Ireland plans to make high-speed broadband a right for all citizens


Beautiful rural Eire – with slow internet if anyNeil Tackaberry

Politicians in Ireland plan to make fast, affordable broadband a legal right for every citizen…The country’s new communications minister Denis Naughten said on Wednesday, June 1 the government will ensure fast internet is enshrined in the country’s Universal Service Obligation (USO). Naughten compared fast broadband to electricity. “We want to ensure people have access to broadband as a right,” said Naughten in Silicon Republic. “I want it as an enforceable right.”

The EU country, which has traditionally lagged in national connectivity, is finalizing a $312 million National Broadband Plan that will accelerate broadband universal access to its 4.6 million citizens by 2022. The move would add the 30Mbps baseline service standard to Ireland’s 40-year-old USO which currently mandates copper telephone connections. In rural areas, 20% of the population lack such access. The plan is scheduled to break ground in 2017.

Rolling out the necessary infrastructure for high-speed internet parallels the rural electrification effort of the 1930s and 1940s. New cables and fiber optics must be strung on poles, or laid down in ditches, and to get last mile access to homes, new telecommunications equipment must be hooked up. Those projects are complicated by a patchwork of local authorities and legal requirements that give regulators headaches. Once the rural network is complete, the government said it would formalize high-speed broadband as a formal right.

A couple of decades later, I expect we’ll get round to doing the same for rural America.

Pic of the Day


Aluminum robocops

In the teeming capital of Democratic Republic of Congo, where drivers often flout traffic rules, five chunky, arm-waving robots equipped with cameras and lights have been set up to watch over the roads.

The solar-powered aluminium robots are huge, towering over the jammed streets of Kinshasa, as cars and motorcyles jostle for road room, their horns blasting.

Each hand on the odd-looking machines – built to withstand the year-round hot climate – is fitted with green and red lights that regulate the flow of traffic in the sprawling city of nine million.

The robots are also equipped with rotating chests and surveillance cameras that record the flow of traffic and send real-time images to the police station.

Don’t mess with these coppers!

A mother’s tale about her son, autism — and Siri

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

Read on! Long, informative, interesting.

I’ve always talked to machines. The conversation moved from cars to electronics to computers. Record-keeping has become data-mining. The river of experience has reached a rapidly broadening delta.

Gus: “Goodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?”

Siri: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”

Creationist says NASA’s search for alien life is unbiblical. I’d be worried if it wasn’t.

Popular creationist Ken Ham has slammed NASA’s attempts to find for extraterrestrial life, saying that God has intentionally not created life anywhere outside the Earth, and calling it a “desperate attempt to prove evolution…”

Ham, who is the CEO and founder of the Creation Museum, made his comments in response to a group of scientists who suggested that within the next twenty years, space telescopes will likely discover other habitable Earth-like planets and possible extraterrestrial life.

“It’s highly improbable in the limitless vastness of the universe that we humans stand alone,” said Charles Bolden, the current administrator of NASA and former astronaut…

The scientists are anticipating the James Webb Space Telescope’s deployment to the Earth-Sun L2 point, where it will be able to investigate the atmospheres of far-off planets circling other suns.

“Sometime in the near future, people will be able to point to a star and say, ‘that star has a planet like Earth’,” added Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at MIT…

However, Ham argues that believing in extraterrestrial life is simply not Biblical.

“Secularists cannot allow earth to be special or unique – that’s a biblical idea (Isaiah 45:18). If life evolved here, it simply must have evolved elsewhere they believe,” he stated, adding that Christians who believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God “shouldn’t expect alien life to be cropping up across the universe…”

“…You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation,” he continued.

“One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the ‘Godman,’ to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin – the Savior of mankind…”

The usual two questions apply. Stupid or ignorant? I’d say, “both…with the addition of simple-minded”. Ham has consciously decided to ignore science – and that’s stupid. As a result, he works hard at being ignorant of measurable, verifiable fact.

Rejecting reality, ignoring science – justifying that approach because you put all your attempts to understand the world on a book written by a small religious committee in the 14th Century – is absurd. Even more useless, Ham rejects additional understanding of the real world acquired in the several centuries since.

As much as he blathers about reliance on that book as the sum of all he needs, he still relies every day on the products of science and technology to sustain his life at a level higher than the Stone Age.

Thanks, Mike

The NSA is collecting millions of faces – our faces – from the Web


Understand why politicians from Obama to Bloomberg to McCain hate what Snowden reveals

The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents.

The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency’s ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed.

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show…

“Just as important” means the NSA still considers keeping an eye on all of us as mission critical.

It is not clear how many people around the world, and how many Americans, might have been caught up in the effort. Neither federal privacy laws nor the nation’s surveillance laws provide specific protections for facial images. Given the N.S.A.’s foreign intelligence mission, much of the imagery would involve people overseas whose data was scooped up through cable taps, Internet hubs and satellite transmissions.

Because the agency considers images a form of communications content, the N.S.A. would be required to get court approval for imagery of Americans collected through its surveillance programs, just as it must to read their emails or eavesdrop on their phone conversations, according to an N.S.A. spokeswoman…

Sophistry designed to protect governmental pimps who want rubber stamp approval for data mining the world.

The F.B.I. is developing what it calls its “next generation identification” project to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery and other biometric data…The State Department has what several outside experts say could be the largest facial imagery database in the federal government, storing hundreds of millions of photographs of American passport holders and foreign visa applicants. And the Department of Homeland Security is funding pilot projects at police departments around the country to match suspects against faces in a crowd.

The N.S.A., though, is unique in its ability to match images with huge troves of private communications.

RTFA for examples of everything from individual tales of criminal penetration of privacy – through hints here and there of the abuse of technology for political ends. All liberally slathered with copouts from Congress and the usual rationales about Homeland security.

There is nothing here that dictators haven’t hungered for in the history of tyranny. Ours is the generation that awarded the freedom to spy on absolutely everyone in the Land of the Free – to the politicians in charge.

Thanks, Mike

Mercedes launching car-to-car communications

Vehicle-to-vehicle communications are a fundamental pillar of autonomous, self-driving cars. Once vehicles can exchange data with each other and the greater driving infrastructure, they’ll be able to “see” and adapt to driving obstacles more completely, preventing accidents and delivering more efficient driving. Mercedes plans to be the first automaker to bring a Car-to-X vehicle-to-vehicle communications system to market.

When fully equipped with the latest technologies on offer, modern cars can already do much of the driving themselves. They can accelerate, maintain following distance and brake for traffic. They can help the driver maintain lanes. They can monitor hazards and obstacles such as pedestrians, rear cross traffic and blind spots. They do all these advanced activities with the help of onboard camera, sensor, laser and radar systems…

Vehicle-to-vehicle communications will serve to expand vehicles’ monitoring and autonomous driving capabilities, gaining a more comprehensive picture of surrounding road conditions like traffic and accidents. Being able to gather and send information about driving conditions will enable cars to analyze, adapt and navigate independently within road systems. Such communications can also make roadways more efficient, for instance transmitting real-time traffic pattern data with traffic lights…

When equipped with Car-to-X, the Mercedes vehicle is both a receiver and transmitter of data. It can gather information from other nearby Car-to-X-equipped cars and compatible broadcast systems. For instance, an emergency response vehicle involved in accident response could send information about the location of the accident and applicable road closures. Other examples include alerts about bad weather, animals on the road, wrong-way drivers and potholes.

Once the driver sees these notifications on his infotainment display, he can react accordingly, slowing down, taking a different route, etc. For now, the system still relies on the driver to react, but it’s easy to see how it could be used to power autonomous vehicle reactions in the future.

A Car-to-X-equipped vehicle can also serve as the initiation point for notifications. It can detect and transmit some warnings automatically and includes a push-button notification system so that the driver or passenger can warn other cars of hazards.

While being the first to market gives Mercedes bragging rights, it also means that Car-to-X technology will be very limited, as only other drivers of Mercedes vehicles equipped with the technology will be using it. To help deploy it faster, Driver Kit Plus hardware will be offered on both new vehicles and as an aftermarket option for older Mercedes models. Mercedes is also working with other auto manufacturers toward future car-to-car systems that allow vehicles of all makes and models to communicate. Along with automakers like Audi, BMW and Volvo, Daimler/Mercedes is part of the Car 2 Car Communications Consortium.

For the US market they’ll probably have to include a massive multiplayer version of Angry Birds.

The future of the internet is intelligent machines, an Industrial Internet

As we know it today, the internet has been largely about connecting people to information, people to people, and people to business. Monetization strategies range as widely as the options available, and for all the success, there are more failures. While many of the advancements have been extraordinary – even unthinkable a short time ago – too often we’re still left asking, “to what end?”

The internet can give consumers nearly anything with just a click, but global economies remain challenged. The internet has become the biggest library in the world, but education is just now beginning to take advantage and change. The internet can provide businesses with unprecedented data, but true insight remains contentious and change is slow.

The real opportunity for change is still ahead of us, surpassing the magnitude of the development and adoption of the consumer internet. It is what we call the “Industrial Internet,” an open, global network that connects people, data and machines. The Industrial Internet is aimed at advancing the critical industries that power, move and treat the world.

There are now many millions of machines across the world, ranging from simple electric motors to highly advanced MRI machines. There are tens of thousands of fleets of sophisticated machinery, ranging from power plants that produce electricity to aircraft that move people and cargo around the world. There are thousands of complex networks ranging from power grids to railroad systems, which tie machines and fleets together.

This vast physical world of machines, facilities, fleets and networks can more deeply merge with the connectivity, big data and analytics of the digital world. This is what the Industrial Internet Revolution is all about.

The Industrial Internet leverages the power of the cloud to connect machines embedded with sensors and sophisticated software to other machines (and to us) so we can extract data, make sense of it and find meaning where it did not exist before. Machines – from jet engines to gas turbines to CT scanners – will have the analytical intelligence to self-diagnose and self-correct. They will be able to deliver the right information to the right people, all in real time. When machines can sense conditions and communicate, they become instruments of understanding. They create knowledge from which we can act quickly, saving money and producing better outcomes…

In the near future, I expect nothing short of an open, global fabric of highly intelligent machines that connect, communicate and cooperate with us. This Industrial Internet is not about a world run by robots, it is about combining the world’s best technologies to solve our biggest challenges. It’s about economically and environmentally sustainable energy, curing the incurable diseases, and preparing our infrastructure and cities for the next 100 years.

RTFA. What’s above is the first half. Rather than edit the whole content down to a size manageable for a blog post, I really urge you to read the complete article. And I thank Om Malik for inviting Jeff Immelt to write the first of a series of guest articles at GigaOm.

Austrian grave sites partner with QR codes and smartphones


People are doing this absolutely everywhere!

The fabled Viennese fondness for fine funerals and “a schoene Leich” – a beautiful corpse – is about to get a modern twist.

Digital technology is about to give Austrian gravestones the potential to speak across time by showing pictures and biographies of the people buried below.

All you need is a smartphone equipped with a scanner to read the so-called “quick response” (QR) codes, the square of squiggles already widely used in advertising campaigns to unlock a trove of information for the curious.

The first QR codes will start appearing on graves in Austria within weeks, said Joerg Bauer, project leader for Austrian bereavement company Aspetos, who has been working on the QR project for five years.

Bauer said cemetery visitors could even view videos if connection speeds were high enough, although he frowned on the prospect of disturbing others with loud music…

The codes – first developed in Japan to track car parts in the 1990s – may eventually link music fans with the lives of legendary composers like Beethoven and Mozart enshrined at Vienna’s central cemetery, he said, although local officials say there are no immediate plans for this…

The deployment of QR codes on gravestones has taken off more slowly, perhaps due to privacy concerns of grieving families, but has gained momentum in Japan and is also being experimented with in the United States, Britain, Australia and Germany…

They certainly are being deployed everywhere. I had a choice of 124,000 results searching an image on Google.

Can office dogs reduce stress?


Harry Truman said – “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog”

If you are wondering how to improve morale, encourage collaboration and limit stress in your workplace — without spending too much money — maybe you should consider getting an office dog…

According to a preliminary investigation published in March…employees who bring their dog to the office can cap the amount of stress experienced during the day, and improve job satisfaction for all.

Randolph Barker, a dog-loving management professor, monitored the stress levels of employees at a retailing and manufacturing business with a 14-year history of allowing dogs in the workplace…[Randolph Barker!?]

The study found that while everyone started the day with low baseline levels of the stress hormone cortisol, those who didn’t bring their dogs to work reported drastically higher levels of stress by the end of the working day.

Those who had their dogs with them had low levels of stress throughout the day, and about half of that group felt that dogs were important to their productivity. Of the two groups without dogs, 80% felt that the dogs in the workplace had no negative effect on productivity…

Barker also noted that the dogs appeared to be “communication energizers,” sparking conversations amongst employees, and increasing engagement.

“We think dogs’ presence in the workplace may reduce stress for their owners, increase job satisfaction even for those without pets, and it may increase perceptions of organizational support,” says Barker. “It’s a low-cost wellness intervention, or benefit, that’s available readily to any organization.”

But Barker suggests that dogs may be preferable meeting participants than some colleagues. “They don’t judge us,” he says, “and when no one else will listen to you, your dog will listen to you.”

RTFA. Anecdotes both useful and humorous. Tech companies seem to lead the way in adoption of the policy – which is no surprise.

Working from home, an easy interlude going for a walk with Rally is an immediate break to any writer’s block that might be afflicting me. And she couldn’t care less what I talk about while we’re walking – as long as there’s a cookie waiting at the end of the walk.