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[Book Review] of God, Man and Machines

June 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Book Title: Homo Deus A Brief History of Tomorrow. 

Author: Yuval Noah Harari

Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)

This has to be one of the more thought provoking books I have read in a while, and it boldly tackles a complex and far reaching subject at a most opportune time. Human evolution is something that has fascinated people since Darwin’s seminal work on the origin of then species, perhaps even moreso now with the advent of true A.I. The thought of self learning systems powering an autonomous independent entity can send shivers down the backs of even the most unflappable of people when it becomes real.

Homo Deus is Yuval Noah Harari’s second work on the topic of man’s evolution and he does not disappoint. His previous work, Sapiens, paints a compelling picture of the journey humanity has undertaken to get to this point. This work takes us on the next step of that journey by looking ahead into the future of humanity, assuming the current trajectory remains unchanged, in a way that is equally compelling and enlightening.

According to a central argument in the book, the emergence of Homo deus or ‘divine man’ is the logical next step in human evolution. Homo sapiens (aka thinking man) has progressed far enough on this journey that he is virtually at the cusp of achieving that goal along with mastery of 3 key defining pursuits, i.e: immortality, happiness and divinity. Such a breed of superhuman beings will be sufficiently different from Homo sapiens that the author has chosen to classify them as Homo deus. 

The book traces human belief systems from: belief in divine objects and beings, to belief in society states, and latterly a belief in the individual aka humanism. This is observed to be in step with expanding human communities: from individual family groups and clans to villages, towns and cities; each tier is enabled or limited by man’s ability to source food, security and the prevailing communication technology. There is a certain symmetry in the observed progression from God to man and to machines, as it’s the latter which is fueling the accelerated evolutionary leap to this new species of human being known as Homo deus.

In addition to excellent coverage of realistic humanism and post humanist scenarios, Harari provokes some insightful questions about the next phase of technology enhanced super-humanity and the emerging belief system of Dataism. Dataism describes the current scientific dogma that unites all branches of learning, and which effectively places man in his place as just another data processing system, amongst all other data processing systems, in a world where everything is all about data. He also touches on the inequity that is bound to become even more pronounced when the elites and their robot assistants / overlords decide to do away with the rest of humanity.

Although this is one heck of an interesting book, it doesn’t escape comparison with Harari’s initial masterpiece, which somehow manages to make this work appear less fully-formed and lightweight in relation to Sapiens. It asks more questions, albeit really good ones, than it answers, and somehow contrives to ignore the forest for the trees. By this I mean the relative pace of evolution among different species within an ecosystem. Homo Deus if they ever emerge will have to co-exist with and perhaps dominate other species on the planet, but will themselves be dependent on sustainable wellbeing and balance of the ecosystem in which they find themselves.

In spite of the above, and in conclusion, Homo Deus is a delightful, thought provoking peek at a posssible next phase of human cultural evolution and data driven existence. It is no surprise that it made the list of books reviewed and recommended by none other than Bill Gates in his 5 Good Summer Reads blog post. For this and other reasons stated above, I give it a resounding 9 marks out of 10.

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And while I was away…

September 1, 2016 Leave a comment
My last post, about Blockchain, Bitcoins and Trust Machines, must have pulled a Rip Van Winkle stunt on me because I just blinked and here I am, almost 5 months later and what’s more, the world seems to have gone a little bonkers.
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The BREXIT vote happened (yes it did), and The Donald may well be on his way to the Whitehouse (heaven help us all). On the tech front, AI is making a strong play for headlines post “big data” and IoT trends of last year, and Apple got hit by a hefty 13BN tax bill by the EU, while Mark Zuckerberg got downright local in Lagos, Nigeria. However, it was not all bad news because the Rio Olympics seemingly surpassed all expectations (at least for the Brits), and apparently went very well – Zika or no.
In any case, sporadic flashes of hazy memory seem to indicate I may have been extremely busy, especially judging by my last Salesforce blog post (something about turning experts into trusted advisors). If so, that may well account for the memory lapse – I’ll just have to be more careful next time.
That said, it’s nice to post again on this blog and I look forward to sharing more thoughts on key topics of interest, such as my next post which will be about IP and tech startups, so watch this space…

Predicting the (near) Future

December 22, 2015 Leave a comment
The future is always tricky to predict and, in keeping with Star Wars season, the dark side is always there to cloud everything. But as we all know in IT the ‘Cloud’ can be pretty cool, except of course when it leaks. Last month saw the final edition of Gartner’s Symposium/ITxpo 2015 in Barcelona, and I was fortunate to attend (courtesy of my Business Unit) and bear witness to some amazing predictions about the road ahead for our beloved / beleageured IT industry.
 
Judging from the target audience, and the number of people in attendance, it is safe to say that the future is at best unpredictable, and at worst unknowable, but Gartner’s Analysts gave it a good go; making bold statements about the state of things to be, within the next 5 years or so. The following are some key messages, observations and predictions which I took away from the event.
 
1. CIOs are keen to see exactly what lies ahead.
Obviously. However, it does confirm to my mind that the future is highly mutable, especially given the amount of change to be navigated on the journey towards digital transformation. I say ‘towards’ because, from all indications, there is likely no real end-point or destination to the journey of digital transformation. The changes (and challenges / opportunities) just keep coming thick and fast, and at an increasing pace. For example, by 2017, Gartner predicts that 50% of IT spending will be outside of IT, it currently stands at 42% today, therefore CIOs must shift their approach from command and control style management to leading via influence and collaboration.
 
2. Algorithmic business is the future of digital business
A market for algorithms (i.e. snippets of code with value) will emerge where organizations and individuals will be able to: licence, exchange, sell and/or give away algorithms – Hmmm, now where have we seen or heard something like that before? Anyway, as a result, many organisations will need an ‘owner’ for Algorithms (e.g. Chief Data Officer) who’s job it’ll be to create an inventory of their algorithms, classify it (i.e. private or “core biz” and public “non-core biz” value), and oversee / govern its use.
 
3. The next level of Smart Machines
In the impending “Post App” era, which is likely to be ushered in by algorithms, people will rely on new virtual digital assistants, (i.e. imagine Siri or Cortana on steroids) to conduct transactions on their behalf. According to Gartner, “By 2020, smart agent services will follow at least 10% of people to wherever they are, providing them with services they want and need via whatever technology is available.” Also, the relationship between machines and people will initially be cooperative, then co-dependant, and ultimately competitive, as machines start to vie for the same limited resources as people.
 
4. Platforms are the way forward (and it is bimodal all the way)
A great platform will help organisations add and remove capability ‘like velcro’. It will need to incorporate Mode 2 capability in order to: fail fast on projects / cloud / on-demand / data and insight. Organisations will start to build innovation competency, e.g. via innovation labs, in order to push the Mode 2 envelope. Platform thinking will be applied at all layers (including: delivery, talent, leadership and business model) and not just on the technology / infrastructure layer.
 
5. Adaptive, People Centric Security
The role of Chief Security Officer role will change and good security roles will become more expansive and mission critical. In future, everyone gets hacked, even you, and if not then you’re probably not important. Security roles will need to act more like intelligence officers instead of policemen. Security investment models will shift from predominantly prevention based to prevention and detection capabilities, as more new and unpredictable threats become manifest. Also organisations will look to deploy People Centric Security measures (PCS) in order to cover all bases.
 
6. The holy grail of business moments and programmable business models
The economics of connections (from increased density of connections and creation of value between: business / people / things) will become evident especially when organsiations focus on delivering business moments to delight their customers. Firms will start to capitalise on their platforms to enable C2C interactions (i.e. customer-2-customer interactions) and allow people and things to create their own value. It will be the dawn of programmable business models 
 
7. The Digital Mesh and the role of wearables and IoT
One of the big winners in the near future will be the ‘digital mesh’, amplified by the explosion of wearables and IoT devices (and their interactions) in the digital mesh environment. Gartner predicts a huge market for wearables (e.g. 500M units sold in 2020 alone – for just a few particular items). Furthermore, barriers to entry will be lower and prices will fall as a result of increased competition, along with: more Apps, better APIs and improved power.
 
The above are just a few of the trends and observations I got from the event, but I hasten to add that it will be impossible to reflect over 4 days of pure content in these highlight notes, and that other equally notable trends and topics such as: IoT Architecture, Talent Acquisition and CIO/CTO Agendas, only receive honourable mentions. However, I noticed that topics such as Blockchain were not fully explored as might be expected at an event of this nature. Perhaps next year will see it covered in more depth – just my prediction.
In summary, the above are not necessarily earth shattering predictions, but taken together they point the way forward to a very different experience of technology; one that is perhaps more in line with hitherto far-fetched predictions of the Singularity, as humans become more immersed and enmeshed with machines. Forget the Post-App era, this could be the beginning of a distinctly recognisable post human era. However, as with all predictions only time will tell, and in this case, lets see where we are this time next year. I hope you have a happy holiday / festive season wherever you are.

Looking Ahead (Through the Rearview Mirror)?

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

This is really a sequel to a post written for end of last year (which can now be found here), about the likely direction of things to come, and the perils of following the crowd / herd mentality, particularly for those in the creative industries. Read on for some key messages and evidence in support of those observations:

1. Privacy? Fuggedaboudit – According to Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, “Privacy is no longer a social norm”. Yet people remain fixated with this fantasy that they can stay private online, as perhaps encouraged by such guides as this NY Times article on 5 easy steps to stay safe and private on Facebook!

2. Opening up protected video – The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) has come up with a way to enable playing of protected content on various compatible devices. So is this really Interoperable DRM at last? Maybe, but perhaps it might just be a little too late. A good explanation of this move, and its implication, is available on the Copyright & Technology blog. In any event, one key question remains i.e.: what happens to your protected digital content if / when the provider goes bust?

3. How to make the same mistake twice, or not – Moves by the publishing industry to protect revenue by delaying ebook releases smacks of a similar pattern of mistakes made by the music industry over digital content. According to this excellent Forrester blog, “there are better ways to Window eBooks” and it would be prudent for publishers to take heed.

4. The future is Mobile – Contextual applications enabled by mobile / geo-location services will be the killer proposition, no question. Just ask Google.

There you go. Comments welcome.

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Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

Tech Predictions 2009: A more sensible approach to de-risking data loss

December 17, 2008 Leave a comment

This is one that should have happened a while back, given that all the technology pieces are in place and readily available, but fear not, 2009 will be the year for comprehensive information rights management. Yes, I said it.


The technologies that can be used to provide persistent protection for enterprise content have existed for several years as a product, or suite of products, known as Enterprise Digital Rights Management (ERM), or more recently Information Rights Management (IRM). Unfortunately, the take-up of these products has not been as robust as might reasonably be expected for such a useful enterprise capability. It quickly became clear that these types of defensive technologies, which do not generate immediate / obvious revenue, are relatively expendable in pursuit of the bottom line. Perhaps, as a consequence, the industry recently underwent consolidation, (mostly through acquisition by larger players), into a handful of information lifecycle management solution providers that offer Enterprise DRM / Information Rights Management solutions among their arsenal of products and capabilities. Key players now include: Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle (via acquisition of Stellent / SealedMedia), EMC (via acquisition of Documentum & Authentica) and Liquid Machines. 

So what has changed, and why should 2009 be any different?

  1. Well for one thing, the frequent reports of data loss incidents mean that the corporate world has had to start looking at ways to prevent future mishaps. However, even current initiatives like wholesale corporate data encryption and data loss prevention strategies are not totally fool proof; therefore many organisations are still likely to need a more effective approach towards managing and securing information, especially one that will work even after data is lost or misplaced.
  2. Secondly, there are signs that ERM vendors are waking up to the key role they have to play in creating the ecosystem of solutions required to tackle data loss issues head-on. For example, some vendors have begun integrating their ERM products with existing Data Loss Prevention systems in order to provide effective control of information, both within and outside the enterprise security perimeter, (i.e. in the Jericho philosophy of deperimeterised security).
  3. Finally, although ERM is a direct offshoot of media Digital Rights Management (DRM), and provides similar capabilities for content control, it is unlikely to face the same fate as the latter, (see more on this from my DRM blog), for the simple reason that they serve very different markets / needs. A recent study of the ERM market shows a steady increase in awareness and adoption by organisations in various sectors like finance, healthcare and IT consulting among others

.In light of the above, I believe it that we shall start to see more examples of holistic security and information management as a major step towards mitigating the risk of data loss. The solutions, like the problems they solve, are not restricted to one product, channel or strategy; therefore it would most likely be achieved via a combination of components that include: ERM / IRM solutions; DLP systems; enhanced Information Security Policies; and the traditional corporate security and perimeter defence mechanisms.

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Note: Originally posted on Capgemini’s Technology blog.  You can see the original post, including comments, at: http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2008/11/help_theres_an_architect_in_th.php

Tech Predictions 2009: Music-As-A-Service (…at last)

November 16, 2008 Leave a comment

The title says it all, and I believe that 2009 will be the year in which we start to see some real music-as-a-service propositions come to life. Although some existing online music services may claim to be already providing “music as a service”, but such services are often limited in one way or another. To my mind, a real music-as-a-service proposition would be able to supply: any music, any time and on any device, perhaps in a model akin to utilities e.g. water / gas / electricity.


The technology components to deliver this vision are already available today, and several trends in online music provision / consumption lend further support to this outcome. However, the biggest stumbling block remains the ever so excruciating process of license negotiation with rights owners, but even that is slowly becoming less of an insurmountable task given the number of online music services that can boast of content from all four major music labels and numerous Indies. So I can predict that it won’t be long before we see a proposition that offers real music-as-a-service; and one of several exciting fall-outs from this could be mega mash-ups of music content distribution and channels with a multiplier network effect (Think Rock Band meets Pop Idol meets Virtual Worlds, with an Alternate Reality Game ARG thrown in for good measure). You heard it here first.

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Note: Originally posted on Capgemini’s Technology blog at: http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2008/11/tech_predictions_2009_musicasa.php

How far is far enough?

October 10, 2007 Leave a comment

In today’s digitally hyper-connected world it can be extremely difficult to tell when enough is enough, or indeed where the boundary lies for most activities and trends. For example, it is not yet clear where and when the decline of the recording industry will stop but I’ll make some provocative predictions on the outcome.

In the next few years we shall most likely arrive to the following conclusions:

  1. File sharing was great for the music industry after all!
    It just depends on your point of view (e.g. who is sharing what, and who is getting paid for this activity). The early indicators are that music tracks/files are increasingly being used as hooks to other products, services and experiences
  2. Those lawsuits against ordinary music users / file sharers were a bad idea!
    It is always a bad idea to sue potential customers, and it just kept getting worse in the first decade of the 21st century (e.g.: PRS sues workers for listening to radio and RIAA wins legal challenge). However this practice also provides the resistance which proves the rule that true change is unstoppable.
  3. Record labels are no more!
    Not surprisingly, they have either become a ghost of their former selves, or turned into bona fide production companies that fund music related ventures / enterprises. Artistes have become mostly independent and ready to exploit direct-to-consumer channels along the lines of RadioheadPrince andNine-Inch-Nails.
  4. Record charts and satellite/digital radio are the new record shops!
    And we can initiate music downloads directly from the radio, singles/album charts and even TV programs. (An early indicator of this could be the rumoured planned link up between Apple iTunes/iPod and Satellite Radio)
  5. DRM is history!
    Instead it goes by another name, and no longer brings up an automatic mental association with ‘evil controlling <insert your favourite swear-word here>!’ (Ah well, we live in an age of hope and porcine aviation!).

It would be interesting to watch out for the above or similar headlines within the next 5 – 10 years time (You heard it here first!). So go on, don’t be shy, tell me what you think, and I’d particularly love to hear your own predictions on this topic.