The Transformative Power of the Internet – Plus Your Weekend Reads

In the 21st century the world runs on the internet. But so very few of us understand the power behind the mouse. In part four of the DorobekINSIDER’s interview with journalist and author Andrew Blum, we look at how these connected networks are transforming the way we live, work and think.

It seems to be me we don’t really understand this framework that we have built our life around?

“I feel that more and more everyday. I feel we have built this thing that nobody understands. My favorite recent example, was the news article about Chinese hackers who hacked the Google server containing the targets of FBI investigations. We operate with that kind of interconnectedness and yet it seems to be out of control, it starts to feel very scary. It starts to seem that we have built something that nobody understands,” said Blum.

Connecting the networks?

“The information is stored in these massive, massive computing systems. There is a large vocal effort to apply big data analytics, which yes, sounds very interesting and could be applied to anything from healthcare to national security, but is another way of saying we have too much stuff to actually read all this data. We have created a set of systems that are bigger than we can possibly imagine and understand,” said Blum.

Dots can be connected? What if GPS data can be connected to your insurance company and they can tell how fast you actually were driving?

“There are ways of thinking of these issues in civil liberties and privacy terms. But then there is also this recognition that at the moment we are enthralled with a venture capital vision of making everything magic and seamless. Yet, we are doing it really fast. And we are doing it with very little awareness of what the consequences might be. I am a strange type of technology writer, in that I write about physical things, but every single month I keep saying, “Really, this is really what we are doing?” I am always asking, “Who understands this?” It looks like it is all integrated. But oftentimes, it sort of spirals out of control,” said Blum. “A few months ago, American Airlines cancelled all of its flights, after a glitch in the software required to load fuel was found. It is these tiny cogs in this massive system, that for the most part do amazing things.”

Was this a place that captured the internet?

“I went to Cornwall, to the western tip of England, to explore the underseas cables. It has always been the place where the telegraph cables landed. It is as far out in the Atlantic as you can get. It is also the place where many of the trans atlantic fiber optic cables land. I spent the day at the cable landing station for Level 3, the place I was staying was essentially a B&B above the cable. Obviously there was wifi. But, I did a traceroute to try and find out where this wifi was going, and to get to New York you went back to London and back underneath. Just the same way you would if you were flying. That sort of connection between the ethereal geography of the internet and the physical geography of the world that we know was the same. That is the heart of the book,” said Blum.

Blum and Dorobek’s discussion was part of FCW’s “what’s now and what’s next” series.

Weekend Reads:

  • BW: What Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Learned About the Business of War
    • Erik Prince is not whining, he wants that clear. “However much I had to put up with, in terms of the assault from all sides, from the lawyers and the bureaucrats, pales in comparison to guys who lost their lives, who were maimed, either active-duty military or contractors,” he says. “I’m just providing a cautionary tale to the next guy dumb enough to run to the sound of the alarm bell. Because the government can drop you on a dime and leave you hanging.” For Prince, who in less than a decade took an obscure military training facility, Blackwater USA, and transformed it, with government contracts, into a billion-dollar company before selling it in late 2010, even score-settling is a public service.
  • We recommended this earlier in the week, but it was recommended by The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal and I think it is worth your weekend time:
    • HealthCare.gov and the gulf between planning and reality. The problem with HealthCare.gov was not mainly a timeline problem or a budget problem — nor was it a hiring or procurement problem. The problem, writes Clay Shirky, technology writer and professor at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, “was that the site did not work, and the administration decided to launch it anyway.” Washington has neither the right management nor cultural attributes to lead major tech initiatives. “The vision of ‘technology’ as something you can buy according to a plan, then have delivered as if it were coming off a truck, flatters and relieves managers who have no idea and no interest in how this stuff works, but it’s also a breeding ground for disaster,” he writes. “Whichever party is in the White House will build and launch new forms of public service online. Unfortunately for us, the last new technology the government adopted for interacting with citizens was the fax.”
  • The Focused Leader – Harvard Business Review
    • A primary task of leadership is to direct attention.To do so, leaders must learn to focus their own attention. When we speak about being focused, we commonly mean thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions. But a wealth of recent research in neuroscience shows that we focus in many ways, for different purposes, drawing on different neural pathways—some of which work in concert, while others tend to stand in opposition.

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