Evan Prodromou's Blog

Some things I wrote

Archive for October 2017

The health of the Internet

leave a comment »

My friend Ian Forrester asked me for my thoughts a few months ago about the Internet Health Report that Mozilla published earlier this year. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly suggest you scan the site. It’s a great document that covers some important issues with the Internet — what makes it strong, and what work is needed.

I especially like the 5 pillars of a healthy Internet: open innovation, digital inclusion, decentralization, privacy and security, and Web literacy. There are great examples in each area on the health report covering some of the historically important issues that organizations like Mozilla and its allies have addressed.

But I have some issues that are important to me personally that I felt were not called out in this list. They’re mostly forward-looking; paying attention to parts of the Internet that are just emerging.

  1. AI. This is what I care about most. Current AI techniques require having lots of data, which limits the number of participants. It’s mostly governments and big commercial orgs creating and deploying AI today. Individuals, ad-hoc groups and non-profits hardly use it at all. That’s going to cause quite a skew over the next decade.
  2. VR. VR is sliding very much into closed systems like Steam or the Google Play Store. There are not open VR explorer systems in wide use. WebVR is a good first step, but we need to see more deployment and usage.
  3. Voice interfaces. Siri and Google Assistant are hugely centralized system; there are only a few other players. They are not open systems; it’s hard for developers to add new behaviours to Siri, for example. And it’s almost impossible for end users to correct voice interfaces (“No, that’s not ian’s email address”) or do end-user programming (“tell me any time ian sends me an email about mozfest”). The fact that most speech-to-text systems are cloud-based (everything you say gets sent to the cloud for recognition) is a potential nightmare for privacy.
  4. Touch-based software creation. Almost every interface in computing has changed radically since the 1950s with the exception of software creation. We still use an antiquated model of creating text files and running them through a compiler or interpreter. But most computer users today use touch-screen devices. Why don’t we have more touch-based software creation tools?
  5. Dating! I realize it seems trivial to some people, but romance and sexuality are a huge part of human existence. Many major dating sites are owned by a single company (IAC). The network effect make decentralized dating very hard to pull off. It’s an area that requires privacy and gradual disclosure. Open dating systems would be fascinating — posting one or more profiles on the open web in a way that preserves your privacy but allows gradual disclosure and connection.

I think there’s a lot more that needs to be addressed. I’m facilitating sessions on democratizing AI and on open dating as well as giving an update on the ActivityPub network at Mozfest 2017 this weekend.

Advertisements

Written by evanprodromou

October 27, 2017 at 7:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Birthday Inventory 2017

with 2 comments

Tomorrow, October 14, 2017, will be my 49th birthday. Before I start getting bombarded with AI-prompted well-wishing I thought I’d take a few moments to do a personal inventory at this point in my life. Warning: personal stuff ahead.

  • Family. I’ve been lucky to have two great kids, healthy and relatively happy, and a great relationship at home. My home life is an anchor for me.
    • Amita, 12, started high school this year. She’s confident and independent, and I’m very proud of her. We have an increasing distance between us, but I’m trying to find ways to spend more time with her. I want to share what little I know about the world with her before she has to face it all on her own.
    • Stavy turns 9 in a few weeks. He’s intense, thoughtful, moody. He’s also my closest friend. He has recently changed schools and it seems to have made his life a lot easier. I hope as a dad I can keep being helpful to him.
    • My relationship with my wife Maj is remarkably good, considering how busy we both are. She has been traveling for work and pleasure more than any other time in our marriage, and I think it’s giving her a chance to understand what she can make of her life with semi-independent tweens and teens. And I’ve been working hard on my company, which makes it hard to have time together. We’ve had to work harder this year to spend time together than ever before.
    • My other family — parents, brothers, in-laws, and more distant relatives — are all doing well, but they’re all far away. My mom and dad are happy in their home in Half Moon Bay, and my brothers and in-laws are either raising families or having adventures. I miss seeing them, but I know they’re just an email or phone call away.
  • Life’s purpose. William Gibson said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” I’m still unsure what my point of being on this earth is, but I think at least part of it is evening up that distribution.
    • In the last few years, that’s primarily meant working on more democratic access to artificial intelligence with my company, Fuzzy.ai. Although I’ve been somewhat happy with our work here, our recent turn to targeting enterprise development has meant we’ve fallen off in this mission somewhat.
    • Additionally, my work on distributed and federated social networks continues, primarily through standardization at the W3C. We finished Activity Streams 2.0 this year, and it looks like ActivityPub will launch this year too. I’m excited by these options, but I’m also exhausted by the work that’s gone into them. I hope I can maintain the energy to keep working on them.
    • I feel pulled by lots of good ideas that I don’t have time to implement or even write about. I’m trying to keep myself focused on what’s important, but there’s always a temptation to procrastinate with the fun of launching a new project. One of my big challenges is knowing how to only start things I can finish.
  • Health. My health is at an all-time high in fall of 2017. I’ve got a BMI that varies between 24 and 25, which is lower than I’ve ever had it. But the effort to keep myself at this level of health is intense. I’ve been on a low-carb diet for the last 5 months, and I’ve got a pretty intense 7-day exercise regimen that takes up at least 1-2 hours a day. That said, I still feel like the trade-off is worth it, and I’m excited at the opportunity to enter my 50s with a physically fit body.
    • In terms of mental health, I have been working hard to get myself in a more calm and less irritable space over the last year. Partly this has been about moderating my caffeine intake by reducing how much coffee I drink. Partly it’s been exercise and meditation, which have given me more peace of mind. But it continues to be a struggle, and I use harsh words with people more often than I’d like.
    • Weirdly and kind of embarrassingly, dental health has been a big issue for me this year. I’ve always been a lazy brusher, just trying to get my breath fresh, and an occasional dental patient. This year, I got a new dentist and an assiduo flossing/brushing/mouthwash regimen with quarterly cleanings and checkups. It feels great.
  • Friendships. This is a place I continue to be disappointed in myself. I think friendships are important, but I usually put them last, well behind my family and my work. I have a few friends that mean a lot to me and that I spend personal time with, but I have a lot of others that I never seem to get the time to see.
    • I also have a large and active number of friends on Facebook. It’s pretty typical for me to get hundreds of reactions to a post, which is satisfying but ultimately not as fulfilling as in-person meetings.
    • I also feel disconnected from a community of tech-minded people that I felt I had over the last decade. I think partly this has been changes in my priorities, and partly a change in the state of the world. It’s just not that unique to be interested in social software any more, for example. It doesn’t hold us together like it used to. There’s also been a drop-off in some of my favourite conferences and meetups, like YxYY and XOXO.
  • Finances. I have a good job doing what I love. That said, I still remain very reactive in terms of personal finance — “What, that bill is due?” “Oh, there’s an opportunity there?” Maj and I have been doing some more long-term planning this year, which has been helpful for both of us, but I’d like to make a more proactive approach to personal finance one of my goals for the next year.
  • Politics. For the United States, I’ve been worried about the current state of the union since last year’s election. On my birthday in 2016, I thought we’d have our first-ever female president. Now, I worry that we’ll have our first-ever nuclear war. My only solace has been that disunity in the party in power, plus vocal opposition, has kept the worst abuses to a minimum. In Quebec, I worry about rising ethnic nationalism, especially Islamophobia. As a non-citizen resident, I feel somewhat powerless to participate or comment, but it really concerns me. I think that this will be the year that I become a dual citizen, if only to be more participative in this process.
    Mostly I’m concerned that there are big, earth-shattering issues coming over the horizon in the next few decades which aren’t being addressed strategically. Problems of social equity, economic change, climate instability. Opportunities in technology, space travel, health care and transportation, international cooperation. I’m sorry to see the news driven by he-said-she-said Twitter battles, rather than discussion of policies on how to make our world better.
  • Business. Fuzzy.ai continues to be a fascinating and frustrating endeavour. As with any startup company, there are highs and lows every single day. Since this isn’t my first or even fifth time at the rodeo, I’m a little inured to the ups and downs, but I feel like that might be keeping me from engaging fully. All that said, I believe in the Fuzzy.ai mission deeply in my core, which makes coming to work and building cool AI software really worthwhile and satisfying. It aligns with my life’s goal very well.
    • On a similar front, working on building the AI ecosystem in Montreal has proven really rewarding. There are a lot of people involved in AI here, and a lot of different players — academic, commercial, governmental. I’ve been trying to lend a hand when and where I can, because this seems like a unique opportunity for a city I love.
  • Hobbies. Personally, I’m finding a lot of satisfaction in my side-projects and hobbies. I’ve also been doing a lot of exercise — running, biking, etc. — and getting some other sports like hiking and skiing in with my family.
    • Since I’ve gone low-carb I haven’t been baking bread as much as I used to, but I’ve been pickling and making jams and jellies, which is equally chemistry-ish and fun. I’ve also been using my smoker a lot. Finally, I’ve added special nights to our weekly calendar for cuisines I want to work on. Jerusalem Night and Texas Night are both times for me to try new dishes or perfect old favorites. It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be.
      Unfinished tech projects continue to be a vice — I’ve been trying lately to focus these around 30-day cycles, so I can get them started, launched, and then either support them or let them go. But there are still a lot of loose wires and peripherals around my desk at home.I’ve also had some time for personal travel this year. I went to YxYY in July, and I leave for a week-long trip to London and Amsterdam next week. Mostly I’m looking forward to a Mediterranean heritage trip next fall, traveling to Alexandria, Jerusalem, Istanbul and Athens. Personal travel isn’t as big a part of my life as it used to be, but I’m trying to include more of it in my schedule.
  • Media. Like most middle-aged people, I struggle with keeping up with new books, music, and film. The addictive nature of nostalgia makes it too easy to turn back to things I know from years gone by.
    • Like, again, many other middle-aged people, the one medium I manage to stay up-to-date on is television, which takes up much more of my time than I’m happy with. But it’s always right there, and it’s always really good. As someone who remembers garbage TV as the de facto norm, it really feels like we’re living in a golden age.
    • I continue to be fascinated with podcasts, to a fault. This year I trimmed my listening list only to actual-play RPG podcasts, and I’ve been trying to write reviews on headgames.blog but I’ve slacked off in recent weeks and I’ve been having a hard time catching back up.

That feels like a lot, and yet I know there’s a lot more to write. I know that I have a good life, and I’m happy with where I am. I’ll continue to work on making my life better, though.

Written by evanprodromou

October 13, 2017 at 11:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized