For much of the last century, the United States led the world in technological innovation—a position it owed in part to well-designed procurement programs at the Defense Department and NASA. During the 1940s, for example, the Pentagon funded the construction of the first general-purpose computer, designed initially to calculate artillery-firing tables for the U.S. Army. Two decades later, it developed the data communications network known as the ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet. Yet not since the 1980s have government contracts helped generate any major new technologies, despite large increases in funding for defense-related R & D. One major culprit was a shift to procurement efforts that benefit traditional defense contractors while shutting out start-ups.
Bad procurement policy is just one reason the United States has begun to lose its technological edge. Indeed, the multibillion-dollar valuations in Silicon Valley have obscured underlying problems in the way the United States develops and adopts technology. An increase in patent litigation, for example, has reduced venture capital financing and R & D investment for small firms, and strict employment regulations have strengthened large employers and prevented the spread of knowledge and skills across the industry. Although the United States remains innovative, government policies have, across the board, increasingly favored powerful interest groups at the expense of promising young start-ups, stifling technological innovation.?
A gorgeous January afternoon.
Inside the cloud that is perpetually draped over the small town of San Juan Yaee, Oaxaca, Raúl Hernández Santiago crouches down on the roof of the town hall and starts drilling. Men wearing rain gear of various impermeabilities cluster above him, holding a 4-meter-tall tower in place. Braided wires trail from four small circles welded near its midpoint; eventually those will be bolted or tied down in order to hold the tower steady during the frequent storms that roll through this part of Mexico’s Sierra de Juárez mountains. They don’t want it falling over every time it rains. Ninety thousand of the town’s pesos—a bit over $6,000—are invested in the equipment lashed to the top of the tower, in a town where many residents get by on subsistence agriculture.
The tower—which Hernández, Yaee’s blacksmith, welded together out of scrap metal just a few hours earlier—is the backbone of Yaee’s first cellular network. The 90,000 pesos come in the form of two antennas and an open-source base station from a Canadian company called NuRAN. Once Hernández and company get the tower installed and the network online, Yaee’s 500 citizens will, for the first time, be able to make cell phone calls from home, and for cheaper rates than almost anywhere else in Mexico.
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Campeche is among the New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2015“. It is well worth a visit.
You’ve claimed that privacy is the new fame. Can you explain that?
It’s now so difficult to be private that it will be the new state everyone strives for. But I don’t think we have to convince people of the need for privacy, it’ll just happen naturally… [just as] fashion is always going from skinny jeans to bell-bottoms and back again. The generation below always over-corrects to the one before, and you can already see this happening.
You’ve created a messaging app, Wickr, that allows people to message each other in a completely secure, private way. A lot of people would say they’ve got nothing to hide, so why bother?
We’re just trying to be the number one messenger in the world. I think privacy and security are reasons why our users will stay with us because there is no way that your information can ever be used, viewed or kept. The difference between us and what the big companies are doing is that they are encrypting messages between a device and their servers, whereas we are doing it device to device. So, we don’t know who our users are, who they’re talking to or what they’re saying. We can’t hand that information over: we don’t have it.
Silicon Valley is pushing its way into every stage of the food-growing process, from tech tycoons buying up farmland to startups selling robots that work the fields to hackathons dedicated to building the next farming app.
“The food sector is wasteful and inefficient,” said Ali Partovi, a Bay Area investor with large stakes in sustainable agriculture startups. “Silicon Valley has a hubris that says, ‘That’s stupid. Let’s change it.’?”
The booming activity around the so-called ag-tech sector has led experts to predict that its growth, in terms of the number of new startups and venture-capital investments, will in another five or so years outpace today’s hottest technologies.
The terms of citizenship and social life are rapidly changing in the digital age. No issue highlights this any better than privacy, always a fluid and context-situated concept and more so now as the boundary between being private and being public is shifting. “We have seen the emergence of publicy as the default modality, with privacy declining,” wrote Stowe Boyd, the lead researcher for GigaOm Research in his response in this study. “In order to ‘exist’ online, you have to publish things to be shared, and that has to be done in open, public spaces.” If not, people have a lesser chance to enrich friendships, find or grow communities, learn new things, and act as economic agents online.