Thoughtful bits is a monthly summary of technologies and solutions that may have an significant impact on business or society. My hope is this information will help you understand the possibilities of what can be achieved and inspire you to expand your expectations and solve hard problems.

Thoughtful bits is posted on the 8th day of each month (I apologize for being a bit behind). The list of technologies and solutions will be short for two reasons: the focus will be on what’s potentially impactful (there may not be a lot to share); and keeping the list to a minimum will reduce clutter and allow you to think more deeply about the content provided (less is more).

If you have technologies or solutions you would like to share, leave a comment. Your contributions are welcomed!

Enabling Technologies

  1. Rust Programming Language
  2. Ur/UL

Potentially Impactful Solutions

  1. Palantir
  2. Humin
  3. Emotiv

Thought Provoking Points of View

  1. Web Freedom – The freedom of speech in the online world continues to be a tricky issue. Autocratic regimes and technologies that promote information democracy (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) simply don’t mix. Russia’s most recent law that requires all Russian content to be stored in Russian data centers is an attempt to control the flow of information and will be a challenge for multi-national companies operating in the region. This article paints a picture of the challenges with web freedom and how the technology companies are responding. We are living in a global connected world and should be mindful of the power we have in social media. And, how that power is perceived by regimes around the world.

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Enabling Technologies

1. Rust Programming

What is it? Rust is a general purpose compiled programming language sponsored by the Mozilla Research (licensed under Apache License, Version 2.0). There are many programming languages available so why another one? The objective of Rust is to provide for safe memory usage inherent in JavaScript, Ruby, Python, while enabling the efficiency and low level control of C and C++. Rust focuses on the safe memory usage and concurrency by verifying variables, functions, expressions, etc. are declared consistently at compile time (statically typed).

What’s the value? A significant amount of software vulnerabilities are caused by dangling pointers. These memory errors (e.g., buffer overflow, dangling pointers) are virtually eliminated because the compiler flags them at compile time – can’t compile and run the code. This also eliminates issues such as race conditions because memory ownership is forced. On the surface it may appear that static typing will make programming more time consuming, not so with Rust. Developers should take an existing C or C++ (or any programming language) function and code it in Rust, they’ll come to appreciate the language and fears of will be put to rest.

Where does it apply? Rust can be used to develop memory safe, fast, large scale enterprise and web-facing applications. The memory safe properties makes it a good alternative to C and C++. Learning Rust learning curve is not that significant because the similarity to C, C++, JavaScript, and Python (list not all inclusive) makes it easier for developers to take the leap.

When will it be commercially available? Version 1.0.0 alpha was released January 5, 2015

Reference Links:

Technical Reference – Rust Programming Language web site, Rust DocumentationGitHub, Opensource Article

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2. Ur/Web

What is it? Ur/Web is the result of years of research and development performed by Adam Chlipala, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. This is a compiled programming language that promises to simplify the development of web sites by incorporating the technologies used today. Ur/Web uses a functional style of programming much the same as Haskell or ML.

What’s the value? JavaScript may be used to deliver the business logic, HTML and CSS is used to layout the web page, XML may be used to structure the data, and some SQL is used to query the data. Ur/Web allows the developer to use one language to perform these tasks, thereby streamlining development and increasing developer productivity. Additionally, Ur/Web implements strong typing which requires the definition of function inputs and outputs. This requirement eliminates vulnerabilities associated with malicious code injection.

The challenge with Ur/Web is the learning curve required. Time will tell if the value of simplicity and security will outweigh the effort required to make the transition.

Where does it apply? As implied, Ur/Web applies to the development of web applications. It’s worthwhile to take a look at Ur/Web and determine if it’s a fit for your web development projects. This is an interesting language but it may not be suitable for all applications.

When will it be commercially available? Ur/Web is available today and has been used to develop web sites.

Reference Links:

Non-Technical Reference: Taking the Grunt Work Out of Web Development, MIT Aims to Simplify Web Development, Ur/Web Bundles the Web Development Languages into a Compiled Programming Language 

Technical Reference: Ur/Web web site, Ur/Web White Paper

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Potentially Impactful Solutions

Please note, this is not an endorsement of any products or services. The content is intended to provide background information and raise awareness. Your research and analysis should determine if the solution solves a real business problem in your environment.

1. Palantir

What is it? Palantir is an open and extensible data platform that focuses on speed, agility, and scale to solve hard problems. There are two main components to the platform: data fusion and analytical applications. The data fusion layer provides for the integration with data sources – access, ingestion, transformation, and secure management of the data. At this point analytics can be applied to answer the hard questions. An intuitive user interface is provided to enable the user to answer any question using natural language queries (no SQL development).

What’s the value? Palantir is a powerful platform that presents data in a way that enables humans to analyze and solve hard problems. Its openness allows it to be used with any structured or unstructured data source. Its extensibility enables any type of analytics ranging from data correlation to complicated quantitative analysis. The value is not only the platform but the speed in which the problem can be solved – weeks rather than months or years.

Where does it apply? The platform has a large presence in government agencies, legal research, and the financial industry. Palantir has been used to track terrorists, identify fraud, and provide analytics for insurance carriers (list not all inclusive). It’s truly a universal platform that provides value to any industry, not just limited to the three areas above.

When is it commercially available? The platform has been available since 2004. You may ask, why include this technology in the post? After all it’s been available since 2004 and not new technology. I’ve been following Palantir for quite a while and very impressed with the company and their innovative approach to technology. Their objective is to “make people better at their most important work”. This statement alone makes Palantir a company that is worth doing business with.

Reference links: Palantir, Palantir Technologies, Unlocking Secrets If Not its Own ValueTechCrunch Article, History of Palantir

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2. Humin

What is it? Humin is a mobile app that replaces your contacts application on iOS and Android devices. It accesses the calendar, contacts, email, and social network accounts (Facebook and LinkedIn) to create context for each interaction.

What’s the value? Today’s contact applications are single purpose and don’t provide context. They serve the basic purpose of making a call or pulling up contact information but they don’t help to deepen connections. Humin enriches connections with your contacts by making relevant information (e.g., last interaction, where you met, what are they passionate about) intuitively available during the interaction. How many times do you search for email conversations you’ve had with a person before you call them? Having the information handy simply saves time. 

Let’s talk about concerns. My initial concern was privacy. Do I trust Humin with my information? Fortunately Humin passes the data accessed (email, Facebook, and LinkedIn) to your device and doesn’t store it on their servers. I’ll research the privacy of this application in more detail to understand what information is accessed on the phone and source systems, and how the information is used.

Where does it apply? The application is useful for all mobile phone users. Sales personnel will find the application most useful. Sure there are other applications available to improve interactions (e.g., Refresh). Unfortunately those applications are more intrusive and raise privacy concerns.

When is it commercially available? Humin is available for download. The application does have a few bugs (e.g., periodic hangs, etc.) so you have to be a bit patient. Over time these bugs will be addressed and the application will stabilize.

Reference links: Humin, New York Times Article

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3. Emotiv

What is it? I admit this has a far fetched utility value, for now. Emotiv is a wearable that measures, observes and images the brain. There are two wearables products, EPOC and Insight, that use EEG (Electroencephalography) to capture the data. EEG is an alternative to FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Why EEG? The intent is to provide a lower cost option and get it in the hands of many, thereby driving innovation more quickly. The downside of EEG is that it doesn’t capture as much spatial data. It attempts to compensate for this shortcoming by collecting massive amounts of temporal data.

What’s the value? There are many areas of value for this technology ranging from understanding and improving cognitive health to enhancing experiences of systems we interact with. Below are a few examples of tremendous value.

  • The ability to detect a decline in neuroplasticity (brain’s ability to adapt to changing environment) and take corrective action. Understanding the aging effects on the brain in near real-time is truly powerful.
  • Understand thoughts and reactions without questioning. Have you ever been approached to participate in a market study? Rather than fill out a survey they can use Emotiv to capture your brain activity as you observe or test the product. (I’m oversimplifying because some learning of brain activity may be required upfront.)
  • The elimination of input devices! Video games will be an entirely different experience without controllers.

Admittedly some of the possibilities are creepy, but as society progresses the creepiness factor decreases. Over time society will become more accepting of these technologies. Will we reach the point where man and machine are one? Maybe the singularity effect will happen sooner than we think.

Where does it apply? All industries should take note of this technology. As it matures it will change how we interact with systems, engage with each other and manage our mental health.

When is it commercially available? The EPOC is available now with Insight becoming available mid-February 2015. This technology has been in development for years (2006 – 2007 timeframe) and is finally beginning to mature. An SDK is available for partners to develop commercial applications.

Reference links: Emotiv, Emotiv Interview, Product Description Video, National Geographic Article

Technical Reference: Emotiv Wiki

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Posted by Karl

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