Post Tagged with: "Business"

Private companies are building their own spy agencies

Private companies are building their own spy agencies

Here’s the description of a talk that happened at Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs:

In today’s world, businesses are facing increasingly complex threats to infrastructure, finances, and information. The government is sometimes unable to share classified information about these threats. As a result, business leaders are creating their own intelligence capabilities within their companies.

This is not about time honored spying by businesses on each other, or niche security firms, but about a completely new use of intelligence by major companies to support their global operations.

The panelists examine the reasons for private sector intelligence: how companies organize to obtain it, and how the government supports them. “Is this a growing trend?” “How do companies collaborate in intelligence?” “How does the government view private intelligence efforts?” “How do private and government intelligence entities relate to one another?” “What does this all mean for the future of intelligence work?”

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs: Intelligence in the Private Sector

I’d love to find out more, or find a transcript or video of the talk.

(Thanks Tim Maly)

February 13, 2014 Comments are Disabled
How Silicon Valley’s Hippie Roots Led to Its Modern Elitism

How Silicon Valley’s Hippie Roots Led to Its Modern Elitism

Fred Turner, author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture and The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties interviewed on how Silicon Valley went from counter cultural cool to mustache twirling villain. Turner talks a lot about Silicon Valley’s connection to 60s communalism, and why that outlook is shaping its modern practices:

One of the great mistakes people made in reviewing my book was to say, “Wow, it’s great. Turner finally showed us how the hippies brought us computing.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What I think I did in the book was actually show how the research world that brought us computing also brought us the counterculture. In the ‘40s, we see military industrial research in and around MIT and around a variety of other centers being incredibly collaborative and open. It’s that style that actually migrates into and shapes countercultural practices. What the counterculture does for computing is it legitimates it. It makes it culturally cool. [...]

A legacy from the communalist movement that I think is pernicious is a turning away from politics, a turning toward the self as the basis of political change, of social action. I think that’s something you see all through the Valley. The information technology industry feeds off it because information technologies can so easily be aimed at satisfying individual needs. You see that rhetoric leveraged when Google and other firms say, “Don’t regulate us. We need to be creative. We need to be free to pursue our satisfaction because that’s ultimately what will provide a satisfying society.”

That’s all a way of ignoring the systems that make the world possible. One example from the ‘60s that I think is pretty telling is all the road trips. The road trips are always about the heroic actions of people like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and their amazing automobiles, right? Never, never did it get told that those road trips were only made possible by Eisenhower’s completion of the highway system. The highway system is never in the story. It’s boring. What’s in the story is the heroic actions of bootstrapped individuals pursuing conscious change. What we see out here now is, again, those heroic stories. And there are real heroes. But the real heroes are operating with automobiles and roads and whole systems of support without which they couldn’t be heroic.

Full Story: Harvard Business Review: How Silicon Valley Became The Man

See also:

The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman

Turner’s essay on the connections between Burning Man and Silicon Valley, particularly Google (PDF)

The R.U. Sirius’ interview with Turner

How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

The California Ideology

January 21, 2014 0 comments
Forget Mega-Corporations, Here’s The Mega-Network

Forget Mega-Corporations, Here’s The Mega-Network

blade-runner-skyline<

I explain my concept of "mega-networks" over at TechCrunch:

We live in the age of cryptocurrency heists, Chinese moon landings, eco-disasters and electronic cigarettes. Sounds like something out of a cyberpunk novel.

Well, a cyberpunk novel without the brain implants, but don’t worry, those are coming, too. But one big cyberpunk theme that hasn’t come to pass is the rise of mega-corporations — those huge multinational conglomerates, like Robocop‘s OCP, that owned everything from baby food companies to police departments.

Corporations are arguably more powerful today than ever before. But the economy isn’t dominated by a handful of megalithic conglomerates. it consists of hundreds or thousands of smaller, more specialized firms. Our cyberpunk future-present is dominated instead by a new power structure: the mega-network.

Full Story: TechCrunch: Forget Mega-Corporations, Here’s The Mega-Network

See also: Mindful Cyborgs: The End of the Firm as We Know It

January 4, 2014 0 comments
The Alt-Labor Movement: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better

The Alt-Labor Movement: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better

Nicole Aschoff on the “Alt-Labor” movement, such as the Walmart and fast food strikes:

University of Colorado-Denver management professor Wayne Cascio has shown, through a comparison of Walmart/Sam’s Club and Costco, that low wages are not necessary for high profits and productivity. Costco employees average roughly $35, 000 per year ($17 per hour), while Sam’s Club workers average roughly $21, 000 per year ($10 per hour) and Walmart workers earn an average of less than $9 an hour. Costco also provides it workers predictable, full-time work and health benefits. However, contrary to popular assumptions, Costco actually scores higher in relative financial and operating performance than Walmart. Its stores are more profitable and more productive, and its customers and employees are happier.

Costco is not exceptional. Zeynep Ton, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has studied retail operations for a decade and argues that “the presumed trade-off between investment in employees and low prices can be broken.” “High-road” employers like Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and the Container Store have all found ways to make high profits and provide decent jobs. Catherine Ruetschlin’s research shows that a modest wage increase—bumping up the average annual salary of Walmart or Target workers to $25,000—would barely make a dent in big retailers’ bottom line, costing them the equivalent of about 1% of total sales. Even if a company like Walmart passed on half the cost of the increase to customers, the average customer would pay roughly $17 more per year, or about 15 cents per shopping visit. And, considering most low-wage workers spend nearly their entire paycheck on necessities, the industry would see a boost in sales ($4 billion to $5 billion more per year) to its own workers. Fast-food companies are highly profitable. McDonald’s alone saw profits more than double between 2007 and 2011. They could easily send some of these profits downstream to franchise owners and workers.

So why do most big retailers and fast-food chains insist on a bad-jobs or “low road” model? There are a few reasons. MIT’s Ton argues that labor costs are a large, controllable expense, and retailers generally view them as a “cost-driver” rather than a “sales-driver.” Store-level managers are pressured by higher-ups to control labor costs as a percentage of weekly or monthly sales. And because store managers have no control over sales (or merchandise mix, store layout, prices, etc.) they respond to pressure from above by cutting employment or forcing workers to work off-the-clock when sales dip. Another factor is financialization—the increasing dominance of finance in the economy. Firms feel a lot of pressure from Wall Street to be a Walmart and not a Costco. As Gerald Davis has argued, the rise of finance and the dominance of “shareholder value” rhetoric have resulted in an emphasis on short-term profits that register in increased share prices and big CEO bonuses.

Full Story: Dollars and Sense: Low-wage workers fight to make bad jobs better.

(via Metafilter)

This is encouraging, but the possibility of fast food companies switching to “less-costly, automated alternatives like touch-screen ordering and payment devices” is not an idle threat. I’ve seen something like this setup in the food court at the JFK airport. But as I wrote earlier, cultural issues could stop this from becoming widespread — it’s not clear that customers will settle for robots and touch screens over human beings. But I sure wouldn’t rule it out.

October 8, 2013 0 comments
For Silicon Valley, Meditation Is About Getting Ahead, Not Inner Peace

For Silicon Valley, Meditation Is About Getting Ahead, Not Inner Peace

This touches all my cynical buttons:

But in today’s Silicon Valley, there’s little patience for what many are happy to dismiss as “hippie bullshit.” Meditation here isn’t an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of existence but a tool to better oneself and improve productivity. That’s how Bill Duane, a pompadoured onetime engineer with a tattoo of a bikini-clad woman on his forearm, frames Neural Self-Hacking, an introductory meditation class he designed for Google. “Out in the world, a lot of this stuff is pitched to people in yoga pants,” he says. “But I wanted to speak to my people. I wanted to speak to me. I wanted to speak to the grumpy engineer who may be an atheist, who may be a rationalist.” [...]

It also raises the uncomfortable possibility that these ancient teachings are being used to reinforce some of modern society’s uglier inequalities. Becoming successful, powerful, and influential can be as much about what you do outside the office as what you do at work. There was a time when that might have meant joining a country club or a Waspy church. Today it might mean showing up at TED. Looking around Wisdom 2.0, meditation starts to seem a lot like another secret handshake to join the club. “There is some legitimate interest among businesspeople in contemplative practice,” Kenneth Folk says. “But Wisdom 2.0? That’s a networking opportunity with a light dressing of Buddhism.” [...]

Steve Jobs spent lots of time in a lotus position; he still paid slave wages to his contract laborers, berated subordinates, and parked his car in handicapped stalls.

Full Story: Wired: Meditation Isn't Just About Inner Peace—in the Valley It's About Getting Ahead

See also:

Technoccult Interview: Open Source Buddhism with Al Jigong Billings

Mindful Cyborgs: Sensor Hacking For Mindfulness with Nancy Dougherty on the new Mindful Cyborgs

June 19, 2013 0 comments
Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow

Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow

Evan, a student at IMSA

I wrote about the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a boarding high school in Aurora, IL, for Wired:

The IMSA Wednesdays are like Google’s “20 percent time” — only better. “At Google, 20 percent time is actually tacked on to the rest of your job. ” says Daniel Kador, another former IMSA student. “At IMSA, it really is built into your schedule.” And though Kador and other students admit that they spent more than a few Wednesdays just goofing off — as high school students so often do — they say the environment at IMSA ends up pushing many of them towards truly creative work. And it pays off.

After teaching himself to program at IMSA, Chu went on to the University of Illinois, where he worked on NCSA Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, following in the footsteps of fellow IMSA alums Robert and Michael McCool. And, eventually, he joined several other IMSA graduates as an early employee at PayPal, where he still works today.

Chu is just one of many tech success stories that have sprung from IMSA over the years (see sidebar, page two). Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well. You can think of IMSA as a Hogwarts for Hackers.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow

Photos by: Greg Ruffing

May 31, 2013 1 comment
Awesome Column On How To Break Into The Comic Book Industry

Awesome Column On How To Break Into The Comic Book Industry

Death Tax cover

Jeremy Holt column “Strange Love” is a revealing and inspiring look at what it takes to break into the comics industry. Here’s the last bit form part six:

Pitching is very much its own art form, which requires dedicating time and energy to honing the craft. Each time you do it, only helps inform your decision making the next time around. This journey is part of the process and a healthy amount of humility will grease your wheels insuring a smoother ride. Remaining humble and appreciative of any advice you might receive from established talent will foster that eagerness to improve each time you fail. And believe me when I say: You will fail a lot.

If after reading all of this, you feel even more excited to go out and make some comics, I’d say you’re already ahead of the curve. Good luck.

Full Story: Multiversity: Strange Love: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Breaking Into Comic Books – Part 1

May 5, 2013 6 comments
The Corporation Who Would Be King

The Corporation Who Would Be King

Some design fiction from Tim Maly, who wrote that thing about corporations being bad AI:

“…if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election…”
-Montana Bill Would Give Corporations The Right To Vote by Ian Millhiser for Thinkprogress

A broader version of this law passes, leading to an explosion of algorithmic corporations owning nominal fractions of land to meet the real property requirement.

Eventually, the corporate hordes overrun their human voter counterparts. A ballot measure is introduced allowing corporations to stand for election. It passes. Now, their dark work begins.

Full Story: Quiet Babylon: The Corporation Who Would be King

March 21, 2013 0 comments
Poverty On The Rise In Silicon Valley

Poverty On The Rise In Silicon Valley

sacremento-tent-city

A rising tide does not lift all boats:

The Silicon Valley is adding jobs faster than it has in more than a decade as the tech industry roars back. Stocks are soaring and fortunes are once again on the rise.

But a bleaker record is also being set this year: Food stamp participation just hit a 10-year high, homelessness rose 20 percent in two years, and the average income for Hispanics, who make up one in four Silicon Valley residents, fell to a new low of about $19,000 a year— capping a steady 14 percent drop over the past five years, according to the annual Silicon Valley Index released by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, representing businesses, and the philanthropic Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Simply put, while the ultra-rich are getting even richer, record numbers of Silicon Valley residents are slipping into poverty.

Full Story: Huffington Post: Silicon Valley Poverty Is Often Ignored By The Tech Hub’s Elite

Meanwhile: Biggest Risk Factor for Depression: Low Income

Photo: a Sacramento tent city, by ThinkingStiff

March 11, 2013 0 comments
Corporations Are “Bad AI”

Corporations Are “Bad AI”

Tim Maly writes:

One of my favourite recurring tropes of AI speculation/singulatarian deep time thinking is mediations on how an evil AI or similar might destroy us. [...]

And all I can think is: we already have one of those. It is pretty clear to anyone who’s paying attention that 1. a marketplace regime of firms dedicated to maximizing profit has—broadly speaking—added a lot of value to the world 2. there are a lot of important cases where corporate profit maximization causes harm to humans 3. corporations are—broadly speaking—really good at ensuring that their needs are met.

I don’t think that it’s all that far fetched to suggest that maybe they’re getting better and better at ensuring their needs are met. Pretty much the only thing that the left and right in America can agree on is that moneyed influence has corrupted American politics and yet neither side seems able to do much of anything about it.

Full Story: Quiet Babylon: The Singularity Already Happened; We Got Corporations

See also: Yes, There is a Sub-Reddit Dedicated to Preventing SkyNet

March 4, 2013 0 comments