The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Encouraging use of technology in all students


I have spent some time this summer fixing computers for various friends and relatives. It is amazing to see how connected today’s students are, whether they have devoted time to learn all the details of their computer and network or they just try things until they work. I guess I take this for granted having two very computer capable daughters, but they have good tech support at home and at school!  I like what I am seeing with today’s students.  They are not afraid to try just about anything from finding and downloading software, television shows, instant message programs and VOIP products.  

In diagnosing and removing several different viruses, spyware and useless software plus completing installation of security patches, upgrades and protection software I also discovered correctly configured video players, bit torrent software and effective use of open source software for personal productivity.  I asked the people I helped what they did to learn about new software.  Many search some popular download sites, but most hear about it or see it on friends machines and want to replicate the experience on their own.  

Students today are also using their social networks to learn about best practices for computers and will Facebook or IM a friend to get advice.  OK, I wouldn’t have had this set of machines for this case study if it wasn’t for the errant click on a webpage or letting virus protection expire or not knowing that the Mac wants to run overnight for some preventative maintenance!  However, employers should be happy, the students of today are coming out of school with significantly better computer skills, well in advance of what we recently considered “basic computer skills”.  They are also very good at trial and error though and will test every avenue to find a way to do things faster or easier.  So I guess we have to consider how we deliver and allow self-service in our enterprise IT offerings. 


Three laws of robots actually a human restriction

In Computer magazine, there was a recent article Beyond Asimov: The Three Laws of Responsible Robotics. This article addressed a perspective I've always had - Robots will need to have significantly more "perceptual and reasoning capabilities" in order to even approach being able to follow the three laws.robot

The three laws are more constraints on how the robot's designers should think about their creation than they are something that constrains the device itself. The authors recognize that fact.

This article proposes "an alternative, parallel set of laws based on what humans and robots can realistically accomplish in the foreseeable future as joint cognitive systems, and their mutual accountability for their actions from the perspectives of human-centered design and human-robot interaction."

I found it well worth reading since many organizations are focused on automation and we've mentioned many times in this blog the intersection of computing expansion (i.e., cloud), interconnection (i.e., Internet), and significantly more data (i.e., sensors). These are the foundational needs to have greater robotic capabilities and improved business value delivery.


Is The Next Big Thing a fault-less system?

I was fortunate to attend a Software Reliability lecture presented by Dr. Samuel Keene, past president of the IEEE Reliability Society . The lecture re-enforced many of the basic principles we learned as systems engineers over forty years ago. One "Path to Failure" lecture graphic jumped out at me as extremely important, and I hope I've faithfully reproduced it below:

To set the stage and to gain our attention, Dr. Keene recalled several notorious system failures and labeled each with an assignable cause:

  • Massive southeast power outage (2008) - administrative and power control system co-located

  • Mars Climate Orbitor (1998) - mix of metric and imperial units

  • Patriot missile misfire (1991) - operational profile change

  • DSC communications failure (1991) - 4 bits changed in 13 LOC, not regression tested

  • Alleged F-15 equator navigation system error - operational environment change

  • Jupiter flyby - power supply switch programmed, if loss of communications exceeds 7 days

Note -Utility companies, space agencies, and military units are normally not forthcoming with detailed failure reporting required for deep analysis.

The implementation oversight, that starts the path to system failure, can precede the fault activation by the widest range of time - namely, nanoseconds to infinity.

This statement made me think about all the systems I have designed, programmed, tested, installed, and changed over the years.

Is it possible that I have never created a fault-less system?

What can I do to create a fault-less system next time?

Or, can I only be expected to create a system, with faults, that behaves in predictable safe ways when faults are activated?

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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