Public policy

Discussion of public policy around technological issues, especially but not only surveillance and privacy.

February 7, 2018

Some things I think about politics

When one tries to think comprehensively about politics these days, it quickly gets overwhelming. But I think I’ve got some pieces of the puzzle figured out. Here they are in extremely summarized form. I’ll flesh them out later as seems to make sense.

1. Most of what people are saying about modern tribalism is correct. But partisanship is not as absolute as some fear. In particular:

2. The threat from Trump and his Republican enablers is indeed as bad as people fear. He’s a major danger to do terrible, irreversible harm to the US and the rest of the world. To date the irreversible damage hasn’t been all that terrible, but if Trump and his enablers are given enough time, the oldest modern democracy will be no more.

All common interests notwithstanding, beating Trump’s supporters at the polls is of paramount importance.

3. I agree with those who claim that many of our problems stem from the shredding of trust. But few people seem to realize just how many different aspects of “trust” there are, nor how many degrees there can be of trustworthiness. It’s not just a binary choice between “honest servant of the people” and “lying, cheating crook”.

These observations have strong analogies in IT. What does it mean for a system to be “reliable” or to produce “accurate” results? There are many possible answers, each reasonable in different contexts.

Read more

February 7, 2018

Politics can be overwhelming

Like many people, I’ve been shocked and saddened by recent political developments. What I’ve done about it includes (but is not limited to):

As for those writings: Read more

January 22, 2018

The chaotic politics of privacy

Almost nobody pays attention to the real issues in privacy and surveillance. That’s gotten only slightly better over the decade that I’ve written about the subject. But the problems with privacy/surveillance politics run yet deeper than that.

Worldwide

The politics of privacy and surveillance are confused, in many countries around the world. This is hardly surprising. After all:

Technical cluelessness isn’t the only problem. Privacy issues are commonly framed in terms of civil liberties, national security, law enforcement and/or general national sovereignty. And these categories are inherently confusing, in that:

Data sovereignty regulations — which are quite a big part of privacy law — get their own extra bit of confusion, because of the various purposes they can serve. Chief among these are:  Read more

December 15, 2017

The technology industry is under broad political attack

I apologize for posting a December downer, but this needs to be said.

The technology industry is under attack:

These attacks:

You’ve surely noticed some of these attacks. But you may not have noticed just how many different attacks and criticisms there are, on multiple levels.

Read more

December 12, 2017

Notes on artificial intelligence, December 2017

Most of my comments about artificial intelligence in December, 2015 still hold true. But there are a few points I’d like to add, reiterate or amplify.

1. As I wrote back then in a post about the connection between machine learning and the rest of AI,

It is my opinion that most things called “intelligence” — natural and artificial alike — have a great deal to do with pattern recognition and response.

2. Accordingly, it can be reasonable to equate machine learning and AI.

3. Similarly, it can be reasonable to equate AI and pattern recognition. Glitzy applications of AI include:

4. The importance of AI and of recent AI advances differs greatly according to application or data category.  Read more

August 10, 2017

Notes on data security

1. In June I wrote about burgeoning interest in data security. I’d now like to add:

We can reconcile these anecdata pretty well if we postulate that:

2. My current impressions of the legal privacy vs. surveillance tradeoffs are basically: Read more

June 14, 2017

Light-touch managed services

Cloudera recently introduced Cloudera Altus, a Hadoop-in-the-cloud offering with an interesting processing model:

Thus, you avoid a potential security risk (shipping your data to Cloudera’s service). I’ve tentatively named this strategy light-touch managed services, and am interested in exploring how broadly applicable it might or might not be.

For light-touch to be a good approach, there should be (sufficiently) little downside in performance, reliability and so on from having your service not actually control the data. That assumption is trivially satisfied in the case of Cloudera Altus, because it’s not an ordinary kind of app; rather, its whole function is to improve the job-running part of your stack. Most kinds of apps, however, want to operate on your data directly. For those, it is more challenging to meet acceptable SLAs (Service-Level Agreements) on a light-touch basis.

Let’s back up and consider what “light-touch” for data-interacting apps (i.e., almost all apps) would actually mean. The basics are:  Read more

March 1, 2017

One bit of news in Trump’s speech

Donald Trump addressed Congress tonight. As may be seen by the transcript, his speech — while uncharacteristically sober — was largely vacuous.

That said, while Steve Bannon is firmly established as Trump’s puppet master, they don’t agree on quite everything, and one of the documented disagreements had been in their view of skilled, entrepreneurial founder-type immigrants: Bannon opposes them, but Trump has disagreed with his view. And as per the speech, Trump seems to be maintaining his disagreement.

At least, that seems implied by his call for “a merit-based immigration system.”

And by the way — Trump managed to give a whole speech without saying anything overtly racist. Indeed, he specifically decried the murder of an Indian-immigrant engineer. By Trump standards, that counts as a kind of progress.

Edit (March 5): But now there is negative-seeming news about H1-B visas.

February 28, 2017

Coordination, the underused “C” word

I’d like to argue that a single frame can be used to view a lot of the issues that we think about. Specifically, I’m referring to coordination, which I think is a clearer way of characterizing much of what we commonly call communication or collaboration.

It’s easy to argue that computing, to an overwhelming extent, is really about communication. Most obviously:

Indeed, it’s reasonable to claim:

A little less obvious is the much of this communication could be alternatively described as coordination. Some communication has pure consumer value, such as when we talk/email/Facebook/Snapchat/FaceTime with loved ones. But much of the rest is for the purpose of coordinating business or technical processes.

Among the technical categories that boil down to coordination are:

That’s a lot of the value in “platform” IT right there.  Read more

February 2, 2017

There’s no escape from politics now

The United States and consequently much of the world are in political uproar. Much of that is about very general and vital issues such as war, peace or the treatment of women. But quite a lot of it is to some extent tech-industry-specific. The purpose of this post is outline how and why that is.

For example:

Because they involve grave threats to liberty, I see surveillance/privacy as the biggest technology-specific policy issues in the United States. (In other countries, technology-driven censorship might loom larger yet.) My views on privacy and surveillance have long been:

Given the recent election of a US president with strong authoritarian tendencies, that foot-dragging is much more important than it was before.

Other important areas of technology/policy overlap include: Read more

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