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April 29, 2016

Wild things

Thumbnail image for intel-5G-Compared-to-4G.jpg"It's the things we can't predict that are going to further revolutionize what happens in wireless," the FTC's Julius Knapp said this week. He was speaking at the 5G Huddle, one of a pride, or perhaps a glamor, of such events this month in London alone. What two years ago was a shapeless ball of vague ideas is finding some common design themes.

The people debating the tradeoffs of latency, bandwidth, and coverage didn't include consumer groups, civil society, or anthropologists to represent ordinary humans - Ofcom was the closest. As Michael Froomkin has often said with respect to We Robot, early design decisions are crucial because they're so hard to shift once there's a legacy installed base. Hence the interest of the 5G Huddle: this is where prospective definitions are being compared.

In some ways the most interesting presentation was that of Sarah Weller, managing director of Mubaloo, the only speaker to discuss software and the closest to a representative of "us", prospective users. She wants support for her customers' desires: what "we" want, she said, is cars that detect imminent failures and book their own service appointments, software agents that send their owner to the doctor when they detect elevated heart rate and temperature; efficiency; reduced "admin"; and personalization. Younger generations, she said, "don't want to have stuff in front of them that they don't want to see. They want their experiences to be about them." Younger generations always want that; then they have kids and it's ha, ha, you lose.

dUxYZw9A.jpgWeller's most frequently-expressed desire from 5G is "now". "Proactive prompting about information we don't even know we need," she said. But how does that translate into technical specifications? Constant connectivity, or low latency? Universal coverage or higher speed? Philip Marnick, group director for spectrum at Ofcom, noted a switch: people used to climb remote hills in Wales to get away from it all. "Now they complain when their smartphones can't access maps." In that case, "now" means never having to prepare in advance for anything.

At this event in 2014, I fretted about the impact on the internet of a mobile industry with quite different traditions and the arrogance of an industry whose people seemed to feel that whatever the internet community thought was dwarfed by the sheer numbers of mobile phones being sold. Even then, some recognized that a lot of people want smartphones because they provide mobile internet access, not because ooh, look! cellular! Underneath Weller's world, where people text or email silently and asynchronously with their friends, but speak intimately to their phones expecting a response in real time, is a requirement for masses of mobile data as all that speech is forwarded to cloud servers for processing and the results sent back. Plus, of course, there's video streams, rapidly escalating in quality, and that's without augmented reality, virtual reality...

For those who were around at the beginning of the internet, when the telcos were the enemy of innovation, and who have since seen mobile network operators try to corral their users into walled gardens, the collision of these worlds is unnerving. But it sounds like sense when Andy Sutton, a principal network architect at BT, says that the internet's existing protocols, designed decades ago for "best-effort" delivery and forgiving services like email, IRC, and FTP, may not be up to 21st century demans. What he hopes, he explained, is that the communities will collaborate on a "holistic" vision to create new networking protocols: better, more efficient, more energy-efficient, lower-latency, and more secure. Given those, then surely the internet community would want to adopt them.

Philip_Marnick.JPGHere, and a few weeks ago at the Westminster eForum event on spectrum allocation, Ofcom's Philip Marnick pitched heterogeneous networks that produce the perception of"everywhere and always there", even if it's not quite the reality. Sure: as long as you have the map when you want it without unexpected charges you don't care how you got it. Marnick's pet subject is the need for collaboration among service providers who are not used to considering each other's technical needs when designing their systems. "I don't know any operator who thinks about not pointing an antenna south because it might cause interference," he said by way of example, reminding me of my neighbor whose satellite dish had to be moved because a nearby tree grew to interfere with its line of sight.

As far as I can work out, to a large extent the point of 5G really isn't you in specific or people in general. Even the attendees who said with exasperation that 4G isn't good enough because it wasn't really designed for data and "I want DATA", is a minority user. What they're building is the infrastructure for the Internet of Things. This has profound implications because until now we've measured coverage as a percentage of population, which has often meant that for people living in remote farmhouses mobile networks have been among the things they're remote from. We're now we're talking about coverage as a percentage of the land mass.

"We cannot limit ourselves to old models," Knapp said. No one imagined apps when 4G was being designed. By extension - he didn't say - we think we're designing 5G for machines. We might be entirely wrong.


Wendy M. Grossman is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award. Her Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted occasionally during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.


April 22, 2016

The blockchain menu

parkinglotdemo-ttf2016.jpg
The Internet of Things is such an established concept that I'm startled to note that week's (Lego) prototype was my first. Three cars want to park...somewhere. Their owners have preset the maximum they will pay. The system locates the nearest parking space, and they bid. The winner is directed to the space, and the fee is automatically deducted from the car's balance. A display showed the auction in real time. All very nice until I injected reality by grabbing a car and plunking it in the space before bidding ended.

"Usurped" the contested space was now tagged. "You'll be fined," Consult Hyperion's demonstrator said. Who will that stop in Manhattan, where friends have missed two successive movie showings because no parking space? This may be an entertaining solution wishing for a problem.

In that, it was not alone at this week's Tomorrow's Transactions Forum, Dave Birch's quirky annual event where ideas about the future of money are smashed together like particles to see what happens. Last year's excitement about blockchains has calmed. Michael Salmony, executive advisor to the pan-European payment services provider Equens, who pointed out some of the wilder claims (it might have saved Lehman Brothers!), recommended defining your problem before asking what technology solves it. "No customer comes in and says he has a massive distributed ledger problem." Quantum computing will break crypto anyway.

Dismissing Salmony as a fuddy-duddy with a grudge isn't easy, given his PhD in distributed systems. He compellingly argues that blockchains aren't the computer science breakthrough many people think. After reeling off examples such as airline reservations systems, he added. "There are dozens of systems that are highly reliable and that scale without using the energy of a small country....I would like to see evidence why the blockchain would make things better."

Similarly, Kelly Olson, director of Intel's distributed ledger technology group predicted that except in niches ("drugs") distributed ledger technologies (blockchains) "probably" won't replace either cash or everyday retail payments. But they can be valuable areas such as event tickets issued as entry-granting RFID codes, or bringing together disjointed shared systems such as the San Francisco Bay Area's BART, Caltrain, and FasTrak. Perhaps also identification systems, if verifiers accept each other's credentials. Today, everyone's separate: banks don't recognize each other's verification, and you can't port your reputation from World of Warcraft into Airbnb, Airbnb into Uber, or Uber into eBay. People have been complaining about this for a decade, but still: silos.

jellybeandispenser-ttf2016.jpgPortability is what cash gave us. Here, though, it won't even get you jelly beans: the demonstration candy dispenser only responds to smart cards tapped on its Raspberry Pi reader. "It works!" Birch exclaimed, perhaps relieved, having failed with contactless Monopoly. The 1963 Diner's Club game was trouble-free.

Intel's sees opportunity in scaling: thousands of nodes means many processors. The fundamental shift to decentralized endpoints, however, is a security challenge. How do we protect privacy when, "There's no clear way to add that to the blockchain today without adding a centralized factor"?

Scaling and interoperability also concern R3, a consortium of 42 of the world's largest banks: "If the hype is true, then they'll have to be deployed at scale by multiple firms using agreed standards and protocols," said Richard Gendel Brown, R3's CIO. Yes, he said, there is a genuine problem in ensuring that everyone sees the same synchronized truth - but it doesn't follow that blockchain is the solution. R3 is building a new open source platform, Corda, that is "private by design".

R3 sounds to me like "the banks strike back". And maybe they need to: Ben Dyson, founder of Positive Money wants to reform the monetary system to be less dependent on banks. He proposes that consumers should be allowed to open accounts at the Bank of England as the electronic equivalent of hoarding physical cash. Without underpinning risky loans, you could eliminate deposit insurance and connect accounts directly to payment services, ensuring greater competition.

Before you get too excited, a search finds Andy Haldane, chief economist and executive director of the Bank of England, arguing in September 2015 that the bank should issue a state-backed digital currency and get rid of cash so the bank can charge trapped consumers negative interest rates.

rotated-birch-contactlessmonopoly-ttf2016.jpgAll these ideas renew many previous internet conflicts. Consult Hyperion's Stuart Fiske argued this wasn't the plan: the Internet of Things was supposed to be anonymous things exchanging weather data or the location of traffic jams. But bring in delegating payments - as in the parking demonstration - and now you require a way to identify the machine and assure it's genuine. No, Tony Fish argued, we'll see barter instead of payment; for many things identity won't exist. This has not been the recent direction of travel.

In his new book, Digital vs Human, futurist Richard Watson agues that people assess piles of physical cash differently than they do a readout of numbers, an idea that recalls to me the emotional detachment Sherry Turkle documents in online personal interactions.

Money, both Watson and Tatiana Cutts and Watson noted, is freighted with enormous cultural significance. If money is community, will membership in Apple Pay become more meaningful than national citizenship?

Wendy M. Grossman is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award. Her Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted occasionally during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.

The blockchain menu

parkinglotdemo-ttf2016.jpg
The Internet of Things is such an established concept that I'm startled to note that week's (Lego) prototype was my first. Three cars want to park...somewhere. Their owners have preset the maximum they will pay. The system locates the nearest parking space, and they bid. The winner is directed to the space, and the fee is automatically deducted from the car's balance. A display showed the auction in real time. All very nice until I injected reality by grabbing a car and plunking it in the space before bidding ended.

"Usurped" the contested space was now tagged. "You'll be fined," Consult Hyperion's demonstrator said. Who will that stop in Manhattan, where friends have missed two successive movie showings because no parking space? This may be an entertaining solution wishing for a problem.

In that, it was not alone at this week's Tomorrow's Transactions Forum, Dave Birch's quirky annual event where ideas about the future of money are smashed together like particles to see what happens. Last year's excitement about blockchains has calmed. Michael Salmony, executive advisor to the pan-European payment services provider Equens, who pointed out some of the wilder claims (it might have saved Lehman Brothers!), recommended defining your problem before asking what technology solves it. "No customer comes in and says he has a massive distributed ledger problem." Quantum computing will break crypto anyway.

Dismissing Salmony as a fuddy-duddy with a grudge isn't easy, given his PhD in distributed systems. He compellingly argues that blockchains aren't the computer science breakthrough many people think. After reeling off examples such as airline reservations systems, he added. "There are dozens of systems that are highly reliable and that scale without using the energy of a small country....I would like to see evidence why the blockchain would make things better."

Similarly, Kelly Olson, director of Intel's distributed ledger technology group predicted that except in niches ("drugs") distributed ledger technologies (blockchains) "probably" won't replace either cash or everyday retail payments. But they can be valuable areas such as event tickets issued as entry-granting RFID codes, or bringing together disjointed shared systems such as the San Francisco Bay Area's BART, Caltrain, and FasTrak. Perhaps also identification systems, if verifiers accept each other's credentials. Today, everyone's separate: banks don't recognize each other's verification, and you can't port your reputation from World of Warcraft into Airbnb, Airbnb into Uber, or Uber into eBay. People have been complaining about this for a decade, but still: silos.

jellybeandispenser-ttf2016.jpgPortability is what cash gave us. Here, though, it won't even get you jelly beans: the demonstration candy dispenser only responds to smart cards tapped on its Raspberry Pi reader. "It works!" Birch exclaimed, perhaps relieved, having failed with contactless Monopoly. The 1963 Diner's Club game was trouble-free.

Intel's sees opportunity in scaling: thousands of nodes means many processors. The fundamental shift to decentralized endpoints, however, is a security challenge. How do we protect privacy when, "There's no clear way to add that to the blockchain today without adding a centralized factor"?

Scaling and interoperability also concern R3, a consortium of 42 of the world's largest banks: "If the hype is true, then they'll have to be deployed at scale by multiple firms using agreed standards and protocols," said Richard Gendel Brown, R3's CIO. Yes, he said, there is a genuine problem in ensuring that everyone sees the same synchronized truth - but it doesn't follow that blockchain is the solution. R3 is building a new open source platform, Corda, that is "private by design".

R3 sounds to me like "the banks strike back". And maybe they need to: Ben Dyson, founder of Positive Money wants to reform the monetary system to be less dependent on banks. He proposes that consumers should be allowed to open accounts at the Bank of England as the electronic equivalent of hoarding physical cash. Without underpinning risky loans, you could eliminate deposit insurance and connect accounts directly to payment services, ensuring greater competition.

Before you get too excited, a search finds Andy Haldane, chief economist and executive director of the Bank of England, arguing in September 2015 that the bank should issue a state-backed digital currency and get rid of cash so the bank can charge trapped consumers negative interest rates.

rotated-birch-contactlessmonopoly-ttf2016.jpgAll these ideas renew many previous internet conflicts. Consult Hyperion's Stuart Fiske argued this wasn't the plan: the Internet of Things was supposed to be anonymous things exchanging weather data or the location of traffic jams. But bring in delegating payments - as in the parking demonstration - and now you require a way to identify the machine and assure it's genuine. No, Tony Fish argued, we'll see barter instead of payment; for many things identity won't exist. This has not been the recent direction of travel.

In his new book, Digital vs Human, futurist agues that people assess piles of physical cash differently than they do a readout of numbers, an idea that recalls to me the emotional detachment Sherry Turkle documents in online personal interactions.

Money, both Watson and Tatiana Cutts and Watson noted, is freighted with enormous cultural significance. If money is community, will membership in Apple Pay become more meaningful than national citizenship?

Wendy M. Grossman is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award. Her Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted occasionally during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.

April 15, 2016

Hit for six

Touched_by_His_Noodly_Appendage.jpg
This is a catch-up week, where a clowder of long-running stories have reached, if not a conclusion, a new plateau.

The biggest news is that the Article 29 Working Party (PDF) has soundly rejected the EU-US Privacy Shield, the replacement for the late, unlamented Safe Harbor. Of course, you know this means uncertainty: businesses that rely on transferring personal data to the US (and other countries whose privacy laws do not provide "essentially equivalent" protection to that of the EU's data protection laws) will have to adopt some other mechanism for keeping them legal while negotiations continue.

2015_Max_Schrems_(17227117226).jpgThe ruling comes near-simultaneously with the European Parliament's passage of the general data protection reform package, which itself ends years of wrangling over thousands of amendments. Put the two together, and the Christian Science Monitor's editorial complaining that European privacy advocates should stop complaining sounds particularly ill-clued and out-of-step. What European privacy advocates are trying to do is insist that the EU honor in practice the promises it has made in legislation: as Simon Davies said all those years ago, data privacy is now a fundamental human right in the EU, and complaining about that is about as useful as complaining about the US's attachment to the First Amendment. Fuh, as they say in New York, geddaboudit.

Now, of course, we wait to see what proposals the EU and US will come up with next to facilitate transfers, and for detailed analyses of the new law. It seems unlikely the US will follow the lead of Turkey, which last month passed its own data protection laws rather than continue to be shut out of doing business with the EU. But some concessions will have to be made.

This week also provided an occasion to check in on the state of play of 5G, first seen two years ago in that quintessential technology state "I don't know what it is, or what it might be good for, but we definitely need it so we can sell it to people". At this week's Westminster eForum event on spectrum policy (PDF), it became apparent that things haven't progressed as much as you might expect. This particular discussion was more about technicalities than features, but if you don't know whether your priority is bandwidth or coverage, it's hard to determine how you're going to allocate spectrum, without which...nothing. The most interesting discovery at this week's event is that . And they thought television would kill radio.

256px-Streisand_Estate.jpgNow that the FBI has found someone to crack that pesky iPhone, the bureau may be discovering the Streisand effect (to me, really known as the much earlier Scientology effect. In other words, the more you try to erase something from the internet the more of a cause célèbre defying the prohibition becomes. In this case, the rebel seems to be Facebook; not only has its WhatsApp subsidiary turned on end-to-end 256-bit encryption to its 1 billion users, but Facebook itself made itself accessible via secure Tor connections two years ago. The threats to security - not just individual privacy - embedded in the UK's investigatory powers bill and the US's Senate's Feinstein-Burr encryption bill - seems highly likely to provoke a lot more of the same. The bigger you make the threat, the faster people will move to render it moot through technology. Kind of a jobs program for hackers.

The who-thought-it-was-even-still-alive long-running saga of Phorm, the company whose technology was meant to give ISPs the ability to replace the ads on websites with ads of their own, has finally ended in bankruptcy, costing its shareholders £200 million. Phorm was last seen in 2009 trying to smear its critics and sell its system to other countries. This particular saga began at the dawn of deep packet inspection, the technique that continues to underpin so many important parts of various governments' surveillance plans. I suppose Phorm's demise goes to show that while no one has gotten rich trying to sell privacy-enhancing technologies directly to consumers, no one gets rich by deliberately trying to impose privacy-invading technologies on consumers either. At least logging into Google or Facebook is a choice, even if not doing so means you miss all the best parties.

Along the same lines - things you thought were dead for $500 - is the zombie revival of the internet's own Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, SCO v IBM, which has somehow yet managed to cough up yet another appeal, right after everything wrote its epitaph. Who continues to pay Boies, Schiller, and Flexner is a mystery.

Finally, we can't resist noting that Pastafarians are struggling to get their belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster taken seriously. A German chapter is suing the state of Brandenburg for the right to put up "Nudelmesse" signs to advertise their services. In the US, a US District Court judge has ruled against an individual who claims he deserves access to Pastafarian literature and "religious items" while serving his time in the Nebraska State Penitentiary (really, he should say eating spaghetti and meatballs is an essential religious observance). The judge apparently felt that Pastafarianism was a satire, rather than a real religion. Go figure.


Wendy M. Grossman is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award. Her Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted occasionally during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.


April 8, 2016

Humans all the way down

werobot-2016-amf-calo.jpg"I don't think my robot is like a blender," said Olivier Guilhem. He was referring to the French civil code, in which the key differentiator is whether or not an object has moving parts. Robot, blender, 18-ton truck, it's all the same. But only the robot can hold its maker's hand to walk it around a conference, a sight at least one attendee at last week's We Robot found "creepy". Plus, the truck can't rifle through your drawers and upload images of the contents and probably doesn't have a cute name like "Pepper". (At that, it does look a lot like a ceramic pepper shaker.)

Guilhem was talking about his company, Aldebaran Robotics. Pepper is a Rorschach robot: apparently female to Americans, male to Asians. Biological supremacists - here the fancy hammer school - see "it". But: this country has ruled that corporations have free speech rights. Why not robots, anthropomorphized or not? In their paper (PDF), Helen Norton and Toni Massaro argue that the law presents few barriers: the rights of listeners, not just speakers, matter here.

werobot-pepper-head_zpsrvlmgvgl.jpgFor Guilhem, Pepper is a friend; he espouses ethics-by-design: "We have no intention of creating a spy robot". I'd love to think he's right, but until security researchers bang on their designs for a while there's no telling how their intentions - to build interactive humanoid robots that understand emotions and adapt their behavior to your mood - can be subverted. Could Pepper work as a palm reader?

There has been much debate, both this and previous years, and elsewhere, about humans in the loop, particularly for life-critical decisions. Killer robots! make great headlines. A growing body of literature such as Ian Kerr's 2013 Prediction, Presumption, and Preemption explores the inscrutability of black-box Big Data systems and exposes way history and human creators embed biases, gaps, and prejudices within "neutral" technology. We want to believe that Peter Asaro's imaginary robocop (PDF) would stop-and-search more fairly, but, as Asaro argues, it probably won't. Often, design specifications simply aren't broad enough - Siri can't understand braid Scots and, for a time, could give plentiful advice to people having a heart attack but had none for people who had been raped. So, Asaro asked, how do we make robocop care about #blacklivesmatter?

A Jamaican lawyer responded by asking how we can eliminate racism when we don't really understand what it is. "Why is the robot white?" she asked by way of illustrating this uncertainty. Pepper's manufacturer quickly tweeted: "It looks clean." Well, OK - but is that a sign of racism, germophobia, or design sensibilities too limited to think of more useful coverings such as cork, velcro, or fabric, all both more entertaining and more useful for attaching things. A Pepper in my house would probably be covered with Day-Glo colored Post-It notes and bits of tape. Or why couldn't the outer shell be customized to double as a dressmaker's dummy? Make yourself useful, 'bot.

Mary Anne Franks observed in discussing Asaro's paper, that these concerns make her skeptical of techno-optimism: "You can't take yourself completely out of the system. It's humans all the way down." Removing the "race" variable doesn't help; others act as proxies, just as in Glasgow prospective employers know a job applicant's religion by which school they attended. This discussion deeply frustrated one commenter, who said, "I've been told all my life that I'm broken and can't see bias." After noting he was raised in Latin America, he went on, "I thought I would be able to code blind and defeat it with technology until I read this paper. Thank you...and screw you!"

Besides, most robots and AI systems are designed to nudge interacting humans toward particular behavior. Cars won't start if you're not wearing your seatbelt; we frame queries to suit search engines'; elder care robots ensure they take their pills. "Neutral" or not, behind each robot are designers convinced they have identified our best choices.

The human-robot interface is this year's emerging problem. Humans pose problems for robots in all sorts of ways, not just the design phase. Harry Surden, in presenting Mary Anne Williams's paper on autonomous cars, asked how you know a robot has perceived you. Google's self-driving cars have gotten into accidents because the human drivers around them expect them to behave less cautiously than they do; or they get stuck at crosswalks because, programmed to pull back for pedestrians, they are perceived as "weak" and humans flood the street.

At last May's Royal Society meeting on AI, the predominant imagined future was human-machine partnerships. Data & Society researcher Madeleine Elish has conceptualized this kind of prospect as moral crumple zones (PDF). The idea derives from cars, whose crumple zones absorb the impact of collisions. In human-machine (or human-robot) systems, Elish argues, the humans will bear the brunt of the blame, like today's customer service representatives. Different designs handle hand-off between human and robot differently, but almost always the port of last resort is humans, who take over the most complex, ongoing crises when machines have already failed to solve them. This stacked deck inevitably makes human performance look worse.

"Crumple zone" is so evocative because although syntactically "shock absorbers" is more correct, it captures accurately the feelings of low-level corporate employees caught between the angry frustration of customers and the unyielding demands of employers: squished.


Wendy M. Grossman is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award. Her Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted occasionally during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.


April 1, 2016

The lab and the world

Thebigbangtheorys04e01mkv_000002419.jpg"Robots will only take over the world if we tell them how to do it," said Bill Smart at this year's We Robot. It's a comforting thought along the lines of the statement a friend made at the height of the Cold War: "They won't blow up the world - it would be bad for business."

Smart had, a few minutes earlier, proved his point by demonstrating how a robot really works. You can try this at home. Get three people to connect up in a row; the one in the middle is the robot's vision system, while the one on each side is an arm. The robot can move around and use its arms. Off in a corner, back turned, place a fourth person. That is the brain/control center, and can only ask yes/no questions - "Is there a box?" "Is the box more than five feet away?" - and issue basic instructions. "Move forward five feet." "Turn 30 degrees." Tell the brain: make the robot pick up the box lid on that chair. Watch as they head off in the wrong direction and fall over the furniture.

Thumbnail image for Bill Smart - We Robot 2016.jpgYou can say to a human, "Drive at a reasonable speed" and usually trust the human's concept of "reasonable speed" is similar to yours. To a computer - robot - you have to specify the limits of "reasonable" to within a millimeter. This sort of thing, he said, is why robotics is hard.

The whole thing reminded me of a presentation I saw some weeks back at Travel Technology Europe, a great example, I thought at the time, of why predicting the future is so hard - and how easy it is to look foolish doing it when you're speaking from just one perspective.

The speaker, Joakim Everstin, head of innovation and tech evangelist for the computer reservation system Sabre, was trying to get his audience to imagine the mindset of the next few generations of customers. Technologically, generations are getting shorter. Today's 30-year-olds grew up with instant messaging; 20-year-olds grew up with texting, Facebook and MySpace; 15-year-olds Instagram and Snapchat, ten-year-olds Facetime. Soon, you'll be able to date someone quite precisely by the form of technological interaction they prefer.


6E5QvpzC_400x400.jpgTo demonstrate his point, Everstin pulled up the famous video of the one-year-old trying to pinch-zoom a magazine picture (YouTube) and read out the parent's slogan: "To my daughter, a magazine is an iPad that doesn't work." And then he said, "For the rest of her life, that's how she's going to think."

Well, now, I don't think so. I'm betting on the one-year-old and against your man futurist. She *isn't* going to think that way her whole life because she is not a robot. Even before the end of the video she had learned that some iPad-ish things don't work like iPads. This is the great thing about human children: they learn stuff, like what to expect when encountering different types of objects and how to make sense of the unknown. We are amazingly adaptable. What's astonishing is that the toddler recognized the kinship between the iPad and the magazine and logically applied her experience of one to the other.

Another of his examples of an attempt to match the younger generation's expectations is a "smart table" in a Dubai Pizza Hut that allows you to order a pizza by touch. You work with an image you can enlarge and shrink, you can divide it in half, add toppings...and while I can see the novelty might be fun - once - it's a lot quicker to just tell someone "medium, thin crust, sausage, extra cheese", and hungry people don't say, "Let's go to the place with the cool touch-ordering system" any more than they tolerate a robot that takes 28 minutes to unpack their Chinese food. (Another Smartism: always check how much the robot video has been speeded up.)

It's not news that none of us predicts the future particularly well. The "design for how the next generation thinks", however, means frustration for the rest of us if every service and technology is designed with a single set of imaginary expectations in mind.

I have a number of friends with kids under ten, and I don't see any of them refusing to read books because they don't have search boxes, or to ride a bicycle because it doesn't have a backup video camera like their parents' car. They have considerable comfort with technologies that to adults are "new" but to them are "we've always had that", but that's not the same thing.

The real things to worry about are rather different. For example, years ago someone advised me that to get through London's crowded sidewalks at speed the best idea was to look down and never meet anyone's eye. "They'll move out of your way," he said. Twenty years later that's a dangerous strategy because everyone else has adopted this mode of behaviour, and the burden is on those who do not walk the street absorbed in their mobile phones to avoid the rest. It's therefore arguable that today's younger generation will require people movers everywhere, so the foot traffic is all one-way and the danger is minimized.

Wendy M. Grossman is the 2013 winner of the Enigma Award. Her Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted occasionally during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.