As 2018 draws to a close, I’ve decided to set my sights on a series of topics for the coming year to continue challenging myself to ask more, learn more and then, report back to all of you on the lessons I’ve learned. After working in tech for over twenty-five years, I had only two goals when I began writing my “Firewall” technology series here on Medium a few years back:
- Explain things in language that’s fun and easy-to-understand. There’s no sense in sharing what I know about technology unless total beginners can also understand what I’m saying. That means avoiding jargon, code, and insider language whenever possible and focusing on normal language to describe even complex matters. That makes the topic far more approachable.
- Always be 100% honest with you. From the onset, I’ve repeatedly preached that there’s no magic bullet, no one, single approach or technology that can totally and fully make you safe online. Rather, what will help everyone — even the beginner — is learning how to develop safer practices online and off, using free or low-cost tech to help the process. We can’t learn from one another if I’m cutting corners or softening the reality of what’s on the digital landscape.
While I’m gratified to see that I’ve accomplished those goals in 2018, I want to push myself further in 2019. I’d like to be of better assistance to each of the 5,000+ people who follow me or stumble across my writing. Generally, I’d like to better help those followers and readers who live outside of the United States, I’d like to pay more attention to those followers and readers who ONLY have a smartphone as their primary computer and I’d love to focus more on helping adults become healthy and smart digital parents.
Specifically, here are some of the topics I’ll research and cover in 2019.
Every single device in your home that connects to the internet is a point of entry that a hacker or an overreaching corporation can use to gain entry into your most sacred of places. We should always start from the assumption that each of those devices can be hacked or turned against us. This group of gadgets is broadly known as the “Internet of Things” (or IOT) and includes smart cameras and security systems; smart thermostats and smoke alarms; any connected smart home automation devices like blinds, light bulbs, garage doors and front door locks; voice and video devices like Alexa, Google Home and Facebook devices; and all smart cars, so if you have a Tesla, put that sucker on the IOT list as well because those cars are highly connected and — sorry to report — hackable. Do we all want these devices in our homes and lives without first understanding the ramifications of what data the companies who make these devices will harvest from us? Or how cybercriminals and hackers can turn the devices against us and others? Definitely not. In 2019, I’ll be taking a deeper dive into this very rich category of technology that’s been exploding for the past five years in particular.
I’m guessing that a number of you have heard of Bitcoin, Etherium, and Litecoin. For those that haven’t: please, don’t worry. These are names of some popular digital currencies (also called “cryptocurrencies”) available today. Digital currencies are transferable monies that ONLY exist in digital, not touchable or tangible form. They are thought to be a breakthrough technology because — unlike the American Dollar, The Indian Rupee or the Chinese Renminbi — they don’t depend on nor are controlled by any one country or a central bank: that means, in theory, they cannot be manipulated by a broken, dysfunctional, or rogue government. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them safe. What I’d like to investigate further in the coming year is what security measures these digital monies have and if your investments in them will be safe from theft, hacking or improper usage. The short answer: no, they won’t be 100% safe. The longer answer: no, they won’t be 100% safe.
Voting, known also as “Suffrage” or “Franchise” is a long-standing tradition or law in many Democratic nations around the world. However, in many countries, the traditional paper ballots that citizens have traditionally used to cast their precious votes are now being replaced by digital ballots. As of 2014, the manufacturing and updating of most of America’s computerized voting systems are controlled by just two companies: Electronic Systems & Software (or ES&S) and Dominion Voting Systems. ES&S claims a 60% US market share with voting machines being used “in 42 states and two U.S. territories” while Dominion claims their voting machines are used in 22 of the 50 US states.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter who makes the voting machines: what matters is that we all remember that they’re just computers and — because of that — they’re each capable of being hacked.
“Wait, are you’re telling me my vote can be hacked?” Yes, I am. I’ certainly not the first to point this out and I’ll be far from the last. The New York Times ran a story about how this is possible and it’s worth a quick watch:
In 2019, I’ll ’do a much deeper dive on this topic along with a few election and voting integrity experts I’ve reached out to for their input. Needless to say, I’m very interested — and slightly alarmed — in any technology which has the potential to undermine a core, democratic process like voting.
Being a parent in today’s world is far more complex than it was when my parents raised me. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, my parents’ biggest concern was my watching too much TV: they didn’t need to worry about my becoming addicted to a smartphone or tablet computer because, well, those didn’t exist yet. Today’s parents, by comparison, need to understand both how to implement and then manage their family’s technology if they hope to guide their children well. This approach is essential because tech addiction in children is both real and dangerous. I became a father for the first time just three weeks ago, but I’ve been thinking for many months now about the impact the digital world will have on our son in the years to come. In fact, he’s the reason why I wrote my last article, “The Ten Commandments of Digitial Parenting”. We all live in a technology-infused world that changes almost weekly, if not quicker. What will the world look like for my son when he’s five years old? Ten? What about when he’s old enough to have children of his own? With my new son in mind, I’ll be diving into the best approaches, tools, and methods to use to help better parent your child (and mine) when it comes to technology.
By the way, I’m happy to report that both my wife and son are doing well and thriving. Here’s a glimpse of our little one:
What’s better than reality? Well, how about augmented reality, also known as “AR”. AR is the merging of the digital and physical worlds as we view them on our digital devices. In 2017, Apple introduced tools for all software developers to bring AR onto all iOS devices to allow your physical surroundings to be included INSIDE of their applications so that you can see or manipulate them in real time. Google’s done the same as have other major tech firms. Want to measure your living room or hallway to better plan for a furniture purchase or a try out a virtual design to see how it looks in your space before buying? Not a problem with AR! Here’s a video with a few interesting examples of how this new tech is starting to work:
Currently, AR is in its infancy, but in the coming years, it will seamlessly integrate into more and more of our online experience including learning about the world, navigating and exploring the world, and, without question shopping in the world. But what information will we be forced to/willing to sacrifice in order to have this technology work for us? Will our geographical location always be tracked to best serve us AR? What about our financial and educational information? It’s worth understanding the trade-offs before we hand over our personal data for the convenience of new technology.
We humans think of our own intelligence as natural, normal and real. But when the intelligence comes from a computer — even the most powerful of computers or computer systems — we refer to it as “Artificial Intelligence” or AI. Technologies like the cruise control system in your car, the navigation app which helps you find the quickest route to your destination, and the brains behind Siri, Alexa, Hey Google and Cortana are all built on AI. As computers become experts at understanding how we humans communicate, AI has the potential to radically alter our world by allowing those computers to communicate with us or on our behalf. Not everyone is on board with the notion of AI communicating on our behalf:
Unlike Elon Musk, I don’t think of AI as a risk: I think of it as a tool and, like all tools, it needs to be studied, understood and then offered with guidelines, safety measures and fallbacks to comfort the public. Ironically, Musk’s own Tesla Motors seems to think that way as well given that their cars’ autonomous driving system leverages AI to navigate the freeway systems, even in busy rush hour traffic. In the coming year, I’ll be looking into how the power of AI might reshape our future and how our training, understanding, and patience around this new technology will be important to consider.
Was there a topic that you wanted me to cover that’s not on my radar? Speak up! Drop me a private note or post in the comments section below. I try to respond to all notes, comments and questions, best I can.
For additional help, please see my guides on:
- Why you need a VPN and how to choose the right one
- The Ten Commandments of Digital Parenting
- Why You Should Leave Facebook & How to Deactivate Your Account
- What Multi-factor Authentication Is and How to Use It
And if you or someone you know wants a fun, informative and easy-to-read book on how to save thousands of dollars by cutting the cord, look no further than my first book “Screw The Cable Company”.
Happy New Year and, as usual: surf safe!