Exaptation

Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation used the word exaptation to describe new uses for existing solutions. The word has a biological background and use, but it can be applied to anything. I’ve written about this book before on a post about being cross disciplinary and spreading good ideas.

David King has started a new company called Exaptive which is doing work with a tool and methods designed from the ground up to facilitate leveraging ideas, methods, solutions and data across different disciplinary areas. Very interesting. You can follow their blog here.

Learning to Drive

I missed this thought.

Tesla is rebooting their autonomous driving vehicles and re-teaching them how to drive. Wired has this great article about the changes.

They’ve rolled out a new architecture which uses a very different sensor strategy,” says Tim Dawkins, an autonomous car specialist at automotive tech research company, SBD. “They needed to spend a little time building up their base data before they were able to release the same level of functionally as they had with hardware version 1.0.”

The first iteration of Autopilot relied on a single camera made by Israeli supplier Mobileye. The new setup uses eight cameras, dotted all around the car, feeding an in-house Tesla Vision system. The 12 ultrasonic sensors have been upgraded, the radar is improved. A new on-board Nvidia computer is 40 times more powerful than its predecessor, and runs the necessary artificial intelligence software.

and here is the money quote:

Where a conventional automaker might do that training with qualified drivers in controlled environments, or on private tracks, Tesla used its customers. It pushed fresh software to 1,000 cars on December 31, then to everybody in early January. That code ran in what Tesla calls Shadow Mode, collecting data and comparing the human driver’s actions to what the computer would have done. That fleet learning is Tesla’s advantage when it comes to educating and updating its AI computers.

“This is the uniquely Tesla approach, in the way that they have their consumers build up that rich data set, from which they can train up their AI,” says Dawkins.

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that. I mean, I didn’t have to go do it, but just consider the idea. The car is full of sensors and why not let the car shadow read drivers for a season and learn how real drivers deal with real situations that appear on the road?

Better than rules based. Learn from those who already know how to drive.

You need cars with the sensors. You need a connected car back to Tesla/cloud. And you need lots of drivers driving through all different conditions. Rain, snow, fog, fast, slow, city, suburb, rural, interstate, toll roads, bridges, tunnels, parking garages, etc.

Brillant.

Financial Understanding

In 2013 I wrote a series of posts about what to do as new CIO. My thinking continues to evolve on this topic, but I’ve come to rethink the need to understand the financial model for IT in your organization and to put greater urgency on that understanding.

In an enterprise, an IT organization and associated investments are made to facilitate the operations of the enterprise and to protect the enterprise. We don’t make investments just because they are fun or just because we want to do them. There is a driving force behind these investments.  Those forces are things like: operational improvements (reduce waste, speed, reduced friction, etc.), financial control, collaboration improvement, security, etc.  The benefits of these investments are mostly outside of IT. Yes, some investments benefit IT, but most of what we do benefits other organizations. Saying it differently, the costs might reside in IT but the benefits reside elsewhere.

That is the central problem/opportunity to understand. How does your organization account for this fact of life? This simply must be understood by all parties and it must be clearly highlighted to all parties and that takes a lot of help from Finance. This is probably one of my biggest failures. I should have done more in this area.

Projects in IT can save tens of millions of dollars in operations or across the supply chain yet cost millions in IT to make that happen.

M&A activity are particularly dangerous to IT in that unless the costs of integration are budgeted and called out and planned for as part of the go/nogo decision on the acquisition, IT can appear to spending a lot of money to integrate that that is not really an IT cost, it is an acquisition cost. I read a while back that the two biggest risks in M&A efforts is merging cultures and IT complexity/integration risks. A company board might decide to spend $600M on an acquisition but that decision should upfront account for the cost to integrate the companies together.

IT spend is a cost to do business. Probably, the best answer to this problem is to work out a clearly understood, above board way to charge costs back to business units that are driving the investments. That chargeback would include the startup costs for sure, but also might include the sustaining costs to run or support the capabilities. In any case, the costs need to be clearly visible and either chargeback or shown back to the business and across the business. Tools like Apptio might greatly help in these conversations too.

 

 

Autonomous Vehicles

I’ve been fascinated with autonomous vehicles and their coming and their impact on everything. I wrote a post last May about aspects of this and linked to a number of articles that I had read and found interesting at that time.

My daughter and son-in-law recently purchased a Tesla and I’ve had the chance to ride in and drive their vehicle. Of course the main point for the vehicle is that is is electric and does not have a gasoline engine at all. I think most people think of the electric vs gasoline difference as the main point with the Tesla.

However, the most interesting point to me is the aggressive and smart progress towards autonomy. The car has sensors around it to detect obstacles, the road, people, other cars, etc.  Tesla has posted a video of what the car is ‘seeing’ as it moves down the road and it is fascinating and worth taking a look if you’ve not seen it.

The Verge wrote about this video with comments here.

The question I have is why is Tesla (and Google and maybe Apple) leading out on these capabilities and not Ford, Toyota or BMW? These later companies have had these platform (vehicles) for years and Tesla is relatively new.

This doesn’t seem like an innovator’s dilemma case.  Electric vs. gasoline might be an innovator’s dilemma case where the incumbents are clinging to their success with gasoline powered engines. Autonomous driving is independent of electric or gasoline. Gasoline powered cars could have the same capabilities or variations of it.

A gasoline powered traditional vehicle could have all these sensors onboard and could be making aggressive steps to autonomy. We could have already had these sensors on board warning us of obstacles and helping the driver be safer. What we have are some vehicles with automatic emergency braking and in some cases, heads up displays if a deer is on the road ahead. Not much else.

It seems more to me like Tesla can just see a different future and is aggressively heading in that direction. It is leadership and vision.

This is going to be an amazing ride.

 

 

Turn it Off

Just finished reading the book The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks by Little, Brown and Company. Lots of great content about networks and their impact and implications on everything. There is this great quote about how to really, really secure your computer:

Robert Morris Sr., a cryptographic and security genius who towered over NSA code-breaking programs for decades in the last century, compressed his lifetime of experience cracking machines into three golden rules of computer security:

RULE ONE: Do not own a computer.

RULE TWO: Do not power it on.

RULE THREE: Do not use it.

pablo-3

This is hilarious but it goes with my prior post. The footnote indicates that he might not have actually said this, but it is attributed to him by multiple sources.

The book is about how connections are having significant and unstoppable changes to everything: government, military, commerce, social, etc. Everything is changing and we don’t understand this fully yet. Consider the following:

This new set of forces, invisible to many, is now applying a merciless and grinding pressure to the familiar structures of an older age. The struggles of our cherished institutions—the U.S. Congress, the military, the news media, our universities, our once-inclusive capitalism—to achieve the very aims that they once elegantly and efficiently met is visible evidence of this shift. Repeated government shutdowns. Years of unwinnable war. No news source we feel we can rely upon. Expensive, debt-funded degrees that don’t fit our modern economy. An ever-more-skewed distribution of profits. Pull your focus wider to encompass Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and you find similarly vexing struggles as nations try to dig their economies out from financial landslides or resist nationalism and unrest. Power is now passing with a rippling, ripping energy from old, once-useful people and institutions. If this passage has so far wiped out only encyclopedias, telephone companies, and taxi medallions, it is merely because it is just beginning. Buried underneath these failures and the impending collapse of many institutions is a common force.

The title of the book about the seventh sense, is really then, “the ability to look at any object and see the way in which it is changed by connection.”

Also some great material on AI and what that really might mean.  Not AI as we traditionally think about it but really just fast access to lots and lots of data and the associated correlations.

Really good ideas. Recommended.

Securing our Assets

pabloI’ve about reached the point in believing that we have no chance in securing our personal information technology assets (home network, computer, mobile phone, tablet) etc.

There are simple steps we can all take to secure our equipment and network, but they are likely just not enough. I’ve done several communications sessions with family and friends and others to discuss how they can best protect their equipment. I wrote about that on my security page.  I just keep reading about more risks, threats and how organized those who want in are and what capabilities they are bringing to bear to get access where they don’t belong.

Is it time to start disconnecting more? Should we have a computer at home that only occasionally is connected to the network, even if that helps at all? Updates now require network connections so it is almost unavoidable.

Keep all the firmware and software up-to-date on all our devices and that requires network connectivity again. But are all these updates secure, tested and safe? Of course they aren’t all safe. We are unsafe with the flaws in our existing devices and we are unsafe with the updates that add more flaws or new flaws. What to do?

Maybe a simple mobile phone that only does calls and text messages? But that can be hijacked and listened to as 60 minutes has told us.

All our technology (Watch, tablet, laptops, Kindle, Apple TV, Netflix, etc.) require network connectivity. What to do?

What about our parents and friends who are not that computer literate?

I want to watch Stranger Things on Netflix and that requires a lot of technology on my end be up-to-date and working. What to do?

 

Not Average

I recently completed reading The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Rose. And yesterday I read a related article called “What Are You Hiding?” which goes along the same lines. The book is outstanding and makes a great case for you can’t compare yourself against averages in many cases. The articles does the same in a shorter version.

We tend to compare our IT shops against an average in benchmarks yet both of these make the point that this is not always reasonable. None of us are average. None of our organizations are average. We are all unique in some aspects. We all have unique business requirements. We all have unique characteristics.

The standard benchmark in IT is IT spend as a % of revenue. We compare what our ‘organization’ spends on IT compared against the average for our ‘industry group.’  Really, are any of us average? Do these benchmarks mean anything? Should a group be ‘judged’ by these benchmarks?

They might only provide directional considerations, but we are all unique.