Christmas is almost here, so in the spirit of the season, here are a few things that Santa might consider dropping under the collective technology tree this year.
- A brand-new, stainless-steel spine for Congress. Since the current Congressional backbone has the consistency of seaweed, some uprightness could really benefit everyone—particularly when it comes to the NSA. Congress has the power to reign in the executive branch, and particularly that voyeuristic agency led by a wannabe Star Trek captain, but it lacks the will to do much of anything other than spend more money. If any privacy whatsoever (or freedom, for that matter) is to be maintained, someone in leadership must make an honest, principled stand for citizens’ rights. Maybe a visit from Santa could help.
- An energy source that makes everyone happy. Data center operators in particular know the value (and cost) of energy. Societies around the world are struggling to find the right balance of energy production, environmental stewardship and economic progress. Unfortunately, all of the current major energy sources have difficulties: coal creates polluting emissions; nuclear—well, just think Fukushima; renewables like solar and wind are intermittent at best; geothermal energy is difficult to transport; and so on. The ideal energy source would be safe, clean, abundant, mobile and cheap. But even Santa may find fulfilling that wish to be too tall an order.
- Tech couth. Smartphones (aka “pocket rats”), Google Glass and other gadgets all have their place—as well as places where they should be turned off. We’ve all seen it: that crazy driver too busy talking on the phone to pay attention to the road, that zombie-like pedestrian who wanders into traffic with nary a thought for what’s about to run her over or that annoying patron who thinks you’ll find his Google (spy) Glass as cool as he does. Apparently, changes in technology have arrived too quickly for society to settle on some basic guidelines of politeness and sensibility. On the other hand, maybe this is all a good reason why Santa should take the year off.
- An honest discussion of IP. Patent trolls, intellectual property (IP) lawsuits and similar legal and legislative shenanigans have been a big story throughout the year. Apple, for instance, has given new comic meaning to the concept of rounded corners. Perhaps Santa could bring us all a large, round table—or at least some will to discuss the foundation and limits of IP. Perhaps in an imperfect world, some kind of IP laws are necessary; clearly, however, they are way out of bounds today. A productive discussion should focus not just on what we should do about patent trolls (which are just an outworking of poorly thought-out laws), but whether ideas and so on can even count as property in the first place.
- Free money. No, not as in free beer, but as in free speech. Like it or hate it, the virtual currency Bitcoin is aiming to compete with established currencies. It may never reach the level of the dollar, or it may be supplanted by an alternative, but it has shown that demand exists for something other than fiat currency issued by central banks and endlessly monitored by conniving governments. Unfortunately, those same central banks and governments see Bitcoin as a threat to their power, and if the cryptocurrency continues to expand, they will no doubt take regulatory action. But perhaps Bitcoin should be another type of experiment: one in which governments for once in their existence leave something alone. Maybe society will find that paring back government power isn’t such a horrible thing after all. Santa? Any help here?
- End of bloatware. Moore’s Law has ensured that hardware often receives more emphasis than software. After all, why make software more efficient when you can just increase the processing power? Of course, the situation isn’t that simple, but imagine what would happen if the next distribution of your favorite OS couldn’t count on a huge leap in compute capabilities? Greater efficiency and smoother performance might then become more desirable than new bells and whistles (and tacky metro-style interfaces).
- Honesty from IT companies. The NSA scandal extended beyond just government, implicating major technology companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. These companies cried foul, claiming that they were prevented from revealing their complicity in the invasive spying programs, but such excuses haven’t held up since Nuremburg (the “I was just following orders” defense). But this should come as no surprise; these same companies regularly use consumer data for all manner of profit-making activities, often hiding behind arcane privacy or terms-of-use policies. Facebook, for instance, advertises that “It’s free and always will be” on its login page. Yes, it’s free in terms of dollars, but it’s not free in terms of data—and data does have value, doesn’t it? Facebook is more than happy to put your photos to work on its behalf. And you’re unlikely to see any compensation. These same companies can get in quite a huff if you use their data. But all the incomprehensible legal mumbo jumbo makes everything okay. Perhaps we could include this topic in a discussion about IP.
- A better efficiency metric for data centers. Any IT wish list would be incomplete without something for that favorite child, data centers. The foremost efficiency metric today is power usage effectiveness (PUE). Unfortunately, despite its benefits, PUE suffers from a number of problems, not the least of which is gaming by data center operators. In addition, a data center that improves the efficiency of its IT equipment could feasibly garner a poorer PUE value—a counterintuitive result that demonstrates the need for a more comprehensive metric. On the other hand, reducing efficiency to a single number (which cannot take into account all factors) is problematic. Maybe Santa has some ideas on how companies can better evaluate their data centers’ efficiency and, even better, accurately compare their results with those of other data centers.
- World peace. Maybe this wish is trite, and maybe Santa isn’t the Christmas figure with the most authority in this area, but it’s still worth striving for. It’d help technology companies as much as everyone else.
Like a child with a toy catalog, I could easily extend this list ad nauseum, but I’m not sure I rank high enough on Santa’s “nice” list to try his patience any further. And since, as most of us know, there really is no Santa Claus, perhaps we’ll have to each do what we can in our own ways to make at least some of these wishes a reality.
Image courtesy of Matti Mattila