Keeping an Eye on Innovations That Shape the Future

I always love writing the yearly trend and best practices blog. It has given me permission to dig-in, read, browse, and research many different topics and areas of interest in the tech, equipment, communication, marketing, storytelling, AI, and science.

So, you can imagine my excitement for the November 2019 issue of WIRED Magazine, with the title: Have a Nice Future, Stories of 25 People Racing to Save Us From Ourselves.

I’m still digesting, and that issue has traveled thousands of miles as I’m reading and researching the stories (ok, less dramatic: it traveled to Switzerland and back with me for the holidays).

To my absolute delight: of 25 stories, 11 where about female innovators, with one story (see #3) both genders being represented. This is assuming that the women identify as she/her.

Here my top three favorites from that WIRED issue:

Emily Leproust

Emily Leproust, Twist Bioscience is engineering DNA to store data forever. Did you know that by 2040 we will run out of storage space? I know I will at the rate I’m storing photos and video!

It’s super technical what Emily Leprous does, but she’s working on preparing DNA to represent data by translating the binary code of machines into the genetic code of life.

A stainless-steel tube the size of a large pill capsule will be able to hold dozens if not hundreds of Google data centers. Mind-blowing.

What I learned is that DNA only has 4 possible letters, which are A, C, G, and T (representing the four nucleotide bases of a DNA strand — adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine — covalent linked to a phosphodiester backbone – yikes).

So, the binary 0 and 1 get translated into the code of DNA being: A, C, G, and T

  • 00 = A
  • 01 = G
  • 10 = C
  • 11 = T

So cool! Simple and elegant.

Here’s a cool video explaining the concept:

Eve Galperin

Eva Galperin, Head of Threat Lab at Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading nonprofit defending digital privacy, free speech and innovation. The Threat Lab is a new initiative by Eve Galperin, focused on several cybersecurity issues for the little guy.

Her particular focus, however, is the eradication of the “stalkerware” – spyware used for domestic abuse – industry, working with victims of stalkerwares. These malicious applications, which are being marketed to abusive spouses, overbearing parents, and stalkers, can be installed secretly on mobile devices, allowing their owners to monitor their targets’ activities.

Galperin says: “Stalkerware is considered beneath the interest of most security researchers. Changing norms takes time. But it starts with someone standing up and saying, ‘This is not OK, this is not acceptable – this is spying’.

I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be stalked or have an abusive family member and it’s beyond what I can phantom and I can only imagine it being the most horrible feeling of vulnerability and insecurity to be violated that way.

Galperin is aware of her efforts alone not being enough, but she chooses cases that promise to have cascading effects, that will force the industry to change its priorities or inspire other researchers.  

Christopher Fabian & Sunita Grote

UNICEF’s Innovation Fund: founded by Christopher Fabian and Sunita Grote, is working on universal internet connectivity by using data science, satellite imagery and machine learning, through a program called GIGA (not an acronym).  

This being UNICEF they start with mapping all the schools in the world via Satellite, which in itself is a huge undertaking. Schools with consistent internet get a green dot, the rest a red one. The plan is to turn all dots green and eventually have the communities around the schools be able to tap into the internet too.

In a next phase UNICE and GIGA use diplomatic connections with heads of governments, offering to map of all their schools, then comes the financing part, which consists of a combination of public funds, low-interest loans, debt and equity financing, and a bit of cryptocurrency (blockchain equals accountability).

After that GIGA is building a kind of nonprofit App Store with free pedagogical software and “nerdy little open-source projects”. As demand increases so will the available tools.

The bottom-up approach of GIGA is a new approach to the usual Silicon Valley, “throw billions at a problem with R&D” and will rewrite (some of the) internet story. I love the unique approach of GIGA by looking at a well-known problem through a different lens and having multi-layered solutions that create a win-win-win situation.

Hany Farid

Hany Farid, with UC Berkeley, is fighting deepfakes, which is of concern to those of us working in digital media and video in particular, and the reason why this story resonates with me.

Farid develops software that can detect Deep Fakes. Especially with the 2020 presidential election approaching there’s deep concern (pun intended) that Deep Fakes will spread on social media and could enable mass deception, potentially skewing elections by showing a candidate saying or doing something they did not.

Here an example from 2016 with a (fake) Hillary Clinton on SNL:

And here a sobering report from CBS, aired in April 2019: https://youtu.be/EfREntgxmDs: Seeing is no longer believing!

Deepfake technology today is in the hands of pretty much anyone.

Currently, Farid is talking to lawmakers in the States and Europe that would criminalize malicious deepfakes or force internet companies to work harder at detecting them. And, Facebook just announced its deleting deepfakes.

Here a fun one:

And, check out: Wired!