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Making sense of technology, one byte at a time
COMBATTING TECH ADDICTION
WITH MINDFUL MEDITATION
If you constantly keep in touch with the office, obsessively check your phone or worry about missing out on online social interactions, there’s a good chance you’re addicted to technology. And you’re not alone. Online platforms have been designed to exploit the psychology and brain chemistry of addiction; ramping up the pace of modern life to an almost unmanageable tempo.
Such unrelenting demands on our attention are having a detrimental impact on our mental health, with clear correlations emerging between connectivity and our levels of stress, anxiety, unhappiness and depression.
So, how do we adapt to this world of limitless information and constant notifications? The answer could lie with “mindful meditation” – a central part of the Buddhist practice for almost 3,000 years.
THE PLANNING FALLACY
HOW TO TACKLE TIME ESTIMATES
We all know that someone who’s never on time. Lost keys, traffic, phone problems… Perhaps you’re the one who’s perpetually running behind, but you don’t have to be.
A phenomenon known as the “planning fallacy” is to blame. The predictions we make around time and resources are subject to an optimism bias, leading us to underestimate how much time we actually need. Optimism – however unrealistic - is often rewarded leading us to over-promise and under-deliver, time and time again.
Luckily, there are two tools in your arsenal to tackle this problem: realism and transparency.
WHY SEEING ISN'T BELIEVING
Can we truly believe everything we see? Not anymore.
The last few years have seen a rise in “deep fakes” – manipulated videos where one person’s likeness is replaced with another’s, often with the intention of misleading viewers. Deep fakes rely on a process called “deep learning” – a subset of machine learning – and are created using algorithms that function in a similar way to the human brain. They consume huge amounts of data and teach themselves to recognise patterns within it, all the while critiquing the output to detect flaws and improve techniques.
Whilst there are huge benefits to deep learning (as seen in the development of Google Translate, self-driving cars and image sorting), certain advancements in facial recognition technology serve to undermine the basic principles of objective truth that we take for granted. So, what can be done about it?
UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME
FOR WHEN THE ROBOTS TAKE OVER...
Robots are coming for our jobs, whether we like it or not.
In 2016, the US Council of Economic Advisers estimated that 83% of US jobs that pay less than $20 per hour could be automated in the future. That’s around 65 million, and that number looks certain to rise. Mass unemployment on this scale is clearly unsustainable, but what can be done?
The answer lies with Universal Basic Income (UBI) – a fixed sum paid to everyone (regardless of other income) to help cover basic costs such as food and housing. Championed by the likes of Elon Musk, Richard Branson and even Pope Francis, such a system could be beneficial to millions, but not everyone is a fan...
THE TINY GUIDE TO NANOTECHNOLOGY
What’s the tiniest technology you can imagine? As small as a grain of rice? Or a grain of sand? Perhaps the width of an individual strand of spider web? Smaller still. Nanotechnology is so small, in fact, it is narrower than a single wavelength of visible light. To put that in perspective, it’s about the length your fingernails have grown since you started reading this overview. But when we talk about nanotechnology, we don’t mean anything with a circuit board, but the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.
By utilising carbon nanotubes in a certain way, it’s possible to create tiny computer chips. With tiny chips come tiny computers and tiny robots. And with tiny robots – or nanobots, if you will – a whole world of possibilities opens up… 3D printers, invisibility cloaks, space elevators – you name it!
Of course, with all exciting, experimental and potentially disruptive innovations come areas for concern. What impact could such technology have on our security, or the economy? How can it be regulated?
A GUIDE TO DIGITAL FINGERPRINTS
If you’ve ever watched a crime drama, you’ll be familiar with fingerprinting and how - unless precautions are taken – those pesky personal identifiers end up on everything the bad guys touch. The online world is no different.
When we think about online tracking, we tend to think of Cookies, but there is arguably a larger threat to our privacy in the form of digital fingerprints - AKA, the Cookie-less Monster. Digital fingerprints don’t rely on Cookies at all. Instead, they are built from small amounts of information that browsers share from the websites you visit, quickly forming a profile that is easily identifiable as you.
Whilst there are positive applications for digital fingerprints, such as combatting credential stuffing and fraud in general, it also leaves you vulnerable to unwanted targeted marketing.
THE SECRET TO PUBLIC SPEAKING
CLARITY, AUTHENTICITY AND RESPECT
Ever woken up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night worrying about delivering a speech? You’re not alone. In fact, studies have found public speaking to be most people’s number one fear above heights, spiders, flying and even death!
But speaking in front of an audience doesn’t have to be scary.
Whether it’s a keynote address, a crucial pitch or thanking guests at your wedding, the fundamental aspects of an engaging speech are the same: clarity, authenticity and respect. This video explains my tried-and-tested method to help you sound less like a script-reading robot, and more like a confident, spontaneous human being.
So, grab a pen and paper and let’s do this!
THE FUTURE OF INTERNET ACCESS
FROM 5G TO STARLINK
5G networks are coming and, for the most part, we should be excited about it. 5G represents a hefty upgrade in speed achieved by using much higher radio frequencies to transfer data. The good news: more data equals faster speeds.
The not-so-good news? The nature of higher frequencies means that 5G comes with a distribution problem. One that can only be solved by replacing existing cell towers and adding many, many more.
But there is a global initiative on the horizon that could help. Enter Elon Musk… His proposed solution is Starlink – a SpaceX operated network of 12,000 satellites which would provide high-performance internet access anywhere in the world to anyone with a small, affordable receiver.
The downside? 12,000 satellites at altitudes of between 550 and 1150 km is A LOT, and could contribute to an already problematic amount of space debris. Not to mention lighting up the night sky!
Either way, speed, accessibility and security will be key to ensuring the internet continues to be a beneficial force in our lives. But at what cost?
BOOSTING BRAIN POWER
Imagine switching a light bulb on using only the power of your mind. Or being able to instantly speak a different language without ever learning it. Sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, doesn’t it?
But one day – in the not-too-distant future - this could become a reality.
In 2016, Elon Musk founded Neuralink with the aim of “developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.” Or, in other words, implanting tiny computer chips into people’s brains to improve their quality of life!
In theory, by connecting an electrode to an individual neuron, it is possible to modify what signal it sends – and even send signals back! But it will take time. Human brains contain around 86 billion neurons, so – if past trends are to go by - it could be another 200 years before we’ve successfully mapped every single one.
Whenever it does happen, one thing is for sure – our lives will never be the same again…
MYTHICAL MAN MONTH
WHY MORE MANPOWER DOESN'T MEAN FASTER WORK
If it takes three workers 10 hours to dig a hole, how many hours would it take six workers to dig the same amount? Simple, right? Half the time. But try using that logic where complex projects are involved and you’ll soon become unstuck.
It may feel counterintuitive, but adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. This simple guiding principle – known as “Brooks’ Law” – was written by software engineer, Frederick P. Brooks, in his 1975 essay “Mythical Man Month”. Brooks explains that men and months are interchangeable commodities, only when a task can be partitioned among many workers with no communication among them.
Consider making a toast at a dinner party. If there are only a few people it takes a matter of moments to clink glasses with each of them. Expand the guest list and suddenly there are many people in the room that you don’t “cheers” with, or if you do, it takes a great deal more time and effort.
Human beings work in different ways, in different environments, and at different rates – how many hours they’re on the clock is not indicative of the speed, volume and quality of their output.
HOW EMBRACING COUNTER-INTUITIVE IDEAS COULD MAKE YOU BILLIONS
Logical thought has served us well in so many fields, we’ve developed a tendency to use it as a guiding principle for almost everything. But in many areas – from economics to marketing – logic is of limited use.
Consider advertising. All too often, we assume that people will act in a purely logical way when it is often the counter-intuitive ideas – grounded in human nature - that have won the day. Rory Sutherland’s fantastic book – Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense – draws upon his years of experience to illustrate this point, suggesting that the gap between logical and psychological can determine whether a product is ultimately a success.
Embracing counter-intuitive ideas – free from the fear of failure – will enable us to explore the vast space of possibilities that our logic-constrained counterparts will never venture into.
THE TRUE COST OF CLICKING "REMIND ME LATER"
How many times a week do you select “remind me later” to silence software updates? Those pesky notifications always pop up at the most inconvenient times, don’t they? Well, not really…
Most of those updates are “patches” – an intrinsic part of maintaining software systems. The software provider has identified a vulnerability and is offering you the opportunity to fix it before it develops into a bigger problem. Ignoring software updates for even one day can put your company at serious risk.
Just ask Equifax. In September 2017, they lost the data of 140 million customers – a security violation that cost the firm $1.4 billion. To make matters worse, a patch for the flaw had been released two months earlier.
Due to new laws around data breaches, a similar scale transgression today could cost in the region of $111 billion.
Perhaps “remind me later” isn’t such an appealing option after all…
DOC, MARTY AND YOUR BUSINESS
Back to the Future has more to offer us than 116 minutes of pure, unadulterated fun. The action-packed time travelling tale of Doc Brown and Marty McFly also provides a glimpse into the pros and cons of short-term and long-term thinking.
Marty’s entire world view is defined – and limited – by his short-term thinking. Rather than focus on potential long-term benefits – in his case, a lucrative music career - his mind is riddled with fears of rejection. Doc’s mindset, by contrast, resides at the opposite end of the spectrum entirely – devoting 30 years of his life to a near-impossible task with little regard for the cost…
It’s when the two minds meet that the magic happens! In the business world, it comes down to EXPLOIT vs EXPLORE.
In other words, the extent to which a company leverages what they already know in the short-term whilst exploring new possibilities for the long-term. Space X’s model embodies this balance.
What connects Mary, Queen of Scots with a €6 million internet scam?
The answer is Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks.
Way back in the 16th Century, Mary was the victim of insecure lines of communication. Messages between Mary and her supporters were intercepted and amended by Queen Elizabeth I’s spies, implicating Mary in an assassination plot and leading to her untimely demise.
Fast forward to today and similar interceptions are scarily common. Modern MITM attacks occur when an individual can read or write data transmitted by you and the website you are browsing, essentially convincing you that he/she is the website and vice versa.
In 2015, 49 suspects across Europe were arrested after they gained access to various company networks and executed multiple, large-scale MITM attacks worth €6 million by swapping out genuine payment requests for duplicate versions. The good news is that such attacks rely on flaws in security. And that’s where HTTPS comes to the rescue…
Now you know what MITM attacks are, how do you stay secure on an individual level?
Vigilance is key. Google displays “Not Secure” against a website URL, indicating that you may be at risk. Just a single non-HTTPS page can leave user data vulnerable.
To protect yourself, the best option is to use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network – which acts as a direct tunnel between you and the internet.
My personal recommendation is Freedome - a great example of how easily you can incorporate a VPN into your online life by encrypting your data, hiding your IP address and blocking 3rd parties from tracking your online movements, all with minimal impact on your internet usage.
HOW TO AVOID THE BAIT
Phishing attacks are one of the most common online scams around. We’ve all laughed at the blatantly fake “Nigerian Prince wants to share his fortune” emails, but what about when you receive highly personalised messages from your so-called bank? The website looks convincing, they know your personal details – it must be legitimate, right?
In a 2015 survey, 97% of people were unable to identity sophisticated phishing emails. What’s more, up to 77% of Spear Phishing attacks are said to target 10 people or less, with a jaw-dropping 33% of attacks targeting just ONE person.
It’s imperative to exercise extreme caution. Triple check website URLs, never click on the links contained within emails and call the supposed sender – your bank, friend, family member - directly if you’re unsure.
BE AWARE OF MALWARE
We’ve all heard of the nasty software that can do serious damage to your computer system – Viruses, Trojans, Worms… and no, we’re not talking about Boggy B and Co.
As a group, we call them Malware – AKA “malicious software” – built to exploit chinks in the armour of our operating systems. From clogging up your computer with pop-up ads to holding you to ransom by encrypting your files, it’s imperative that computers are kept up-to-date with the latest patches and anti-virus software. Here are three simple ways you can protect yourself and your computer...
STOP THE SIM SWAPPERS
When you think of cyber security threats, SIM swapping probably doesn’t come to mind. You may not have even heard of it, and yet it can have serious consequences for you and your bank balance.
By convincing your phone provider to switch your SIM card to one in their possession, hackers are able to access your online accounts, sell your coveted Twitter and Instagram handles, and raid your cryptocurrency wallet.
If you're guilty of using the same password for multiple accounts online, you need to understand Credential Stuffing.
It is expected that the average number of online accounts held by internet users will reach 200 in 2020. It's therefore not surprising that many users reuse easy-to-remember passwords, but at what cost?
Having cracked a single password, hackers can automatically try to log in to hundreds of other websites using your stolen credentials. After just 3 minutes, they could access your bank account, smartphone email, images... They can pretend to be you and, for all intents and purposes, they ARE you online. Increased awareness and security is a necessity for all of us in the war on cybercrime. Here's how to fight back...
REASONING FROM FIRST PRINCIPLES
In a competitive market, it is important to challenge conventional wisdom to broaden our horizons.
Reasoning from first principles does just that by asking "why?" By questioning EVERYTHING, it is possible to remove assumptions in order to deal with a problem in its most fundamental form.
This approach has been central to Space X's Elon Musk's method of problem-solving, and has helped him to achieve the "impossible".
IT'S QUANTUM, BABY!
HOW QUANTUM COMPUTING WILL CHANGE THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
Quantum computing can be tough to get your head around.
In regular computing, bits - or "binary digits" - represent a 0 OR a 1 to form the building blocks of computing.
In quantum computing, however, the chip is actually an atom known as a quantum bit, or "qubit". Quantum mechanics allows the atom to be both a 0 AND a 1 at the same time resulting in exponential growth in computing power as you add more of them. A mind-boggling concept? It doesn't have to be...
INVESTING IN INNOVATION
HOW SITUATIONAL AWARENESS CAN PUT YOUR BUSINESS ON THE MAP
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to business. Strategic frameworks can often be limiting, and what has worked well for one company may signal the beginning of the end for another.
This is where situational awareness comes in handy...
Wardley Mapping can help to determine when to outsource, when to buy and when to build. By investing in the innovations that are of the greatest value to customers - and building upon the successes that have come before - it is possible to not only predict the future, but to shape it!
HOW DDoS ATTACKS WORK
You've heard of hacking and identity theft, but what about DDoS attacks?
DDoS stands for "distributed denial of service", and is a common way of attacking a website by flooding it with requests for information - in some cases, up to 20,000x more - which can make it impossible to identify legitimate customers from robots.
No business is safe, so it's important to understand what DDoS is, how it happens and what preventative and defensive measures are in place to reduce the likelihood of it happening to you.
ARE YOU ON THE SOURCE?
WHY SHARING IS CARING
Open Source software is created and maintained by users. It can be tweaked, added to and improved by anyone. And best of all, it’s free!
Open Source has been instrumental in modern computing, from the development of browsers to media players to operating systems, and its value grows with every passing day as the community around it share their skills, knowledge and passion for the benefit of everybody else.
HOW ENCRYPTION HOLDS THE KEY
In 2017 alone, the world saw data breaches affecting close to half a billion customers from companies such as eBay, Uber and Equifax.
Customer trust is built upon foundations of reliability, transparency and data encryption. It’s imperative that businesses are vigilant and strive to remain deserving of the trust that users place in them.
Find out more about the importance of protecting your data, and the nuances between symmetrical and asymmetrical encryption techniques in the below overview.
THE POTENTIAL AND PITFALLS OF TOMORROW'S TECHNOLOGY
Think you know your AGI from your ASI? Or that artificial intelligence belongs to the unrealistic realms of science-fiction? Think again!
AI is already a part of your daily life; from Siri and Alexa, to Netflix and Spotify. All over the world, computer programmes are monitoring, mimicking and testing your behaviours – and with exponential potential for growth. Sounds scary, right?
Some of the brainiest scientific minds of our time believe AI can provide incalculable benefits to humankind, with the potential to wipe out disease and poverty. That is, if we can avoid the many pitfalls along the way…
JUMPING THE ARC
THE TREND FOR TIMELY TRANSITIONS
With the constant evolution of technology around us, it’s easy to believe that such progress is inevitable. In reality however, consistent technological improvement relies on carefully timed transitions between existing and emerging platforms.
Each of these platforms has an ‘arc’ - improving as they mature, plateauing, then becoming unsupported and dying off - and transitioning between these arcs at the best moment can be the difference between success and failure.
Utilising the latest technological capabilities can help to attract, encourage and retain talent, but it all relies on ‘jumping the arc’ at just the right moment...