CRYSTAL BALL

January 30, 2020


Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘The best way to predict your future is to create it,’” At first this might seem obvious but I think it shows remarkable insight.  Engineers and scientists the world over have been doing that for centuries.   

 Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899.  Mr. Deull’s most famous attributed utterance is “everything that can be invented has been invented.”  The only thing this proves; P.B. Barnum was correct—there is a fool born every minute.  Mr. Duell just may fit that mold. 

The November/December 2019 edition of “Industry Week” provided an article entitled “TOP 10 TECHNOLOGIES TO WATCH IN 2020”.  I personally would say in the decade of the twenties.  Let’s take a look at what their predictions are.  The article was written specifically to address manufacturing in the decade of the “20s but I feel the items will apply to professions other than manufacturing.  You’re going to like this one.

INDUSTRIAL INTERNET OF THINGS (IIOT): I’ve been writing about this one. The Internet of Things is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.  In a data-fueled environment, IIOT provides the means to gather data in near real-time fashion from seamlessly all-connected devices.  The IoT and the IIoT is happening right now.  It truly is an idea whose time has come.

EDGE COMPUTING:  As production equipment continues to advance, equipment cannot always wait for data to move across the network before taking action.  Edge computing puts vital processing power where it is needed, only transmitting vital information back through the network. In the beginning, there was One Big Computer. Then, in the Unix era, we learned how to connect to that computer using dumb (not a pejorative) terminals. Next, we had personal computers, which was the first-time regular people really owned the hardware that did the work.

Right now, in 2020, we’re firmly in the cloud computing era. Many of us still own personal computers, but we mostly use them to access centralized services like Dropbox, Gmail, Office 365, and Slack. Additionally, devices like Amazon Echo, Google Chromecast, and the Apple TV are powered by content and intelligence that’s in the cloud — as opposed to the DVD box set of Little House on the Prairie or CD-ROM copy of Encarta you might’ve enjoyed in the personal computing era.

As centralized as this all sounds, the truly amazing thing about cloud computing is that a seriously large percentage of all companies in the world now rely on the infrastructure, hosting, machine learning, and compute power of a very select few cloud providers: Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM.

The advent of edge computing as a buzzword you should perhaps pay attention to is the realization by these companies that there isn’t much growth left in the cloud space. Almost everything that can be centralized has been centralized. Most of the new opportunities for the “cloud” lie at the “edge.”

So, what is edge?

The word edge in this context means literal geographic distribution. Edge computing is computing that’s done at or near the source of the data, instead of relying on the cloud at one of a dozen data centers to do all the work. It doesn’t mean the cloud will disappear. It means the cloud is coming to you.

5G NETWORK:  As manufacturers continue to embrace mobile technology, 5G provides the stability and speed needed to wirelessly process growing data sets common in today’s production environments.  5G is crucial as manufacturers close the last mile to connect the entire array of devices to the IIOT. 5 G components and networks allow wearable technology, hand-held devices, and fast data acquisition on the factory floor or the retail establishment.

3-D PRINTING:  The rise of the experience economy is ushering in the need for mass production. The ongoing maturity of 3D printing and additive manufacturing is answering the call with the ability to leverage an ever-growing list of new materials. 

WEARABLES: From monitoring employee health to providing augmented training and application assistance, a growing array of wearable form factors represents an intriguing opportunity for manufacturing to put a host of other technologies in action including AI, machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLEGENCE (AI) AND MACHINE LEARNING (ML):  AI, and more specifically ML, empower manufacturers to benefit from data-based insights specific to their individual operations.  Advancing the evolution from prevention to predictive maintenance is just the beginning.  AI fuels opportunities within generative design, enhanced robotic collaboration and improved market understanding.

ROBOTICS/AUTOMATION:   It’s not going to stop.  The increasingly collaborative nature or today’s robots is refining how manufacturers maximize automated environments—often leveraging cobots to handle difficult yet repetitive tasks. OK, what is a cobot?  Cobots, or collaborative robots, are robots intended to interact with humans in a shared space or to work safely in close proximity. Cobots stand in contrast to traditional industrial robots which are designed to work autonomously with safety assured by isolation from human contact. 

BLOCKCHAIN:  The manufacturing-centric uses cases for blockchain, an inherently secure technology, include auditable supply chain optimization, improved product trust, better maintenance tracking, IIOT device verification and reduction of systematic failures.  A blockchain, originally block chain, is a growing list of records, called blocks, that are linked using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of the data.

QUANTUM COMPUTING:  According to the recent IBM report, “Exploring Quantum Computing Use Cases for Manufacturing”, quantum computing’s entry into the manufacturing realm will allow companies to solve problems impossible to address with conventional computers. Potential benefits include the ability to discover, design and develop materials with more strength-to-weight ratios, batteries that offer significantly higher energy densities as well as more efficient synthetic and catalytic processes that could help with energy generation and carbon capture.

DRONES:  From the ability to make just-in-time component deliveries to potentially fueling AI engines with operational observations, drones represent a significant opportunity to optimize production environments.   It is imperative that legislation be written to give our FAA guidelines relative to drone usage.  Right now, that is not really underway. 

CONCLUSIONS:  Maybe Mr. Duell was incorrect in his pronouncement.  We are definitely not done

JASON MATTHEWS

January 26, 2020


If you have read any of my posts you know I believe that every writer MUST be a voracious reader.  I truly believe that.  Becoming an effective writer, and I’m admittedly far from that rarified position, necessitates one becoming obsessed with examining the work of proficient writers.  I believe it’s a must.  With that in mind, I have found an incredible “wordsmith” in Jason Matthews.  I have read all three of his books: “Red Sparrow”, “Palace of Treason” and “The Kremlin’s Candidate”.  All three marvelous reads.

Jason Matthews is a retired spy but doesn’t look like one. He more nearly resembles a high school principal: calm, patient, a little bland. The only clues to his former occupation — thirty-three (33) years with the C.I.A. — are his uncanny peripheral vision and his occasional use of terms like “ops” and “intel.”

Mr. Matthews, who is sixty-three (63) years old, is also a novelist, one in a long line of real-life spies who have written spy thrillers. The tradition goes back at least to Erskine Childers, the Irish nationalist and gun smuggler who wrote the 1903 thriller “The Riddle of the Sands,” and includes Ian Fleming, John le Carré, Stella Rimington, Charles McCarry and even E. Howard Hunt, more famous for Watergate, who all reaped great fictional dividends from the Cold War.

Mr. Matthews said he got into novel writing as “therapy.” “Being in the Agency is a very experiential career, like being a policeman or a fireman or a jet pilot, and when it stops, it really stops,” he said. “There are retiree groups that get together, mostly in Washington, and sit around and swap war stories, but I was living in California, and it was either write something or go fishing.”

He was not a trained writer, he said, but he went to journalism school before being hired by the C.I.A., and a great deal of his work there consisted of writing cables and reports. He added: “A lot of new thrillers are written by people who have not lived the life, and a lot of them seem to be about a bipolar Agency guy, helped by his bipolar girlfriend, trying to chase a bipolar terrorist who has a briefcase nuke, and there’s twelve (12) hours left to go. My book is all fiction, but it’s an amalgam of people I’ve known, of things I’ve done, of stuff I’ve lived.”

Talking about the old-fashioned kind of tradecraft in “Palace of Treason,” he said, “I guess it’s a reflection of my age and my generation in the Agency, and a reaffirmation that in spite of all the gadgets, it’s still about two people. It’s called humint for a reason — it’s human intelligence — and the only thing that can do humint is humans.”

 All of his novels are set in contemporary Russia, where a pajama-clad Vladimir Putin even turns up in a character’s bedroom, but like the earlier novel, it’s old school. While there are a couple of James Bondian touches, like a pistol that looks like a tube of lipstick, the main characters — Dominika Egorova, a Russian agent secretly working for the United States, and Nate Nash, her C.I.A. lover and handler — depend mostly on traditional tradecraft. They spend a lot of time walking around and trying to avoid being followed. 

I found all three books to be extremely engaging.  Matthews is apparently at home in Paris, Rome, Moscow, Helsinki, Istanbul, London, Rio, Khartoum, and other cities an ex-spy might frequent or serve in.  He seems to have great knowledge of weapons and weapon systems used by the CIA and the “spooks” in the Russia. 

One thing that became apparent very quickly—Russia is not our friend and has never been considered by the CIA to have been our friend.  President Putin is portrayed as being a cold-blooded cutthroat out to enrich himself and above all, protect mother Russia.   I have a feeling this is an accurate assessment of Putin.

I can strongly recommend you take look at Mr. Matthew’s books starting with “Red Sparrow”.  That’s the firs in the trilogy and the one you need to set the pace for number two and number 3.

CALM CASH

January 12, 2020


QUESTION:  What is the number one cause for stress?

ANSWER:   Money continues to be the leading cause of stress for Americans, a new survey finds.  Financial worries served as a significant source of stress for sixty-four (64%) percent of adults in 2014, ranking higher than three other major sources of stress: 1.) work sixty (60%), 2.) family responsibilities forty-seven (47%) percent and 3.)  health concerns forty-six (46%) percent.  Nearly three out of four adults reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time, and about one in four adults said they experienced extreme stress over money during the past month, according to the report.

Let’s look at additional data provided to us by the American Institute of Stress.  (I found it very interesting that there was a body of individuals addressing and keeping track of stress in America. That really tells us something.)

The bottom line: we live with stress on a daily basis, at least most of us and the major cause seems to be money.  Do I have enough to retire comfortably?  How can I pay off my credit cards, student loans, equity mortgage, can I cover an emergency with enough cash without using cards?  All stress risers.  Take a look at the charts below to get a feel for where we are in this country.

According to CNBC News:

 Most people would be in a bind if they missed even one paycheck. Just forty (40%) percent of Americans could pay an unexpected $1,000 expense, such as an emergency room visit or car repair, with their savings, according to a survey from Bankrate.

OKAY, enough of that, you get the picture.  Now, how do we rectify or mitigate this situation?  Just what do we do?  Well, I have discovered an incredible pod cast that just might help.  CALM CASH.  This is a marvelous pod cast that zeros in on methodologies to manage and control the money we make regardless of how much that is.  The author, Ben Jackson, asks us to take the fifty-dollar ($50.00) challenge over the next seven (7) days.  He also presents several very interesting web sites and apps that can aid our efforts relative to that challenge.  Have you ever heard of the following?

  • SallieMayBank
  • Acorn
  • AskTrim.com

I had not, but have already started the process of exploring each.

In Ben’s second pod cast he discusses “The Best Time to Ask for a Raise”.   I was amazed at the strategy presented and the pre-planning needed to step up and ask for a meeting with your supervisor.  You don’t just walk in and ask for a raise.  If I had only known this information twenty (20) years ago it would have helped—big time.  I had never considered all of the various elements needed to convince your boss you are worth what they might pay you.  My experience tells me we sometimes find out what our peers make, we get furious, march in and proceed to make a complete fool of ourselves.  Ben has a better idea. 

The bottom line—you really need to listen and subscribe to this new pod cast.  It’s a real winner and may be found at (anchor.fm/calmcash).    The Instagram account is (@calmcashpodcast).  Ben will be posting a new episode each week.   I definitely recommend you listen each week to discover how to calm your nerves and cash into sources available to you from someone who knows.  He has been there—done that.

RED SPARROW

January 5, 2020


If you LOVE spy vs spy, you will absolutely love Red Sparrow.  A book written by Jason Matthews.  Jason Matthews is a retired officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in a clandestine collection of national security intelli­gence, specializing in denied-area operations. Matthews conducted recruitment operations against Soviet–East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets. As Chief in various CIA Stations, he collaborated with foreign partners in counterproliferation and counterterrorism operations. He is the author of Red SparrowPalace of Treason, and The Kremlin’s Candidate. He lives in Southern California. In other words, Mr. Matthews know whereof he speaks. 

The heroin of the book is a Russian young lady named Dominika Egorova.  Ms. Egorova is driven by her anger at the unjustness of the Russian system to become a double agent working for the CIA.  She yearned to be seen as an intelligent person with capabilities beyond her beauty and physical attractiveness. Dominika believed the Americans saw her worth and would treat her fairly where the Russians had not. Feeling used as a pawn by the Americans in a plan to replace a long-time double agent and rejected by her handler and lover Nathaniel “Nate” Nash, Dominika considered leaving her life as a spy. A violent twist at the end of the novel demonstrated the Russians’ lack of loyalty and trustworthiness and leaves the reader wondering if Dominika will reconsider her claim that she will cut ties with the Americans.

One very interesting fact—Ms. Egorova was diagnosed with synesthesia, a condition in which she could see music, words and even people’s emotions and intentions as colors. Dominika had a promising career in ballet. Her condition allowed her to follow the colors produced by the music as she danced. Shortly before an audition for the Bolshoi troupe, a jealous classmate arranged for Dominika to be injured in an accident. Dominika’s foot was broken and her career as a dancer ended. Shortly afterward, Dominika’s father died from a stroke. It was at her father’s funeral that her uncle, Vanya Egorova, proposed that she do a job for him for Russia’s secret service. He promised to take care of her mother if she cooperated.  Her mother was living in housing providing by the Russian government.  Dominika had no choice but to comply with her uncle’s wishes if she wanted to keep her widowed mother in government housing.  This leverage was used throughout the book. 

When Dominika suggested that she be sent to the SVR academy, it was deemed the perfect solution. Dominika finished her courses at the top of her class and was looking forward to a distinguished career as an officer, but her uncle instead informed her she would be going to Sparrow School. The school taught women how to seduce men in order to arrest them or elicit information from them. From that point forward, Dominika was seen by the men in the department only as a tool that could be used to seduce and draw in the men they hoped to recruit. One team leader even ruined a recruitment on which Dominika was working because she insisted she could recruit the man without the use of sex.

I absolutely loved the book.  It’s fast-moving with twists and turns that a non-CIA guy like myself certainly appreciate.  I do NOT feel it is predictable in the least although there were points in the book that were somewhat slower than others.  There are no car chases, plane crashes, mass murders, etc.  I would have liked more descriptive information relative to the incarceration Dominika experienced while in the hands of her Russian captors, the people sworn to protect her.  The Russian “spooks” really come off as terrible people interested only in advancing their own careers and providing information relative to CIA activities.   Dominika is frequently torn between hatred of the system and contributing to “mother Russia”.  

You are going to love this book, which is the first in the trilogy.  Red Sparrow, Place of Treason, and The Kremlin’s Candidate are the books in the series.  Great read. 

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS FOR 2020

January 4, 2020


I want us to hop into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and go back about twenty (20) years.  Two decades ago, at the start of the millennium, IT (Internet Technology) was deeply concerned about Y2K.  I remember being an employee of General Electric at that time and GE programmers were paranoid over what might happen relative to Y2K.  It was a big deal and preparation for an IT apocalypse was being considered.  I have no idea as to how many terabytes of data was backed up on a daily basis getting ready for what might happen.  Also, the iPhone, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and Facebook didn’t exist—had not been invented or at least commercialized.  So, what’s in store as a new decade begins?

Let’s take a very quick look at computer technology and how that technology drives just about everything we do now days.  Here we go:

Automation 2020: Hyper-automation.  In my younger years, I worked for a great engineer named Bob Ditto.  Now we are talking about the mid- 60’s so you will understand his vision when you hear his admonishment to me to get “computer-savvy” when the time comes.  He said: “if it can be automated, it will be automated and everyone better get ready for it.”  He was absolutely correct in that assessment.  Hyper-automation takes applications for performing various tasks to the next level. It enables application of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (MI), to increasingly automate processes and augment human requirements.

Multi-experience is the new experience 

From 2020 onward, multi-experience will see the traditional idea of computing evolve from a single point of interaction to include multisensory and multi-touchpoint interfaces, such as wearables and advanced computer sensors. Over the coming decade, this trend will become what is known as ambient experience.  If you read the literature, you will see that wearable technology is certainly one trend that will continue and advance relative to all possibilities, especially in wearable medical technology.   Multi-experience currently focuses on immersive experiences that use augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, multichannel human-machine interfaces and sensing technologies. 

Democracy, 2020 style

The democratization of technology means providing people with easy access to technical or business expertise without extensive or expensive training.  Most people in our society today are not programmers and even if we are, we are not proficient enough to exact usable code but the day is approaching where “citizen access” will be possible. “Citizen access” will focus on four key areas: 1.) application development, 2.) data and analytics, 3.) design, and 4.) knowledge.  Democratization is expected to see the rise of citizen data scientists, programmers and other forms of DIY technology engagement. For example, it could enable more people to generate data models without having the skills of a data scientist. This would, in part, be made possible through AI-driven code generation.

Augmentation gets human 

The controversial trend of human augmentation focuses on the use of technology to enhance an individual’s cognitive and physical experiences. It comes with a range of cultural and ethical implications. For example, using CRISPR (clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats) technologies to augment genes has significant ethical consequences. Physical augmentation changes an inherent physical capability by implanting or hosting a technology within or on the body. It’s a scary to think about human augmentation but that technology is being discussed and evaluated by medical literature.  Right now, most human augmentation is brought about by wearable technology but that is not the only way to accomplish specific ends.  Legislation is way behind this technology and it is truly sneaking up on the population at large.

Greater transparency and traceability

OKAY, do you really trust social media, GOOGLE, your bank, etc. with the data they collect on an hourly basis? You cannot go to an ATM without being tracked and documented.  You must know that.   This evolution of technology is creating a trust crisis. Particularly as consumers become more aware of how their personal data is collected and used, organizations are increasingly recognizing the liability of storing and gathering data. But many are also using AI and machine learning more to make decisions in place of humans.  This is a further cause of concern, which is driving the need for processes such as explainable AI and AI governance. This trend requires a focus on these key elements of trust: integrity, openness, accountability, competence and consistency. More legislation similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is likely to be enacted around the world in the coming years.  If you provide code you had better realize greater transparency will become a necessity in the upcoming decade.

The empowered edge

The growing edge computing trend is based on the idea that keeping traffic local and distributed will reduce latency. This involves a topology where information processing and content collection and delivery are placed closer to the sources of the information. The empowered edge employs the technology on the internet of things (IoT). This extends to the role of devices as the basis for smart spaces and moves key applications and services closer to the people and devices that use them. By 2023, there could be more than 20 times as many smart devices at the edge of the network as in conventional IT roles. 

The distributed cloud

The distributed cloud refers to the dispersal of public cloud services to locations outside the cloud provider’s physical data centers, while still in the control of the provider. In the distributed cloud, the provider is responsible for all aspects of cloud service architecture, delivery, operations, governance and updates.  The evolution from centralized public cloud to distributed public cloud ushers in a new era of cloud computing. The distributed cloud allows data centers to be located anywhere. This solves both technical and regulatory issues, such as latency and data sovereignty. It also offers the combined benefits of a public cloud service and a private, local cloud.  Now, with that in mind, there are many people who have issues with privacy when using the cloud.  Great idea but rife with areas where privacy can be compromised.  I certainly share these concerns and have had my engineering data compromised.  This is a real worry and companies providing cloud services must be on top of this one.

Even more autonomous things

Autonomous things, which include drones, robots, ships and appliances, exploit AI to perform tasks traditionally undertaken by humans. This technology operates on a spectrum of intelligence ranging from semiautonomous to fully autonomous and across a variety of environments including air, sea and land.  In this morning’s news, a segment regarding drones flying over Colorado and Kansas, logging data, is a concern.  No one seems to know what they are doing or who they are doing it for.  It remains, for the time being, a big mystery.   While currently, autonomous things mainly exist in controlled environments, such as warehouses, they will evolve to include open public spaces. Autonomous things will also move from standalone to collaborative swarms – such as the drone swarms used during the Winter Olympic Games in 2018.

Towards practical blockchain

Let’s define blockchain:  Blockchain technology enables distributed public ledgers that hold immutable data in a secure and encrypted way and ensure that transactions can never be altered. While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are the most popular examples of blockchain usage, this “distributed ledger technology” (DLT) is finding a broad range of uses. Data storage, financial transactions, real estate, asset management and many more uses are being explored

Enterprise blockchain today takes a practical approach and implements only some of the elements of a complete blockchain. Everyone with permissioned access sees the same information, and integration is simplified by having a single shared blockchain.  In the future, true blockchain or “blockchain complete” will have the potential to transform industries, and eventually the economy, as complementary technologies such as AI and the IoT begin to integrate alongside blockchain.  This expands the type of participants to include machines, which will be able to exchange a variety of assets. For example, a car would be able to negotiate insurance prices directly with the insurance company based on data gathered by its sensors. Moreover, blockchain will be fully scalable by 2023.

Greater AI security 

Evolving technologies such as hyper-automation offers transformational opportunities in the business world. However, they also create security vulnerabilities through potential new points of attack. Security teams must address these challenges and be aware of how AI will impact the security space. 

Future AI security will have three key perspectives: first, protecting AI-powered systems, securing AI training data, and training pipelines and machine learning models; secondly, leveraging AI to enhance security defense, and using machine learning to understand patterns, uncover attacks and automate parts of the cybersecurity processes; third, anticipating nefarious use of AI by attackers – identifying attacks and defending against them. 

CONCLUSIONS:  Get ready for another decade of disruptive technology—and this is only in the IT and computer world. 

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