Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly analysis of the most interesting and important news, stories, and events in the world of modern software and analytics.
This week, our top story is the news that internet access is now a fundamental human right, at least according the United Nations.
TWiMS Top Story:
The UN Declares Internet Access a Basic Human Right—Paste
What it’s about: The United Nations passed a non-binding resolution that declares internet access a basic human right for global citizens. Going even further than the recent U.S. federal appeals court ruling that internet access should be treated as a utility rather than a luxury, the UN resolution says unimpeded access is a fundamental freedom. The resolution “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online.” Gizmodo’s Carli Velocci notes that this type of resolution isn’t legally enforceable and depends largely on the willing compliance of nation-states. Still, it’s a strong symbolic measure of the importance of the internet in daily economic and political life.
Why you should care: If you’ve ever felt you couldn’t live without your online access, well, the UN now agrees that you shouldn’t have to. Cynics might say this is a paper victory—it doesn’t build a new wireless network or lay a foot of fiber—but it’s still a dramatic sign of our times. It’s also a reminder that the access enjoyed in countries like the United State is not the norm everywhere around the globe. In fact, multiple countries—including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and South Africa—opposed the resolution, and specifically the line quoted above, which they wanted removed. As Paste’s Kyle McKenny writes, though: “Deleting it would be like enshrining freedom of the press but allowing governments to destroy all printing presses.”
- Internet Access Is Now a Basic Human Right—Gizmodo
- Facebook Is Creating an Open-Source Cellular System—The Verge
How AWS Came to Be—TechCrunch
What it’s about: Amazon Web Services turned 10 years old this year, and its meteoric rise to multi-billion-dollar business is well documented. In just a decade, AWS has become the king of cloud. Though it faces increasingly formidable competition from the likes of Microsoft, Google, and others, AWS is the dominant force in public cloud infrastructure, and it continues to grow at a remarkable rate. AWS’ origin story, on the other hand, is not as well known, in spite of a tech industry that loves a good founding narrative, from Hewlett and Packard’s garage to Zuckerberg’s dorm room. TechCrunch’s Ron Miller reports on how AWS came to be, based on a talk given by AWS CEO Andy Jassy at the company’s recent Public Sector Summit in Washington, D.C. And it turns out that the cloud giant was born almost accidentally.
Why you should care: A business’s great “aha” moment can come about in a variety of ways, not all of them ready-made for an Aaron Sorkin movie script. For Amazon, there was no cool founding moment. Rather, AWS exists because Amazon.com was trying to solve an internal business problem: It took too long for its developers to build new applications. CEO Jeff Bezos and his executive team thought it should take three months to build a new app, but developers took that long just to provision the infrastructure resources—database, storage, compute—they needed to get started. As Miller writes, “Everyone was building their own resources for an individual project, with no thought to scale or reuse. (I think you can guess where this is going.)” In the course of solving that problem over a period of several years, Amazon—then far better known for selling books than virtual servers—realized it had become very good at infrastructure—and that it might have a wholly different kind of business opportunity on its hands. The rest, as they say, is history.
It doesn’t always happen that way, of course. As was pointed out in a fascinating Fast Company story this week, some great ideas are born before their time, and a smashing success story can mask years of trial-and-error and uncertainty. Even Jassy acknowledges no one at Amazon predicted the behemoth AWS would become.
- How the Internet’s Bad Pennies (Eventually) Turn Into Gold—Fast Company
- The Folly of Forecasting Future Tech Innovations and Professions—The Technology Liberation Front
What it’s about: Call ’em what you will—chatbots, AI, virtual assistant, bots, widgets, apples—by any name, they’re growing in leaps and bounds. Among the commonly predicted impacts: Chatbots will alter how we interact with our phones, especially our reliance on apps. That could be good for many businesses, which would have to worry less about getting customers to download (much less use) an app. As TechCrunch contributor and Clicktale “customer experience psychologist” (that’s a thing now!) Liraz Margalit explains, the human-like interaction could prove far more powerful and positive than your garden-variety web or mobile app. Yet the increasing humanization of chatbots, as Margalit puts it, also comes with considerable risks.
Why you should care: Margalit’s intended audience might be business leaders, but her analysis is recommended reading for anyone with a smartphone or laptop—and anyone who loves talking to Siri or another assistant app. Margalit offers a fascinating psychological perspective on the social risks inherent in rapidly advancing chatbot experiences. They play perfectly into basic human desires, including companionship—but without all the messy stuff that comes with actual human relationships. That’s not necessarily a good thing: “The danger is that such interactions with chatbots could lead to a preference among some for relationships with artificial intelligence rather than with fallible and sometimes unreliable human beings,” Margalit writes. “We’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” We might be raising a population with little or no ability to genuinely interact and build relationships with others, which would also affect their interactions with customers, partners, and, for that matter, coworkers.
- The Impact of Deep Learning Chatbots on the Business World—Dataversity
- Artificial Intelligence: Why Should CIOs Care?—CIOReview
- How Chatbots and Deep Learning Will Change the Future of Organizations—Forbes
Don’t miss these important stories:
From open source to open government? The Bulgarian Parliament passed legislation this week requiring all new software written for the government to be open source, with the code publicly available. (The law doesn’t affect existing government applications.) The Next Web’s Abhimanyu Ghoshal argues that more countries should follow suit for increased security and flexibility.
- Every Country Needs to Follow Bulgaria’s Lead in Choosing Open Source Software for Governance—The Next Web
Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher reports on growing concerns in the developer community about Oracle’s plans (or lack thereof) for Java Enterprise Edition, its server-side platform that’s widely used in web and enterprise apps. That’s fueling broader concerns about Java—which remains one of the most popular programming languages in the world—as a whole. Former Oracle Java Evangelist Reza Rahman tells Gallagher that “if Oracle continues to neglect Java EE, ‘the short and long term risks for the [Java] community and industry are immense. Java and Java EE are pervasive technologies much of global IT depends upon.’” The backlash is already in full swing, however, as Oracle claims it is “committed” to Java EE.
A 16-Year-Old Needs a License. Shouldn’t a Self-Driving Car?—The New York Times
The New York Times serves up a thought-provoking op-ed piece in the wake of the recent fatal crash involving a Tesla S. If we require humans to pass a test before being licensed to drive a car, shouldn’t autonomous driving technologies have to do the same? The larger point is, whatever the state of autonomous automobile technology, the legal, social, and business implications still require a lot of work.
Why Tech Support Is (Purposely) Unbearable—The New York Times
If you’ve ever wanted to throw your phone at the wall during a tech support call, you might want to remove any sharp objects from your vicinity before reading this. Those maddening interactions with cable companies, phone service providers, and other agonizing tech support departments are very much intentional. Of course, some tech companies offer great (or at least competent) support. But for those that don’t, writer Kate Murphy shares advice on how to cope, beginning with: Don’t be a jerk.
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