Future Technologies and Us

Crypto-Currency Roller Coaster
When I last spoke about Bitcoin back in January the price was sat in the $900 region. After something of a nose dive due in part to the shutdown of major exchange MTGOX and the concern over potential regulation of crypto-currencies in China, the price has started to climb once again. Whether sustained growth and indeed mass adoption is viable for Bitcoin depends on whether the currency can outgrow attempts to regulate it, as well as how well it can perform against other crypto-currencies.

Photo by Jonathan Waller

All it takes is the right level of innovation, marketing and a subsequently wide-enough spread of adoption for another crypto-currency to come along and become the online transaction currency. In fact such a successor may have already been released. With a shorter transaction time and strong development support Litecoin is often touted as the silver to Bitcoins gold. However this reputation may be under threat from other candidates such as the environmentally friendly NxtCoin and anonymity-centered Darkcoin. Perhaps alluding to the growing interest in anonymity since last summers revelations about wide-spread government mass surveillance, Darkcoin has seen a huge surge in price rising more than 2000% in a month recently. In the short term if Bitcoin itself does not incorporate more anonymity into it’s code we may see the world of crypto-currencies split into two distinct camps, those built around anonymity and those that aren’t.

I don’t expect mass-adoption to occur in the next few years, in fact it may be decades before a regular usage of crypto-currencies occurs by even a fraction of the worlds population. However, if government tampering doesn’t kill the likes of Bitcoin first we may see the frankly outdated model of physical currency in the shape of coins and notes finally replaced.

Wearables or Status Symbols?
From being the first company to mass-produce the modern desktop operating system successfully to the iPhone and iPad, Apple under Steve Jobs had a history of introducing products that we didn’t even know we needed at the time. Since the passing of Steve Jobs the world of tech has watched the Cupertino company for signs of new innovation and rumours of a smartwatch have persisted, with signs that a launch later this year may be on the cards.

Concept by Philipp Zumtobel

It easy to remain skeptical on this side of launch on whether such a concept could be successful. Is there really an appetite for this in a world where smart phones seem to be ultimately expanding in terms of screen real-estate? Does a two inch squared screen-based device really make much sense, especially considering the lack of precision that would come with using a finger as a stylus on such a small device? How much email could you realistically bear to get through on a screen of this size? Looking at possible features the potential integration of the Siri personal assistant to such a device isn’t much of a feature as, for most people, Siri still remains in his/her infancy. A mapping feature may be useful for some, however this and with the rumoured integration of biometric sensors can surely only be considered novelty features at present.

With what will presumably be called the iWatch you have to wonder if the concept is about providing something that the consumer really requires, or if Apple are pandering to those looking for status symbol technology. It could be argued that there is very little market appetite for such a device, with the types of people who are drawn to watches likely to only want to buy traditional watches. But again, as mentioned, Apple have a history of introducing products that people didn’t even know we wanted, so who knows…

Turn On, Switch Off
I spoke a few weeks ago about the extent to which modern technology is being used to distract toddlers. With the increasing infiltration of smartphones and tablets into modern homes (and often schools) the generation born this decade are arguably the first to experience the age of the omnipresent interactive screen.

Photo by Alec Couros

In Archives of Disease in Childhood psychologist Dr Aric Sigman claims that there are a number of ways in which young people are negatively effected by such a reality. The obvious links between the sedentary lifestyle of those consumed by constantly interacting with screens are made, such as increased risk of heart disease, stoke and diabetes. However, due to the dopamine inducing nature of interacting with modern screen-based technology, the risk of dependancy is very real. We seem oblivious to this risk and as Dr Sigman puts it: “Perhaps because screen time is not a dangerous substance or a visibly risky activity, it has eluded the scrutiny that other health issues attract.”

Not only does this addiction to devices cause a threat to the natural social bonding experiences that children in early years need, but as the internet infiltrates daily life for children as they grow, this too can have a detrimental effect on social development and cause a sense of social isolation. In the early days of the world wide web a study by Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that an individuals sense of happiness and social inclusion declined over a year or two after going online for the first time, as a result of their interaction with the internet.

As children grow up and become engaged with social media in its future forms, it might be tempting to think that this is a medium that can be used to become more engaged with others. However research into social media by University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross suggests that those that are most engaged with Facebook, in particular, are more likely to feel isolated and less happy as a result. During the course of two weeks Kross and his colleagues sent text messages five times a day to eighty-two subjects asking them how they felt and how engaged with real-word social ties they were. The results found that those who used Facebook in-between texts felt less happy and that these subjects, over the two-week period, saw their satisfaction decline the most.

Ultimately it is our responsibility to keep children encouraged to participate with real world social activities. We should also exercise a certain amount of caution in how much usage children have of modern gadgets, using parental controls if necessary, as this is the guinea pig generation for what the effects of overindulgence might be.


Good Cop Bad Cop – Another USA Double Standard

Many years ago I remember squeezing onto a dining chair with my best friend Caron and watching both our mothers and our maternal Nana’s playing cards with my aunty Cath, who, as was the way of such things back then, was actually my mother’s aunty. Fascinated as we were by the game I was equally intrigued by some of the words they were using and in particular the way they playfully used the word “bitch” as in you “sneaky bitch” or you “lucky bitch” whenever one of them usually aunty Cath, who was a bit of a card sharp, won a trick or a game.

Although mild by today’s standards, swearing and cursing was quite unknown territory for Caron and I as our parents had done their best to shield us from bad language, and even now, all these years later we still avoid using serious swear words in front of each other. Anyway, as the time went by Caron whispered into my ear a dare, which I at first refused point blank, because Caron’s dares and pranks had usually gotten me and pointedly rarely her, into trouble over the 4 or 5 years since we had learned to speak together. However, as was her way, she eventually bribed me with a share of her already half eaten bag of sweets. So I kneeled up on the chair and waited for the hand to reach its conclusion. As expected aunty Cath was again victorious, and at the point she leaned forward to sweep her winnings onto her ever growing mountain of pennies, I looked her straight in the eye and said ‘you lucky bitch.’

The slap across my face was so unexpected, I don’t think I cried for a good few seconds, particularly as I believe it was aunty Pat (Caron’s mother) who delivered it, because I think my own mother was so shocked the cigarette may have actually fallen from her mouth. “What did you say?” demanded my Nana.

Initially Caron’s Nana, Heather, had burst out laughing so I believe that was what emboldened her to say “Bitch, Anthony said Bitch.”
“Get out, both of you,” my mother eventually demanded, gathering her composure after rescuing our best table from a cigarette burn.
“But, but You all say Bitch,” I unwisely protested, although just quick enough to jump out of range of another one of aunty Pat’s slaps.
“Anthony…” my Nana said deploying her well developed way of using your name, as an implied final warning,” you will Do as we say, Not as we do!”
“But that’s not fair, I snivelled from the safety of the door to the stairs.
“You’ll learn soon enough young man, that life isn’t fair and that unless you do as you are told, there are usually consequences.”

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Earlier this week I was reminded of this episode from my boyhood and was surprised at the way I could still recall that real sense of injustice, which I felt back then after learning one of life’s lessons. I expect that it is a similar sense of injustice that has just been felt by many leaders of the Free World since finding out that the USA had been negotiating with terrorists for some time before swapping five high ranking Taliban / Al Qaida prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for a deserter called Bowe Bergdahl.

While we can of course empathise with Bergdahl’s family, the furious debate within the US has mainly been about constitutional and military protocol and the Presidents dubious right to override a 30 day minimum Congress consultation period surrounding anything so contentious. Indeed, Obama’s people have left so few stones unturned in their efforts to spin a justification for the paying of ransoms and similar prisoner swaps, that those sanctioned and carried out by the USA on the Barbary Coast of North Africa in the early 1800’s actually trended on Twitter just a few days ago.

As usual with the USA, when similar things have happened before, it is a case of do what we say not what we do. So that’s one rule for the self styled policeman of the free world but a different one for the rest of us. I have personally lost count of the times some US Secretary of State, or Ambassador to the UN or any other highly placed White House mandarin or spokesman has told us of their displeasure at learning that France (quite often) or some other country has done a deal or paid a ransom for the return of some hostages, military advisors or other. Their speeches often spiced with predictions of how this country or that is all but creating a trade in kidnap and hostage taking because the terrorists now know that the state will pay. Then more often than not their oratory works its way towards a mantra like: “we never negotiate with terrorists.” Although clearly now they do and have been doing for some time.


On Tuesday, with the stink of their double standard still up our nostrils, Barrack Obama did his level best to remind us that although they very occasionally have to be the bad cop, who reserves the right not to do what they tell us we should do, they are mostly still the good cops. He was in Poland announcing a $1bn package of military measures to bolster Europe’s defences in anticipation for the next time Vladimir Putin decides to help himself to a slice of a neighbours territory. As ever Obama’s speech was polished and packed a punch, unless you looked closely at what the USA is actually offering. A smudge of redeployment of personnel here and there in Europe, which would have almost certainly happened anyway and some limited help with munitions that are close to their sell-by date, some of which have all but been superseded within the US Army, and we can quickly see that it was just a good old fashioned shuffle of paper and numbers, which hasn’t fooled many people, and certainly won’t worry Putin too much, next time he decides to howl at the moon.

So remember this – next time you want to bend the rules to suit yourselves: Yes we do appreciate that the USA is mostly a force for good, but never take for granted the respect of your friends and allies, who still look to you for strong moral leadership in a rapidly changing world. Always remember that hard earned respect is easy to lose, even among old friends, especially if you continue to play the double game of insisting that we do as you say for the common good, while still expecting us to overlook what you actually did instead.