A Drone in Every Pot

The FAA is currently reviewing rules for the operation of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) within the United States.  This is a pretty hot topic for a number of reasons.  The currently interested party is law enforcement, but that will soon change.  This is how you will probably see the progress of the UAV’s intrusion into your life.

The local municipalities will immediately invest in a number of these toys for the obvious reason that they are cheaper than a helicopter and provide a better level of service.  For example, UAV’s have the advantage of having a quicker time to flight since pre-flight checks are simplified without the risk of human life. They could in theory be launched from law enforcement headquarters, or satellite locations throughout the city. Also, without the human payload and the supporting structure, they are much lighter, giving a longer time in the air.

Cheaper means that a law enforcement agency can possibly afford 2 or more.  So while they may start out being used for tracking fugitives, they soon will morph to other areas, such a speed monitoring and routine patrols.  Eventually, law enforcement UAV presence will be 24/7.

But the cops aren’t the only ones that get to have all the fun.  Expect the next on the scene to be the news agencies.  Start with traffic, which is very expensive to produce currently and generally sucks compared to online offerings.  A quick UAV flight of major choke points will be a cheaper alternative.  The next progression will likely be breaking news.  At some point in the near future, expect any major crime to have a hornet’s nest of police and news UAVs buzzing around the scene.

So now we have the police and media making serious commercial use of UAV’s, likely to the point where prices start to drop.  There will be a tipping point where it will become financially possible to use UAV’s for advertisement.  At that point, unless there is sufficient rule making, the skies are going to be filled with these flying buggers.

So now that there is a thriving commercial market, technological innovation will advance rapidly.  This will come in three areas.  First, camera optics will advance allowing much better observation.  Second, we will see advancement in power sources, such as fuel cells and batteries.  Third will be the reduction in the size of UAV’s.   Up until now, we have been talking about UAV’s the size of a Piper or Cessna.  When it becomes profitable and power technology is sufficiently advanced, UAV’s will start to shrink.  Once they get less than a couple of feet, society will change radically.

Imagine we have UAV’s the size of a purse.  Privacy in public will be lost.  There will not be a space so small that a UAV will not be able to fill.  How will trespassing laws adapt to UAV’s that can park themselves completely around a building covering every window and door?  With speeds far exceeding any automobile and better maneuverability to boot, you have the ultimate paparazzi. Public conversations would no longer be private. A simple mention of personal information in public could lead to identity theft.  Particularly brazen thieves might employ UAV’s for snatch and grab crimes.

The presence of drones will open a Pandora’s Box for the average citizen.  With their extended reach, the power of the government and commercial interests will intrude upon a great many aspects of our personal lives.  Hopefully, legislators are smart enough to see the storm coming before we have too large of a mess.

First thing we do is kill all the lawyers: The Evolution of the Legal System

If there is a single profession I despise more than that of the lawyer, I am hard pressed to think of it at the moment.  The law itself is a beautiful thing, bringing sanity and consistency to an unruly world.  The constitution of the United States, its raw simplicity and subtle power, is a document that other countries attempt to emulate.  However, where the law breaks down is through the process of human intervention. Legal frameworks have been with us since the time of Hannibal, but over this period the legal code has absorbed increasing levels of complexity.  Some of it is to right perceived wrongs, but others are to correct basic flaws in human nature.

And at the center of all this is the lawyer.  A person than exists primarily due to the past efforts of others in his profession.  One can argue that in ancient times, any reasonable person could mount his own defense as the level of legal precedent was quite small.  But now with the staggering volume of rulings, precedents, exceptions and other general BS, it is quite impossible for an individual to control their legal destiny. Thus the presence of a lawyer is a requirement if you have to darken the steps of the courthouse.

So what can the future hold for the legal profession?  The obvious answer is that the volume of information that one has to deal with is more easily managed with today’s technology.  But I submit a far more foreboding prediction for those pursuing a career in the law.  The lawyer as a profession is heading for extinction and I say good riddance to Matlock and all his cohorts.

The basic foundation of law is that it is based on reason. And one problem with the current practice of law is that reason has become clouded with subjective information.  Press conferences are the first shot in any significant legal proceeding.   The spin and propaganda are carefully crafted in an attempt to influence the potential jury pool.  This effort is so effective, juries are routinely sequestered after selection.  And the selection process itself requires a significant portion of the trial to complete what was once a  mundane task.  These attempts to game the system have nothing to do with the law.  They are playing on emotion and it subverts the very process in play.

So the obvious step is to remove the subjective element from the law.  How do we achieve that?  Well, it is elementary my dear Watson.  IBM’s Watson, that is.  This new technology, showcased so elegantly on Jeopardy, has shown the beginning of natural language processing and basic reasoning in a computing system.  Is it as good as a human?  Yes and no.  For recall of facts and simple decision making based on those facts, I’d wager Watson against most any human on the planet.  Thus, I believe you could make a case that Watson could be as good as a public defender or an assistant district attorney in digging through precedent and finding the root of an issue.  The rest will follow in time.

I would imagine that the process would work something like this.  The evidence is collected from both sides and the system decides what is relevant to the case.  It can at that point it can decide which witnesses need to be called.  Testimony is given through the direction of the system and recorded.  The final totality of all factors is summarized and presented to the jury in the form of a narrative.  It is from this dispassionate, objective narrative that they jury makes their decision. No emotion, just the facts. Cases could be decided in minutes and hours instead of days.

No more plea deals because of insufficient resources or bad representation because of overworked lawyers. Many cases are tossed out or pleaded down for these reasons. Cases that make it to court will no longer result in bankruptcy or general financial devastation for the client from legal fees. Automation for the routine cases would allow the full effect of justice to be felt and the process to be truly blind to external influence.

Granted, it sounds a little Orwellian for most people, but the jury is still there which satisfies the Constitution.  It’s just that the lawyers are taken out of the equation.  The appellate court system functions specifically for review of lower court trial errors so you have a backstop in case of system failure.

Are we there yet?  No, but I’m not sure that we are that far off.

What Google Needs for Key Lime Pie and Beyond

Jellybean has smoothed some of the rough edges of Android. Project Butter addressed one the problems of fluidity of the interface. Google Now brings the Android version of Siri to the masses. But there are few other places where Android could use some work. Here are few suggestions for the Googleplex.

Convergence – RIM, may they rest in peace, had a good thing going with the Blackberry in many respects. One feature that I miss dearly is that of messaging convergence. All communications can be viewed from a central Inbox and acted on from there as well. To some degree, the Android notifications perform this function, but they are a single shot. Once you dismiss them, you have to go to each individual messaging application to act on them. A single Inbox for all your Facebook, Linked-In, email and Google Voice messages would allow easier management of all your communications. This could be combined with a social aggregator widget. Motorola had a good idea with their Blur interface, but only a so-so implementation.

Hardware standardization – If there is one aspect of the Apple ecosystem that I envy, it is that you can plug most any iDevice into one of their connectors and route power, audio and control to an external unit. This has allowed a rich market of peripherals to exist and these devices are incorporated in diverse products such as cars, kiosks and even gym equipment. It is something woefully absent from the Android market. Yes, there are some docks, but they are proprietary for each model. A single connector standard would bring manufacturers out en mass almost immediately and would allow hardware parity with Apple.

Convenience buttons – Since the release of ICS, Google has depreciated hardware buttons, but I think this is a big mistake. A great feature of Blackberry was the presence of convenience buttons, configurable buttons that could be attached to nearly event. If you are a photographer, link one button to the camera app. If you are a search junkie, connect one to Google Now. These hardware shortcut keys would greatly increase usability.

Android Experience Index – There is a glaring problem in Android that is hurting adoption. There are a large number of really crappy devices out there that provide a poor Android experience. And unless you follow Android or are somewhat techy, you don’t really know that you might be picking up a bum device. I speak from experience. After having several less than stellar devices, I now have a Galaxy Nexus running jellybean. This is the device that finally shows me Android with the speed and fluidity where I don’t bog down. Perhaps Google should take a page from Microsoft and Windows 7 and give some type of gauge of the Android performance for a piece of hardware. This would let consumers know what they are getting into and allow them to more easily compare devices.

Advanced Bluetooth Video/Touchscreen Specification – This is the one that would shake the world. Google should author a bluetooth specification that would allow a slave touch screen to connect to an Android phone. Why, you ask? Because it would allow manufacturers to fully integrate Android to almost ANY product. Imagine for a minute if Toyota or Ford implemented such a specification. You would get into you car and you could see your phone in the dash.  The full power of the device is available to you while it is still in your pocket. No need to sync your contacts and the voice dial would be the one that you are familiar with. You could use your favorite music player on your phone. Google Navigation would fully integrate into your audio system. When you upgrade your phone, your car would have those upgrades. All the auto manufacturers would have to provide is a touchscreen and bluetooth interface.

Healthcare Reform – Irrational Consumers

The actual thought of price comparisons on medical services seems almost ridiculous. You don’t cut costs on your health. But that’s exactly the problem. If you had forethought and a choice between two procedures; One was $10,000 and the other $100,000, both with equal chance of success, which would you choose?

An individual having a heart attack typically does not provide a preference for which hospital they are taken to by ambulance. It typically is based on distance. Unless one is specifically staffed for cardiac emergencies, you will most likely be taken to the closest.

You probably don’t have time to the go on line and check the prices for cardiac services. Even then, these prices are typically are not available. Think about this. When is last time you when to a restaurant and ate without knowing the price of the meal? Would you even entertain eating at such a place? Probably not because you don’t know if the veal is $10 or $150. These are rational consumer choices that you apply to everything except health care.

These choices are not typically provided to us and they are mechanism through which competitive market forces prices down. We don’t allow this to happen, thus we are irrational consumers.

HMO’s do provide this service to a limited extent by in network and out of network coverage. They pre-negotiate rates to try to get the best prices on services. If you work with in their network, you are getting the best rates they could find.

On the individual side, Heath Savings Accounts try to encourage this behavior. This type of account combines a tax free savings account with a high deductible health plan. The idea is that the consumer controls spending from the HSA up to the deductible. Since the consumer is in charge, they tend to make better choices.

Healthcare – Market Reform

A core problem with the American health care system is that its market is fundamentally flawed. Part of this is due to laws created to provide humanitarian treatment during medical emergencies. In 1986, congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. Before EMTALA, if you showed up at an emergency room without proof of insurance, you could be turned away. Under this new law, hospitals would be required to provide services no matter the financial status of the patient.

Under EMTALA, there became less of an incentive for people to get insurance since emergency care would always be provided. And since the uninsured will be will be far less likely to pay their bill, someone has to cover these costs which are estimated at 55% of all emergency services. This results in hospitals raising their prices for services, which typically falls on the insured, raising premiums. Thus, you have a perverse incentive for the purchase of health insurance.

A large percentage of the uninsured are young healthy Americans. These individuals would contribute more to insurance revenues rather than costs. Therefore, a possible solution is to require obligatory coverage. By doing so, we expand the risk pool of Americans to lower per capita insurance costs. Since most Americans are now insured, the cost of EMTALA is reduced, which lowers costs across the board. This is a market based approach to the concept of socialized medicine.

There is another positive side effect. Since insurance is mandatory, anyone showing up for treatment without insurance would most like be an undocumented alien. These individuals could be treated and turned over to immigration officials thus easing the loads on ICE. However, it is also likely that illegals would purchase insurance to prevent easy discovery. Either outcome is a net positive for health care.

As a libertarian, the thought of mandated insurance is in exact opposite to my core principles. But the other solution is to turn away people at the hospital that are not insured or don’t have an insurance bond. I’m not sure any libertarian could support that ideal.

Healthcare – Cost Benefit Analysis

People complain about HMO’s and “drive-by medicine.” They say that hospital stays should be longer and more comprehensive. But what happens when the controls are released and the floodgates are open? Let’s say that an indigent mother gives birth to a premature child. We have the medical technology to save the child. But at what cost? $100,000 to $1,000,000 is not uncommon for this type of service today. Perhaps you think it’s ok for the taxpayer to foot this bill at this level. But, what happens when it becomes $10,000,000?

We have not come to the point of accepting that actuarial decisions MUST be part of health care. If you have X dollars to spend and there is a request for $1,000,000 in treatment for a single case, it has to be determined how that money is best spent. A bleeding heart liberal would say the insurance companies make too much profit so make them save everyone. But the insurance companies just pass those costs on to the consumers, which is our current problem.

On a related note, will someone please take Sarah Palin moose hunting and not bring her tired ass back? Her idiocy in blabbering about supposed “Death Panels” was the stupidest thing that a conservative could have done. End of life counseling was the one sound fiscally conservative aspect of the heath care reform bill. But no, politics are more important than real reform.

On the Nature of Human Intelligence

What is the nature of intelligence? Is it just you or the sum of you and any tools you have at your disposal? For the purposes of an IQ test, it would be just the organic part. However, on your job were it really counts, all bets are off. You are allowed any trick in the book to achieve your goal. And in your personal life, you set the rules. I submit that we have already entered the Cyborg age. It may not be exactly what you expected from reading science fiction, but the details are just speed and interface.

The typical techie has some type of wireless Internet access at most times, be it 3G, EVDO or wifi hotspot. With this technology, you are able to access such on-line resources such as Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha, or the Internet Move Database. If you can access this information at any time and place, doesn’t it make it part your smarts? I mean you can get the information, perhaps not with the speedof Marilyn vos Savant. But you could easily wax her tail with the sheer volume of information available. Who played Lumpy on leave it to Beaver? Suck on that, Marilyn. It’s given that only part of intelligence is pure recall, but it’s an important part. Original and theoretical constructs are key piece of total cranial horsepower. But even each of these are based on a foundation of basic recall.You could argue based on the premise that we have been in the Cybernetic age since the first written word. But I submit that carrying around the Library of Congress is impractical. It is only the confluence of wireless devices and the Internet that finally makes the total of human knowledge available on demand.

There was a time when students weren’t allowed to use calculators during a test. Now its pretty common if not encouraged. And now we are seeing Internet access accepted on tests as well. Thus, the total of the human experience now includes handheld devices.

4chan: Defenders of the Internet?

4chan is at it again, bless their little trollish hearts. They’ve taken up the role of vigilante force for the media pirates on the Internet. I pointed out at some point in the past that the evolution of the Internet would include a de-facto police force, since meat space jurisprudence can’t work at cyber speed. I think we are starting to see that take place.

The current tactics, however, will probably not make much of an impact. The sites being targeted are of very little economic importance. If you take down the web site for a bunch of lawyers, you are really aren’t affecting their ability to do their job. However, if they start to wise up and focus their efforts on better targets, they could have a significant impact.

For example, if one were to properly approach the problem, then the impact to commerce must be maximized. There are a number of weak spots they could focus on. I wonder the effect of DDOS’ing a major motion picture studio’s web site for a new movie, right before the big release. If it could have an impact on the opening weekend numbers, then you might have something. Particularly, if the studio blamed the failure of their movie on 4chan. Now that would make CNN and the other studios would sit up and take notice. They also might think really hard about their participation in the RIAA campaigns.

Of course it could stir up the Obama justice squad, too.

Antibiotics, Sewage and Superbugs

>Do you know where the next plague will come from? Neither do I, but the smart money might be on the sewage treatment plant around the corner from your house. The medical establishment has known for a while that the over prescribing of common antibiotics has created a series of newly resistant bacteria. I submit that the sludge slithering under your street may be a bigger problem in the long run.

Very few antibiotics are fully metabolized. You excrete some amount whenever you use the toilet. When you are sick, you excrete some of the bacteria as well. Plus, there are many types of moderately harmful bacteria that exist in even the cleanest bathrooms such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, E-coli, Salmonella and Campylobactor. All this is floating around in raw sewage, which is a fantastically rich growth medium.

So what you have here is a large, open air petri dish. Bacteria are free to grow, divide and mutate at will. Combine multiple strains of bacteria competing within this medium and you have a little evolutionary microcosm, with weaker strains dying and the stronger flourishing. Just wait until one of the winners hitches a ride out of the plant and makes its way to the general population.

Is the risk small? Certainly. Is it zero? You wish.

Android and the Linux Desktop

I’m going to break one of my own rules by making a prediction. The year of the Linux desktop will be in 2014. Now, let’s talk about how I’ve arrived at this conclusion.

Android is picking up steam, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think there will be anything to stop it. Apple currently owns more market share and the iPad will give Mr. Jobs a momentary boost, but the problem is this; Apple controls the hardware and the software. There is no room for any other company to make money. And companies love money.

In the past, this would have meant that Motorola, Samsung, et al would have gone it alone to attempt to control a piece of the market. But, with android they can join forces to an extent and take advantage of a huge development community. This “friendly” competition will push prices down and keep android more affordable than the iPhone. Also, this results in Apple vs. the world, AND Apple doesn’t have significant vendor lock in. Additional factors are: AT&T’s quality of service, and the Google factor. There should be a strong and steady migration to the android smartphone platform with a strongly superior market share by mid 2011.

The Ipad may revolutionize computing, but my bet is more like a solid selling niche product. However, android is hot on it’s heels in this market as well, with a number of tablets soon to be released at significantly lower price points. Based on early price projections, the rest of the market is aiming to undercut the iPad significantly. At the current estimates, I would expect for android to surpass the iPad’s market share by late 2012.

With one or two important computing platforms invading people lives, it will eventual become necessary to get more serious with some of the data and applications. While touch interfaces are a leap forward in usability in the mobile arena, they aren’t very information dense compared to a keyboard. Imagine writing a book using gestures. Therefore, there will be a natural progression toward systems that allow the user to more fully utilize the android environment.

This may come in the form of an android based netbooks or a full linux distro. I’m expecting android netbooks to hit the market around mid 2012. If the price point stays in line with the currnet android tablet projections, there should be significant market share by early 2014.

Thus, we have the year of the Linux Desktop (er, netbook)