Boy do we need a Chief Technology Officer!

I have been absorbing the news for the past few days. It’s really true. President Obama, in his weekly radio and internet address on Saturday, April 18, announced that Aneesh Chopra will be the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer. Chopra currently holds the CTO position in the state of Virginia. Why is this appointment meaningful?

First, a little background. The Obama administration’s agenda as regards technology is summarized this way: “President Obama and Vice President Biden understand the immense transformative power of technology and innovation and how they can improve the lives of Americans. They will work to ensure the full and free exchange of information through an open Internet and use technology to create a more transparent and connected democracy. They will encourage the deployment of modern communications infrastructure to improve America’s competitiveness and employ technology to solve our nation’s most pressing problems — ”

This nation has a lot of work to do to bring technology, particularly information and communication technology (ICT) into balance with societal needs. Yes we’re tweeting away, and faithfully updating our Facebook profiles, but we have no where near harnessed existing technology to make a difference in the lives of many in meaningful ways, or organized our public functions, governmental and otherwise to take optimal advantage of what technology can do.

This is only part of the task ahead. The nation’s first Chief  Technology Officer will need to be forward thinking about what the future demands. This is an important part of the job description.

There are many parts to this puzzle. The Obama technology agenda document identifies a number of  areas of interest, I will note just a few: “preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.” – “Encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.” -” Use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks.” – “America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access.”  For the complete document detail go to:

The CTO position will officially be that of associate director for technology under the administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy office. Hardly a cabinet level position. But it’s a step in the right direction. A step into the future.

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The Google “Street View” controversy

Nothing like a good controversy to help “clear the air” or in this case “the view”. Controversy, by definition involves a difference of opinion; in this case, most immediately, between Privacy International and Google, as regards Google’s quite remarkable – strictly technically speaking – imaging of the streets of, the United States, the United Kingdom…soon coming to a location near you. Google has stated that its ultimate goal is to provide street views of the entire world.

My purpose in this post is to heighten awareness of the issue in question, not to take a fixed position on the matter as at this point in the debate, I have lots of ambivalence.

To say this is a significant issue is to say very little. It is mega-significant as it revolves around some of the same public/private communication issues I have addressed in a previous post:

In a world which has the capacity through technology to “expose” just about anything to the light of day,  is it valid to do so; in other words just because it can be done, should it be done?

Google refers to its “Street View” imagery as “the product” . That’s the way they “view” it; as simply another “can of peas” in their voluminous online supermarket which apparently has garnered huge interest for a variety of reasons. What those reasons may be depend on the user – whether a realtor or a would be burgler.

Google has been responsive to a number of concerns raised over time. The United States Department of Homeland Security requested Google delay the release of some of its street views of the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area because some of the images might be of security sensitive areas. Google complied. The Pentagon has banned Google from publishing “Street View” content of U.S. Military bases and asked Google to remove  existing content of bases. Google complied.

More recently, residents of Broughton, in Buckinghamshire, England have balked at what to them is felt to be an invasion of privacy and threat to their security. As has been reported in newspapers around the world, they forced a “Google car” equipped with the sophisticated camera necessary for the purpose, to leave the neighborhood under – dare we say, surveillance.

I urge the readers of this blog to acquaint themselves with the varying perspectives attending this “global” issue. For starters visit these pertinent sites of the protagonists:[347]=x-347-564075

For a British Commonwealth point of view on the recent “Broughton” affair try:

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Communication technology, ancient style

So I’m driving in my car today and I turn on the radio to listen to one of my favorite radio offerings, NPR’s “All Things Considered”; I hear the last portion of a segment about the Grand Theater of Ephesus, also known as the Old Theatre of Ephesus, and for good reason, it was built some two thousand years ago. The segment featured the reporter at the theater itself, and the listener heard his breathy narration as he walked up the many rows of seats to the top of the 24,000 capacity amphitheater to demonstrate the remarkable acoustical properties of the edifice. Way down below you could clearly hear the banter of a group of children on the stage. I was impressed.

Yes, there are many performance venues which are known for their amazing acoustical characteristics. Places of which they say “you can hear a pin drop”. But for the most part, we think of these places as latter-day designs which came along as our knowledge base about such things grew. In fact there are a number of examples dating back to ancient times and the Grand Theater of Ephesus is one of them.

Now I’ve done a little research, and yes this is the same Ephesus associated with St. Paul  and the theater is where he is said to have preached – to the Ephesians of course. Besides theatrical performances, the theater was also used for meetings of the citizens, so the structure was communications central.

The Grand Theater of Ephesus is still in use today. At a point in time the likes of Sting and Elton John, according to some travelogues, graced its stage. Loudspeakers used for these types of performances did some damage so they are now apparently banned. Amplification is amply provided courtesy of the Greeks and Romans.

As communicators, we need to appreciate such ancient ingenuity. We need to recognize the long line of invention that has come before, study and learn, otherwise we just might re-invent the wheel. The Acoustical Society of America (established in 1929, the year of the Stock Market Crash no less) actually has members working in the relatively new field of  acoustical archaeology, so they get the idea.

George Santayana said (oft-misquoted): “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For a transcript of the NPR “All Things Considered” segment go to:

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CNN uses “word cloud” to analyze President Obama News Conference

This post will prove the point that one picture is worth a 1000 (or whatever number) of words. Jonathan Feinberg, a senior software engineer at IBM  developed the “Wordle” as he calls it, as a “toy” as he describes it. In fact the “Wordle” is a unique communication analysis tool which is perfectly suited for the contemporary environment. Most every savvy internet user knows about “tag clouds” – there is one associated with this blog. It provides a visual explication of the global content of this blog by establishing the emphasis  of the blog in terms of topics covered, shown by the varying size of keywords used. As I understand the Feinberg invention, “Wordle” takes this a step further, by graphically distributing a word array of any text feed into it.

Tonight, with CNN using what I assume was “Wordle” technology to analyze President Obama’s nationally televised News Conference, in my opinion, “Wordle” comes of age – and in fact – changed its age; it’s now appropriate for use by those of any age desirous of “seeing” what someone is saying, writing, etc. In the process of using such an evaluative tool, we come to “see” what the communicator is trying to communicate. Pretty neat and a pretty significant advance for the field of communications Mr. Feinberg. We thank you.

If you want to “see” for yourself go to: and also visit the Wordle Blog at:

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