved from an agrarian economy to an industrialized economy, it rapidly expanded high school education: By 1951, the average American had 6.2 more years of education than someone born 75 years earlier.  The extra education enabled people to do new kinds of jobs, and explains 14 percent of the annual increases in labor productivity during that period, economists say.  Now the country faces a similar problem.   Machines can do many low-skilled tasks, and American children, especially those from low-income and minority families, lag behind their peers in other countries educationally.  President Obama named some policy ideas for dealing with the problem: stronger unions, an updated social safety net and a tax overhaul so that the people benefitting most from technology share some of their earnings.

The Trump administration probably won’t agree with many of these solutions.  But the economic consequences of automation will be one of the biggest problems it faces.  It won’t go away.  It can’t be FIRED!

Ray Myers

Johnson’s “Great Society” – Trump’s “Make America Great Again”. What Are We Talking About?

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson said. “The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talent.  It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness

Technological improvements can certainly be critical to industries’ growth and productivity (e.g., the car industry in Detroit).   But “Government intervention to enhance greatness will not be a simple matter.   There is a risk that well-meaning change may make matters worse.   Protectionist policies and penalties for exporters of jobs may not increase long-term opportunities for Americans who have been left behind.  Large-scale reductions of environmental or social regulations or in health care benefits, or in American involvement in the wider world may increase our consumption, yet leave us with a sense of a deeper loss.  

We have to go beyond Trump’s slogans for true economic greatness.  What are the real goals?   How do we measure their achievement?   In the quotations above from Yale economist Robert J. Schiller and inthe one to follow, we are given a more accurate assessment of what this greatness should be. “Greatness reflects not only prosperity, but it is also linked with an atmosphere a social environment that makes life meaningful.  In President Johnson’s words, greatness requires meeting not just ‘the needs of the body and demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.'”  (Martin Luther King helped us see that too, remember him today).

Ray Myers

Facebook and the News Media

Facebook is now launching a “Journalism Project.” It will be continuing its efforts to change the way media organizations work with the social network. Or maybe you can also say Facebook is changing the way it is working with the news media. You might even call it trying to help its users improve their media literacy. Now that’s a social media project I can really get behind, to put a “good face” on :).

Now part of this new initiative certainly relates to Facebook’s vow last year to crack down on fake news. Facebook has struggled with defining its place in the media world over the past several months, coming to a head just after the election. Many raised concerns about whether fake news articles passed around on the site could have influenced the outcome. Mark Zuckerberg has dismissed this possibility as “extremely unlikely.” But continued questions about Facebook and other tech firms responsibility to vet news or curtail misinformation led to Facebook announcing that it would begin submitting stories reported as false to third-party fact-checking sites and then labeling stories found to be “disputed.”

This maybe too little too late in terms of this past Presidential election, but let’a just say we have all, hopedully,learned something “the hard way.”

Ray Myers

The Woman Who Saved Medicaid – Technology and Health Data

Have you ever heard of Jini Kim?  I think her accomplishments in using technology and software to manage (save?) the Medicaid system in this country is no lesss than heroic.  Forget about your “super-dooper” technology giants and highly ranked government bureaucrats.  Jini Kim is the sister of an autistic brother who just knew how to make this all work in the “cloud.”  She single-handedly built a cloud-computing database of the nation’s 74 million Medicaid patients and their treatment.  Remember “,” that never really seemed to work as planned.  In late 2013, she was one of a small cadre of Silicon Valley technologists, called on to fix it.  Who knows what is going to happen now when this part of Obamacare seems to have been fixed, and the Trump administration wants to replace it – with what?

“The Medicaid system covers millions of working families, older people, children and people with disabilities.  In fact, 40 percent of Medicaid spending goes to the disabled.  Half of long-term care in America, mainly for older people is through Medicaid.  And nearly half of the children born in the United States are in the Medicaid system.”  Does this sound like a medical system that needs to be scrapped?  Replaced with what, when it just seems to have established itself as one of the most efficient health care systems in the country?

Thank you, Jini Kim.  You are simply a caring and concerned sister.  You are a shining example of how women need to break the “Glass Ceiling” in the male-dominated tech world.  (See last week’s post of January 2)

Ray Myers 

LinkedIN Nyet!

That Vladimir Putin is one “wild and crazy” guy as Steve Martin used to say.  I know that he is not responsible for everything that happens in Russia (just ask President-elect Trump), but his name just keeps popping up when certain technological “malfunctions” occur inside Russia.  Maybe I just have to get over my suspicions.  Relax, comrade, Vladimir and the Donald will take care of all this and you will have access to all the Internet activities you want, just like in China (NOT!) 

Well, for what it’s worth, the banned downloads of LinkIN are limited to Russian smartphones (several million users) which seem to be the most popular mobile technology devices in the world today.  In addition, LinkedIN’s website has also been blocked in Russia, so just get over it, at the same time you’re trying to get over the recent U.S. presidential election.  Fortunately, I am not alone in my concern (paranoia?).  Robert McDowell, a former member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stated: “Internet free speech and internet freedom are increasingly under attack all over the globe, and not just from authoritarian regimes.  It appears to be a one-way ratchet with speech control getting tighter.”

But why should I worry?  Only a few days left.  We will soon have a president who has a good friend in Moscow, who can help us get all of these Internet freedom issues cleared up.

Ray Myers

Put Me In Coach, I Have Accelerated My Recovery 

Well, it’s actually called an Accelerated Recovery Program (ARP).  And it’s a great way to spend your spare time between your professional athletic performances and preparations for your next game appearance.  Just buy yourself one of the ARP machines and plug in (or “tune in” in as they used to say in the 60s, sometimes followed by “drop out”).  But in this case, these guys are definitely trying to “tune in” to enhance their athletic performance.  Maybe it’s just an example of trusting the old adage, “it can’t hurt.”  But it just seems that no one really knows what it can do or actually does?

One professional ice hockey player described the treatment as “It doesn’t seem right, you know.”  He also added, “It’s weird to see what your muscle does when it’s on it, how it moves and contracts.  It doesn’t seem right.  Then once you figure out exactly what it’s doing and get some more information on it, then it starts to make sense.”  As a public service, manufacturers should let atheltes and the public know more, but there doesn’t seem to be much research around.  In all fairness, there has been one study at the University of Hawaii medical school, which found that ARP “significantly improves” quadriceps strength after ACL (anterior cruciate ligament/knee) surgery.  ARP will give you stronger (bigger?) thighs.

Your recovery will happen faster.  And as one recovering athlete noted: “I can watch TV and work out.”  I wonder what he would recommend watching?

Ray Myers

Make Car-Driving Fun Again!

Well, the assumption here is that the more technology we pack into our cars, the more fun we will have behind the wheel.  I am just not sure if this will happen.  Then again, I am not so sure Donald Trump will make America great again.  I like driving my car the old-fashioned way with the radio as the only “auditory aid” I have.  I guess some people consider that a distraction, but it does enable me to practice my vocal skills when no one else may be listening, except when my wife and/or other family members, friends are in the car.

I first heard about this expanding business venture when I read a news article about Pearl, a new Silicon Valley auto-accessory start-up staffed predominantly by former Apple employees.  Most of them wanted a different work environment where they could contribute to making the car America’s second home with nearly all the technological conveniences you may want.  I am not exactly sure if this was the primary motivation,  but it seems that most of the former Apple employees were also looking for a more collegial week environment.  Managers brief employees on coming products, company finances, technical problems, even the presentations made to the board.  What would Henry Ford say, or maybe this is what he had in mind all along.  In any case, the Pearl employees, making auto acessories seem to be enjoying their new “mission” that frees them from the secrecy and paranoia of the Apple days.

I am just wondering about how many accessories you really need on a car.  But maybe it is just a simple fact that we are spending so much more time in our cars that we need all these other conveniences to keep us alert?  I am still trying to master the backup camera.  I just find it hard to look at the dashboard to see what is behind me.

Ray Myers

Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Tech Companies’ Boardrooms

My last post before the holidays in December talked about breaking the “glass ceiling” at the Vatican. One very talented woman, Barbara Jatta, was able to do that as the first woman to lead the Office of Vatican Museums in Rome. So even as male dominance gives way to gender equality in the administration of the Roman Catholic Church’s activities, California’s Silicon Valley is now recognizing that they also have to close the diversity gap in their governing Boards. Let’s face it, women, at least in the U.S., are probably the most active users of technology in their daily lives (may not be scientifically proven, but try to take away the digital tools that women use everyday). Just think of the effects of online shopping that have made many shopping malls “ghost towns” since the arrival of anytime, anywhere shopping on your computer or in the palm of you hand.

Why not invite more women into these tech company boardrooms? While Twitter and other tech companies have taken steps to add more women to their boards, the tech industry still lacks others in gender diversity. Among Silicon Valley’s 150 largest companies, only 15 percent of board seats were filled by women in 2016, compared with 21 percent for the companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index, according to the research firm Equilat. Boardrooms are a particular focus because they are power centers that can help spur broader changes. And more positive change, I believe, can probably be more enhanced with more women having a seats at the tech board room tables.

Likewise, more women on the governing bodies of the Roman Catholic Church will more likely bring more positive changes in the Church’s policies around the world. I guess you can also pray that progress will continue in these tech boardroom practices, but putting talented women in more powerful tech company positions sounds like a good business practice to me. I think they are ready!

Ray Myers