On standardization, hard vs software, and privacy

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Although I felt a little lost in what was being discussed in today’s seminar, there were interesting points that were brought up that are worth reflecting on. First is the issue of standardization.  Next will be the competing design philosophies.  And finally, privacy will be given another look.

It seems that economics gets in the way of establishing standards.  For instance, the emojis between iOS and Android devices are sometimes incompatible, resulting in a box-with-question-mark-inside “emoji.”  This often surprises and might even scare the user into thinking that there is a bug in their phone.  By standardizing what the bits represent, problems like this could be alleviated, and we could finally know the full meaning of the message.  However, the issue is not how hard is it to implement.  Rather, it is who gets to decide what the standards are, and who will have to change to follow these standards.  If Google’s rules becomes the standard, then Apple will not only spend millions of dollars changing their source code, but they will risk losing their customer base.  Arguably, setting standards for the network early on was an ingenious move, rather than trying to please all the different entities with their unique computers.  However, what standardization does is remove uniqueness.  Progress only occurs at the rate at which the standardizer wants.  A more nuanced analysis of standardization should take place because if we rely on economics to give us a clear answer, it would most likely be “It depends.”

Discussing about the design philosophies regarding the hardware and software of the Internet was intriguing.  Hardware was designed by companies such as Honeywell, with university professors working on it.  Furthermore, this hardware was designed for a specific purpose, making it inflexible with certain tasks.  On the other hand, software was seen as the less noble pursuit.  Thus, graduate students were put in charge of it.  Additionally, it was designed to be malleable.  This dichotomy further reinforces the idea of hardware and software; one is hard to modify and done by certain groups, while the other is soft to change and can be done by many people.  This idea in technology is still reflected in the present day.  Not everyone can make their own computer hardware, but almost anyone with a computer can make software.

The last but certainly not the last that we will hear of it, privacy.  Jim brought up an interesting point about cellphones: they always know where you are, even with location services turned off.  Although this was required by law for emergency purposes, is it really ethical for our movements be able to be tracked?  Tying back to the article discussed last week, how much information being collected is too much information?  This problem will only exacerbate as technology progresses and becomes more integrated into our lives.  Do we have to trade our privacy for customization and convenience?  

Living in the moment

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A good piece of advice my mentor taught me was to “live in the present” and to “stop thinking about the unchangeable past and unforeseeable future.”  Taking this advice to heart, I was able to enjoy each event of my life more, from family dinners at McDonald’s to beach-watching with my friends.  Although it has served me great, it didn’t make me prepare as well as I liked for my transition from home to overwhelming college life.

On this note, the large magnitude of users has also overwhelmed the Internet, especially in regards to security.  It is interesting to think that cyber security issues we face today might not have existed if the developers of the early Internet have thought ahead.  Would viruses, malware, and their companions have ever existed?  Would hacking into a system have been impossible if the developers had security in mind?  It is hard to tell, but this is an issue that will only get more difficult as our technology advances.

Further reflecting on our discussion, I could not help but notice a trend of shifting away from closed-source-specialization to open-source-general-purpose.  Amazon and Microsoft are willing to sacrifice personal profits in order to compete effectively against other AI giants and to hopefully provide a better end-user experience.   From the start, the Internet itself was a tool only for scientists and researchers, but is now a tool that billions of people can access and wield.  Why does this trend exist, especially in regards to technology and the Internet?

My mentors words have done me well, but I still look back at the static past to prepare for the dynamic future and understand the present moment.  I am looking forward to diving deeper in the history of the Internet to examine the ideas and events that shaped it to what it is today and to think about what we could to do to prepare for its dynamic future.

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