UPDATE 2015/03/23: Elon Musk announced yesterday that all Tesla cars will
receive a software update in about three months that will give them 'autopilot'
capability. This is not truly autonomous cars but it is a self driving car
that will operate on the highway. It is happening even faster than I thought it
If you make a living driving a car today. You won't in 10 years.
Google's new self driving vehicle prototype is cute, innocuous and undoubtably
a very good thing. It is going to radically reduce pollution, stop (just completely stop)
people dying in accidents, and reduce the cost of transport to nothing.
It's also going to cause social carnage. Driving a vehicle. It's one of the last
reasonably well paid jobs that requires minimal skills. And you get a sense of
freedom. This entire class of jobs is going to vanish, starting in 10 years. That
includes taxi, courier, truck, bus, train, delivery, etc. You know: DRIVERS.
Above are some French taxi drivers protesting Uber. They're worried about a
company coming in and lowering their wages. Wait until the other shoe drops and
they realise that Uber in the future won't need them at all. Ouch.
Who is going to get rich off this? Google, obviously, and whatever companies
license the technology and manufacture the vehicles. Google will probably follow
the same model (though not actually paying companies to use it) they used with
Android. They let anyone make self driving cars following their guidelines.
The manufacturers won't necessarily be current auto companies either. Samsung or LG
are just as likely to make these things as Toyota or Ford. Because they will be radically
different. You don't need crumple zones, engines, or air bags in an electric
car that will never hit anything. It's just 4 wheels, lots of batteries, and an
AC motor. And a computer of course.
We better start thinking about a basic income quick because that's a whole
lot more dudes (most drivers are men) who will be coming onto the labour market
all of a sudden.
So why is it still a good thing?
Because global warming. Cheaper solar power and replacing the entire vehicle
fleet with robotic electric vehicles is going to be super efficient. Cars
parked on the side of the road? That's just wasted capacity when they could
be out there earning you money by working as a taxi. So cars will be much
more environmentally friendly and we won't need as many.
Deaths. 1.2 million people died in accidents last year. That's a holocaust
every 5 years. Guns don't kill people. People driving cars kill people. Driverless
cars will never have an accident. The only way you'll get injured in a driverless
car is if some drunk luddite in a Jaguar deliberately drives into you.
Transport is going to be cheap and convenient. A $5,000 vehicle that can
be out on the street working 24 hours a day (with a few charging breaks) will
pay itself off very quickly. And then ruthless price competition will mean
companies like Uber charging a thin profit margin over the cost of the
electricity to run them. Getting a taxi could end up cheaper than current
public transport costs. And buses might just become a public good.
It is going to be a massive social change. Probably the biggest since the original
Model T came onto the scene 102 years ago and we all went nuts for cars. When
it happens it is going to happen really fast. The economics just make so
much sense. Hello JohnnyCab!
Hansel - 30/05/2014
Internet Explorer is maturing into a real browser. I went to a Microsoft
sponsored event the other night and was amused to see the marketing team
wearing their "We have standards!" t-shirts. Great! Welcome to the
party. We do hope you will enjoy yourselves...
Internet Explorer was originally written to compete with (and destroy) a
competing application on the Microsoft platform. Microsoft did not care about
the web page as a medium or the web browser as a piece of technology. But they
would be damned if they would let another company own such an important piece
of infrastructure on their platform.
Once they won the first browser war they moved on and stopped caring. It
would be 5 years and 2 months after the release of IE6 that Microsoft
- (Baby Jane (IE6), and Blanche (Netscape Navigator) at the beach)
2014, the present day. Microsoft is no longer defending applications on
its platform against interlopers. Instead it is desperately trying to stop its
platform from going away. It is so concerned about being able to sell
something to the users of the platforms of the future (Android, and iOS) that
it just took the drastic step of releasing Office on them.
But what will become of Internet Explorer? Chrome and Firefox are cross
platform browsers. They have been designed to work consistently anywhere. IE is
the opposite. Heavily tied to Windows APIs. It would be a herculean effort to
port it. And what would motivate anyone to do the huge amount of work needed to
port IE12+ to any other platforms? Why would anyone want it? Are you going to
install IE13 on your Android tablet?
Microsoft obviously need a browser on their tablets. If only to defend
against Google owning them completely. But does it need to develop one itself?
Does it need to develop the rendering engine itself?
No, I think IE is finished. It will die alone on the burning platform
that is Desktop windows. There might be something called Internet Explorer in
the future. But it will be a skin over an open source rendering engine. And it
will finally have standards. Despite all the best efforts of Microsoft it is
still not a browser that people want to use. It is a browser that people use if
they do not know any better. Which was how they won the first browser war. In
April 2014 IE (all versions) has 23% of users. While Chrome now has 44%. On
mobile, the future, they have nothing. A mere 2%. A statistical blip.
Blanche: You wouldn't be able to do these awful things to me if I weren't still in this chair.
Jane: But you are, Blanche! You are in that chair!
Exactly right Blanche. But, thankfully, in 2014 nobody is stuck in that
UPDATE 22/01/2015: MicroSoft are indeed creating a new browser, and
throwing away the IE rendering engine. Though still persisting in writing it
themselves. It is a break with the past in that they are not attempting to make
this backwards compatible. Phew!
Hansel - 11/04/2014
A basket of crypto currencies
It is the middle of march 2014. As of today there are 173 different crypto
currencies listed on coinmarketcap.com. Their combined market cap, right
now, is USD$10 billion.
I think it is fair to say that crypto currencies have already succeeded in
becoming a medium of exchange. But I think it is also fair to say that the
individual units of crypto currency are never going to be scarce.
It is ridiculously easy to create your own version of the litecoin or bitcoin
client. Some guy called Matt will even do it for you for 0.10 BTC
(USD$64). And then it is up to you and your community to distribute it, mine
(AKA process transactions) with it, and exchange its output for things that you
(Graph taken from the Coin Stat blog, data from January 2014)
Every individual currency is incredibly volatile. And no reasonable human
could be expected to maintain 20, let alone 500 or 1000 individual wallets. It
has already turned into a maintenance nightmare.
So what I think will become popular is an aggregrated basket of crypto
currencies. Think the S&P 500 but instead of the top 500 US companies by market
capitalization it would be the top 500 (or 100, or a 1000, whatever) crypto
currencies by total market value.
Let us call the imaginary creator of this aggregrate fund Index Corp. Now Index
Corp, if it was smart, would let people trade between their individual Index
Corp accounts for free and charge a small amount on deposits and withdrawals.
In theory the CREDITS (yes, intergalactic or otherwise) you have in these
accounts could be exchanged for credits in other companies that held the same
basket of currencies. And that unit. That standardised credit (The full name
might be something like Standardised Crypto Currency Credit Top 1000
aggregrate by market cap) would become the popular unit of exchange.
This satisfies everyone but the libertarian idealogues. The underlying
technology makes transactions extremely cheap and most transfers free.
Governments get accounts, with names attached that they can levy taxes upon.
And real users do not need to manage their own security and currency volatility
risk. And really, when you do need to make an illegal purchase, off the grid,
then you just have to transact directly in one of the underlying crypto
Now, some would argue that this destroys the whole point of crypto currencies
in the first place! That by doing this you have just given control to a couple
of large companies. And yes. That is exactly what I think will happen. But the
underlying currencies will still exist. You will still be able trade them and
use them direcly. But for the majority of people and businesses, using them
directly will be akin to using telnet to browse the internet.
And that is what I see these crypto currencies eventually becoming. The
building blocks of a new financial infrastructure. The TC/IP of value exchange.
Not something that most people will know or care about. But something that
everyone will use.
Hansel - 16/03/2014
The Rise and Rise of Television Torture
The X-Files was a reflection of its time. It ran from 1993 - 2002. Two FBI
agents working on weird and unusual cases. The X-files. It also had an overall
plot line that was slowly advanced in between "monster of the week"
episodes. The central plot concerned an overarching conspiracy. A powerful
cabal who were collaborating with alien colonisers.
It was thoughtful and often slowly paced. The central characters were in search
of truth while everyone around them tried to obscure it
Fringe is a modern reincarnation of the X-Files. A special division of the
FBI who is responsible for for working with "fringe" cases. The show uses the
same "monster of the week" format with an overarching arc (though the monsters
are often more tightly integrated into the arc itself) and the protaganists
are slightly odd outsiders.
However one major difference that jumps out when you compare them is the huge
amount of torture that happens in Fringe compared to the X-Files.
Torture is depicted as a tool. Sure it is a big hammer. And maybe not
appropriate to be used for every nail. But if you need to use it then of course
it is appropriate. Why wouldn't you pull that tool out if you needed it? In fact
it is often portrayed as a moral failing to not do anything it takes to get the
results you need.
Torture is used by all parties. Everyone resorts to torture, whether they are
the good guys or the bad guys. Because torture is not seen as objectively bad.
It is a technique for winning.
Scully and Mulder from the X-Files did not go around torturing people. And
neither were they (at least not very often) tortured themselves.
But this prevalence of torture that you see in otherwise very comparable shows
is not limited to Fringe. It is everywhere in American entertainment now.
Everywhere you see it it promotes the lie that torture works. It does
this very effectively. Because usually we, the audience, already know that the
person being tortured has the information. They just will not give it up. In
real life of course torture is not like that. In the hundreds of torture scenes
that have been acted out in popular media only a handful show the victim making
things up, and saying whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order
that they stop torturing them. Which is the reason why torture is not a useful
tool. The process would be: Torture someone, they tell you something, you
double check that story, maybe torture the people they implicate, then you find
it out that there story was incorrect, go back to torturing them. Just one
round of that might take days or a weeks. Which would make for boring TV.
On television National Security or law enforcement, is presented as an ongoing
series of life or death situations where some wrongdoer is withholding
information that will save many lives if it is just some how extracted. some
how. Right now some how. There is no time to think or make rational decisions.
You cannot help but link this increase to the changed attitudes towards
torture in American politics. Torture has been legitimized as the only way to
prevent a terrorist attack that is going to happen any minute now. When really
it seems to being used to extract confessions and encourage people to give
someone, anyone, else up.
Missing from the televised depictions of torture are all the other reasons why
individuals or states might torture someone. Torture is used for diverse
reasons (punishment, revenge, political re-education, sadistic gratification,
deterrence, coercion of the victim or a third party) and to show it used for a
single purpose only is very misleading.
Fringe, like many other shows (Scandal OMG), is part of the normalisation
of torture. When you start actively watching out for it the prevalence of these
scenes is shocking.
Not shocking just because they are uncomfortable to watch, but shocking because
they are re-educating and changing attitudes towards this act. Conveniently at
a time when governments have also redefined torture as something appropriate.
- New Yorker article on the presentation of torture in scandal
- Taylor Marsh arguing that Scandal is actually progressive
- Lengthy discussion thread over on HackerNews
Hansel - 05/01/2014
Canadian cuckoo rips apart Finland's nest egg
Growing up in New Zealand it was a piece of received wisdom that all we needed
was one Nokia. The Government's economic strategy at the time was invested in
finding and nurturing that one company that could rain the wealth down on us
like Nokia did for Finland.
For that reason I have always watched Nokia. Watching them fall prey to
Microsoft has been painful.
It only took Stephen Elop 3 years (he was appointed September 2010 when Nokia
was worth $37 billion. The company is being acquired by Microsoft in September
2013 for $7.2 billion) to rip the company apart and reconfigure it as the new
device manufacturing arm of his previous employer.
If you looked at him as the CEO of a proud independent company none of his
actions made sense. Why would you exclusively switch to Windows Phone without
gaining any concessions from Microsoft? Why would you write and release a memo
that destroyed sales of all your existing products without having anything in
the pipeline to replace them with?
You would not. Not unless you had a major conflict of interest. It will be
interesting to see what reward Elop gets for his last three years as an agent
out in the field. Is he going to be the next CEO of Microsoft? Will he get a
chunk of the $30 billion difference that was Nokia's starting value vs it's
current purchase price? UPDATE: Elop only got $25 million, for now.
So, you have to feel sorry for Finland. They had a Nokia. Now they have a weak
promise by Microsoft to keep them on as a research and development facility.
They just got taken for a $30 billion ride by a corporation that showed that
it is still one of the most savage competitors in the game.
Hansel - 03/09/2013
Basic income versus nations
A basic income is a response to the idea that modern society can no longer
provide a viable* job for every member.
As this Great Recession grinds on with no real end in site and
very large problems looming the conversation about a basic income has
been bubbling up and the structural reasons why we might need one being
The argument can be simplified to this.
Then it branches off down two paths
- for an economy to exist and not collapse it needs consumers, and consumers
- We do not really care about the economy, but it would be nice if people could
live with a bit of dignity and make our society healthier overall.
So, you get to pick whichever one you find more compelling.
I think the idea of a basic income is great. Probably necessary. But I have no
idea how it could be implemented piecemeal around the world without failing horribly.
Countries do not exist in isolation. Would a country with a basic income have
to close its borders? Or would it have openish borders but make becoming a
citizen incredibly hard? But doing that would would negate the whole point of a
basic income in the first place.
It is a great idea that is probably doomed to fail until we have some kind of
global governance structure in place.
A viable job being one that is above subsistence, or plain slavery.
Hansel - 17/07/2013
Can my organisation use closed source software?
If you are the CEO of a company or the head of an organisation you should
probably ask yourself the questions below before deciding if you can risk
using a closed source software products and services.
- Do I need to be able to keep secrets from competitors?
- Do I have a legal obligation to protect the privacy of my customers data?
- Will providing privacy for my customers data produce a competitive advantage?
- Does your organisation deal with national secrets?
Closed source products cannot be audited for security backdoors. Even if a
closed source company assures you that there are no current backdoors they
cannot prove that to you. And if they do show you current source code you
cannot guarantee that a future update will not introduce one.
For most organisations this is not actually a problem. Small business.
Non-profits that have a purely local focus. Their private data is probably not
that important to them. They can continue to use closed source vendors and
service providers with a reasonable certainty that it will not impact them.
But a government department? Or a large corporation like Airbus that has a
competitor who is deeply entwined in the security industry of another country?
These organisations cannot use a close sourced product or service without
facing accusations of incompetence.
What are the alternatives for organisations that require privacy from foreign
governments? Not many. All data stored outside of their own data centres has to
be encrypted. But more than that. They have to run their own IT infrastructure,
and all software they use has to be written by them from scratch or compiled by
them from open source.
Maybe new businesses will arise that help share IT costs between companies
while still providing security for their data. Hard to see what it might look
like. But it will have to provide extra ordinary transparency to work.
This position might sound extreme, but it is logically the only way to be sure.
Anything else involves a tradeoff between cost, privacy, and simplicity. And I
think there are a number of organisations out there that cannot compromise on
privacy at all.
UPDATE: One of the recent leaks of information from the NSA was caused by
their use of closed source products and external IT providers. Delicous.
Hansel - 13/07/2013
Has China been protecting its citizens and companies all along?
The recent revelations regarding PRISM
are very interesting. They are also confirmation of what has always been
suspected. The US government routinely monitors and spies on all traffic that
flows through its large national companies and across the basic infrastructure
of the internet. So much of which is based in the USA.
So what do they use this information for? Protecting their national interests.
And, in a country that has a government so entangled with corporate interest,
national interest includes their business interests.
This stuff has always been hinted at. In 2011 Reuters reported:
The NSA's work with Wall Street marks a milestone in the agency's efforts to
make its cyber intelligence available more broadly to the private sector.
When you think about this in relation to the great firewall of China
it becomes possible to see their construction as both being about keeping
information out of China and keeping information safely inside China.
If the price for using a free internet service (facebook, google, yahoo, twitter),
or even routing traffic through the US, is that the US government can access
your data and use it to provide a competitive advantage to US companies it
seems that China has decided the price is too high.
It may turn out to have been an extremely pragmatic decision. One that Europe
could have to make eventually as well.
Hansel - 12/06/2013
The big one
The recession which started in 2007 is still grinding on in 2013. Calculated
Risk recently updated his US payroll projection graph and I have included it
Click here for full sized version.
One of the striking things about this chart is the different shapes of the
three last recessions. These three recessions (1990, 2001, 2007) have been
vociferously fought with a zero rate interest policy. And you can see that it
does actually work for 1990. The recession is a bit longer but it is much
shallower. Then in 2001 it again makes the recession shallower. But at the cost
of making it twice as long as any preceding post war recession. Can it really be
said to have worked? Now 2007. The monetary policies set in place for the 2001
recession never actually went away. It is clear that this recession is so much
deeper and and longer lasting than anything but the Great Depression.
Hansel - 19/05/2013