As has been my way, here’s the one blog post for the year past and the year forward. Unlike before, this is going to be posted both on Fishpool and on Metrify blogs for reader convenience. Also my own, because it seems Fishpool has not been all too stable lately, and I can’t be bothered to transfer it to a better platform just now.
I didn’t make many projections a year ago, just noting that a few trends were worth keeping an eye on. Security and privacy were in the limelight, and they certainly continued to be so over 2014, with several major retail and cloud hacks, encryption failures and ending with a Bang by hackers breaking into and releasing a giant dump of private information, both corporate and personal, from Sony Pictures’ badly secured systems.
I continue to be extremely skeptical of any real North Korean involvement in that incident. Basically, it smells like a corporate version of the Snowden Files without any of the ethical motives. That is, a disgruntled insider with more access than anyone had any reason to have grabbing a copy of everything. Unlike Snowden, this guy apparently felt like a unedited dump of people’s identities and lives onto the Internet to be ogled by anybody was a great idea. The North Korea/Interview link is just a forlulz misdirection, the only real bafflement on that is how can US government be so clueless as to assign the deed to DPRK with so weak evidence (even including their undisclosed findings).
What it highlights is something that has been understood in the security industry for a while, but by now should be obvious to anyone who bothers to study the events for even an afternoon. A semi-organized hacker group can now manage to basically destroy a major corporation by penetrating all of their information systems. Doing the same to a government may still be a bit beyond reach, but the trend is clear - private groups will master cyber-warfare attacks at the same speed or faster than governments will. Ukrainian insurgents may have needed Russian support to create chaos even against a weak army like that of Ukraine’s, but on the Internet, it’s not only hard to distinguish between a private and governmental adversary, the worse threats may in fact come from private groups. Certainly they will be more numerous. Ultimately, that thought so scary it may be enough to explain FBI’s eagerness to find any other explanation to the Sony incident.
So, I think we’ll see a lot of people try to come up with a compelling solution to security, or at least a compelling argument to why their solution matters. The latter will take form of Be Afraid, in the long-standing tradition of security services vendors of all time.
My other major note last year was that 2014 might become the Year of the Sensor. In a way, that was true, and yet it wasn’t: over the year, we saw too many wearable device announcements to count (including one from Apple, which I’m not particularly excited about, but so be it). We also saw a bunch of early services enabled by those devices, mostly in the health-and-fitness space. What we didn’t yet see much of was environmental sensing, but buildings and environments do change slower than the latest personal devices, nor are most people yet “wearing” anything but a smartphone. It will change, though.
That relates to my own moves too - as I’ve shared earlier, I put my general Data Science advisory business on the shelf and jumped on to building what is basically a sensor-enabled business. IndoorAtlas, where I now lead the engineering team, is able to produce an accurate indoor positioning of devices thanks to the sensors in them - in our case, primarily thanks to the compass chip embedded into smart phones. Who knew that a digital compass, out of all things, could unlock so much opportunity? I certainly was dubious the first time I heard of the concept.
That’s a great example of how surprising these disruptive changes can be. The last time I had the fortune to be involved in something as big, sometime as early was 12 years ago, when Sulake and Habbo Hotel were starting to gain speed. What was then called “micropayments” was, to most who even knew about it, firmly in the crazy-land. Why would anyone buy imaginary stuff to a freely provided online service, and certainly there would be no way to make a real business out of that! Well, Habbo didn’t end up to be the billion-dollar business we hoped and worked for, but mobile games now drive tens of billions of revenue on precisely the same model. It’s just called In-App-Purchase now, and the payment method isn’t text messages, but tapping a green button on a smartphone. Today it seems like providing services for free might not be just a good way of creating a big business, but the only way to do so!
I believe that 10 years from now, we’ll be looking at solutions enabled by wearable, always-sensing, always-analyzing technology the same way. What other way there possibly could be to produce useful stuff? Devices that don’t know exactly where they are and what is around them? Services that can’t deliver what you need, when you need it, where you are? Clothes that don’t respond to conditions of their wearer? You must be joking!
I’m very much looking forward to 2015. It’s hard to even put in words how exciting it is to be working towards something of this potential. Being involved from a developer platform angle is also very cool, because this gives me an opportunity to work with more devs, more applications, and more services than I could otherwise. Hope to speak with you about it soon!