JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 149 : 8 April 2004

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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The roots of American innovation are deep

In the past century, most new products and services were developed first in technologically advanced societies - predominantly in the US. And now some Americans fear that all those bright young Chinese and Indians will steal not just the routine jobs, but also the precious skills. Growing hostility towards outsourcing has brought an isolationist backlash - reduction of visas for skilled jobs. The feeling is that foreign workers will simply take their learned skills back home.

The biggest asset in the US is its culture of entrepreneurs and innovation which goes back to its roots in the birth of a new nation, the "wild, wild West" that thrived on risk and change. Older societies do not foster innovation, encouraging only the wisdom of the past. New ideas come from an attitude, an ambience, a culture that embraces change.

Today there are venture-capitalists and startup companies all over the world, trying to emulate US successes of the 80's and 90's. But beyond just new technology, it requires deeper changes in customer attitudes.

When I started a company in England, the primary barrier was customer acceptance - many established companies just didn't want to buy from a small startup; it was an obstacle you had to overcome. Your products had to be established before they'd give you a try. They were dubious about small companies, and suspicious of the word "entrepreneur".

By contrast, my US startup (Action Instruments) generated faster growth. Many customers felt that being small was an "advantage". When my very first customer was ready to place a large order, he asked, "Who is Action Instruments?" I stopped. How could I tell him that he was in fact my first customer, without losing the order? So, I blurted out spontaneously, "Action is a large company in its early stages!" He laughed, and gave me the order...

After the success of the technology era, and in spite of the dotcom crash that followed, most people in the US still feel positive about small companies and new technology. In one major example, Action was selling industrial computers against IBM - and we won simply on the merits of our products. I don't think that could have happened in any country but the US.

Mind you, my experiences were decades ago. Today, the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes in many other countries. But the US culture still has a vast lead, and will remain pre-eminent for a long time. This is why many immigrants are significantly more productive in the US than in their home country.

The hardship of joblessness and the complaints about outsourcing will simply stimulate a new breed of entrepreneurs and innovators to change the face of business. It's happened before, and it'll happen again!

There is another side too. Innovation makes everyone richer. The Japanese push for Quality in the '70's and 80's was quickly embraced by the US, with ISO 9001, TQM, Six-sigma and other programs that have had significant results.

While the rest of the world strives to catch up in the innovation race, the world will be a better place for all. India, China and many other countries will compete, but the competition can only result in mutual improvements. There are benefits for all who run the race.

Click That Seldom Heard Encouraging Word

Click One Giant Global Labor Pool

Click Making sense of outsourcing and offshoring

Click Lester Thurow: Globalization and Prosperity

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The urgency for American energy independence

The skyrocketing price of gas at the pump (now above $2 and even $3 in some US cities) surely reminds us of the price we are paying to feed our oil addiction. Beyond just gas prices, we are paying with the lives of US soldiers and civilians in Iraq, plus gigantic budget deficits that will remain an unpleasant legacy for our children and grandchildren.

The only solution is energy independence. Please visit Ron Bengtson's American Energy Independence web site - this has been updated with several new links and ideas that will keep you abreast of the latest thinking.

In an important featured essay, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University brings up yet another practical idea: synthetic petroleum extracted from natural gas, coal, tar sands and oil shale. There are centuries' worth of supplies, and environmentally sound methods of production available today, within economic reach. Natural petroleum may have an immediate cost advantage, but the cost of synthetic petroleum is comparable, and likely to fall substantially if carried out on a large scale.

Sachs insists too that "the alleged cost advantages of natural petroleum over synthetic petroleum have probably already disappeared, when we recognize the US is paying a fortune in finances and blood for Middle East oil that is not counted in the price at the pump. This amounts to a hidden subsidy for all the current sources of natural oil."

Automation engineers and marketing people should study the technologies of alternative energy sources carefully, to sift out the myths and legends from stark reality and hard facts. There's new technology here, which many of us already have the knowledge and experience to develop and promote. There is a BIG market for alternate energy sources, waiting to be exploited.

Today, our oil problems are escalating out of control. It's important for us - you and I - to understand the solutions, and get involved to make this a significant issue!

Click Jeffrey Sachs: America's disastrous energy plan

Click Visit American Energy Independence website
for new weblinks and ideas

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Augmenting human capabilities

Over the past 10,000 years, human physical characteristics and intrinsic intelligence have changed very little. Ancient athletes could have competed admirably in present day Olympics; Socrates would probably have scored at genius level on the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Will technology change this? Can super-humans be developed?

Recognizing that humans are most often the weakest link in combat, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is now looking at technologies that will augment human performance. They are looking to upgrade human capabilities, to make soldiers smarter, tougher, faster, and stronger. Not just because they ride in Humvees and have better machineguns, but physically and mentally.

DARPA is famous for its blue-sky thinking. Although some 85% of its ideas have led nowhere, it is responsible for some of the world's most advanced technologies - the Internet, global positioning, stealth aircraft and more.

Research is ongoing to allow people to manipulate remote-controlled weapons just by thinking. The DARPA "brain-machine interfaces" project connected the brain of a monkey with sensors to observe its neural impulses. The impulses were converted into computer code, and remote robotic arms moved in response to the signals from the monkey's brain. In a similar experiment, the monkey was taught to move objects on a computer monitor with a joystick. When the joystick was disabled, the monkey learned to make the movements just by thinking.

Lest you think this sounds too blue-sky, consider this. One immediate goal of this type of research is to help paralytics to operate wheelchairs or robotic limbs. This could also help patients regain control over natural limbs with the aid of implants in the brain and the limb.

The military implications are revolutionary. Imagine pilots who could fly high-performance fighter aircraft from the ground just by thinking. Or, soldiers communicating with one another telepathically, downloading the latest tactical intelligence directly into their brains. It's not just talking into a radio, but thinking into a wireless link.

Now researchers are testing the viability of storing human memories on implantable microchips, a Matrix-like advance that would eliminate the need for training - soldiers can upload someone else's technical knowledge or combat experience. Such radical advances are still decades away, but DARPA is showing that these things are possible.

On the physical side, a key robotics growth arena is Intelligent Assist Devices (IAD) operators manipulate a robot as though it were a bionic extension of their own limbs with increased reach and strength. IADs help people to move objects, more, heavier, better, faster, with less strain. Sensors, computer power and control algorithms translate movements into super human lifting power.

Some people have serious moral and ethical concerns about these human augmentation projects. Religious conservatives insist that God did not intend man to tamper with these thing. But my own view is this: God intended His creation to push the limits as far and as fast as possible. The good always balances the bad.

Click DARPA seeks to create super soldiers

Click Genetic competition - technology speeds evolution

Click Robotics Technology Trends

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Bill Gates vows to end spam in 3 years

If you are reading this email, you have had to wade through tens (or even hundreds) of spam messages first - pornography, pyramid schemes, Nigerian financial scams, or availability of cheap medications from Canada.

If (like me) you have Norton anti-spam (or the equivalent) most of those spam messages were simply dumped into a folder, waiting for review. I don't relish going through 500 spam messages per day, trying to find a couple of good emails. So usually, I just empty the folder, wondering how much good email (from long-lost old friends) has been dumped along with the spam.

About 70% of spam actually comes from virus-infected machines which install miniature mail and web servers on home PCs belonging to innocent third parties. Spam is easily the biggest technology problem today.

Recently, Bill Gates (speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland) bravely vowed to make spam emails obsolete within two years. He admitted that spamming is innovative, but says that Microsoft is investigating solutions which will rid your inbox of this curse. I'm waiting!

Filters could be used to sift real mail from spam - but that's not the "magic solution" because spammers used random words in subject headers and replace text with pictures to go undetected. And most other computational techniques become expensive and difficult when dealing with huge amounts of spam.

The ultimate solution would be to charge a small fee (like postage) for email. Or, to make senders of email pay a fee if their mail was rejected as spam. This would not deter genuine e-mailers. But common techniques used by spammers include forged sender names, false subject lines, fake server names, inaccurate and misrepresented sender addresses, or obscured transmission paths.

It will be interesting to see whether Bill Gates, or anyone else, comes up with a breakthrough to solve this serious and urgent problem.

According to Spamhaus Project, a non-profit organization that names and shames spammers on the Internet, top countries which originate spam are:

  1. United States
  2. China
  3. South Korea
  4. Brazil
  5. Argentina
  6. Canada
  7. Taiwan
  8. Russia
  9. Italy
  10. United Kingdom

Click We'll End Spam in Three Years, Vows Microsoft

Click Spam - the curse of the Internet

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Editorial apology

I must admit to becoming VERY frustrated with the extreme political polarization that is occurring in this election year. I watch in horror as the Iraq war escalates again, with more US troops and innocent civilians being killed.

In the last eNews (26 March 2004) I wrote about what I thought was "smoking gun" evidence. And I watched President Bush brush that off in ways that just didn't make sense to me. And then I spoiled a good discussion with bad humor.

"On a hunch", I wrote something that was meant to be satirical, but was in poor taste. I provided a listing of IQs for the last 12 US presidents. This was meant to be a joke. Indeed, I provided the weblink which showed that it was simply a hoax.

Of course, many people quickly looked up the link and I received a lot of protests. I responded quickly, apologizing for my poor taste, and my bad "hunch". And I apologize again here.

The website version of eNews 26 March 2004 includes this:

    Note from Jim Pinto:
    The list of Presidential IQs shown below are NOT correct.
    The link I had provided below: On G.W. Bush's IQ (or Lack Thereof)
    indicates that this was really a hoax.
    I had included it as a satirical note, a joke, which offended some people.
    It was done in poor taste. I was wrong, and I apologize!

To eNews readers at large, let me explain my position. JimPinto.com eNews includes my personal news, views and opinions - on automation, future trends and important social issues. Subscription to eNews is free, and while I appreciate your comments and suggestions about topics of interest, I must, in the end, follow my own conscience and speak my own mind. This does not mean that I can publish something in poor taste. For that I apologize.

I get a lot of encouragement, which I sincerely appreciate. Also, I get lots of feedback disagreeing with my point of view. I always respond personally to each one. In some cases, this has resulted in me changing my opinion; in others, I believe I have made a difference.

Click If you'd like to understand why I'm doing what I'm doing
(a labor of love) please read this background interview:

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Trayton Jay [JayT@meau.mea.com] who works for Mitsubishi Electric Automation in the US brings up the counterbalance to Outsourcing - 'Insourcing':
    "There has been lots of lamenting about outsourcing, but no mention of 'in-sourcing'. This is how most non-US based companies gain access to the US market. A recent article points out that the total outsourcing over the next 10-15 years will be about 2 million jobs (just 1% of the over 200 million jobs in the US economy). And it suggested that the in-sourcing benefits will be about 6 million jobs over the same time period.

    "In-sourcing ranges across the whole gamut - management, marketing, sales, engineering and manufacturing. Look at the European and Asian auto makers that produce in the US, for instance. Could we be seeing just a shift in who signs the paychecks, in the more general sense?

    "I see some elements of the in-source movement as moving jobs from manufacturing to service-based positions. To some extent this is exactly what "we" asked for. The US has been migrating away from manufacturing since the 1960s, when it became an acknowledged tenet of our government to favor the service sector.

    "Even as an 'in sourced' person, I feel the pinch of the weaker US job market cutting my present and future earning ability. This is probably about the same as anyone who is employed in an "American" company. My perspectives on this range between seeing either something to challenge personally, or a call to government for a more managed (protected) US economy to artificially reduce the rate at which the US recedes towards the global economic norm. I see many pitfalls associated with the latter, especially regarding where the US would end up in the global 'pecking order' 20 years hence. So, I favor facing the music now.

    "In an open, global economy, it seems reasonable that any country with a standard of living that is greater than the global average must address the tendency towards regression to that average over time.

    "Does the old tenet apply: 'original wealth derives from strength in primary manufacturing' (as Japan has held for many years now)? Or, is there truth to the US Government's perspective that the service sector is equally or more important to economic growth? Maybe we are just starting to find out - hopefully not the hard way.

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Bryan Gerard [bryan_gerard@yahoo.com] on eVoting:
    "If Diebold were indeed stupid enough to rig their machines, or make them easy to hack, just to help GW Bush, this will be found out, and it would doom the company and their shareholders, and the Republican Party.

    "Look at the facts: Diebold (and other electronic machines) are not easily broken into. They are not networked, and not connected to the Internet. A plan to fake information on the memory cards would have to be much more intricate than one to fake election results from the old paper system (which itself is not foolproof). In fact you would have to break into the machine, remove the memory card, and put a new one in. And you would have to know exactly how many people voted on the machine on a particular day, because the numbers would have to match the voter rolls.

    "We must maintain trust in the election judges to monitor the process and do what is right. If one side can rig an election, so can the other as they have equal access to the machines. That is not to say it wouldn't be nice to have a paper receipt, or be able to view my vote online via a code on a small paper receipt."

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Dan Miklovic [dmiklovic@comcast.net] sees the link between technology and politics:
    "It is good to see you bringing political dialogue into your Supposedly "automation" forum. The two are vitally linked.

    "In your newsletter you have talked about outsourcing and off-shoring as well. Both of those issues are linked to politics. Thomas Friedman regularly talks about the US's job salvation being our innovation and ability to come up with the next big thing.

    "Well bio-tech is one of the areas where many of the innovations will come from. A reactionary administration that overly restricts biotech research will impact more than just the quality of life in the US. It could very well undermine our computing and IT innovation as well, since biotech will be a driving force for the next generation of technical computing. Making advanced biotech research illegal will drive IT innovation offshore, and then the US will truly be headed towards real job losses and also-ran status in the world.

    "Technology and politics are linked, so keep up the good work!"

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