Monday, August 26, 2013

Technology imitates art -- why Google switched to Web encryption (https)

I was struck by a cool exchange while listening to a This Week in Google podcast. The topic was security and privacy and the exchange was between hosts Jeff Jarvis and Leo Laporte and their guest Matt Cutts, a Google engineer.

The exchange (1 min, 10 sec) began with Jarvis asking Cutts what led to Google's deciding to use encryption (HTTPS) for Web requests.

It turns out that Cutts had the authority to pursue the change on his own. He decided to switch to HTPPS after reading Cory Doctrow's Little Brother. He was also influenced by Chinese hackers having attacked Google in 2009.

This is a cool example fiction influencing the real world -- reminiscent of the role the StarTrek communicator played in the development of the flip phone.

Of course the Star Trek communicator is not the only example of life imitating life -- Star Trek also featured touch screen tablets long before the iPad came out.

I don't know if the iPad designers were thinking about Star Trek tablets, but they certainly had seen Knowledge Navigator a widely viewed concept video produced by Apple's higher education group. (The Knowledge Navigator video is preceded by a one-minute introduction).

As you see, this video depicts a tablet with voice recognition and considerable "intelligence." What will Siri and Google Now be like in twenty years?

Going back to the early 1800s, the Jaquard loom, which was controlled by punch cards, was capable of automatically weaving intricate tapestries like the one shown here:

Charles Babbage was familiar with the Jaquard loom and owned one of the Jaquard portraits. That led to his automating of computation in his Analytical Engine -- the precursor to our programmable computers.

Can you think of other examples where art has inspired invention or scientific discovery?

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