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TTI/Vanguard's Conversations on Technology
30 minutes | May 26, 2020
Zoom Is Not Enough: A Conversation with David Sax
Recent articles have noted the existence of something called “Zoom fatigue.” One theory is that in a conversation, we’re always putting someone’s words in a context, to figure out what they really mean—so we’re incredibly sensitive to the slightest clues and cues: where someone’s eyes are focused, whether that little pause meant uncertainty or something else, how quick someone is to laugh at our humorous response, and so on. With even just millisecond-level delays, and the flatness of our 2-D displays, our brains have to work even harder. Then too, there’s no physical interaction—not only can’t we shake their hand, see their whole self, read their body language, even smell their smell, we’re not even sharing the same space, seeing the other objects in a shared room, hearing the same background noises, and smelling the same smells. Then three, we’re missing the other physical cues in our environment—even back-to-back meetings in real life have a change of venue from one meeting room to another, a few physical steps of walking, maybe a detour to stop by someone’s desk to say hello, or grab a cup of coffee from the common area. An online day on the other hand is one endless chair-sitting encounter with the same desktop, both literal and figurative, as yesterday and tomorrow. Psychologists and other therapists, who have all moved their practices online, report these things in spades, but they affect even those of now commute only as far as the spare bedroom, if we’re lucky enough to have one. These are not new ideas for my guest today, who started to reflect on the differences between the virtual and the physical—and the ways in which the virtual is but a pale shadow of the physical, both literally and figuratively—years ago. He encapsulated his conclusions in an entertaining and insightful book called The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. His latest book, published just a few weeks ago, is just as prescient for the Age of the Coronavirus in its own way. It’s called The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Myth.
40 minutes | May 19, 2020
Getting Back to Work—Shield Immunity vs Herd Immunity: A Conversation with Joshua Weitz
Perhaps there’s no more pressing question in the United States and around the world than, “When can we all get back to work?” If a return to normal living is months, maybe a year, or even more, away, how do we maximize a return to work—work and play, because after all one person’s restaurant visit or vacation is another person’s employment—while minimizing the rates of infection and death? My guest today has given this question a great deal of thought. Joshua Weitz is a Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Director of its Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Quantitative Biosciences. The self-declared mission of the Weitz group is to understand “how viruses transform human health and the fate of our planet.” The group includes physicists, computational biologists, mathematicians, and bioinformaticians, and their work includes research and modeling of disease dynamics and epidemiology. So it should come as no surprise that he has some novel ideas for dealing with the novel coronavirus.
32 minutes | May 12, 2020
Genetics, Immunology, and Covid-19: A Conversation with Dr. Robert Green
The world has been concentrating on the epidemiology of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19, and with good reason. We need to know how far and how quickly the virus spreads, and which areas might safely come out of hibernation sooner rather than later. But ultimately many of the most important questions lie at the level of the individual person. Why does the disease overcome some people while it leaves others without symptoms entirely? What’s the role of co-morbidities such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease? How much does it have to do with our immune systems—is there a perfect level of response, attacking the virus vigorously, but not too vigorously? Ultimately, are there genetic differences among people, such that we could predict who will likely get the virus, and at what severity, by looking at their DNA? And finally, testing and immunity—does getting the disease render you safe to others who haven’t had it yet? Does it shield you from getting it again? Forever? Or could it return in a different, maybe worse form, the way chicken pox comes back as shingles? And what role can the study of genetics play in developing tests and a vaccine? My guest today won’t have all the answers, but he is a great person to ask the questions of. Dr. Robert C. Green is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, a medical geneticist, and a physician–scientist, who directs the Genomes2People Research Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Broad Institute, and Harvard Medical School. His M.D. is from the University of Virginia, and he has as well a master’s degree in Public Health, specifically Epidemiology, from Emory University.Recorded: May 9, 2020.Audio engineering: Gotham Podcast Studio, New York, N.Y.Music: Chad CrouchComments: @ttivanguard and @techwiseconv
31 minutes | May 1, 2020
Coronavirus and Data Science: A Conversation with Anthony Goldbloom
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, in the short term we need protective gear, testing, contact tracing, testing, hospital capacity, and more testing. In the long term, we need to understand the virus better—how contagious it is, who is most vulnerable, where is it most active, what are its true symptoms, what are the best treatments, does it confer immunity—and, of course, ultimately, we need a vaccine. There’s hope that a concerted application of data science can answer, or at least support investigations into, many of those questions. The epicenter of the coronavirus keeps shifting—Wuhan, Seattle, Italy, New York, a naval ship here, a meatpacking plant there, nursing homes everywhere—but for almost a decade now the epicenter of data science hasn’t moved at all: It’s located in a ten-year-old, now-mature, one-time San Francisco startup, now a part of Google, by the name of Kaggle. Its founder, Anthony Goldbloom, is a former econometrician at the Reserve Bank of Australia and at the Australian Treasury. He’s spoken at TTI/Vanguard twice, and even before that he was a podcast guest on my old show, Techwise Conversations.
25 minutes | Apr 28, 2020
Privacy in the Age of Coronavirus: A Conversation with Stephen Wicker
If we step away from the horror of the coronavirus—the overwhelming cases and new cases and deaths; the hospital scenes of corridors ringing with more attention-needing alarms than there are nurses and parking lots with refrigerated trucks; the EMTs forced to return to work even after testing positive; the warehouse workers and delivery drivers who don’t know if the next box they touch will be the one to give them the virus—if we step away from all of it, from enough distance, we can glimpse how the pandemic is holding up a mirror to the world, as each nation shows its essential character—its ability or inability to band together and head down the epic journey the virus is taking us on; its willingness to trade privacy for safety, its transparency at the level of government and the individual citizen, in a town or neighborhood, on the street, walking home from a shift as an essential worker, or just from the grocery store. South Korea has been one of the most aggressive countries when it comes to contact tracing. When someone tests positive for coronavirus, the local district uses cellphone data, taken by the government directly from the carrier networks, to send out emergency text alerts informing people that there is a new Covid-19 case in the area where they live. Names are withheld, but some districts publish the routes of confirmed patients, the public transport they took, and the medical institutions that are treating them. The U.S. has a history, at least a recent history, of protecting people’s privacy, even, and especially, in medical contexts. The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA as it’s called, is a case in point. And yet, even that law explicitly permits “reporting of identifiable data for public health surveillance.” The U.S. coronavirus statistics are horrific; the South Korean ones enviable by comparison. And so perhaps it was inevitable that two of our biggest tech companies, Apple and Google, gatekeepers of our mobile operating systems, with a nudge and some research by one of our leading tech universities, MIT, have taken the first steps toward an app that uses the short-range network capabilities of our phones to do some of the same South Korea-style data-collection that can lead to contact tracing. To be sure, there will likely be some key differences, but it nevertheless raises some of the same questions of surveillance and loss of privacy. People with a Ph.D. level of understanding of networks and cellular systems who also research matters of privacy and security are rare and highly-prized individuals. Steven Wicker is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University. His research focuses on the interface between networking technology, law, and sociology, with a particular emphasis on how design choices and regulations can increase or diminish our privacy and speech rights.
49 minutes | Apr 23, 2020
Coronavirus and the Economy: A Conversation with Martin Reeves
World War II brought women into the workforce, led to the integration of the Army, baseball, schools, and, ultimately, voting. The percent of college graduates doubled from 1940 to 1960. Cheap mortgages for veterans gave rise to the suburbs—that and the Interstate Highway System, which itself was a response to transportation supply-chain problems during WWII. Nuclear power and plastics, computers and telecommunications, air travel and antibiotics—much of the face of modern life can be traced back to the war. Recessions on the other hand, typically don’t alter business or social life in any fundamental ways. Even after the biggest one of our lifetime, in 2008, we tweaked some finance regulations and so forth, but we didn’t start talking about a universal basic income or even reinventing the housing market. The economic shocks of the current pandemic feel different. And, combined with the work and leisure behaviors engendered by the temporary need for social distancing, it doesn’t seem unlikely that some of those alterations could be permanent—that business, society, and cultural mores could change in some fundamental and lasting ways.This interview was recorded 3 April 2020.Music by Chad CrouchAudio engineering by Steven Cherry We welcome your comments @ttivanguard and @techwiseconv
38 minutes | Apr 21, 2020
The Future of Work After the Age of Coronavirus: A Conversation with Vishal Sikka
Few people can understand the world through both ends of the telescope, looking at entire enterprises from 30,000 feet up while still seeing individual people and their work up close—as close to a handshake, not that we're doing that at the age of the Coronavirus. Vishal Sikka is one of those people. Born in India, he started college there but finished his bachelor's degree at Syracuse University. He has a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford, which Marvin Minsky helped him get into and where he studied with John McCarthy. Vishal had a stint at Xerox PARC before two startups of his own and eventually ended up at the global software engineering company SAP, where, among other roles, he was the company's first CTO and redesigned its fundamental database architecture. He then became CEO of Infosys as an agent of change, pushing the company up the IT and programming food chains. Last September, he launched a new enterprise, an AI startup whose advisers include Sebastian Thrun and Alan Kay. He recently joined the board of Oracle and is also a supervisory board member of BMW. In this episode, Vishal Sikka considers the future of IT, programming, and tech work more generally, during the next 12–18 months, while the coronavirus is still with us, as well as what changes will stay with us long after it’s gone. This interview was recorded on 14 April 2020.Music by Chad CrouchAudio engineering by Gotham Podcast Studio, New York, N.Y. Your comments are welcomed: @ttivanguard, @techwiseconv
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