John Pientka

“A Strange Kind of Lull Has Set In” – Walt Mossberg

A Strange Kind of Lull Has Set In

Big Data, AI, IoT, 3D Printing, and Blockchain – the buzz about coming tech is incessant. Yet, has it stalled? Walt Mossberg’s, a long time technology columnist, final column sparks conflicting some thoughts. What do you think?

One of my favorite technology columnists, Walt Mossberg, wrote his last column recently provoking some conflicting thoughts. Is technology really easy to use? Are we in some kind of tech lull? Or, is technology becoming so ubiquitous it is disappearing into the background? And, if they do surround us what does it mean for privacy; the relationship between citizens and their government, and consumers and the giant corporations that know all about us.

Do you think technology is easy to use? Scientists have been examining this since the introduction of the first crotchety personal computers. There are several Technology Acceptance Models (TAM) that are driven by an offering’s PU (Perceived Usefulness) and PEOU (Perceived Ease of Use). Makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it?

This, in turn, drives the speed of diffusion of innovations. You know this one. It talks about “early” versus “late” adopters. Mossberg makes the comment that the closer the product is to the original engineers creating it, the harder it is to use. This also makes sense. Engineers view the world differently than the majority of us. Always the exception, Steve Jobs brilliantly broke that rule with the IPod, IPhone, and IPad. What do think about the new tech you are using today?

What about the pace of innovation? Are we just in a lull or is something more insidious at work. Mossberg makes the argument that the next wave of technology is coming but that it needs to just mature into practical devices. He quotes Jeff Bezos, whose Echo with the AI, Alexa, has become a pretty impressive sales leader. Here is a paraphrase: “AI is just at the beginning of the beginning”.

On the flip side, Robert J. Gordon, author of “The Rise and Fall of American Growth”, has been arguing for a long time against the techno-optimism that saturates our culture, with its constant assertion that we’re in the midst of revolutionary change. At almost eight hundred pages Gordon’s book is a long read. For a Cliff Notes version of his argument, check out his TED Talk. What do you think: are we just in a lull or are our best times behind us?

Maybe we are entering a new and different era? Is technology disappearing into the background? Walt highlights a great 2005 SNL clip to humorously illustrate this taken to the extreme. Seriously, Google, Apple, and Amazon are pushing ambient computing where the things you wear, the sensors around you and compute power are all woven together into a seamless whole.

You won’t notice them any more than you do wearing your watch today. Currently, you mostly interact with computer power through keyboards or touch screens. Tomorrow devices will sense your presence; your parameters (blood pressure, sugar levels, temperature, etc.) and you will have a conversation with your personal artificially intelligent assistant.

It sounds pretty invasive and maybe even creepy, depending on your disposition. The Europeans certainly feel this way and are way ahead of the US when it comes to privacy protection and who owns your information. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) mandates all sorts of controls on those who touch the personal information of EU citizens.

As an EU Citizen, the law follows you anywhere you or your information may be located on the globe. Organizations (think Google, Facebook, advertisers, etc.) must request your consent to use your personal data. You have the right to be forgotten – so the stupid stuff you posted as a teenager (or adult) must be removed at your request. Notice of data breaches must be thorough and timely. Privacy protection must be built in and rigorously enforced in all systems that touch personal data.

This shakes up a lot of providers’ business models. What happens if Goggle cannot sell your profile to advertisers, etc.? And the penalties are pretty stiff: up to 4% of worldwide revenues. What do you think? Time to reach out to your representative and advocate for more control over your privacy?

Walt Mossberg provided good food for thought. We will miss his insights. The issues don’t go away, however. When it comes to information technology there seems to be an endless stream of potentials and contradictions. We have just scratched a few of them. Please share your thoughts.

By John Pientka

John Pientka

John is currently the principal of Pientka and Associates which specializes in IT and Cloud Computing.

Over the years John has been vice president at CGI Federal, where he lead their cloud computing division. He founded and served as CEO of GigEpath, which provided communication solutions to major corporations. He has also served as president of British Telecom’s outsourcing arm Syncordia, vice president and general manager of a division at Motorola.

John has earned his M.B.A. from Harvard University as well as a bachelor’s degree from the State University in Buffalo, New York.

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