Empowering Everyone With Technology

Microsoft is now trying on the role as moral leader in a tech world now facing increasing public criticism. I think you all know who they are, so let’s just say that Facebook is leading the pack. Microsoft is the only one to avoid sustained public criticism about contributing to the social ills of the last couple of years..

At the same time, Microsoft has emerged as one of the most outspoken advocates in the industry for protecting user privacy and establishing ethical guidelines for new technology like artificial intelligence (A.I.). They have launched a new program. A.I. for Accessibility that will award $25 million over five years to researchers, nonprofits and developers who use artificial intelligence to help people with disabilities.

Echoing a theme he talked about at Microsoft’s conference last year, Satya Nadella, its chief, said that the industry has a responsibility to build technology that empowered everyone.

Ray Myers

Advertisements

Digital Revolution Is Leaving Black Americans Behind

Black Americans are frequent users of technology, and have helped build social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram into the giants they are today. But they aren’t reaping the same economic benefits of the tech boom as white Americans, and low rates of black employment in the tech industry are a large part of the reason why.

A new study released on Friday sheds light on this issue. The State of Black America 2018, a report published annually by the National Urban League, compares how black and white people fare in a number of areas, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

This year’s report pays particular attention to black Americans’ access Digital Revolution is Leaving Black People Behind to jobs in the tech industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The study reveals that while black people are one of the racial groups most likely to use smartphones and have created thriving communities on platforms like Twitter, those high rates of usage haven’t translated into employment.

“And this is largely because the tech industry has failed to hire black STEM grads and transition them into careers in Silicon Valley, where many of these jobs are basedIn the vast majority of [social media and tech] companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African American,” the authors of the report note. “By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, notes that this isn’t new — black Americans have repeatedly been left behind when America’s technology makes a leap forward, be it when slavery and Reconstruction blocked black people from the benefits of farming technology, or when technological revolutions in the North were less accessible to poor black people fleeing the South. Over generations, the effect of this lack of inclusion has compounded, leading us to the disparities that exist today.

And, as the report indicates, none of this happens in a vacuum. When black workers are shut out of higher-income jobs, like in tech, it adds to the already significant income gap — the median income for white households is $63,155, while it’s only $38,555 for black households. There’s a persistent wealth gap as well, which hasn’t improved much since the 1960s.

“We’re trying to shine a spotlight on the fact that this is an area where the country has to improve,” Morial says.

Silicon Valley has faced mounting criticism for its lack of diversity

Unfortunately, the tech world’s lack of diversity is a stubborn problem that doesn’t seem to be going away. Despite media attention and criticism, top companies continue to hire small numbers of black employees. At companies like Uber, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.

In 2015, the Congressional Black Caucus launched an extended effort to press Silicon Valley to boost its black employment numbers, with several members of Congress traveling to meet with various tech industry leaders. The efforts have led to some change — the 3 percent figure above actually reflects slight growth at places like Facebook.

The caucus has continued to pressure tech companies to improve further. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill last month about Facebook’s ability to protect users’ privacy, black lawmakers took him to task for his company’s persistent lack of diversity, saying that Facebook “does not reflect America.”

And on April 30, lawmakers traveled to Silicon Valley for a third time to engage in a series of discussions with tech companies. Some members, including Rep. Maxine Waters, have threatened that lawmakers could introduce stricter measures to regulate the industry if companies can’t improve on their own.

The CBC members argue that efforts to increase black employment are not simply due to the economic opportunities presented by a high-paying tech job but are also about increasing protections for minority users. Black people are often targeted on social media and other internet-based platforms, facing racism on Twitter, discrimination from Airbnb hosts, or exploitation from fake Facebook pages.

Morial argues that while the tech industry has said promising things about improving diversity, it needs to do more — in hiring as well as in increasing training and investment in black students and improving educational pipelines.

Perhaps another “Inconvenient Truth” as Al Gore would say!

Ray Myers

Save Us From Cyberattacks, Somebody?

Have you ever heard about the “Cyber-security Tech Accord?” It has been described as a ” digital Geneva Convention” that would set norms of behavior for cyberspace. Unfortunately, most of us are probably not that familiar with it since the principles it espouses can run headlong into individual governments’ efforts to develop cyber weapons in secrecy.

Microsoft is playing a central role in advancing this accord. Some of their officials have said they briefed the Trump administration on this new agreement and heard no objections. But that may not mean much. Mr. Trump’s adviser, Thomas P. Bosser, who oversees cyber security security, was dismissed last week after John R. Bolton took over as national security adviser.

The cybersecurity coordinator at the White House, Rob Joyce, is widely rumored to be considering leaving his post and returning to the National Security Agency, where he ran the most elite of the cyberforces that attack foreign networks. If Mr. Joyce departs, the White House will have lost its two most senior, and most knowledgeable, cybersecurity policy makers in the span of a few weeks. “You’re fired!” says the former star of the “Celebrity Apprentice.” Now he is playing the part of “President.”

Ray Myers

Some Springtime Tech Facts and Saudis Go to Silicon Valley

The recent rankings of Educational Technology firms’ market performance are surprising and curious to me. I had always assumed that Apple had the lead in America’s classrooms, but not so. Here is the latest as reported in this week’s NY Times. “In a bid to take back some of the education market from Google, Apple on Tuesday plans to introduce new hardware and software for schools and students. But Apple has fallen to third place, behind Google and Microsoft, in the battle to own America’s classroom. So the new items may not move the needle much.”

Speaking of Microsoft, a delegation of Saudi Arabian officials including the country’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, will be meeting with Bill Gates some time this week. I guess they are still looking for that “secret sauce” that will revolutionize Saudi education through a critical combination of hardware and software that will make them the envy of school systems around the world. But I am still wondering what they will do to involve their classroom teachers as part of this revolutionary mission? Maybe I should just stop worrying so much. Trump will obviously do whatever he can do to help them, for whatever reasons?

Educational Technology is certainly changing our world in how we educate our younger generations, but all these new tools are only as effective as the teachers who use them, and have some part in choosing them.

Ray Myers

P.S. A short spring time break for me this weekend. Enjoy your holidays. I will return on Monday, April 2.

Summer Rerun: Tech and Trump Collide! (Originally posted on January 30, 2017)

Figuratively speaking that is. But this is 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

P.S.  TechtoExpress will be on “vacation” next week.  We will return on Monday, July 31.

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking – Shop/Search Online

Remember the Yellow Pages?  I know I am walking down memory lane a lot lately, but things are changing so quickly.  I often like to think about life before tech because it has certainly changed the way we do just about everything.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  What would we do now without Amazon or Google?  As long as you are near a computer screen in whatever form you prefer, you can probably survive living alone on an island provided there is connectivity and free home delivery.

Here is what one NY Times reporter noted recently: “When the kids were born, it (Amazon) become my household Costco – supplier of diapers and other baby gear.  Then it began a services designed to remove any decision-making from shopping:  My toilet paper, paper towels and other consumables now come to my house on schedule, no thinking required.  Then Amazon moves into media, and I was more hooked:  It had me for packaged goods, so why not movies and TV shows too?”  And now there is even more.  Amazon gave us Echo, the company’s talking computer which speaks through a persona known as Alexa, and which has now infected American families like a happy virus.

But if it’s not Amazon for you, it’ll be one of other tech giants:  Alphabet (Google), Apple, Facebook, or Microsoft.  It’s too late to escape.

Ray Myers


Microsoft and Google Heighten Competition in the Classroom

Microsoft and Google appear to be preparing to do battle in theeducational marketplace.  I believe Microsoft has  always seen schools and teachers as their primary clientele, and Google has more recently developed more tools that are attracting new users to their services.  Microsoft spent the last year in efforts to refocus and renew their classroom efforts.  Microsoft spent the last year talking to thousands of teachers and designing high-tech experiments that require mostly low-cost parts.  It will give the designs to schools for free so teachers can use them in their lesson plans.

Google has gained ground in public schools by offering a tightly connected system of free classroom apps, lower cost laptops called Chromebooks and a web-based console that allows schools to remotely manage thousands of student devices.  Industry analysts said Microsoft’s initiative was the company’s first credible response to Google’s recent encroachment into education.  Microsoft executives are looking forward to seizing  the chance to make an updated impression on future consumers.

So the classroom has become a new battleground for these giant tech companies to clash for future customers.  Let’s just hope that America’s students and teachers come out the winners.

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will not be posting a blog on Monday, May 8, but will return on Wednesday, May 10.  Enjoy your weekend.


Corralling the Social Media Market

Do you ever think of social media as a business that has to be regulated in order to ensure fair competition in this marketing space.  In the period of ten years we have gone from a time when the American marketplace was dominated by  companies such as Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Citigroup and Bank of America to a new era of technology companies replacing them in the size of their market caps.  Microsoft remains in the middle of this group at #3, but is now joined by its largest tech competitors: Apple (1), Alphabet (2, Google parent company), Amazon (4), and Facebook (5).    We may eventually have to regulate these tech giants if they are determined to truly be monopolies that limit competition by smaller tech businesses in this space.

“We are going to have to decide fairly soon whether Google, Facebook and Amazon are the kinds of natural monopolies that need to be regulated, or whether we allow the status quo to continue, pretending that unfettered monoliths don’t inflict damage on our privacy and democracy.  It is impossible to deny that Facebook, Google and Amazon have stymied innovation on a broad scale. To begin with, the platforms of Google and Facebook are the point of access to all media for the majority of Americans.  While profits at Google, Facebook and Amazon have soared, revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent.”   So most Americans can now “proudly” say that they only know what they see on their computer screens (of varying sizes).  Maybe this is really how all those fake news stories began?

Fewer newspaper readers, but more “screen” readers.  Let’s face it, our social media markets are like the Wild West of the Digital Age.  Maybe we do need a few Marshall Dillons to protect all of us law-abiding citizens (anyone remember Gunsmoke?).

Ray Myers


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


Terrorist Propaganda and the Open Internet

Is it really all about the message, or the role of the messenger?  I was always told to not believe everything I read in the newspaper or saw or heard on TV and radio (I am not sure why – and of course this was all before the dawn of the Internet).  So what has happened to dull our senses to be able to discern what is obviously false and what is true.  Maybe it’s so much easier now to choose what you want to believe and ignore that which might make you change your mind?  There are just so many information “sources”to choose from.   And I guess we have the luxury and liberty to select whatever we want to believe.  You may even like your news completely fabricated and prefer that to “real reporting.”  See my blog of 11/23: “All the News, All Fake, All the Time!”

Now we have some of our top technology companies volunteering to do some censoring for us.  They have formed a coalition to try and save us from terrorist propaganda and recruitment.  Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft announced earlier this week that they have teamed up to fight the spread of terrorist content over the web by sharing technology and information to reduce the flow of terrorist propaganda across their services.  And they are also welcoming any other tech company to join them in this endeavor.  But not everyone is so keen on sharing their secret encryption “sauce.”  Tim Cook, CEO of Apple among them.  Remember his refusal to a FBI request after the San Bernadino attacks in 2015.  The FBI then hired some hackers to access the iPhone used by one of the attackers.

I am afraid that this fight over open access to the Internet and freedom of speech is going to get more sinister.  We in the U.S. have been relatively immune to governmental interference at any level, but some of our newly elected political leaders may feel less constrained.

Ray Myers

What’s in a Name?  Sweet Smell of Tech Success

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  The sweet smell in this case refers to the emergence of tech companies as stock market leaders in the U.S.  At the close of trading on August 1, the four most valuable companies on the Standard and Poor’s 500-stock index (S.&P.) were tech companies: APPLE, GOOGLE, Microsoft and Amazon.  That meant that tech companies, by one common definition, occupied the four top spots in the market capitalization rankings, a rare and brief occurrence.

We can easily identified these companies as “tech companies” in the traditional sense, but the fact of the matter is that the most successful businesses or companies on the S.&P. today are using technology to fuel their continued growth and expansion.  These days every company is a tech company, but some have better niches, faster growth, more attractive offerings or more favorable share prices than others.  Tech has already taken over in nearly every business sector.

So what’s in a name?  Do we identify these stock market leaders as “information technology companies,” or do you prefer “consumer discretionary companies”?  Your choice.

Ray Myers

P.S.

And now for something completely different.  This past week a new book was published on Amazon as well as other online book publishing formats.  I authored one of the essays in this book: “Changed During the Sixties.”  The book’s title is “Turning Points: Discovering Meaning and Passion in Turbulent Times.”  I hope you will enjoy reading these essays about personal and professional transitions made during this time.

P.P.S.

During the remainder of August, I will only be posting commentary on Mondays.  I will be “resting” on Labor Day, but will resume my posts on a regular M-W-F basis on September 12.


Technology to Help Make Schools and Teachers Great Again!

My apologies, but I couldn’t resist paraphrasing this “Donald Trumpism.”  It’s just that now is that time of year when education publishers, and now tech companies, start to  unveil the latest and most exciting “products” for the next school term beginning in September.  So, I think the big news here is the dramatic change in the traditional textbook sales business.  Here is a more professional analysis from the Software and Information Industry Association: “Schools in the United States spend more than $8.3 billion annually on software and digital content . . . That spending could grow significantly as school districts that now buy physical textbooks, assessment tests, professional development resources for teachers and administrative materials shift to digital systems.”  Goodbye, Mr. Chips!

This trend has certainly not gone unnoticed in the digital publishing world.  Publishing giants such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and in online higher education, edX, have easily recognized the business value of making their products and services more available digitally.  The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is now holding its annual 2016 convention in Denver this year, and if you attend the proceedings there with 16,000 other teachers and school officials, or follow them remotely,  you will be introduced to these new digital ventures in a more formal way.  Remember the days when you had to go to the Bookstore each semester?

Please believe me that I am not really trying to be nostalgic, well maybe a little.   During my college summers I packed and shipped textbooks to university campuses in the U.S. for the Collier-Macmillan Publishing Company.  Now technology can do all that for you personally.   I often wonder if I have actually been replaced by a robot?

Ray Myers



A Joint Venture – Microsoft and Pot

I hope you like the title of this blog, and I am not even smoking anything while my fingers dance over the keyboard.  I stopped doing that years ago, but I still enjoy a couple cups of coffee every morning, so that is the extent of my “high” on this early Friday morning.  This story was actually front page news on the New York Times this morning, in the midst of all the tragic world news and mass shootings that dominate our online and print reporting.  So I think the news here is that one of our technology giants wants to make us feel a little happier?

Or maybe they are just helping an enterprising business venture come up with a better technological “solution” to a marketing strategy.  Perhaps it is just a matter of everything going to “pot” since Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer left Microsoft (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  I think Microsoft actually wants to stay as far away as possible from being a “facilitator” for marijuana sales but they obviously see a business opportunity here.  The entrepreneur who is the driving force behind this partnership with Microsoft has now begun dispensing marijuana through vending machines in some of the states where marijuana sales are allowed.  Far out!

I guess it was just all inevitable.  We do live in the land of the free and the brave.  So if we can buy pot in a vending machine, what’s next?  Beer?  I think you still have to “drive-through” for that.  Bummer!

Ray Myers

  

 

 

Virtual Assistants Need Some Personality – Hire a Human!

They really do need us.  Just when I was starting to worry that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would become so pervasive that it would eclipse our limited human capacities, I now read that the tech behemoths (Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) are now hiring real people to make these virtual assistants sound more human.  Microsoft, for example, has hired poets, novelists, playwrights and former television writers to be members of their writing teams.  So technology may help us become more literate after all, or at least will provide more employment opportunities for those who are literate.  Oh, I forgot to include comedians in the list of desired writing team members.  That makes me happy!

This is very good news for job seekers in the U.S.  By 2025, 12.7 million new U.S. Jobs will involve building robots or automation software; by 2019, more than one-third of the workforce will be working side by side with such technologies.  That’s only three years away (Forester Data).  What a change in the work place!  In the old days you just had to worry about getting along (or not) with the humans you worked with.  Now you will have to get along with your “artificial” colleagues as well.  I’m not sure that they will become supervisory personnel in the future, but I would guess that many of you are thinking that you have already worked for some real “bots” in the past.

Some early studies of human-robot interaction have found that attempts to make robots seem more humanlike can inspire unease or revulsion instead of empathy.  Maybe we all just have to learn to “get along,” but I don’t know if robots can be programmed for that?

Ray Myers


Dazed and Confused in Silicon Valley

It’s all about stopping terrorism.  Who’s not for that?  And I certainly believe that the individual rights we have as Americans are the envy of most citizens inhabiting this earth, but I think we are now entering an age of increased cyber security demands that may signal the end of the open Internet.  At least the free open access that we have enjoyed over the last four decades.  Ironically it appears to be our attempts at being more “social” on the Intenet that have become the most popular tools for terrorists to co-opt in pursuit of their sinister ends.

 But I may be overreacting.  I should be encouraged that this past week senior executives from our leading tech companies and high-ranking federal officials met in San Jose to try and figure this all out.  The expected participanting companies included YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Apple.  Maybe the federal government  will appoint a “Social Media Czar” who will keep an eye on all this.  I really don’t think that is going to happen, but I am not really that sure how we will be able to protect freedom of speech while establishing new rules to determine when that freedom has been abused in social media?  

We may soon learn what some of those changes may be, but we may find that we can not be as socialable on social media as we once were.  Perhaps there will be some ingenious, creative solution upon which all can agree.  Let’s hope that this “Gordian knot” of government policy and individual freedoms can  be untied.

Ray Myers


Microsoft in China

So this past week and a half I have written about government intervention in the operations of Facebook in India and Egypt.  Now it looks like we have a trifecta with China’s regulators raising new questions about Microsoft’s business practices there.  Of course, we do not yet know what those questions may be, but I am sure that Bill Gates and company are not looking forward to being on the answering end.  Over the past several months Microsoft has appeared to have mounted a charm offensive, such as hosting a prominent meeting of Chinese and American tech leaders in Seattle in September.  During that meeting, Microsoft announced several partnerships including a cooperative effort with the China Electronics Technology Group (mostly in support of the Chinese military).

Interestingly, the PC maker Dell has now begun shipping more machines to China that come with a Chinese-made operating system, NeoKylin, installed on them.  Some experts have termed this Chinese strategy as “de-U.S.A” in an effort to dethrone Windows from PCs in China.  In 2004 Chinese officials with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce stormed four Microsoft offices in China, questioning executives, copying contracts and records, and downloading data from the company’s servers, including email and other internal communications.

Maybe this is all about how businesses operate in two very different economic systems, capitalism vs. communism.  No one can really be sure how this will all end, but clearly China is not ready to experiment with free enterprise, preferring to play by their own “rules?”

Ray Myers