Scott Dewing

Jefferson Monthly Contributor

Scott Dewing is a technologist, teacher, and writer. He writes the technology focused column "Inside the Box" for the Jefferson MonthlyScott lives on a low-tech farm in the State of Jefferson. He was born in the same year the Internet was invented and 3 days before men first landed on the moon. This does not make him special--just old.

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Once upon a time, about a 1,000 years ago in Internet years, people who wanted to use a computer had to invest some time into learning the fundamentals. These were in the ancient times before the Graphical User Interface, or GUI (pronounced “gooey”), which enabled users to use a mouse-pointer or a stylus or their finger to click on colorful icons and drop-down menu items.

The Quantum Race

Jun 1, 2015
IBM

All the big tech companies (and at least one U.S. government agency with the acronym NSA) are in a race to be the first to capture computing’s Holy Grail—the qubit. A qubit, or quantum bit, is the basic unit of information in a quantum computer. A qubit is different from a classical bit in computing, which can only exist in one state or another.

I’ve been writing about technology for just over a decade now. I’ve worked in the field of information technology for twice as long as that now and, most recently, had the distinguished title of “Director of Technology” bestowed upon me by my current employer. What I find most fascinating (and perhaps a bit disturbing) about this is that I still don’t know exactly what “technology” is. 

Here are some things that I learned on the Internet recently:

    

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A “bit” is the smallest unit of digital information. Put 8 bits together and you get a “byte”. Amass a billion bytes and you have a “gigabyte”. A thousand gigabytes is a “terabyte” (TB), which is the storage capacity of the hard drive in an average desktop computer today. Now imagine a billion 1TB hard drives. Together, all of those hard drives have the storage capacity of 1 zetabyte. 

“Britney Spears Instagrams Selfie With New Boyfriend”

That was the headline that caught my eye recently while scrolling through my Twitter feed. No, I’m not a fan of Britney Spears. I don’t follow her on Twitter (but I do follow The Huffington Post, which posted the story). I dislike her music. I find her stage apparel distasteful. I hate that we live in a world in which she has become wealthy and famous for being a solipsistic attention whore.

According to the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research and analysis think-tank that claims to have “invented the Postwar World,” the year 2015 is going to be awesome. This is the year I’ll be able to clone myself and get bionic biceps. With advanced brain scanning, I’ll copy everything I know (shouldn’t take long) and imprint it onto my clone’s brain. Through gene therapy, I’ll slow down my aging process and speed up my clone’s, stopping him at a younger version of myself so that he can do any physical labor that I don’t have time to take care of with my bionic biceps.

The Ultimate Question

Nov 1, 2014

In Douglas Adam’s novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, researchers from a “pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings”, construct a super computer called Deep Thought. The greatest computer of all time and space, Deep Thought is designed to calculate the answers to the universe’s deepest philosophical questions that even the race of highly intelligent beings are unable to answer such as: Why are we here? How did we get here? From where? What is the meaning of life?

“Deep learning is a set of algorithms in machine learning that attempt to model high-level abstractions in data by using model architectures composed of multiple non-linear transformations.”

If that makes perfect sense to you, you’re way smarter than me and should probably be working as a computer scientist at Google or something. If you actually do work for Google, good for you. If not, you’re likely still smarter than me (not much to brag about), but it’s me on this side of the page who’s responsible for explaining all that gobbledygook about “deep learning”.

www.visualphotos.com

One of my favorite scenes from the sci-fi movie The Matrix Reloaded, is when the protagonist, Neo, accompanies Councillor Hamann down into the engineering level of Zion, the underground city where members of the last remaining human society are hiding out from the machines seeking to destroy them.

If underwater crustaceans were superheroes, the mantis shrimp would most certainly be one. Mantis shrimp 

  live in shallow tropical and sub-tropical waters. They are only 6–12 inches in length, but pack a powerful punch. The two raptorial appendages on the front of the mantis shrimp’s body can accelerate with the speed of a bullet fired from a .22 caliber rifle. In less than three-thousandths of a second, the mantis shrimp can strike its prey with 1,500 Newtons of force—roughly the equivalent of getting hit by a 300-pound brick.

In his essay “The Morality of Things,” the late writer Bruce Chatwin asserted, “All civilizations are by their very nature ‘thing-oriented’ and the main problem of their stability has been to devise new equations between the urge to amass things and the urge to be rid of them.”

Chatwin was obsessed with things. Before emerging as a prominent and much-celebrated travel writer with a keen sensibility for place, Chatwin worked as an art dealer at Sotheby’s where he became an expert in Impressionist art.

Tinder Is The Night

May 29, 2014

 

"Someday I’m going to find

somebody and love him and

love him and never let him go.”

‑from Tender Is The Night
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Internet was not designed with security in mind. It was developed by computer scientists, most who knew one another personally, with the goal of interconnecting computers (at the time, large mainframes) and moving data back and forth. Security adds a layer of complexity and the task before them was complex enough. So they pressed forward, perhaps unaware that they were laying an unsecure foundation for what would decades later become a critical global communications infrastructure that today has more than 8 billion computing devices connected to it.

Shattered Windows

Dec 31, 2013

An “operating system” is what underlies all the various digital devices you use on a daily basis. Without it, your smartphone, computer, or tablet is just a collection of silicon, plastic, various metals, and some glass. The operating system, or OS, is the software that allows these otherwise inanimate objects to come to life. Other applications hum along on top of the OS. Without it, these apps are just a collection of code that can do nothing.

Every new technology is a Frankenstein. Once it is created it is no longer in the control of its creator and once released into the world, it may behave in ways the creator never intended. That’s not to say that all new technologies are monsters; rather, it’s to point out the inherent duality in every new technology to be both good and bad. To put it simply: technology is not neutral.