Thursday, October 31, 2013

Biological Virus can now spread via email.

When the first computer viruses began to emerge in early 1970'ties, I thought the name was a great analogy
to the biological counterparts, but I was also happy that these digital self-reproducing elements where not able to infect my physical body. Unfortunately, these happy days may soon be over.

In a resent article in the magazine Foreign Affairs the term "Germs 2.0: the first self-replicating bacteria made in a lab" is used to introduce us to the fact that we can make and replicate artificial virus and bacteria, which in turn can replicate itself. According to the article, it seem that we need to get used to the fact that we can "start in the computer in the digital world from digitized biology, and make new DNA constructs for very specific purposes".

Simply put, we can change the printer head from a 3D-printer which normally uses plastic as printing material to printing with nucleotides, and thus making self-reproducing biological beings. The article describes how J. Craig Venter,  an American biologist and entrepreneur, is able to produce a virus with a printer in 12 hours from an e-mail. Today this is used to make virus for vaccine production. Venter talks about this in a lecture at the Trinity College Dublin.

Another article in Council on Foreign Relations speculates on how this might influence on global security policies. It seem that cyber-warfare can very fast transform in to biological warfare. The article describes how "the Animal Influenza Lab of China's Harbin Veterinary Research Institute used new biology techniques in 2013 to manufacture 127 previously nonexistent types of influenza viruses, five of which spread through the air between guinea pigs". We can now ask ourselves: What is worst, to spread these 127 viruses by simply letting them into the air, or by email over the Internet?

So, as DNA synthesis and production of living organisms seem to be connected to the digital world, we can perhaps expect that future computer programs, good or bad, can reproduce themselves as living creatures. Today, it seem that comparing this outlook with the Terminator movies and Skynet taking over the world with mechanical robots was just another proof that reality beats fantasy by far...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In 2007, when the iPhone came out Nokia seemed unbeatable to most of us. Does Facebook have a weak spot also?

We have a tendency to think that great companies are going to last forever. PanAm, Kodak, but more
recently Nokia, and why not look at some of the companies that are still at their peak such as Apple, Google, and Facebook?

I will not spend much space here on Apple. Mostly because the fate of the company does seem to owe a lot to its CEO, and therefore has less to do with how it responds as a company culture to global digital trends. As I see it, since Steve Jobs passed away, the company has been fine-tuning itself as a profit engine more than a innovation engine. No new ground braking innovations, but a lot of focus on improving the figures, and increasing hardware performance with new processors and other new parts inserted into the already well-known product line. This shift seem to reflect the profile of the current CEO Tim Cook.

During a series of visits by my good friend Jeffrey Cole from the Center for the Digital Future in California, we talked, and made some public sessions with executive round-tables. I would like to share two here:

During the sessions we talked frequently about Facebook, and Jeff made a comment which I often mention when people talk about the future of Facebook.
Its just like when a new hot disco inaugurates in town. Everybody wants to go there, but after some time people will move on and try out other new venues and concepts. Admittedly, Facebook has been trying to do a lot, including acquiring other popular sites to keep ahead, but can it keep up the pace? It seem that a number of more context related social media are coming up, but let's save that for another post.
Anyway, one of the worst thing that can happen to teenagers in the hottest disco, is that their parents or grandparents turn up, and this is exactly what is happening to Facebook. So, this morning I saw this post: "I'm so over Facebook", and some of the quotes really stroke me:
- Ruby's parents embarrass her with "Hello Sweetie pie" posts on her wall while her friends post photos that get her into trouble with the parents.
Bang... Right there. Facebook is becoming old-school, and new teenagers see Facebook as something their parents and older peers are using. Its like trying to mix water and oil. You can stir it up, but at some time it will separate. Em medium time range, it seem to me that Facebook will continue in parallel with other social media. Probably smaller than today though.

On Google, there are no really good hints on the company's fate, except a comment Jeff made one day:
- If someone comes up with a bright new search algorithm, like real semantic search, they can be out of business in three months.
Maybe they have seen this, as they do invest in a number of other activities besides their search algorithm.

We better get used to it. Nothing is forever, except tax bills...