Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Module 13

            I learned a great deal from the readings and essays in this class, but I have to admit, my main takeaway was this: fear.  As I read “The World Is Flat” and the other articles, I learned that my job will very probably be outsourced to a developing country in the future.  A few decades later, it will be outsourced to a robot, and a short time after that, a robotic species will evolve and enslave/destroy the human race.  It’s pretty disheartening to think about, so I should really just focus on the present. 
I now look at the world in a different way.  I am no longer competing just with those in my college classes.  I am competing with those on the other side of the world as well.  This flattening of the world will increase competitiveness globally, and I feel like I have to work my heart out just to achieve middle-class status. 
Another huge takeaway I had was that the title ‘science-fiction’ would more appropriately be titled ‘temporarily-science-fiction.’  After the readings in this class, all of the things I had seen in movies that I thought were impossible no longer seem unattainable.  Even if I take the most ridiculously-futuristic movie that I can think of, probably The Matrix, I can’t think of anything in it that couldn’t be achieved.  In the article ‘Why the future doesn’t need us,’ Bill Joy specifically talked about a fusion of robotics and humans.  That’s almost exactly what The Matrix is about – people being coupled with robotics to sustain them.  On a different note, even a movie that has little to do with technology, like a zombie movie, is possible through technology.  For example, through the use of nanotechnology and genetic engineering, a ‘zombie’ could theoretically be created and an infection could spiral out of control.  Before this semester, if you would’ve told me that a zombie outbreak will be possible in the future, I would have called you an idiot, but now, I can see it being a real possibility one day.  Bill Joy even mentions that a vampire could be created through nanotechnology.  This absolutely blew my mind.  If the wrong person got a hold of this type of technology, the world could practically end, which brings me back to my main takeaway.
In my opinion, ‘The World is Flat’ was a very effective book for this course.  Again, it gave me reason to fear, but I guess a nice dose of reality is a good thing.  I really think that everyone should take this class – or at the very least, read this book – so that they can see where the world is headed.  People need to recognize what skills will be employable and what skills won’t be employable.  I think it’s somewhat sad that people get degrees in obscure subjects, and then get frustrated when they can’t find a job.  People need to realize that the world is changing, and that certain skillsets, unfortunately, will not be employable in the future (at least not in our country). 
“A Logic Named Joe” was a very entertaining break from reading constantly material of a serious nature.  I am still blown away with how prophetic that story has proven to be.  Since people of the 1940s probably considered that story to be ‘science fiction,’ it helped reinforce the idea that what we currently think is impossible will one day be possible.  When I read science fiction from now on, I will have an entirely different perspective.
I think the final article “Why the World Doesn’t Need Us” was the perfect way to end the readings.  It was probably one of the most insightful articles I have ever read.  Since we spent the majority of the course reading “The World is Flat,” which talked about where the world is going, it was really effective to finish with an article about where the world will be going if this ‘flattening’ path continues indefinitely.  Maybe one day a robot will write an e-book called ‘The World is Flatter than Flat: A World without Humans.’

Module 12

            As I read this, I couldn’t help but laugh because my 11th module was about the movie iRobot, which addresses these same things.  I could basically copy and paste that module here.  It addresses the potential problems of having highly-intelligent robots in our society.  I felt like I was watching that movie again as I read this article. 
GNR is an acronym for genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.  Genetics refers to altering genetics so that the entire physical world can be redesigned.  What was once the evolutionary process of nature will now become a power in the hands of men and machines.  This could, in theory, be a wonderful thing, but the potential for harm is extraordinary.
Nanotechnology is technology dealing with the manipulation of atoms and molecules.  Like genetics, this technology has so much potential for good.  It will allow us to build basically anything at a very small cost, and it will solve all our physical problems.  On the other hand, the potential for destruction is also great.  Our entire biosphere could be destroyed by nanotechnology.
Robotics refers to a number of things, but the most interesting of them is that through robotics, we can achieve near-immortality.  It’s amazing to think that through robotics, we can become a hybrid robot/biological species.  But I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising, since we are already seeing this today.  Mechanical devices that provide life-sustaining activities are implanted into people daily.  Again, there are many positive consequences, but the possibility of danger (creating a robotic species that will overpower us) is undeniable.
My reaction to Joy’s fears is total and complete agreement.  The most profound line in this article, in my opinion, is “These technologies are too powerful to be shielded against in the time frame of interest.”  This is so true!  We can’t wait until there is a robotic race that threatens our entire existence before we start thinking of solutions.  We have to start taking preventative actions now.  If we don’t, it will be too late.  This isn’t a movie.  This is our real world, and Will Smith isn’t going to swoop down and save us in the last hour like he did in iRobot (I hate to keep using iRobot references, but it is a perfect comparison to what could happen)!
            This needs to be stopped soon.  The potential risks far outweigh the potential benefits.  If a manmade robotic race takes over the world, humankind will, at best, become an enslaved species, subject to the mercy of the robotic creatures.  But this won’t be the type of slavery where revolution is possible.  It will be a permanent state with no escape. 
I’m not sure, now that I think about it, that anything can be done to stop this progression of technology.  Like the story mentioned, this isn’t like a weapon of mass destruction, where access to materials and information is limited and protected.  A small group, or even an individual person, can unleash knowledge-enabled mass destruction.   Another reason it is unstoppable is that our government doesn’t really take preventative action.  They always wait until there is a major crisis before they make major decisions.  Trying to get the government to stop artificial intelligence from progressing is futile.  It would be political suicide for a politician to propose that the advancement of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics be stopped.  Think about it.  All that someone would have to do is say “My mother has cancer, and you want scientists to stop exploring possible cures?  You’re a murderer!”  It’s politically untouchable.  As a result, we will just have to sit back and observe our decline into self-destruction.  Maybe robots will one day read Joy’s article in a human-absent world and think, “Too bad they didn’t listen to this guy.  If they did, they would still be alive.”

Module 11

            Whenever I read about the future of computers, I think about the movie iRobot, which takes place in the highly-computerized future.  In this future, robots, which are designed to resemble humans, are as widespread as people.  They assist people in daily tasks and, now that I think about it, they basically do all of the work that people don’t want to do – the movie shows robots as garbage-removers, mail-deliverers, etc.  All of the robots are created by a single company, United States Robotics (USR), and they function through a highly-complex artificial-intelligence operating system and are capable of human-like behavior and reasoning.  They are wirelessly connected to, and receive updates from, a centralized computer system called VIKI (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence), which is itself artificial intelligence capable of advanced reasoning.  All of the computers/robots – including VIKI – are governed by three laws: (1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; (2) A robot must obey the orders given to it by human, except where such orders would conflict with the first law; (3) A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection doesn’t conflict with the first two laws. 
In this futuristic setting, VIKI’s network pervades practically everything – every robot, every car, every building, every piece of machinery, every electronic device, etc.  Because she (VIKI is labeled to be a female) is capable of human-like reasoning, she evolves to the belief that humans are parasites to their environment and, therefore, must be contained.
The reason I find this movie fascinating is that it is so possible.  The VIKI network is very similar to the internet, which, like VIKI, is capable of being accessed anywhere and is capable of pervading anything that is internet-compatible.  The main difference is that VIKI is completely intelligent, whereas the internet is not (although more and more websites – Google, Amazon, etc. – are starting to use artificial intelligence in many ways).  Another way it is realistic is that robots and artificial intelligence are certainly part of the future.
This computerized future comes at a price – both in the movie, and in our world today.  As computers become more and more pervasive, people become more and more dependent upon them.  As people become more and more dependent upon them, computer systems gain power over our lives.  Just think back to how many people freaked out when Wikipedia shut down for a day.  It sounds ridiculous, but those who control computers have huge amounts of power, and it will only become more and more obvious as time passes.  iRobot expresses this point beautifully.  Since VIKI has pervaded everything, as soon as she comes to the realization that humans are parasites, she begins to suppress people, who can do nothing to stop her (except Will Smith, of course).
Another social issue that arises in this computerized future is the pointlessness of human life.  People don’t work, and they are not obligated to do anything because robots do it all for them.  I would not want to live in such a world.  If a person aspires to be a carpenter, or a painter, or a doctor, or a mechanic, they cannot, because robots can do everything better and faster than humans can.  Humans actually do become parasites, incapable of producing anything.  They just live their pointless lives out in their apartments.  This is horrible, because human beings are hard-wired to create and produce.  The most satisfaction I’ve had in my entire life has come from working my butt off to achieve something great.  In the computerized future, no one will be able to achieve this satisfaction because there will be no motivation for them to do so.  Computers will be able to do everything better.  I have to admit, I don’t want to live in this seemingly-inevitable future.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Module 10

Although the southern-accent style of writing took some getting used to, this short story contained some truly-prophetic ideas.  The narrator’s initial description of ‘logics’ matches a description of computers and the internet to a T.  He said that in order to view what SNAFU (a TV station in the story) is telecasting, you punch ‘station SNAFU’ into the logic, and it will pop up on your screen.  When I read this, I was immediately reminded of something I did a few days ago.  I got on a computer, typed in the address bar, and watched several episodes of an NBC show that I like.  Today’s technology is basically identical to what was described in this 1948 story!  When he said that entering ‘Sally Hancock’s Phone’ would hook you up with the ‘logic’ in her house, I was immediately reminded of Skype.  He goes on to mention that you could search for who won today’s race, the weather forecast, or other news events, and they would appear on the screen as well.  Does this sound like to anyone else but me?  All of these aspects of the story are spot-on in terms of modern technology. 
                Equally amazing is that the narrator describes the internet network almost perfectly.  He says that all of the information (facts and recorded telecasts) is stored in ‘tanks,’ and all of the tanks in the country are hooked up to each other.  If you want to see or hear something, you just search for it, and you get it.  This is pretty much what modern internet servers do – when you search for something over the internet, the request goes to an internet server, which provides information back to your computer.  I am beyond belief that this story was written in 1946!  It’s almost too accurate – to the point of suspicion. 
                One interesting thing that I wanted to point out is that, in the story, everyone is aware that ‘logics’ haven’t reached their full potential and that they can do a lot of things that haven’t been discovered yet.  This is interesting because in every other science fiction story that I’ve read/watched, technology has pretty much reached its full potential within the story.  For example, in Star Wars, although there are six movies, nothing really changes – in terms of technology – throughout them (if anything, technology is better in the first three episodes than in four, five, or six).  It seems as if technology has reached its full potential and has stopped.  Yet in this story, it is left open that ‘logics’ can accomplish much more than is known.  This caught my attention because that’s the world we live in today.  There is no known limit to what computers can do.  They’ve existed less than a century, and already they provide countless benefits.  But what will it be like in a few hundred years?
                To continue with the story, I laughed when I read the part where the maintenance guy activates the logic, and the screen pops up and says “Announcing new and improved logics service!”  The reason I laughed is that I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something similar pop up onto my computer screen after a software update.  I am blown away that the story is so detailed that it includes ‘updates!’
                On the other hand, there are some things about this story that aren’t accurate today.  Computers are very precise machines, and, as far as I know, artificial intelligence has to be carefully programmed.  It doesn’t just happen accidentally.  The ‘logic’ that just happened to have a mind of its own doesn’t really make sense.  Also, computers don’t currently know everything.  They only know what they are programmed to know, which is limited to what man has discovered.  However, I am hesitant to say that this wasn’t prophetic, because maybe it just isn’t prophetic yet.  Computers are still relatively young.  Maybe one day computers will know everything about everything.  Then, people will be amazed at this story even more than I am (which is a lot).
Going back to correctness, another accurate part of the story was the fact that computers lack judgment and common sense.  The logics couldn’t differentiate between a good question and a bad question, so they just answered everything.  This is similar to modern-day expert systems, which, for example, allowed fighter jets, before they were re-programmed, to drop bombs while the aircraft was upside down.  It lacked common sense and judgment.  This is yet-another incredibly accurate aspect of this story. 
Overall, this story was astounding in terms of how prophetic it has proven to be.  I’m sure that the author had no idea this technology would materialize in the future.  It was probably just some creative fantasy that he thought would make an interesting story.  It leads me to wonder what other “science-fiction” stories will be possible one day.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Module 9

            To start, I want to say that Friedman makes a great point about Muslim radicals.  I have often wondered what the mentality of an Islamic extremist was.  I can’t comprehend how someone can commit suicide in an act to try to kill others, and actually believe they’re doing the right thing.  I think that Friedman nails it when he says that they are willing to do these things because they don’t want to be wrong.  When they see how powerful America has become, it shames them.  They see that our “openness” and individual freedoms have created a society of great wealth and success, and it enrages them because they want an entire world where Sharia Law rules.  I thought this was an interesting thought of Friedman’s.
            The process of a Dell Laptop being built is incredible.  When the order for a laptop is placed over the phone, the signal is immediately sent to parts suppliers, who ship the parts as soon as they can.  This type of processing is called just-in-time processing.  As an accounting major, I am very familiar with just-in-time processing and the benefits therein.  I mentioned in module three that storing large amounts of inventory can cause the financial ruin of a company in today’s competitive business environment.  The reason for this is that storing inventory costs money – a lot of money, and money spent amassing inventory is money wasted.  Obviously, Dell knows this.  The interesting thing, though, is that Dell’s parts suppliers are willing to bend over backwards to accommodate Dell’s demands, most likely taking the burden of storing inventory upon themselves.  When I first learned about just-in-time processing, I wondered why this was the case, but then I realized that the parts suppliers did this because, as the book states, Dell sells between 140,000 and 150,000 computers every day.  Parts suppliers will do whatever they have to do to keep their contracts with giant corporations like Dell.  I have actually heard of other situations (Xerox is one example, if I remember correctly) where parts suppliers have built factories right next to their buyers in order to keep them happy.  But I digress.  Continuing on with the process, when parts suppliers ship the parts to Dell, they are received, and a Dell team member assembles the laptop by hand.  Software is downloaded onto the computer, which is then shipped to its destination.  All of this can happen in a matter of hours, and it can arrive at its destination in a matter of days. 
            It is scary to think that Al-Qaeda has a supply chain network as powerful as Dell’s.  I have never really thought about it, but it makes sense that Al-Qaeda would take advantage of the flattening world to reap havoc on it.  Friedman made a great point about that video of the reporter’s beheading going viral online.  Not only can Al-Qaeda now create more chaos through the flattening world, but it can also instill terror much more easily.  Just from Al-Qaeda putting a single video online, untold numbers of individuals are being terrorized across the world.
            From what I could surmise, the curse of oil refers to nations with huge amounts of oil deposits.  Because they have large amounts of oil, their dictators don’t need to tax the people, and therefore don’t need to listen to the people’s wants or explain anything to them.  They spend the oil-money on pointless subsidies rather than investing in the people, and the nations don’t thrive.  Those nations that are growing in the Middle East tend to be nations without oil.  I found this very interesting because oil is basically a drug that the world can’t do without, and you would think that these oil-abundant countries would be able to amass enough wealth to rival the United States.  I think that Friedman makes a solid point when he talks about the reason for this.  When your country is that rich in black gold, the only thing you focus on is drilling holes in the ground in an effort to find more of it.  Ingenuity and creativity are hampered, because the best way to make money is through oil.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Module 8

            Computers have existed through my entire education.  I remember going to the computer lab in elementary school and learning about the internet for the first time, and now, here I sit writing an article for an online class.  I often find myself thinking how different the education system would be without computers, but, on a personal level, I wonder how different my current education would be if it weren’t for online classes.
            In high school, I didn’t use computers for school very much.  Other than the occasional paper that I had to write, most of my school work involved doing problems from textbooks or worksheets.  In college, however, I am at the computer-lab daily doing homework.  Specifically, I have a couple online classes.  Online classes allow you to take more classes because you can do them at your own convenience.  That is not to say that you can put them off.  Every online class I’ve ever had has had deadlines (many of them have been very demanding).  What I mean is that you can juggle them with other classes so that you can manage more classes at once.  Because of this, I usually take at least one online class per semester, which I believe has helped me to become a more focused.  With online classes, I am always thinking about school.  I know that there is work to be done even if I don’t have class.  A perfect example of this was yesterday for Presidents’ Day.  Although I had no classes up at the campus, I had an assignment due for one of my online classes.  It is as if I can never take a break.  It sounds horrible, but it is actually a good thing.  Why?  I am always thinking of school work, and because that is the case, it is really easy for me to focus on homework.  I don’t have to overcome that Monday-morning, back-to-the-old-grind hurdle in order to motivate myself to get back to work, because I am already in the frame of mind to work.  Online classes have been a crucial part of my education, and, as a result, so have computers.       
            In connection with ‘The Wired Society,’ it is kind of a self-fulfilled prophecy that I am taking a class on a computer (online) that emphasizes how widespread computers are becoming.  But it’s true.  When I took my first online class, I was nervous because I didn’t know what it would be like, but I honestly believe that I will see the day when basically all classes are online.  I originally thought that online classes were limited because asking questions and receiving help on specific problems is difficult, but I’ve had a couple online classes that were probably more effective than most of my on-campus classes.  If administered correctly, online classes can be phenomenal. 
            Another thing that online classes have allowed me to do, unrelated to allowing me to be a better student, is have a flexible social life.  If a friend invites me to do something, and I actually want to go, I can usually adjust things around so that I can participate.  A perfect example of this happened a couple weeks ago.  I was doing some homework for my other online class when my friend invited me to go play pickup basketball with him.  Knowing that I could just submit the assignment later that night, I was able to stop what I was doing and go play. 
            Computers really are becoming essential to obtaining an education.  I can’t imagine trying to go to do schoolwork without them.  In reading ‘The World is Flat,’ I have become aware that the world is becoming digital whether people like it or not, and education will follow.  I’m sure it will continue to progress to the point where most students are attending state universities entirely online.  The education system will be flat. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Module 7

            There are many reasons why some countries are better at doing things than others.  Friedman gives numerous reasons and examples, but I am going to focus on what I think is the primary one: government policy.  In the reading, it talks about how Egyptians in the fawanis industry believe that China has an advantage over Egypt because of their superior technology.  However, Friedman makes the implication that it has a lot to do with government policies among other things.  I believe this is his best reason, and in order to find out the root of the problem, one has to take a serious look at human nature.  For instance, Egypt guarantees all college graduates a job each year.  What impact does this have on people?  Surely, it is a well-intentioned policy, but, as Friedman mentions, Egypt has been in poverty for half a century. It’s pretty clear if you think about it.  If you were a college student in Egypt, and you knew you would receive a job upon graduation, why would you work hard or study?  As long as you squeaked by with passing grades, you would be just as well off as someone who worked hard.  Now contrast that with a country like India, where competition is fierce, with tens of thousands of applications flooding in for a single job opening.  Many Indians graduate from college unable to get the job they want because the government guarantees them no such position.  What effect does this have?  Indians work and study vigorously because they can’t make it if they don’t compete.  As a result, they are more ambitious, educated, and capable of acquiring wealth while making contributions to the world in the process.  Now, there is nothing special about the location of India.  The people of India aren’t genetically superior, and they aren’t any more naturally-talented.  However, India has a much-more rapidly growing economy than Egypt does.  It appears, then, that this comes down to government policy.  I’m not taking a political stance.  There are other political aspects that need to be taken into account.  Rather, I am just pointing out human nature.  I think it is sufficient to say that where there is no safety-net available, people will compete, innovate, labor, and do whatever they have to in order to survive, and as they do this, they create wealth in their countries.  Friedman also talks about government policy’s impact in a fair amount of detail.  He explains that countries that have the fastest-growing economies are those that have the lowest government regulation. 
            A self-directed consumer is a consumer who customizes his/her own shopping experience.  Self-directed consumers feel powerful because they are customizing the product, service, etc., but really it is the companies who maintain the power by creating an avenue for the customer feel ‘in control.’  I am definitely a self-directed consumer.  When I am in the market for a product, I research the product online.  I read only the negative reviews, since all of the positive reviews say basically the same thing (i.e. “this product is awesome”).  When I find the specific product I want, I find the cheapest place that I can buy it, which most of the time is  When the product arrives, I see if I like it, and if I don’t, I send it back.  I feel like I have a huge amount of power when I shop.  Like I mentioned earlier, companies that can provide this type of experience are the ones who have the most power and will be the most successful. is a perfect example of such a company. 
            Globalization doesn’t necessarily mean Americanization; however, there is definitely a resemblance of Americanization within globalization.  For example, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and other American Corporations have spread worldwide.  On the other hand, there are also foreign companies that have spread, such as Sony and Kodiak; also, most cultures still maintain some form of their original culture while assimilating into an American-based, free-market economy.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Module 6

Whenever someone uses the word ‘free’ in relation to economics, it means ‘tax-free,’ and/or ‘free from regulation,’ so free trade simply refers to trade that is free from regulation and taxes.  The government has almost always taxed or regulated trade in some way, but in the digital age, it is very difficult for them to tax and regulate services performed in other countries and transferred back through information systems. 
I think that in an age of heavy government regulation, it is necessary to have barriers to trade in order to keep wealth inside the United States, but I also think that if the government alleviated its regulation on businesses, free trade would be better because wealth tends to gravitate towards free markets.  In other words, if we’re going to have an unregulated economy, let’s have fully-unregulated economy, but if we’re going to have a government-regulated economy, let’s commit ourselves fully to that.  Regardless, free-trade is unlikely to happen in a day when the government needs every penny it can get due to budget deficits.
New middlers are going to have service-related jobs that are ‘untouchable.’  They are going to have to be able to collaborate and orchestrate collaboration within and between companies.  Mainly, they are going to have jobs in sales, marketing, maintenance, and management.  Also, many will involve making supply chains more efficient (supply-chain management). 
There was a part of the reading that talked about the ‘shrinking middle class,’ and it caught my interest, because I often hear that the middle-class is shrinking on the news and from politicians.  However, in my opinion, Friedman’s train of thought about the disappearing middle-class is illogical.  He implies that the ‘flattening’ of the world is causing middle-class jobs to disappear.  To begin with, the ‘flattening’ of the world is basically information technology being available to everyone.  How does this decrease jobs in any way?  When technology increases and is more available to people, jobs don’t decrease.  They increase.  To illustrate, go back about a hundred years and think about what the new-and-exploding automobile industry did for our country.  Yes, many stable-keepers and horseshoe-blacksmiths lost their jobs, but that doesn’t mean that jobs were decreasing.  They were just changing.  Suddenly there was a gigantic demand for assembly-line workers, engineers, businessmen/women, bookkeepers, etc.  New demands for steel, rubber, leather, and plastic would create a myriad of jobs in other industries.  The same thing is happening today.  As information technology is becoming more and more widespread, jobs are increasing (with the exception of the recent recession).  Yes, many currently-available jobs will become obsolete, but many new jobs and skillsets will become highly-demanded.  The need will continually grow for programmers, computer engineers, IT systems analysts, digital forensics experts, etc., as will the need for countless jobs in computer-related industries such as plastics, aluminum, electrical-power, and waste management.  Those who resist this shift in work will not succeed, just as a 20th-century horse-carriage builder wouldn’t have succeeded if he resisted the onslaught of the new automobile industry.  To concede, it is true that many of these new jobs are being outsourced to India, China, and other countries, but as this continues to happen, wealth will grow in those countries.  As wealth grows in them, they will demand new products and services like never before, creating even more jobs from within, and they will continue to grow to the point where they, too, will begin to outsource.  Maybe one day China will be outsourcing to the United States.
CQ (curiosity quotient) + PQ (passion quotient) > IQ (intelligence quotient) means that although intelligence is important for future workers, passion and curiosity are more important.  I couldn’t say enough to emphasize how true this is.  There is no amount of self-discipline or studying that can match the information ingested and retained by a passionate person.  For this reason, it is important that people pursue professions that they are passionate and curious towards.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Module 5

I can’t help but start out by criticizing Friedman.  He was incredibly unclear on what the first convergence was.  I finally gathered what he was trying to get across, but he never specifically stated what it was.  He just gave a series of examples and expected the reader to make the connection.  But I digress.  Triple convergence is, as the name implies, the combination of three convergences.  From what I gathered, the first convergence was that all of these new technologies, together, had to become widespread to take root.  I really liked the simple example he gave of pencils and paper.  As you get pencils, you need more paper.  As these products become more and more demanded, the quality improves as new businesses enter into the market.  As quality improves, productivity improves. 
Friedman calls the second convergence horizontalization.  By this, he is referring to the birth of a new set of business practices and skills that would help us use the new technology to become productive.  I love that Freidman points out that new technology alone doesn’t boost productivity.  It has to be used in business in order to be effective.  I had never thought about the aspect that Friedman brings up: that new technologies are around long before they are implemented because it takes time for us to learn how to use them.  I think that there is a lot of validity to this point.  I am an accounting major, and I have learned a fair share about the history of accounting.  Even as computers became more and more widespread in business, accounting was still largely done on paper.  It wasn’t until programs like Excel were created that accounting shifted to being done almost entirely on computers. 
However, although there is truth to Friedman’s point that it takes a while for us to learn how to use technology, I disagree with the reason why.  According to Friedman, it takes managers and innovators getting comfortable with the new technology so that they can learn how to implement it, but that makes it sound like new technology is really difficult to learn, understand, and innovate with, which simply isn’t true.  I think a more relevant point is that a lot of technology is useless, and intelligent people in important business positions confront new technologies with a healthy dose of skepticism, which is a good thing.  If CEOs and other business decision-makers instantly implemented any new technology that was developed, they would run their companies into the ground, because a lot of new technologies are either fads or quickly obsolete.  This reminds me of a guy who worked for my uncle.  My uncle is the CEO of a manufacturing company in Salt Lake City, and his vice president of operations was a guy who was obsessed with implementing the latest technologies into the business.  He was a brilliant VP, but spent huge amounts of the company’s money on these cutting-edge technologies, which began to paralyze the company financially, and it ended up costing him his job. 
            The third convergence is the new playing field created by billions of people being able to compete.  This makes sense as we are all becoming interconnected. This ‘triple convergence’ is important because it is shaping the world into a world of unbelievable technologies and limitless possibilities.
            In the story about Indiana and India, I would say that both parties are exploiting each other.  India is exploiting the United States by taking work from it because there isn’t enough work in India, and Indiana is exploiting India by using their brilliant minds at cheap rates.  I don’t really have an opinion about this topic because both sides can make a valid argument.
            Intellectual property is when someone invents something based upon an idea they had, and the idea that they have rights to it.  It is important because the protection of intellectual property is essential for innovation and continued technology advancement.  However, it is difficult to enforce intellectual property rights worldwide. 
            This reading was very interesting.  Every time I read the required material for the module, I am awed at how much the world is ‘flattening.’  I can only imagine what the world will become in my lifetime.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Module 4

            Although there are a myriad of jobs that are connected to computers, there is a unique skillset in being able to fix any computer problem that arises.  I couldn’t find a specific job with “the responsibility of fixing all possible computer problems” listed in the job description, but, ironically, there is a high demand for such a skillset.
            A person with this skillset, and the person I decided to interview, is my brother-in-law, Aaron.  He is an information technology specialist for the Utah Highway Patrol.  I have known for a while that he dealt with computers, but I never talked to him about what he did until I interviewed him for this Module.  He actually started as a normal Utah Highway Patrol State Trooper, but it didn’t take long for his co-workers to discover his talent with computers.  He became the go-to guy for computer problems.  He said that there is a huge level of satisfaction in relieving other people’s headaches.
            Over the course of a several years, his career slowly faded from pulling speeders over to working more and more on computers.  Today, he doesn’t do any traffic enforcement.  He is basically a traveling IT specialist.  He travels from patrol car to patrol car.  He also fixes computers in 911 dispatch centers and even computers in the Highway Patrol State Offices.  The transition was almost comical.  I was on a ride-along with him about eight years ago, and as we were patrolling I-15, he got a call over the radio from dispatch.  I can’t reiterate the exact conversation, but the dispatcher said “we have a huge problem.”  When I heard the dispatcher say that, I thought ‘Yes, I get to see some real police action!’  He flipped his lights and sirens on and started driving as fast as he could.  The anticipation built as I was envisioning experiencing something like a runaway bank robber or a drug-dealer sting operation.  My hopes were abated, however, when we pulled into the dispatch station so that Aaron could fix a critical computer that had gone down.  After Aaron fixed the computer, I said to him “We drove that fast so that you could fix a computer?”  He responded by saying “without that computer operating, dispatchers can’t act as quickly, and seconds can make the difference between life and death in this line of work.”
            As soon as he said that, I realized his job of maintaining information systems was just as important as anything he could have been doing out in a given community, if not more so.  Information systems are critical to everything that police officers do.  Each police car has a laptop with wireless internet so that officers can connect to different databases, such as the DMV database.  Dispatch centers are also incredibly computerized, as are Highway Patrol offices.  If the computers used by the Highway Patrol go down, law enforcement is basically incapacitated.  
            The most interesting thing about being a computer-repair professional is that having actual knowledge is more important than having formal schooling.  Aaron has no schooling beyond high-school.  He is just a computer junkie, and he is now one of the lead computer specialists in the department.  The information technology field changes so rapidly that having a degree isn’t enough.  Continual updating and learning is required more so in the IT field than in any other field.  For some people, it takes work to keep themselves updated, but for people like Aaron, it takes very little effort because it is so much fun to them!  That was the impression I got when I interviewed Aaron about what he did – that this was something he just loved.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Module 3

There is a significant difference between offshoring and outsourcing.  Offshoring is when an entire company relocates for financial reasons.  Outsourcing, on the other hand, is when a company purchases a good or service from an outside supplier, rather than using internal resources.  In terms of offshoring, it makes perfect sense that a company would re-locate to where it could build its product(s) at the cheapest rate possible, but it absolutely baffles my mind that moving an entire company across an ocean, producing the product, and then shipping the product back to the U.S. could be cheaper than just producing the product here.  My brother is in the accounting department of a company in the Freeport Center, and his company is planning on re-locating to a larger building, literally across the street.  When I asked him how much the move would cost, he told me “tens of millions of dollars.”  Tens of millions of dollars to move across the street!  Imagine how much, then, it would cost to move to a different country!  Are materials and labor really that expensive here?  I guess so!
One of the lines in the reading that stood out to me most was the statement that Oded Shenkar gives to American companies: “If you still make anything labor intensive, get out now rather than bleed to death.  Shaving 5% here and there won’t work.  You need an entirely new business model to compete.”  This correlates with my thoughts above: that the U.S. just can’t compete with what China has to offer.  The ‘flattening’ process has made a lot of industries almost impossible to compete in here in America.
            A supply chain is pretty simple to understand, as it is almost self-explanatory.  It is the journey of a given product from a supplier to a retailer to a customer.  However, in spite of being a simple idea, it is very difficult to create a supply chain that is as streamline and efficient as Wal-Mart’s.  I really liked the way the reading demonstrated how difficult it is to create.  It pointed out that Wal-Mart doesn’t make a single thing, and yet it is the biggest retailer in the world due to its supply chain.  This struck me as to how powerful an efficient supply chain can be.  Wal-Mart has used its supply chain to climb to the top, and has done so through information technology that offers real-time information across the world.
            On a critical note, I want to point out one thing that I don’t think Friedman describes effectively.  The whole point of an efficient supply chain is to avoid large amounts of inventory.  Friedman does dance around this idea, but the main reason he gives is that products go in and out of fashion fast, and this is why an efficient supply-chain is important. This isn’t even close to the main reason, as even Wal-Mart doesn’t completely avoid over-stocking.  As an accounting major, I can assure you and Friedman that the main reason for an efficient supply chain is to free up cash.  Inventory costs money – a lot of money.  Not only does inventory require huge amounts of storage space, which costs a lot of money to provide and maintain, but also, the inventory itself ties up vast amounts of cash.  If a grocery store has a million dollars in inventory sitting in its back room, that is a million dollars that it can’t use to reinvest into the business today.  It might not seem like that big of a deal to have money tied up in inventory, but the time value of money is critical, and companies today absolutely can’t afford massive inventories if they want to remain competitive.
            Like supply-chain economics, Google has affected business in a significant way.  Because Google is so prevalent, businesses are offering products and services online more and more.  In fact, many companies are solely online companies.  I use Google often to search for products that I want, and as Google becomes more and more of a powerhouse, businesses compete more and more in cyberspace, using Google to their advantage, not because they have to, but because it is necessary to do to compete.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Module 2

Workflow software is the Henry-Ford version of software.  By that I mean it is basically the digitized version of the assembly line, which Henry Ford invented (Henry Ford was the founder of the automobile company Ford, for those who don’t know).  In an assembly line, much more can be accomplished because people can specialize in one particular task, which allows for greater efficiency.  After a person is finished with his/her specialized task, he/she can pass the project to the next person who has his/her own area of expertise.  On Henry Ford’s assembly line, one person specialized in attaching a muffler, headlights, or tires to a vehicle before sending it down the line to the next station.  This allowed high quality vehicles to be produced quickly and efficiently.  It is a concept that revolutionized manufacturing as a whole; however, its implications are much more widespread than just manufacturing.  Today, this concept is used in an electronic form called workflow software.  It allows workers to work on part of an electronic project in their fields of expertise and then send it ‘down the line’ to the next worker regardless of the physical distance separating them.  For example, in today’s film industry, 3D animation is used in a large number of films.  As one would suspect, 3D animation is done entirely through the use of computers, and there is a huge range of specialization within this aspect of film.  To demonstrate, I remember watching ‘the making of’ feature on a popular 3D-animated film, and there was an animation specialist whose sole job was to animate dirt and grime on the scenes that were sent to her.  After she was finished with a scene, it was then sent to the next phase of its creation.  This example demonstrates how workflow software allows for the transfer of data from one computer to another. 
Honestly, I take workflow software for granted.  I don’t think twice when I start a homework project at the computer lab, email it to myself, and finish it later on my computer at home.  When one of my professors puts something on his/her website for the class to download, I don’t really appreciate how simple it is to do so.  After reading this section of The World is Flat, I more fully appreciate the privilege that we have of being so interconnected.
Another type of important software is called open-source software.  It is software whose source-code is available so that its users can modify and improve the software, as well as freely distribute it.  From what I can surmise, open-source is created, not by software companies, but by unpaid ‘geeks’ who know how to program.  They collectivize their knowledge to create and fine tune software that rivals professionally-made software.
Open-source software is important because it allows for major improvements where the software is lacking.  It can continually be improved upon.  The book gives an example of this with the story of the creation of Apache, which was such a good program that commercial companies couldn’t compete with it.  Open-source software allows people to have cutting-edge software for free, which I think is good.
Outsourcing is when a company purchases a good or service from an outside supplier rather than an internal resource.  Information systems contribute to this through connecting everyone, so a good or service can be purchased from the cheapest supplier, regardless of where they are.
Outsourcing is a controversial topic.  While it can cut product costs, making products cheaper and more available to everyone, it also takes potential jobs out of our economy and places them in other economies.  In my opinion, however, outsourcing is good.  Outsourcing creates huge competition.  Competition drives people to educate themselves and become smarter.  Those who are not willing to compete will have a harder time finding a job, which encourages everyone to compete, making society smarter and better off.
I really have nothing to criticize in this module’s reading in terms of content.  The stories were entertaining and informative.  I particularly liked the ‘Apache’ story, because I thought it was funny that a huge corporation like IBM couldn’t compete with a private community of computer geeks.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Module 1

Because Friedman begins his book, The World is Flat, with a fairly lengthy defense of its title, I’m going to begin by criticizing it.  I have never read a book where the author has to explain so deliberately why he/she chose a given title.  This is because if an author has to actually spell out the reason for a title, it’s probably a bad title.  Likewise, Friedman’s explanation for his title, The World is Flat, makes no sense.  That’s not to say that I didn’t understand the metaphor, because I did.  It’s just ridiculous.  How does increased international competition make the world flat?  When people actually believed the world was flat, this belief was a great economic hindrance.  For example, this lack of knowledge made certain trade routes arduous and costly.  How, then, are technology advancement and globalization, both of which are huge economic facilitators that together connect the world in real time, being tied to that same idea?  I had an instant distaste for Friedman’s logic, but I will end my criticism with that. 
            According to Friedman, have been three major eras of globalization, globalization 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.  Globalization 1.0 lasted between Columbus setting sail in 1492 and about 1800; globalization 2.0 lasted from 1800 to 2000; and globalization 3.0 happened at about 2000.  The distinguishing factors are that globalization 1.0 was about countries as a whole, and how they competed with other countries.  This era also focused on natural resources and how countries harnessed them.  Globalization 2.0 was about companies going multinational as transportation costs came down.  And finally, globalization 3.0 is about individuals competing against individuals as technology has made it possible to connect everyone.  This will make competition much more diverse and outsourcing much more common.
            It scared me as I read about globalization 3.0 because I am going into accounting, and to find out that a lot of accounting practices are being outsourced to places like Bangalore was more than slightly depressing.  However, as I continued to read, I found comfort in the fact that outsourcing will create more opportunities for the country doing it.  So really, it’s just a matter of change.  The jobs available in the United States will not necessarily be fewer in number, they will just be different.
            Friedman then begins laying out the ten forces that flattened the world, and he begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  To Friedman, the fall of the Berlin Wall meant the obvious liberation of the people of the Soviet Union, but it also meant, on a greater scale, that the world as a whole had shifted towards democracy.  It meant that individuals would be the ones with power, rather than huge, regulatory, centralized governments.  It meant that capitalism would be the new direction for the world rather than communism or socialism.  This was the first major force that would begin the “flattening” of the world.  The fall of the wall allowed people to do what was most productive and most efficient.
            The second force that flattened the world was the World Wide Web and its ability to connect everyday people without their knowing a lot about computers.  The major flattening force in the midst of this was Netscape going public.  The internet existed prior to Netscape, but Netscape offered an easy-to-use browser that even the most computer-illiterate people could operate.  From that point, the number of internet users hasn’t stopped growing.
            To end, I thought one of the most interesting insights Friedman had was that technology, while uniting the world, is also being used by terrorists and other enemies as a facilitator to our destruction.  This rang true to me as I thought about organizations like Al Qaeda, which can, because of technology, infiltrate the United States while still maintaining contact with its leaders in foreign countries.  What is being used for great things is also being used for terrible things.