Radar trends to watch: December 2019
We’re tracking notable developments in privacy, security, health, and more.
Privacy and security trends
- DNS over HTTPS is rolling out in all major browsers. This is important. Although there are some security concerns, and opposition from ISPs, DNS over HTTPS makes it much more difficult for ISPs (and others) to track and resell your internet usage habits. The ISPs had this coming. (Will they block access to other name servers, like 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124?)
- “A Cage Went in Search of a Bird” is a must-read piece on the future of privacy, riffing off an aphorism by Franz Kafka. Here’s a really short summary of the piece: technologies grant power, and that power will be used unless you think very carefully about how you want power to be used.
- OpenTitan is an open source chip design from Google to verify that hardware can be trusted, from the firmware up.
- Although the Chinese government is highly opposed to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, they are building their own, and starting to talk more about it. They have some fairly strong guarantees about user-controllable privacy—as long as you don’t want to keep anything private from the Chinese government.
- So far, virtual reality has been about vision. The next step may be virtual touch. You wear a wireless device against your skin that has large numbers of very small embedded actuators.
- Volumetric capture is a big step forward in 3D photography and VR. Google is working on it. More important (though fairly obvious): the future of computer vision is AI; it’s not the collection of algorithms for specific tasks that you find in traditional CV libraries.
- Google is buying Fitbit, clearly to compete with Apple (and to keep Wear OS relevant). The purchase itself isn’t as important as the return of interest in digital health.
- Google’s alliance with Ascension Health (which may just be moving Ascension to the cloud, but appears to be more about making data available for research) is generating a lot of suspicion. That suspicion may be deserved, but one of the biggest problems hampering health research is data access. The project raises many ethical issues; we don’t yet know how they’ll be addressed.
- Google is building a general-purpose learning robot. I doubt this will ever be a consumer product, but it’s an interesting idea. Is it possible to build a robot that does things like sort recyclables? If you’ve ever looked at a trash can at a conference, you know it’s something humans can’t be bothered to do.
- Along similar, though more frightening, lines: Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog has been used by the Massachusetts State Police in at least two cases. The lease agreement between Boston Dynamics and the police specifies that the robots may not be used to “physically harm or intimidate people,” but it remains to be seen whether the users will stick to those imitations. What does “intimidate” even mean, when a robot is involved?
- Kubernetes isn’t the only game in town, even though it killed off all its early competition. It’s a first-generation product, and likely to be superseded. Fargate on AWS is starting to get traction, and HashiCorp has a suite of products that compete.
- It’s worth paying attention to the drama around open source licenses, which are more interesting now than at any time in the past decade. One new twist is the Hippocratic License, which allows anyone to use the software for purposes that don’t do harm. It’s an attempt to formalize the desire to prevent software from being used in military applications.
- It’s easy to think of agriculture as low tech, but that’s wrong: Microsoft is working on AI-enabled agriculture. I would not be surprised to see similar efforts at Google and Amazon, to say nothing of the companies that are already in the agriculture sector, and a host of startups.
- Microsoft and Warner Brothers are collaborating on bulk data storage on glass slides. They can store a full-length movie on a 3×3-inch slide, which will remain readable for more than 1,000 years. This addresses one of the long-standing archival problems in computing. Paper is good for millennia, but digital storage only lasts for decades, if that.
- Photoshop in the camera in the phone: it was easy to count Photoshop out, particularly with their controversial subscription licensing, but now they’re putting it all the way into the phone. It’s a smart move.