Saturday, December 31, 2011

Obligatory top-10 tech predictions for 2012

I think there's some rule that if you're involved in technology, you have to predict stuff for the next year.

It beats me why, because everyone always seems to get them wrong - maybe the tech press wants a piece the kudos given to economists for making predictions which inevitably turn out to be incorrect.

Anyhow here's mine:

  1. Apple will release another iThingy. Hipsters will buy it, regardless of the fact that it's only an incremental release on the previous iThingy. It's times like this I wish I had a Newton - so I could say: "I was using tablets before they were cool. Or even worked properly".
  2. Android will continue to inexplicably gain market share, despite still not being able to crack the lucrative hipster market. Apple will continue to sue any android devices that look like they might - and lose. Hipsters will continue to prefer iThingys.
  3. Windows Phone will continue to languish mainly because it's about as un-hipster as you can get.
  4. Google Plus will continue to grow despite no-one actually admitting to using it. The tech pundits will continue to pronounce its failure until the first mainstream media outlet proclaims it as the new tool of choice for cyberbullying/cyberstalking/farmville and demand "something be done about it". After this, Google Plus will be a real alternative to Facebook.
  5. Facebook growth will continue to slow. Pundits will continue to proclaim the death of Facebook. Facebook will still have eleventy billion members.
  6. Diaspora will continue to be cool despite no-one actually admitting to using it, or indeed knowing what it is. 
  7. Twitter will continue to grow in proportion to those that complain about it.
  8. Rightholders will continue to push for more draconian copyright laws. Consumers will get better at using encryption.
  9. The State will continue to try to crack down on <insert internet evil here> by proposing even more draconian laws. Citizens will get better at using encryption.
  10. 2012 will be the year of the Linux desktop :)
There you have it - 2012, the year that tech will continue doing pretty much what it's done since 2006.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sceptics and Ideologues

Scientific scepticism (or rational scepticism) is the practice of questioning or doubting the veracity of conclusions that lack empirical evidence or rely on non-reproducable experimentation. For example, the Berkely Earth Project set out to test climatologists research:
"Existing data used to show global warming have met with much criticism. The Berkeley Earth project attempts to resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses by making available an open record to enable rapid response to further criticism and suggestions. Our results include our best estimate for the global temperature change and our estimates of the uncertainties in the record."
-From Berkeley Earth Project FAQ
The project took a sceptical approach to the earth temperature measurement to test some of the assertions made against climatologists. This independent analysis of both the data used by the IPCC and the arguments put by critics of climate change is an example of a sceptical, scientific method of analysis.

In contrast, an ideologue is a partisan advocate of a particular position or theory - for example [Emphasis mine]:
"Climate change sceptic Ian Plimer's book "How to Get Expelled from School: A Guide to Climate Change for Pupils, Parents and Punters" arms children with 101 questions to challenge their teachers...
The 250-page book includes a list of questions intended to embarrass poorly prepared teachers."

Plimer and his denialist friends are very fond of using the title of "sceptic" because the term lends them some sort of scientific credibility. However, Plimer is not a sceptic, he is an ideologue and his book is pure ideology.

It is little surprise that he got one of Australia's most ideologically-driven leaders to launch it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Of pizza and the privatisation of public policy

Pizza has been declared a vegetable.

The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) proposed food standards were undermined by a congressional spending bill that enabled pizza to be counted as a vegetable. The bill was the result of lobbying by the frozen food industry to ensure that pizza and chips would still be available for school lunches.

In addition the bill will:
  • Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which many schools serve daily.
  • Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable - which allows pizza to be counted as a serve of vegetables. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.
The intervention and lobbying by the fast-food industry to undermine the science-based public policy making of the USDA is yet another example of the increasing trend to privatise public policy making.

Interest groups and lobbyists have disproportionate sway over lawmaking, and in some cases have been able to  get lawmakers to completely abrogate their responsibility to legislate in areas of public policy. So much so that areas that were once the purview of government are now almost purely regulated and enforced by private interests.

This is particularly the case in intellectual property (IP) policy, where industry lobby groups have monopolised the public debate so that they virtually write the legislation for lawmakers to pass.

The recent "Stop Online Piracy" (SOPA) bill is one such example. The bill, if made into law, would give content publishers unprecedented powers to censor and control the publication of online content - making the content  publishers ultimate arbiters of what can be published on the internet. Through laws such as these, Governments have bestowed arbitrary quasi-judicial powers upon powerful interests, removing requirements for due process, natural justice or evidentiary rules - thus shirking their responsibilities to legislate public policy or protect the public interest.

The powers that the bill confers have been likened to the powers that the Chinese government executes over internet content through the "Great Firewall" albeit that the Western version is executed by private, rather than government interests. However, like the Chinese Firewall, the public can not dismantle this policy by excercising their democratic powers - the interests of this private plutocracy are just as dictatorial and totalitatarian as the Chinese Government.

In Australia too, the government has abrogated its responsibility to the public on IP policy by signing up to secretly negotiated "free-trade" treaties such as the Trans-pacific partnership.  The government is also refusing to take a leadership role in regulating IP infringement on the internet - preferring to hand that process over to vested interests in the ISP and content publishing industries rather than legislating in such a way that provides a balance between industry interests and the public interest.

The pervasiveness of the ideology that advocates that public policy is best executed by private interests relegates lawmaking to mere administration and democratic power to tinkering around the edges of issues. 

This abrogation of public policy making by lawmakers has not only had a chilling effect on the rights and freedoms of people, but it has also had serious effects on the world economy (global financial crisis), environment (climate change) and public health and wellbeing (health policy). However, lawmakers are satisfied to leave these important issues up to private interests instead of providing political leadership in the public interest and when a government does try to allow its citizenry to have a say, it is loudly shouted down and decried by those powerful interests to which an appeal to democracy would disadvantage the most.

Various governments have handed over some of the most important areas of public policy to powerful private interests to varying degrees. The economy, the environment, public health and culture have all been privatised to varying extents.

The virtual privatisation of these areas of public policy has collectively given society the global financial crisis by handing the economy to bankers, global warming by acquiescing to industrialist interests, a global obesity epidemic by pandering to the fast-food industry, lack of access to drugs in developing countries by granting broad patents to pharmaceutical companies and limitations on free speech and  human creativity by the over-regulation of IP.

And as we complain about our politicians tinkering around the edges of what was democracy, at least we can drown ourselves in the vacuity of culture that is left to us by the plutocrats and reach for another slice of pizza.

Well, at least it's a vegetable.