Tag Archives: CIA

The Age of Alexa

 

As a birthday gift for my daughters, Flora and Cora, their grandfather purchased for them an Amazon Echo (aka “Alexa”).

If you’re not familiar, the Amazon Echo / Alexa is a voice command controlled free-standing computer (with a nice speaker system to boot!) that links with your wireless network. Measuring some 9.3 inches with a circumference of 3.3 inches, Alexa can just about fit anywhere. In addition, it looks attractive (in a manner of speaking) and readily plugs into a regular wall outlet for power (it connects to your wireless network; no wired connections are required). With some adjustments and minimal amount of programming (took me all of 15 minutes to get it going) you’ll be able to give direct voice commands. Alexa can either answer your inquiries or (depending on your set up) control the lights in your house, control your thermostat, give you automatic news and sports updates as well as tell you the weather, your commuting time or even where the nearest restaurant (down to the type – Belgium ale house, Indian, Chinese, etc.) is to your house.

But doing a little research and experimentation, Alexa can do a lot more – and not just for your home (more on this in a moment).

As an old-timer, I’m amazed at this recent technological development if for no reason than I can appreciate what’s involved. First off, I’ve been working with voice command / recognition software since it first came out back in the 1990’s: things have come a long way. Used to be you had to spend about an hour just to ‘train’ the software/computer to recognize your voice (what with your inflections, accents, voice idioms, etc.) and then more time spent on getting it to do what you wanted it to do – open files, do basic computer commands, etc. And even then, it was rarely perfect: if you were hitting 95% accuracy, you were down great.

With Alexa, there was no hesitation: no training. Alexa was out of the box and running down the road in mere minutes.

Damn; that’s powerful.

No matter who you are, so long as you speak the language that it’s set for, it’ll respond. So literally out of the box, I and both my daughters were taking and using Alexa. Even now, my guests – upon visiting – now ask Alexa for the weather or for sport scores, along with local news as a matter of course, just as they would ask anyone else.

But aside from Alexa being able to give you a host of information – such as cooking recipes, bartending (excuse me, “Mixology”) recipes for drinks or for random facts (‘on this date,…’), with some adjustments and hardware / interface additions, Alexa can water your lawn, control /monitor your house alarms.

Sometimes, amusing situations can arise – such as when my younger daughter asked “Alexa: how old is the Earth?”

Alexa replied “The Earth is 5.35 Billion years old.”

“I knew it! Those people who keep saying that the Earth is only 7,000 years old don’t know what they’re talking about!”

So it’s all fun and games, right?

Not when you check out the IFTTT page for Alexa (IFTT – “If / then” user programming routines). Alexa comes with an ability for folks to program basic interface commands enabling users to link Alexa to various apps and also create routines. Want something done automatically? With a little bit of simple programming, anyone can make their Alexa do things automatically and with a mere voice command.

The potential for Alexa can go beyond just a cool item for the average household: the potential for business applications is also well worth considering. Aside from stock indexes, one could create business services and routines both for the average user and for the business / service end of things. Already, there are ‘recipes’ for users to link to their Evernote and Todoiast, along with dictating short emails (sending them out) or dictating voice message for your Skype. As one example, I can set up and schedule calendar events on my Google calendar just by using my voice – and it’ll appear on all of my calendars (phone, computer, etc. simultaneously).

I would not be surprised to see businesses – especially those who profess the notion of being ‘lean and mean’ – installing Echoes in their offices as means to better streamline operations (not to mention that Echoes could also be of good use for non-profit and governmental agencies as well).

In a manner of speaking, although this is not exactly new technology, the way it’s being recast is nothing short of remarkable. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Echo came from Amazon. After all, as I had previously written, Amazon and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been quietly working together for seveal years now, with Amazon’s in-house computer network now being the repository of the CIA’s records – and ground zero for a development project based in Vancouver, Canada for true AI (Artificial Intelligence) development (https://shockwaveriderblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/the-cia-and-jeff-bezos-working-together-for-our-the-future/) utilizing quantum computing. Feel free to read my past posting on this subject matter: it’s well worth the read and helps one to better appreciate what’s taking place now.

I cannot help but wonder if Alexa is but one minor result  / spin-off from that ongoing effort. And granted, Alexa may sound awesome and smart, but it’s certainly not about to pass the Turing Test.

If Alexa is any indication, we are indeed entering a new age  – the Age of Alexa.

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The Party’s Over: It’s A New Generation Now

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And so the fallout from Edward Snowden continues. As the saga draws on (is he about to become a Russian citizen or not?) we overlook the bigger story: the Internet, as we know it, is dead.

As reported in The Guardian, the Internet is facing several inexorable trends: balkanization along nationalistic lines, the outreach of governments and outright commercial control.

When first instituted, the Internet was regarded as an open, totally free place of informational exchange: an ‘Interzone’ of sorts (to coin William Gibson) but now as time marches on, this is no longer accurate. Now, China and other nations routinely censor and control input and output of Internet access: Twitter is throttled, Google is curbed along with a host of other outlets. In some nations, the notion of a free and open Internet is practically banned outright, while in the so-called bastions of freedom (United States, Great Britain and Western Europe as a whole) internet surveillance is now the norm.

In the meantime, we’re starting to see pricing schemes reflective of the (overlooked) class system: if you want more Internet access (or more speed / faster access) you can expect to pay more for it. Libraries both domestically and internationally are facing cutbacks and thus limiting even more access for those who do not possess a computer, while premiums are being put in place on those who wish to participate on the so-called medium of ‘free exchange’.

In John Naughton’s excellent article, “Edward Snowden’s Not the Story. The Fate of the Internet Is” (http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/28/edward-snowden-death-of-internet) these issues were illustrated with a striking clarity.

And if you think you’re safe reading this article, better start changing the way you think. Of course, there’s the old chestnut: if you’re doing nothing wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about.

Wrong.

People make mistakes, especially in government, law enforcement and the military. It’s not too uncommon for wrongful arrests to take place; false accusations to spread or outright misunderstandings to take place leaving in the wake of ruined lives, reputations and personal financial disasters.

And now, as recently reported by Glenn Greenwald, low-level NSA (National Security Agency) employees can readily access emails, phone records and other information. (Really? No kidding!) So if you’re a file clerk who happens to be working for the NSA, you can review your family, friends or neighbors phone records, internet trolling history or other information (such as keeping tabs on that girl who dumped you last month).

If you just happen to be involved in a domestic dispute or a lawsuit with a government or corporate entity, expect to see your records accessed and reviewed as a matter of course.

It’s obvious ‘file access’ of these and other types routinely take place in various levels of government within the United States beyond just the federal levels. Sometimes, data accessed is utilized for political purposes: somebody running for office seeking out information about their worthy adversary. Other times, it’s for personal reason: divorce, outright personal hostility and an agenda of revenge. Don’t think it can’t happen: it does – and it happens more often than folks care to admit, taking place beyond just the federal level as well. Local governments and their officials have increasingly been caught reviewing private citizen records, through such supposedly secure information bases as NCIC (National Crime Information Center), credit history lookups, billing histories along with a host of other sources.

But what is remarkable is the lack of public response. You’d think with Glenn Greenwald’s recent expose, they’d be a bigger outcry. In fact, just the opposite: we’re witnessing a generational change. What was once a sacred domain – privacy – is now becoming a thing of the past. Younger generations are surrendering their privacy in a multitude of ways – putting up pictures of their ‘lost’ weekend  on Facebook; running commentary and personal attacks on social boards; personal commentary depicting their sexual activity or other ‘personal ‘ issues on their Twitter accounts – the list goes on.

Although privacy is still a sore point with a number of folks, the younger generation coming up are akin to those old timers who lived during the atomic age: expecting a blow up to happen, the atomic age generation held a diffident viewpoint of life with an expectation of being blown up at some point. Now, in the age of Big Brother, the younger generation is becoming inured to the notion of being watched 24 x 7, going about their business and even posting some of their more intimate scenes in public settings because, well, that’s what a lot of people do.

This one of the fallout of living in the Age of Surveillance: one becomes used to being watched and, in fact, embraces it to the point where they simply let it all hang out. Expecting our records to be reviewed and exposed is something many now expect. Sure, folks aren’t thrilled by it, but what are you gonna do about it? – so goes the argument.

All of this is bad enough, but add into the mix the notion of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and bizarre (disturbing) alliances – such as the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and Amazon coming together (see my prior post on this development), along with Google’s all-out effort’s to develop AI (likewise posting earlier), things are taking on a darker trend: it will soon be more than just being able to read your information, but actually read who you are – and what you’re really about, even if you don’t know yourself.

Prediction: expect to see Internet profiling to become the new norm. Just as we’ve witnessed the distasteful practice of racial profiling undertaking by State law enforcement officials on the national highways, we can expect to see something similar taking place in the coming years via our records, our book and music purchases along with any other activity we undertake.

So next time, if you can, remember to bend over and give the camera a moon; we all could use a laugh.

Let’s all give the AI’s something to mull over.

Monitoring Your Movements

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From the “I-Told-You-So!” Files

Back in the heady days of the 1990’s (ah, when life was so much different than it is now, what with the economy strong, the job opportunities available,…), a former colleague of mine (Dr. Barbara Flood) and I did a series of colloquia trying to raise awareness about the growing assault on privacy, resulting in the ASIS (American Society of Information Scientists) 1997 Washington D.C. meeting. As part of that meeting, we submitted a paper (“Creeping Peoplebases”) and I, in turn, submitted this paper.

Written in 1997, much of the technological specifics are a little out of date, but this article did (in large part) lend to the creation of Lutz’s Law of Privacy: “There is an inverse relationship between privacy and convenience: the more you have of one, the less of the other.”

But the approach hasn’t changed – and, in fact, it’s only gotten worse. With the recent news of Verizon releasing user’s call logs to the U.S. Government, along with the growing list of other privacy ‘breeches’, it leaves one to wonder where all of this going?

Breaking open a time capsule, read this blast from the past of over sixteen – 16! years ago; see for yourself where we stand,…

1997 ASIS Mid-Year Meeting Preview

“Monitoring Your Movements”
by W.E. Lutz© 1997 ASIS

“Suppose I had a good friend here in the Bureau,” Mallory said.”Someone who admired me for my generous ways.” Tobias looked reluctant and a bit coy. “It ain’t a simple matter, sir. Every spinning-run is registered, and each request must have a sponsor. What we did today is done in Mr. Wakefield’s name, so there’ll be no trouble in that. But your friend would have to forge some sponsor’s name, and run the risk of that imposture. It is fraud, sir. An Engine-fraud, like credit-theft or stock-fraud, and punished just the same, when it’s found out.” “Very enlightening,” Mallory said. “I’ve found that one always profits by talking to a technical man who truly knows his business. Let me give you my card.”

(From the book, “The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling)

We understand the many means by which our daily activities are accessed and used for specific purposes via transactional databases. We are also aware how databases from credit cards track our activities and movements and how magazine subscription listings betray our wants and desires. What we overlook, however, is how our image — our physical appearance — is accessed and employed without our consent or knowledge. Image processing, combined with routine databasing and commercially advanced tracking devices, add a new dimension to the erosion of our privacy. The routine access of personal information combined with the physical monitoring of movements creates a growing,dangerous threat to personal privacy.

The Power of Imaging Systems

Imaging systems are high-speed multi-processing portrait storage and retrieval systems. Portraits or images of individuals are taken via electronically scanning cameras, with any accompanying data files automatically linked to any computer-generated portrait. This combination of data file acquisition (fingerprint, background information, prior history) with electronic mug-shot imaging offers a powerful tool for law enforcement agencies. The power of imaging systems cannot be underestimated. It is an uncomfortable fact that many police background checks for newly arrested suspects often take 24 hours. Suspects arrested for minor offenses often are released without the arresting law enforcement agency’s knowledge of the suspects prior criminal record, owing to delays associated with standard file checks (i.e., non-imaged police data systems). An average arrest takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to process — fingerprinting, mug shot, file processing and statement preparation. Cross referencing with state and federal databanks often requires a delay up to 24 hours. But, according to the Camden Police Department, the use of imaging systems can cut back the average arrest time to approximately 15 to 30 minutes. Imaging systems offer unprecedented portrait manipulation and rapid data retrieval of all associated file information for law enforcement. For a growing number of agencies, gone are the days of ink fingerprints and the piles of tiresome mug shots. Imaging systems allow agencies to simply type in a rough description of a perpetrator based upon eyewitness account. In some imaging systems, simultaneous access to SCIC (State Crime Information Computers) and the FBI’s NCIC (National Crime Information Computer) is enabled, allowing direct link-up with any known federal or state suspect list within a matter of minutes.Imaging systems are becoming more prevalent outside of law enforcement. ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) and surveillance cameras in convenience stores are another form of imaging documentation. Although a far cry from the imaging technology used in law enforcement, the potential is still present.

For example, in the Pepsi/hypodermic needle scare of 1993, the culprit was captured on a video camera in a Colorado convenience store. The public hears this and breathes a sigh of relief, knowing that yet another evil perpetrator has been captured. Note, however, that the capture was made after an intensive search through millions of video images taken from thousands of convenience stores nationwide. Out of all those thousands of convenience stores and from those million or so video shots, the single incriminating video still-shot of the crime was found! Based upon the single freeze-frame image, the perpetrator was caught and prosecuted.

The wonder of modern technology is renewed when one appreciates the amount of time and human resources such actions would have taken but five years ago. As video cameras are often used to monitor employees (casinos, high-security locales such as computer chip factories or other such industries), surveillance cameras are increasingly employed as a panacea for dealing with crime. Recent federal grant awards illustrate a growing trend of public housing authorities using video cameras to monitor and prevent illegal activities. DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), FBI or the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) account for a number of video cameras within high-crime locales, with criminal activity dramatically evaporating for fear of being captured on record. Local police agencies are not loath to spread rumors and gossip regarding potential locales as a means to further deter illegal activity — often when no such cameras or agencies are actually intended or involved.

Beyond Surveillance Cameras: Automobile Tracking Systems

Video cameras are not alone in tracking one’s physical movements. In New Jersey, a proposal for automatic toll collection by several previously non-linked authorities would allow motorists to open and maintain a common account with agencies participating in the automatic toll collection service (author’s note: this has long since been approved and is now active). Using strategically placed magnetic stickers, motorists could drive past automatic scanners without stopping to pay a toll collector or a cash receiving machine. The flip side to this convenience is that the participating motorist could be readily tracked while driving through toll booths across the state. Other new vehicle tracking technology has also recently appeared. LoJacks, installed in standard passenger vehicles, are gaining in popular usage, particularly in New York, Boston, Newark and Los Angeles. LoJacked vehicles possess a specific signature signal identifying the vehicle identification number (VIN). Each vehicle is thus uniquely identified so as to prevent confusion with other LoJack beacons. Upon the report of a stolen vehicle, police cars equipped with LoJack scanners cruise their assigned areas, literally homing in on the specific signal emitter (which flashes a signal every fifteen seconds) of the stolen car. In some areas, the installation of LoJacks is credited with a drop of up to 50% in vehicle thefts. The combination of imaging/picture tracking systems and powerful database sort/retrieval presents a new breach in the wall of privacy. It is no longer just a question of personal information being accessed by the varieties of databases, but rather how the average citizen is increasingly tracked in relation to this personal information. We know who you are, where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. Soon, we will know specifically where you are at any given time.

Addressing Our Perceived Need for Security

As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.” Breaches of privacy are actively encouraged. Federal monies are offered to housing authorities for surveillance systems. We think nothing of cameras which record our every move in stores, shopping malls or at ATMs. Insurance companies offer discounts of up to 25% of annual rates for those who install LoJacks, while commuters welcome the convenience of rushing past time-consuming toll plazas. Privacy protection efforts are few and presently hold little promise. Many county sheriffs encourage families to image their children – that is, to store the personal characteristics, background information and images of children within law enforcement databanks to allow for ready and rapid retrieval if the children are kidnapped. Although one cannot argue against the safety of children, one should question the underlying premise of fear. Committing oneself and one’s children to any information system is an act fraught with long-term consequences and should be considered carefully.

Cable Television: Who Is Watching Whom?

Another vivid example of overlooking how convenience creates privacy invasion involves recent advances in cable television technology. Many cable companies employ a standard cable TV box manufactured by General Instrument (Jerrold boxes). The latest General Instrument development is the CFT2200, which, unlike most cable TV boxes, can both send and receive signals, thus facilitating pay-per-view without having to employ the telephone line or answering TV polls. Upon review, it would appear that the CFT2200 can employ home telephone lines for operation and would eventually allow for full usage of ISDN lines. Potentially, these boxes could allow for direct informational access

(i.e., Internet service providing Web TV) and may very well serve for the next wave of data access. What is disturbing about this development is the ability of cable companies to conduct real-time monitoring of viewer’s preference in TV entertainment and information access, offering simultaneous send/receive signals while the viewer is watching their shows. A detailed record of what, when and how long a viewer watched any particular show at any given moment is enhanced through new cable television technology. If the average consumer were aware of this fact prior to purchase, would so many readily accept? The difficulty lies in the average lay person understanding the power and extent of the technologies arrayed against the common person; it is this knowledge gap which makes resolving the issues surrounding the protection of privacy a formidable challenge. Many cannot readily appreciate the subtleties surrounding esoteric cable television services or imaging/monitoring technologies. As information professionals, we can share the vitality of an Internet search engine or personal communication system for common household usage while seeking out protection against privacy abuse. The question remains: where do we draw the line between the sublime and the extreme?

Options and Considerations

We are witness to the demise of our notions of privacy; this trend is congruent with rapid technological development. Luddites could argue that as technology grows, privacy dissipates; thus, technology must be curbed (so the argument goes). The genie is, however, well out of the bottle. Modern conveniences and economic advantages far outweigh any notions of denying the benefits and comforts which we amply enjoy. The approach we must now initiate rests upon legislation and education.

Education and awareness on the part of those who know and understand the reality of their surroundings remains the key to ensuring privacy. Proprietary information will remain such, but the key to economic success will be that of creative dissemination of the uses of proprietary data and/or developments. If the general public is aggressively enlightened in the ways and means of information technology, then it follows that perhaps we can expect the general population to be more discriminating when it comes to privacy protection. Just as we speak of a green consumer culture, so too we might encourage the beginning of a privacy culture. True privacy could be an emerging marketing approach given the right impetus. Effective legislation must come into play if we are to prevent further erosion of privacy. Perhaps we should consider employing European laws as models for the control of personal information and the protection of privacy. Database access or use of one’s name or other personal information could be subject to the individuals’ prior approval and/or payment — similar to royalties — with violations subject to substantial monetary penalties. The logic is inescapable: if private/public entities gain a profit from the sale and/or use of our personal information, then we should receive royalties, if we choose to participate. Those who seek not to participate in the sale and dissemination of their information should be permitted, under strict legislation, to opt out with strengthened privacy guarantees.

The time has come to reach out and enlighten legislators about the issues surrounding privacy. Some cultures hold that taking pictures of individuals and/or places robs the soul or essence of the place or person; arguably, this is now taking place. The act of taking pictures — regardless of public safety or security — constitutes an act of capturing our image without our permission. Similarly, when information is accessed — habits, purchases, profiles — could it not be argued that this is the theft of our truest proprietary data — our identities?

In the coming century, our identities will be how we appear on innumerable databases; our visage reflected in the hidden cameras and how we stand within society’s walls defined in the roll calls of databases. The time is right, therefore, to educate both the public and legislators about the relationship between ourselves and the tools which gather information about us and our fellows. Given the prevalence of modern technology, it is time to recognize that our tools are but an extension of ourselves, the surveillance cameras reflecting back our images. How we view ourselves ultimately determines how we view and shape our future. How better than to smile into the camera with a confident cheer?

The original copy can be also found here: http://www.scribd.com/welutz

William E. Lutz is a professional consultant involved with matters pertaining to security, privacy as well a records management. More about his work can be found via his LinkedIn profile of http:// http://www.linkedin.com/in/williamelutz as well as via his website of http:// http://www.welassociates.co.

The Office is Dead: Long Live The Virtual Office

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Marissa Meyer may differ, but we here at Shockwaveriderblog Control Center see the future (as we usually do) – and it’s going to be about low overhead, effective exploitation of technology and greater competitive response.

Whoa, that’s a mouthful; let’s take it through one step at a time.

Welcome to the Realm of the Virtual Office: lean, mean and fast.

This isn’t just about telecommuting (which is old hat anyhow) it’s about saving money, greater response to client needs and all within the context of a secure and ubiquitous records / file service.

The office, as we know it is dead. To be certain, there will always been some operations which will require the obligatory cubicle farms but increasingly, the more successful business folk are those who are able to be more responsive, keep their costs low while yet be able to work their clients, balancing the necessities of picking up their kids from school while maintaining a family household.

Let’s take one sector where the Virtual Office is starting to make serious inroads and have significant impact: law.

Whenever one thinks of law, one thinks of either a) dry, musty offices with tons of obscure legal books, clustered desks, overflowing fax machines and the vague tinge of week old coffee hanging in the air – or b) law office’s ala LA Law – modern flowing offices with smart / spiffy people talking with serious overtones hanging out in court, and then going back to their cluttered desks with bookshelves overflowing with obscure legal books and computers overwhelmed with unanswered emails (well, back in the days of LA Law, they didn’t have email, but you get the idea) and stale coffee.

Who says that it has to be this way any more?

This was a point brought up by Ms. Chelsey Lambert, founder of Virtual Law (http://www.totalattorneys.com) – and well worth considering: “let’s face it; many of the functions that attorneys do nowadays can be readily done remotely and within the context of a secure and responsive environment.”

It’s probably no coincidence that Virtual law or the online delivery of legal services has taken off just at a time when “The Cloud” is now a concept readily embraced by more and more users, both corporate and governmental (witness the Central Intelligence Agency’s move to adopt Amazon’s new cloud storage system as a means to store their own records – for more on this, see my prior blog on this development).

Hey, if it’s good enough for what is arguably the world’s biggest and among the most powerful intelligence services, then why not for your local neighborhood attorney?

Well, except for some states, as Ms. Lambert points out: ‘some places are slow to adopt this new approach – such as New Jersey – but overall, the response among states has been overwhelming and proves that this concept has legs.’ Indeed – and if legs were any indication, this concept of a Virtual Law Office would be akin to an Olympic sprinter after drinking a barrel of expresso. In the past several years, more and more offices are adopting this approach as it returns back to the notion of what an attorney / professional is: it is the person, not the office, which defines the skill set.

Sure, it’s helpful to have an office and a place to dump your junk (so to speak) every once in a while, but when you consider the advantages that a person well-armed with a good, solid laptop, ready Internet access along with good cup of coffee (or tea) that’s really all we’re talking about (that and a competent attorney!).

In the past five years, we’ve witnessed the explosion of iPhone / smartphones; laptops reaching over 1 Gg in storage capacity and tremendous processing speed along with the growing prevalence of wireless access (much of it increasingly free). We’re not just talking about low overhead and a greater response on behalf of the client, we’re talking about a quiet revolution taking place that’s going to impact mainstream businesses everywhere – and in the process may very well go far in stimulating the economy.

And best of all, with this approach, you can have your business and your family, as adopters of this approach are able to work within the context of their lives – which brings up another significant point: the majority of folks making this possible are women. As Ms. Lambert puts it so aptly:

I’d also like to point out that a very rare occurrence happened above. FEMALE attorneys are advancing the legal profession by leaps and bounds. A glimmer of hope within a notoriously male dominated industry is igniting the passion of female lawyers across the country. For the first time, they have the ability to go out on their own, with minimal overhead, work a schedule that accommodates their family, and earn a living from wherever they choose to work.

To give you a better idea what this means, in one example, an attorney residing in North Carolina are practicing law in Texas.

Think about the implication of what this could mean for other industries and for the labor force and the open market as a whole and you’ll start to see the implications.

Growing up in a single parent household, I recall the trials that my mother went through, working in the day and going to night school to learn and attain a skill set which enable her to both improve herself and our living standard: somehow, I’m not surprised that this development is taking place by women – or, as I would suggest, ‘necessity is often made by a mother of invention.’

To learn more about this remarkable and overlooked trend, check out these links below:

Rachel Rodgers, Esq.
Rachel Rodgers Law (Virtual Business Law Practice) http://www.rachelrodgerslaw.com/
Her Virtual Law Office (VLO Consulting Practice) http://hervirtuallawoffice.com/
Fast Company’s latest article –https://ad122.infusionsoft.com/app/linkClick/4003/10c1a41ed98c5ac5/13905/e44c955f2fc8cdc8

Rania Combs, Esq.
Texas Wills & Trusts Online – http://www.texaswillsandtrustslaw.com/
Forbes – http://www.forbes.com/sites/hanisarji/2011/05/05/an-estate-planners-virtual-law-office/

Stephanie Kimbro, Esq.
Original co-founder of VLO Tech, purchased by Total Attorneys in 2009.
virtuallawpractice.org

‘The Big Four’
These are the four leading Legal Cloud Computing / Virtual Law Practice Providers. Each provide a complete client portal, time tracking, billing and various other tools specifically designed to support a virtual client relationship & secure online delivery of legal services.

Clio

MyCase

Rocket Matter

Total Attorneys

Special thanks to Chelsey Lambert for helping out in this article! For more, check out Ms. Lambert’s profile which includes contact information: www.linkedin.com/in/chelseylambert/

The Race is On: Developing Quantum Computers (and Alternative Universes for Good Measure)

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And so the race is on. Actually, it’s been on for some time now; it’s only now that we’re starting to see the ripples on the surface of what is otherwise a very deep and dark pool filled with very large creatures jostling for position.

It’s about processing.

It’s about the future.

Quantum computers would be able to solve problems much faster than any regular computer using the best currently known algorithms (such as those established via various neural network models).  Quantum computers are totally different and unlike anything we’ve developed before. Give a regular computer enough power, it could be made to simulate any quantum algorithm – but it wouldn’t be anything like a quantum computer.

Regular computers use bits; quantum computers use qubits, which are really funky, powerful things.  The computational basis of 500 qubits that would be found on a typical quantum computer, for example, would already be too large to be represented on a classical computer because it would require 2500 complex values to be stored; this is because it’s not just about the information that qubit is displaying, but the state of being where it (the qubit) is carrying that information which also plays into it’s creating an answer to any given query.

Bear with me, now,…

Although it may seem that qubits can hold much more information than regular bits, qubits are only in a probabilistic superposition of all of their states. This means that when the final state of the qubit is measured (i.e., when an answer is derived), they can only be found in one of the possible configurations they were in before measurement.

Here’s an analogy: take a regular computer bit with its black/white 0/1 configuration as a rubber ball with one side black, and the other side white. Throw it into the air: it comes back either as Black/0 or White/1. WIth qubits, it’s likely to land as either a Black/0 or White/1 but during the process will have changed into the colors of the rainbow while you’re watching it fly through the air. That’s the kicker with qubits: you can’t think of qubits as only being in one particular state before measurement since the fact that they were in a superposition of states before the measurement was made directly affects the possible outcomes of the computation. (And remember: the act of your watching the ball fly in the air also can influence the result of the ball’s landing – a point we’ll discuss very shortly regarding our old buddy Werner Heisenberg,…).

Quantum computers offer more than just the traditional ‘101010’ ‘yes no yes no yes no’ processing routines (which is also binary for the number 42, just in case anyone is reading this). Quantum computers do a (in a manner of speaking) ‘no yes maybe‘ because in quantum physics it’s more than just whether or not any given particle is there or not: there’s also the issue of probability – i.e., ‘yes it’s there’, ‘no it’s not’ and ‘it could be’. Quantum computers share similarities with non-deterministic and probabilistic computers, with the ability to be in more than one state simultaneously.

Makes you wonder what happens if we turn on a quantum computer: would it simply disappear? Or conversely, can we expect to see quantum computers appear suddenly in our universe for no apparent reason?

Doing homework will clearly never be the same with a quantum computer.

As Ars Technica points out (http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/03/quantum-computer-gets-an-undo-button/):

This (uncertainty) property of quantum mechanics has made quantum computing a little bit more difficult. If everything goes well, at the end of a calculation, a qubit (quantum bit) will be in a superposition of the right answer and the wrong answer. 

What this also translates to is that quantum computers offer a greater realm of questions and exploration, offering greater opportunities for more answers and more options and superior processing capabilities. Likely we’ll wind up asking questions to a quantum computers and get answers we didn’t expect lending to more avenues of thought.

In other words, you’re not going to see a quantum computer at your nearby Radio Shack any time soon.

So now let’s revisit that hairy dog notion of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as this plays directly into the heart of quantum computers:

One of the biggest problems with quantum experiments is the seemingly unavoidable tendency of humans to influence the situati­on and velocity of small particles. This happens just by our observing the particles, and it has quantum physicists frustrated. To combat this, physicists have created enormous, elaborate machines like particle accelerators that remove any physical human influence from the process of accelerating a particle’s energy of motion.

Still, the mixed results quantum physicists find when examining the same particle indicate that we just can’t help but affect the behavior of quanta — or quantum particles. Even the light physicists use to help them better see the objects they’re observing can influence the behavior of quanta. Photons, for example — the smallest measure of light, which have no mass or electrical charge — can still bounce a particle around, changing its velocity and speed.

Think about it: now we’re introducing computers based – in large part – upon this technology.

We’re approaching Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy technology here: the kind of thing where we ask one question and get an answer that’s not what we’re expecting.

Improbability drive, anyone?

The race for quantum computers is big; this isn’t just some weird science fiction notion or discussion in some obscure blog.  As we reported here at ShockwaveRiderblog back in October of 2012, the CIA and Jeff Bezos of Amazon were working on a formal agreement to develop a quantum computer. Now, it was just announced that the CIA is going to ‘buy’ a good portion of Amazon’s storage services (http://www.businessinsider.com/cia-600-million-deal-for-amazons-cloud-2013-3). Meanwhile, (as also reported in this blog last week) Google bought out the Canadian firm, DNNResearch expressly to work on the development of neural networks (and with Google’s rather substantial storage capacity this is also an interesting development). Meanwhile, the founders of Blackberry just announced an initiative to pump some $100 million into quantum computing research (http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/03/20/quantumfund-lazaridis-idINDEE92J01420130320). Gee, you’d think they’d pump money into keeping Blackberry afloat, but apparently there’s more money to be made elsewhere,…

And throughout all of this is what some scientists who are involved in this business won’t tell you up front (but are quietly saying this in their respective back rooms over their coffee machines) is that nobody really knows what happens if / when we develop a quantum computer and we turn it on.

Understand: we’re potentially talking about a computer where if/when we attempt to undertake a Turing Test with it, we could ask it how the weather is and get answers that seemingly don’t make any sense – until later on when we realize that it’s been giving us the answers all along: we were just too dumb to realize it was telling us what the weather’s likely to be the next month.

Note the distinction: we ask how the weather is and the (potential) quantum computer tells us an answer that we didn’t expect because we didn’t frame the question in a manner appropriate for that given moment.

Quantum computing is going to be a very strange place indeed.

Maybe the final answer is indeed going to be 42.

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

– Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The CIA and Jeff Bezos: Working Together For (Our?) / The Future

In one of my prior posts I spoke at length regarding the recent efforts by the cool folks at the University of California – Berkeley who were able to fool a number of ‘qubits’ into allowing them to see if the proverbial cat (as in Schroedinger’s Cat) was alive or dead. In the words of Penny (from the television show “The Big Bang Theory”) ‘the cat is alive!’

And apparently the cat is alive – in more ways than one. Recently, what just leaked out is an ongoing ‘joint effort’ by none other than Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame (as in the founder and CEO, etc.) allying himself with none other than the United States Central Intelligence Agency – aka the CIA.

Amazon and the CIA in a business alliance?

Holy Sh*t, Batman!

And all of this is taking place in none other than a Canadian technology firm based out of Vancouver. Yes, Vancouver: the same city where most, if not nearly all of the X-Files episodes were filmed.

Amazon and the CIA in Vancouver?

So are aliens also involved?

Are you getting goosebumps yet?

Now, to some, it would be merger of two of the more tremendously powerful (and some would even say evil – as in BWAHAHAHHAAAA!) forces within our Known Universe. Regardless of what or how you feel, the fact is apparently notable folks think that there’s gold in thar hills of Quantum Computer Land.

What you may not be aware is that this has been going on for awhile – and they’ve been making big strides. In fact, what some critics have been saying on the subject of Quantum Computers that this is technology that may not be ready for another generation (i.e, twenty years) or so may very well be incorrect. Some industry experts are suggesting that quantum computers may become reality within the next several years (i.e, perhaps within the range of three to five years) and that shortly there after, they will be an item readily commoditized (i.e., as in you can buy one for yourself or for your company).

Imagine linking a series of quantum computers together into a cohesive network: using all that incredibly fast and powerful processing power opens staggering possibilities: cryptological utilization (that’s code breaking to you), advanced warfare planning, investment market strategies, weather forecasting, SkyNet, Neuromancer, er, ah,…

You get the idea: this is big.

It’s becoming evident that Kurzweil’s singularity is creeping up ever so much more quickly. I suspect that the Point of Singularity is similar to what we read in our rear view mirrors of our cars everyday: the reality is getting closer than we see – or realize.

Reminds me of that other notable line from the television show, “The Big Bang Theory”, when Sheldon confronts Penny and utters “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Indeed.

For more on this, check out this link: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/429429/the-cia-and-jeff-bezos-bet-on-quantum-computing/