The Critical Need to Integrate The Humanities With Deep Technology

After watching “The Great Hack” on Netflix I am appalled by the absence of any moral compass at Cambridge Analytica, which transformed Big Data into a political weapon. Other disturbing examples are Uber’s former corporate culture and Facebook’s collusion with CA in abusing our privacy. These cases are prima facie evidence of the crucial need and the opportunity to integrate the Humanities and ethics with deep technology development. I began my career as a Humanities graduate at Intel Corporation working closely with Ivy League MBA’s and senior engineers. We shared our knowledge and learned together to enable the company to excel. The best companies are those grounded in an appreciation of human values, companies that seek out Humanities graduates with a passion for technology to balance out their teams.

Since Facebook announced its new Libra currency and mobile payments scheme, the global reaction has been very mixed. Libra is not truly a cryptocurrency though it will use blockchain. It will be pegged to a reserve currency, which cryptocurrencies are not.  Libra will “potentially” be governed by an association independent of Facebook, though that association remains non-binding and sketchy at this point. Potential regulatory issues abound around the World, and Facebook is currently not viewed very favorably by many governments.  But most interesting to me, Libra appears to be modeled after Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile payments system, the world’s leading mobile payments system, invented by mobile carrier Safaricom. Then I asked myself if Facebook, knowing that it needs to move away from selling personal data, has seized on Safaricom’s M-Pesa as its new revenue model. 

Years ago now Google quietly announced its “Loon Balloon Project” in New Zealand. The objective was to launch high altitude balloons that could potentially float over areas of the globe that did not yet have Internet access. The tech press predicted that the idea was “loony” indeed, though some called it “crazy cool.” Google has since also dabbled with the idea of low earth orbit satellites to achieve the same goal. With the rise of SpaceX, this seems an even more interesting technological approach, though other firms in the 1990s lost large amounts of money and failed.  A modest aerospace company and a subsidiary of Airbus in Toulouse France is manufacturing low-orbit internet access satellites, hoping to launch as many as 650 such satellites. The idea that is captivating me is the potential for space-based Internet access to potentially provide an alternative to growing political and corporate control and Balkanization of the Internet.

NOTE: My original post, originally published in January 2013, continues to be one of the most viewed on the site.  Android and Apple have enjoyed an estimated 98% market share between the two, and many of my earlier projections regarding this market appear to have been borne out. However, the smartphone market has now matured to the point that it is at a strategic inflection point which has major implications for the future of this market and the major competitors. The rapid maturation of the smartphone market should have been foreseen: the rise of domestic Chinese competition combined with the predictable end of the Western consumer fascination with “the next smartphone”

For over a  year now I have blogged here about the red flags flying about Travis Kalanick and Uber. Many investigative articles have been published over this time, in the New York Times and other publications, which have raised disturbing questions about Uber, Kalanick and some members of his team. The Board of Directors has finally taken action but it feels like its a day late and a dollar short.  Why did it take so long?  I have bluntly used the epithet that “Uber is Trump,” but now on reflection, it is more apt to describe Uber as Enron the sequel, and “deja vu all over again.” Remember the audio of two Enron electricity traders laughing about “screwing grandma?” That is Uber. 

Since I joined the high-tech industry years ago, Silicon Valley has had a fundamental need for highly educated engineers and scientists that could not be filled by American graduates. This reality has been bemoaned by Congressional politicians for decades now, who have essentially done nothing to increase the emphasis on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) for resident Americans, and who instead chose to provide the H1-B Visa enabling Silicon Valley high-tech companies to employ immigrants to fill these crucial positions, and has enabled the high-tech industry to thrive. The election of Donald Trump has changed all that. His platform is almost completely devoid of any acknowledgment of the crucial importance of high-tech innovation to U.S. productivity and economic growth, the need for H1-B immigrants and the parallel need for greater investment in STEM education.