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How to avoid collaboration burnout

Collaboration tools are pervasive in the enterprise, but less so are practices for smartly managing the flow of information created in them, according to researchers and tech leaders who find these tools often lead to overload and burnout.

Anyone adding a new workplace chat app, for instance, could pick from dozens of options, and that’s part of the problem. They’re powerful tools for working across teams, time zones and distance. But the volume and velocity of the demands created, and the diversity of channels employees are expected to constantly monitor are wearing people out, said Rob Cross, a professor of global leadership at Babson College. 

[ Related: 14 Microsoft Teams apps to help you work smarter ]

“Collaborative overload feels good right up until it doesn’t, Cross said. “You’re the king of the world. These drivers that you have personally taken on – accomplishment or status or helping – are being met right up until burnout. And then it’s really hard to get out because of the demands you put on yourself.”

Cross says he has interviewed dozens of successful business leaders who often say they’re stretched too thin across multiple apps for chat, email and meetings. 

“You’re hearing stories that they’re overwhelmed,” Cross said. “They’re managing across nine of these platforms: Slack or Teams channels, IM, video, work management systems, gratitude recognition systems.”

[ Related: How to combine project management and collaboration ]

Cross said the problem is especially noticeable in high-performing managers.  

“These may ultimately be great tools, but all these technologies that are presumably making things faster are not really doing that,” Cross said. “Especially for managers who are all in on their careers, where people are counting on them. Nobody’s addressing the tax that’s being placed on people. There’s no chief collaborative overload officer. It always falls to the individual to figure it out, ‘How do I create some semblance of work and life?’”

“Collaboration app fatigue is real,” says Sébastien Ricard, CEO at LumApps. “It’s no

 

Collaboration tools are pervasive in the enterprise, but less so are practices for smartly managing the flow of information created in them, according to researchers and tech leaders who find these tools often lead to overload and burnout.

Anyone adding a new workplace chat app, for instance, could pick from dozens of options, and that’s part of the problem. They’re powerful tools for working across teams, time zones and distance. But the volume and velocity of the demands created, and the diversity of channels employees are expected to constantly monitor are wearing people out, said Rob Cross, a professor of global leadership at Babson College. 

[ Related: 14 Microsoft Teams apps to help you work smarter ]

“Collaborative overload feels good right up until it doesn’t, Cross said. “You’re the king of the world. These drivers that you have personally taken on – accomplishment or status or helping – are being met right up until burnout. And then it’s really hard to get out because of the demands you put on yourself.”

Cross says he has interviewed dozens of successful business leaders who often say they’re stretched too thin across multiple apps for chat, email and meetings. 

“You’re hearing stories that they’re overwhelmed,” Cross said. “They’re managing across nine of these platforms: Slack or Teams channels, IM, video, work management systems, gratitude recognition systems.”

[ Related: How to combine project management and collaboration ]

Cross said the problem is especially noticeable in high-performing managers.  

“These may ultimately be great tools, but all these technologies that are presumably making things faster are not really doing that,” Cross said. “Especially for managers who are all in on their careers, where people are counting on them. Nobody’s addressing the tax that’s being placed on people. There’s no chief collaborative overload officer. It always falls to the individual to figure it out, ‘How do I create some semblance of work and life?’”

“Collaboration app fatigue is real,” says Sébastien Ricard, CEO at LumApps. “It’s no surprise that more choice leads to higher levels of stress. This has been studied by consumer behavior specialists. It’s no different in the workplace. Employees today are more reachable than ever, which sets expectations that they have to respond to every communication right away.”

Tim Mulron, CEO at Teaming, said he sees an over reliance on collaboration tools that’s sometimes coupled with a lack of direction. 

“Ensuring that the mission of the team is clear, that the priorities are understood and we have agreement on how we operate eliminates a lot of unnecessary asynchronous communication,” Mulron said. “While it’s important that colleagues feel free to share, maintaining safe spaces is key to facilitating team engagement and team performance. Virtual collaboration tools should be used in moderation, like everything else. Just because you can message a colleague at 4 a.m., it doesn’t mean you should.”

[ Related: 4 tips for picking the right collaboration suite  ]

Cross’ research found that collaboration takes up about 85 percent of a manager’s time, about twice what was required in the previous decade. He says another issue that exacerbates the problem is an increasing interdependence between teams of all kinds.

“Throw in time zones and globalization, that’s a big deal in terms of the way in which we have to collaborate more globally,” Cross said. “The interdependence of work has gone up as well, the complexity of what people are producing, whether it’s a car, drug, a consulting project or a financial transaction. There are more and more specialties that have to collaborate to produce these products. It’s really a whole slew of these things that’s not going away.”

Mike Hicks, vice president of marketing and strategy at Igloo Software, said he sees overloaded employees and leadership teams, who are either missing important messages or getting more than they can be expected to handle. “Neither scenario is ideal,” Hicks says, “and it leads to low employee engagement, and decreased productivity, which are both keys signs of virtual collaboration burnout.”

Signs of collaboration burnout

One likely indicator of overload is when collaboration and consensus are tied at the hip, and paralyze the decision-making process. “It’s great that collaboration tools give a voice to everyone, but someone still needs to decide when enough dialogue is enough,” Mulron said. ”Collaboration tools are only as good as the teams who use them and the norms they’ve defined about getting work done and how they make decisions. Productivity is a trailing indicator of good business decisions – decisions being the operative word.”

Cross worries that collaboration burnout can be hard to spot because it builds over time rather than, as some might expect, in a series of surges.

“Over months or years, people just work a little harder,” Cross says, “a little deeper into the night and they eventually hit a threshold where they can’t keep up. They start to stress. Their creativity goes down and their negative reactions go up. You see people not fully engaged in meetings and you have to wonder how much coordination is actually happening, when you see them racing in and out of things and not executing. It can be a big deal.”

Some organizations are attempting to bring agile practices to address the problem. But Cross said they often find that the actual bottleneck in productivity occurs not from the tools themselves, but where a handful of connected employees are handling a disproportionate number of demands. And that still occurs after creating new workstreams. “You end up taking people out of existing workstreams and then putting them somewhere else,” he said. “But their old connections keep coming to them – they still have to get answers to keep things going. It creates significant overload in the system around some of your best players. How do you systematically shift those demands? What we find is that it’s much more about managing yourself than it is about the technology.”

Solutions to avoid burnout

Cross said most organizations aren’t taking stock of the types of demands being put on workers through collaboration tools and no one is tracking the amount of time spent using them. 

“The really important thing is that it’s invisible as across organizations,” he said, “and until we get better at kind of seeing, OK, if we adapt Slack or Teams or Cisco’s product or whatever, what’s the actual impact on that pattern of connectivity and is it driving the results we want? Or is it having unintended consequences?”

The most effective collaborators Cross speaks with apply time management techniques that fit their work style to keep from being constantly distracted by collaboration. “Technology can help a little bit, but it’s not a technical issue. It’s more of a cultural and work management solution.”

Some people get email out of the way first thing in the morning, he says, while others focus on reflective work first then block out 30-minute segments for email. They’ll accept meeting invites but insist on a hard stop at half an hour rather than an hour. And they make sure meetings are focused, with agendas circulated beforehand and an email after to recap and establish next steps. 

“They proactively shape their roles,” Cross said, “so that they don’t have people kind of continually pushing them back into collaborative demand.”



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Former U.S. regulator leads effort to create digital dollar

The former chair of the Commodity Future Trading Commission (CFTC) has partnered with Accenture to create the non-profit Digital Dollar Project, which plans to explore the creation of a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).

“The digital 21st century is underserved by an analogue reserve currency,” said Chris Giancarlo, former CFTC chair under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. “A digital dollar would help future-proof the greenback and allow individuals and global enterprises to make payments in dollars irrespective of space and time. 

The purpose of the Digital Dollar Project is to encourage research and public discussion on the potential advantages of a digital dollar, convene private sector thought leaders and actors, and propose possible models to support the public sector. The Project will develop a framework for practical steps that can be taken to establish a dollar-based CBDC.

A cryptocurrency backed by a fiat cash is known as a stablecoin.

A “tokenized” U.S. currency would coexist with other Federal Reserve liabilities and serve as a settlement medium to meet the demands of the digital world and a cheaper, faster and more inclusive global financial system, Giancarlo added in a statement.

Joining him in leading the project is his brother, Pure Storage CEO Charles Giancarlo, and the CFTC’s former chief innovation officer, Daniel Gorfine.

Because of Accenture’s experience working with central banks on digital currency and related initiatives, the consulting firm is an “ideal technology partner” in the Digital Dollar endeavor, according to Martha Bennett, a vice president at Forrester Research.

Chris Giancarlo pointed out Accenture central bank projects that have included the Bank of Canada, the Monetary Authority of SingaporeEuropean Central Bank, and most recently efforts by Sweden’s Riksbank – the world’s first central bank – to develop an e-Krona in a test environment.

“So they were the obvious choice for guiding this process,” Giancarlo said.

While at the CFTC, Giancarlo pressed the agency for clarity around the regulatory framework of cryptocurrencies and once told the Senate Banking Committee it should not ignore cryptocurrencies but embrace technological advances, earning him the moniker “Crypto Dad” by some in the industry.

In general, however, U.S. regulators and President Trump have not looked favorably on cryptocurrencies, cash backed or otherwise, compared to European and Asian nations. Some central banks in those regions are in the final stages of launching digital currencies, including China’s digital yuan and Russia’s e-Ruble.

“The regulators in those countries are on board because they’re either driving the initiatives themselves, or they’re closely involved,” Bennett said via email. “Having a former regulator driving this [U.S.-based] initiative puts it in a different league: this is clearly not about private sector firms launching initiatives that may or may not compete with national currencies, or potentially having a destabilizing influence.”

The race to integrate crypto into global banking is real as public sector projects are already driving interest in fiat-backed cryptocurrencies by central and regional banks.

The U.S. dollar is the world’s “reserve currency” because it represents about 58% of all foreign exchange reserves in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Additionally, 40% of the world’s debt is denominated in dollars.

Some experts believe the U.S. dollar could fall behind as the defacto ecommerce currency if other nations launch state-sponsored stablecoin first.

“In 2020, we at KPMG expect to assist regional and central banks in the development of well-defined technology frameworks that can anchor private-sector initiatives,” Arun Ghosh, U.S. Blockchain Leader at KPMG, said in a recent blog post.

In a blog post, the IMF said recently today’s fiat currencies are in flux “and innovation will transform the landscape of banking and money.”

Among other banking entities, the IMF has shown support for fiat-backed cryptocurrencies, saying they can reduce the reliance on government-issued money, “and unlike bank transfers, crypto asset transactions can be cleared and settled quickly without an intermediary,” Dong He, deputy director of the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, wrote in a post for the agency.

“The advantages are especially apparent in cross-border payments, which are costly, cumbersome, and opaque,” He said. “New services using distributed ledger technology and crypto assets have slashed the time it takes for cross-border payments to reach their destination from days to seconds by bypassing correspondent banking networks.”

Unlike private digital token initiatives, such as Facebook’s Libra digital coin, as well as other financial instruments that are more like derivatives or money market funds, the Digital Dollar Project’s cryptocurrency would be a central bank-controlled money.

JP Morgan Chase’s planned JPM Coin, for example, is neither a stablecoin in its current format nor a cryptocurrency, according to Bennett.

“It’s a token representing a dollar in the current system (in European terms, it would be classed as e-money),” Bennett said. “A CBDC is different in that it’s – by definition – issued by a central bank and hence subject to different control and stability mechanisms. It’s also worth noting that [a] US CBDC has safeguards that a Libra or equivalent wouldn’t have, and not all other CBDCs would necessarily feature: government access to data is constitutionally restricted.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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The Latest Digital News for Web Designers

One of the most powerful tools we have in web design is consumer and industry data. It’s like a gauge that tells us whether we’re still heading in the right direction or it’s time to change course and adopt a new strategy or approach.

Unless you’re combing the web for the latest news and reports in the areas of design, marketing, and SEO, it’s easy to miss this pertinent data. So, in this roundup, I’m going to take care of that for you.

Below you’ll find a recap of 5 recent news stories and reports that need to be on your radar.

 

Comscore Reports on the State of Mobile

Comscore’s annual State of Mobile report focuses on the growing usage of mobile devices to explore the web.

According to the report, users around the globe spend roughly three-quarters or more of their digital time on mobile devices:

Comscore global mobile audience

Even if mobile apps are a key driver of this activity (which they are for certain business types like gaming and social), we know that consumers are glued to their phones more so than they are to their desktop computers.

If you haven’t yet made mobile-first design a priority—especially by bridging the gap between the mobile web and mobile app with PWAs—2020 is the year to do it. Your users already have their smartphones nearby, so why not make your website a must-visit destination there, too?

 

UX Tools Survey Gives Us a Look at the Software Designers Love

UX Tools’ 2019 survey of web designers found an interesting trend when it comes to the toolboxes they use to build websites:

UX Tools - Design Tools Survey

Sketch is the clear frontrunner when it comes to tasks like:

  • User flows;
  • Wireframing;
  • UI design;
  • Prototyping;
  • Design systems.

But Figma isn’t too far behind in all these categories. The surveyed web designers also named it the tool they’re most excited to try and use in 2020.

If you’ve been looking to experiment with new tools for your business, give this short survey a read as there is some really interesting software on the list (that’s not all owned by Sketch, Adobe, or InVision either).

 

MDN Asks Web Developers to Express Their Top Frustrations

The MDN Web DNA Report 2019 is a long read. Since most of it is geared towards web developers (who were surveyed for it), I’m going to zero in on the bit I think web designers may find relevant:

MDN Web Developer Needs

When asked to rank what were the most frustrating “needs” of the web, web developers expressed a lot of anguish over cross-browser design and testing. Bug resolution, privacy and security compliance, as well as tool overload were top concerns as well.

Even if you’re not contending with the problems that go along with coding, these frustrations are really relatable. As for what you can do with them? While I don’t believe we can eliminate these frustrations altogether, I do believe that a greater awareness of what’s happening on the web and more open discussions with our peers will lessen the associated pains.

 

Salesforce Recaps 2019 Black Friday/Cyber Monday Results

For those of you who build websites for retailers and ecommerce companies, the annual data on Black Friday and Cyber Monday performance is one you can’t afford to miss. I realize it might only seem relevant for one month of the year, but you can actually learn a lot about where consumer trends are heading based on how sales performed over the holidays.

Here are some of the more pertinent bits from Salesforce’s summary of Black Friday and Cyber Monday:

  • Black Friday sales reached $7.2 billion in the U.S. (up 14%);
  • Cyber Monday sales reached $8 billion (up 11%).

A lot of this growth can be attributed to consumers’ growing trust in mobile shopping what with 73% of all digital traffic on Black Friday originating on mobile devices and 56% of all purchases made on mobile devices.

So, if you haven’t yet made the switch to mobile-first design or optimizing for mobile checkout, now is the time to do that.

 

Jason Dorsey Suggests Millennial $$$ Woes May Soon Be Over

Jason Dorsey, the president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, has predicted a positive change in the state of millennial finances in the next decade.

Why does he believe that this debt-plagued generation will finally see a turnaround? There are five indicators he references:

  1. As millennials move further away from college, they’ll have a better handle on managing their debt (if they haven’t wiped it out completely);
  2. Many millennials are about to hit peak earnings in their careers;
  3. “The Great Wealth Transfer” is anticipated (i.e. older generations passing on inheritances to millennials);
  4. As the job market strengthens and debt shrinks, millennials may finally feel confident enough to buy homes for themselves;
  5. The same goes for those who delayed marriage during uncertain times.

With more money to spend and confidence to spend it with, millennials are going to be a huge driving force in the coming years. And this will most definitely affect web designers.

You may encounter more millennial business owners with cash to spend. And you’re definitely going to be designing web experiences to cater to the millennial consumer base. So, understanding how they think, what they value, and how much money they have to spend is going to be critical for your future success.

 

Wrap-Up

That’s it for this month’s look at the latest digital news and research.

If you’re interested in staying on top of information that’s going to impact your work, be sure to tune into WebDesigner Depot every month for more data and report roundups.

 

Featured image via Unsplash.



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Garbage in, nothing out | Computerworld

It’s way back, when all input is typed on a command line, and this pilot fish gets his first exposure to computers as a college freshman. He has to run a program on the school’s mainframe as part of a statistics class. He has a list of 10 sample numbers. First, he has to enter the number of samples, then enter each of the samples, and finally sit back and watch as the computer spews out the average, the mean, the standard deviation and all kinds of other statistical measures.

But in entering the number of samples, his finger bounces and he inadvertently types 100 instead of 10 — and then doesn’t notice. So after he enters his 10 samples, the computer wants more. Fish enters the samples again; the computer still wants more. As a flustered first-time user, he types, “Done,” “Quit” and “Exit,” all to no avail. He knows some other words with four letters and tries those. No help.

Finally admitting defeat, he asks the resident expert for help. He shows fish how to exit the program with Control-C and start it again. Fish accomplishes his mission and leaves, thinking, “I don’t like it when the computer tells me what to do. Someday, I’ll tell the computer what to do!”

And having made a living in IT ever since, he has routinely told computers what to do. But he remembers the incident for another reason. “When I’m trying to be patient with clueless users,” he says, “it helps to remember that I was once one of them.”

Do you have tales of nonstandard deviations — that is, true tales of IT life? Send them to Sharky at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Popular design news of the week: January 13, 2020 – January 19, 2020

Every week users submit a lot of interesting stuff on our sister site Webdesigner News, highlighting great content from around the web that can be of interest to web designers. 

The best way to keep track of all the great stories and news being posted is simply to check out the Webdesigner News site, however, in case you missed some here’s a quick and useful compilation of the most popular designer news that we curated from the past week.

Note that this is only a very small selection of the links that were posted, so don’t miss out and subscribe to our newsletter and follow the site daily for all the news.

 

Why I Quit Using Google

 

This is the One Skill Designers Need to Develop Most in 2020

 

The Definitive Guide to Landing Pages

 

Goodbye, Clean Code

 

Netflix Rejects their New Layout in this A/B Test

 

UX Design Trends Retrospective 2019

 

SPELLL

 

Design System Checklist

 

The Complete List of Font Formats and their Use

 

Hand-Picked List of the Best WordPress Themes in Every Niche for 2020

 

HTML Attributes to Improve your Users’ Two Factor Authentication Experience

 

3 Illustration Trends that will Be Big in 2020

 

Back to Basics in Typography

 

Typo Puns – Series of Fun Typographic Joke Posters

 

20 Best Number Fonts for Displaying Stylish Numbers

 

How to Make Money as a Product Designer

 

UXTweak: Platform for UX Researchers and Designers

 

Welcome to Apple: A One-party State

 

Yell Launches New Salary Tool for Graphic Designers

 

17 Trends in Illustration and Graphic Design to Meet 2020

 

Everything You Think You Know About Minimalism is Wrong

 

KPI is an Imperative Tool for UX Designers

 

Calculate Colors, Share Palettes

 

Being a Solo Founder: Pros, Cons, Tips and Tricks

 

How to Write your CTAs to Fit your Campaign

 

Want more? No problem! Keep track of top design news from around the web with Webdesigner News.



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3 reasons you can’t fight facial recognition

Back in the day — by which I mean a period starting with the emergence of homo sapiens around 500,000 years ago until the day before yesterday — it was possible for humans to walk around in society completely unrecognized and without any record of them having been there.

At some point in the future, it will be impossible to drive, shop, walk, go to work or function without being recognized by machines that will permanently record the fact of your presence in that place at that time.

Right now, we’re in transition between the world of anonymous living and the always-recognized future.

Is the future a biometric convenience and security utopia? Or Orwellian nightmare. The answer is: Yes.

The biometric backlash

A movement opposing face recognition technology deployed by cities, universities and others is spreading, as the public begins to grapple with emerging biometric technology for identifying people.

Biometric technologies have been emerging for decades, with fingerprints, iris scanning and other technologies becoming more reliable.

Face-recognition is seen by the anti-biometric public because the “biometric data” — i.e., a picture of your face — can be “collected” at a great distance by an ordinary camera. And it can be “captured” with a camera — or even from pictures posted online.

Another trend driving the infrastructure for municipal and police face recognition is the so-called “smart city” movement. The cornerstone of the trend is the installation in each city of “smart street lights,” which contain connected cameras and other sensors ideal for total biometric surveillance. Regardless of face recognition bans, these fixtures are capable of putting a face-recognizing, licence-plate-reading, always listening devices every 100 yards on every street in a city.

Log in or subscribe to Insider Pro to read the full column.

 

Back in the day — by which I mean a period starting with the emergence of homo sapiens around 500,000 years ago until the day before yesterday — it was possible for humans to walk around in society completely unrecognized and without any record of them having been there.

At some point in the future, it will be impossible to drive, shop, walk, go to work or function without being recognized by machines that will permanently record the fact of your presence in that place at that time.

Right now, we’re in transition between the world of anonymous living and the always-recognized future.

Is the future a biometric convenience and security utopia? Or Orwellian nightmare. The answer is: Yes.

The biometric backlash

A movement opposing face recognition technology deployed by cities, universities and others is spreading, as the public begins to grapple with emerging biometric technology for identifying people.

Biometric technologies have been emerging for decades, with fingerprints, iris scanning and other technologies becoming more reliable.

Face-recognition is seen by the anti-biometric public because the “biometric data” — i.e., a picture of your face — can be “collected” at a great distance by an ordinary camera. And it can be “captured” with a camera — or even from pictures posted online.

Another trend driving the infrastructure for municipal and police face recognition is the so-called “smart city” movement. The cornerstone of the trend is the installation in each city of “smart street lights,” which contain connected cameras and other sensors ideal for total biometric surveillance. Regardless of face recognition bans, these fixtures are capable of putting a face-recognizing, licence-plate-reading, always listening devices every 100 yards on every street in a city.

Resisting biometrics is rational. It’s also futile, and for three reasons.

1. The imperfection of face recognition is temporary

Campaigners are forcing state and local police departments to ban face recognition technology. Laws against the technology are spreading. And the number-one reason for these bans is that current technology tends to be less accurate when recognizing women and minorities.

But within a few years, face recognition technology will be essentially perfected, and everybody will be recognized faithfully by the technology. Will these same campaigners then welcome police use of face recognition? I doubt it.

2. The primacy of face recognition is temporary

As face recognition gets perfected, it will also be augmented by even more effective technologies. The weakness of face recognition is that…. it requires a face. How can you recognize someone from the back, or someone wearing Groucho glasses?

The solution to this problem is a wide range of alternative biometrics that, thanks to the rise of AI, are enabling people to be recognized by all kinds of body parts.

One is gait recognition. The way a person lumbers along while walking is as individual as fingerprints, and AI can recognize how someone walks.

Gait can be detected now not only by cameras, but also using thermal imaging. Best of all, thermal imaging technology can recognize individuals by both gait and face recognition — whatever body parts are available. Intel technology recently demonstrated 99.5 accuracy in thermal imaging technology. One way to use thermal imaging is to recognize the pattern of blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin, which are so unique that even identical twins have completely different patterns.

The Pentagon is throwing a lot of money at thermal-recognition technologies. Their requirements say that recognition needs to happen in conditions where visible-light cameras struggle — through windshields, through fog and in the face of strong backlight. And the technology needs to work as far away as 500 meters.

We all know how this works. The Pentagon invests heavily in advanced technology, yada, yada, yada, consumers are buying that technology at BestBuy ten years later.

In the future, you’ll be able to be positively ID’d while wearing Groucho glasses in a dark alley on a foggy night from 500 meters away.

Most emerging biometric technologies are pretty gross. Other emerging biometric technologies include ear-canal recognition that will ID you when you insert earbuds. The shape of the external ear is also unique and identifying. Researchers are also improving methods for identifying people using vein patters in the palm or back of the hand or on fingertips, skin patterns generally, body odor — you name it. And, of course, there’s DNA matching, in which skin flakes, hair, blood or just about any tiny chunk of a person and process it for a perfect match. (The ramifications of DNA matching were brilliantly explored in the 1997 movie, Gattaca.)

While activists worry about police departments and large organizations using biometric identification, the reality is that billions of biometric-enabled consumer electronics gadgets are now being sold. Most smartphones now have fingerprint readers, face recognition or both. Home security cameras are increasingly outfitted with face recognition. And this includes doorbell cameras pointed at the street. Cars, laptops, smart glasses, smart watches and TV sets will all get biometric identification sensors, too.

The full range of AI-enabled biometric technologies, techniques and products means you’ll be identifiable up close, far away, in the dark, while you’re driving and while you’re not driving. Your face, voice, ears, walk, vascular system and DNA will all give you away.

3. The public resistance to biometrics is also temporary

Opposition to biometric identification depends on how you ask the question.

If you ask: “Do you want to live in a world where you are recognized all the time, everywhere?,” people will say they hate it.

If you ask: “Do you want to never wait in line or type your credit card information again, for more criminals to be caught, for enterprise networks to be secure,” they will say they love it.

The biggest benefit is convenience. Good biometrics means shopping without lines, according to Amazon’s Go concept. Amazon, which owns Whole Foods Market, is aggressively pursuing stores where you walk it, grab whatever you want and walk out. Biometrics recognizes you, other sensors recognize what you take, and your credit card is automatically charged.

The biometric future means no more swiping your badge to get into the office or even unlock the door, no more carrying a wallet, no more entering passwords, no more airport security or boarding lines.

Beyond incredible convenience, biometric ID promises more public safety, safer cars, better healthcare, and enhanced national security.

It also could go a long way to helping the good guys in two conundrums facing enterprise security managers. The first is the arms race between cybercriminals and cybersecurity. And the other is the contest between security and productivity or usability.

Stated another way, as cyber-intruders grow more sophisticated in their methods, enterprise security specialists have to resort to more extreme measures, which creates problems and obstacles for workers.

The combination of AI threat detection, plus AI-driven biometrics, could help secure enterprise resources without overburdening employees. We’re entering the age of identity-defined and identity-centric security in large organizations.

The benefits of biometrics are winning the argument. An IBM survey found acceptance growing, with 67 percent of survey respondents “comfortable” with using biometrics — a whopping 75 percent of millennials also “comfortable.”

You can see this growing acceptance in the consumer acceptance of biometrics to secure payments. Juniper Research predicts that biometrics will provide the security for $2.5 trillion in mobile payments over the next four years.

People want both convenience and security, and so biometrics will win the argument.

How to think about the future of biometric security

Biometrics will solve a huge number of problems and make the world a better place.

Biometrics will make the world more like an Orwellian nightmare of total surveillance, where we’re all tracked and identified everywhere we go.

Both are true. Biometrics are both good and bad.

But here’s what matters: Ubiquitous biometrics are inevitable. And this is true not because technology advances on its own regardless of what the public thinks. It’s true because the public will overwhelmingly want biometrics.

So biometrics are taking over. And, as with so many previous technologies that are both good and bad, we’ll muddle along with legal battles, hack attacks on biometric databases and personal struggles as we weigh the costs against the benefits.

But don’t be deluded. We’re entering the era of universal biometrics. Resistance is futile. You WILL be identified.



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Kadena launches a hybrid platform to connect public, private blockchains

Brooklyn-based spinoff Kadena has launched a hybrid blockchain that can scale horizontally, enabling multiple electronic ledgers to talk to each other via smart contracts – and letting users transfer cryptocurrency between the chains.

Hybrid blockchains combine permissioned chains for businesses to transact in the background while connecting to a public blockchain (via an API) for consumers and others to make money transfers or access information about products moving across supply chains.

“Their hybrid blockchain model looks interesting, mainly because it enables interoperability via smart contracts that run on public chains and talk to/with private chains,” said Avivah Litan, a vice president of research at Gartner. “That way, enterprises can keep their private data and transactions limited to the private chain but benefit from the liquidity and cross-chain access available by leveraging smart contracts running on the public chain.”

kadena blockchain Kadena

Kadina’s Chainweb architecture depicted in a graphic.

Kadena is being piloted for interoperability, scalability and increased security across industries, including financehealthcare and insurance, according to Kadena co-founder and CEO Will Martino. For example, Rymedi, a North Carolina medical technology firm, plans to test the platform this year as part of an FDA-backed pilot of prescription drug tracking via a blockchain supply chain.

Kadena is the first startup to come out of JP Morgan’s Blockchain Center for Excellence, a development project started in 2018. Last year, JP Morgan announced it had created its own cash-backed cryptocurrency called JPM Coin, which it plans to pilot with institutional clients for international funds transfers.

Kadena’s Chainweb platform also relies on sharding to increase transactional throughput by creating multiple proof-of-work consensus-based partitions on its blockchain ledger through which multiple parallel chains can operate.

Because a single platform can be parsed, there’s theoretically no limit to the number parallel chains that can be created on the company’s platform, according to Martino.

“We’ve figured out how to horizontally scale this core concept of the ledger found at Layer 1 without needing to centralize any part of the platform,” Martino said. “It’s a major moment for decentralized distributed systems, as horizontal scaling this far down the stack has been a dream of many for at least a decade.”

In Kadena’s blockchain, Layer 1 is the layer over which currency and a state ledger operates. There is infrastructure beneath Layer 1 related to propagation, peer-to-peer communications, storage, cryptocurrency mining and more, but Layer 1 is where cryptocurrency and smart contracts first show up. 

A metaphor for Layer 1 would be one bank account and three credit cards; the  bank account would be the fundamental Layer 1 ledger, and the three credit cards would represent Layer 2 scaling.

Kadena blockchain Kadena

“The cards settle through your bank account, but your bank account doesn’t settle through anything else. Your bank account has a single sequential ledger of transactions, as it has to decide the order of transactions,” Martino said “But, you can do transactions simultaneously on Layer 2 by using more than one card at the same time. Most other blockchain projects are trying to scale via adding cards. Kadena scaled by figuring out how to let you have a bank account at more than one bank.”

So far, the company has gone live with 10 chains on a single platform, but it plans to pilot ones with as many as 50 this year. Kadena’s “braided” blockchain network has so far demonstrated it can process up to 750 transactions per second or 40 terahashes per second (40 trillion hashing operations per second). The higher the number of terahashes, the more difficult it is for someone to attempt to game the system.

“Instead of hashing and mining pointing at a single block, miners can mine blocks for any of 10 chains in a network,” Martino said. “Instead of one chain and one conduit for throughput for transactions, we have 10.”

Gartner’s Litan, however, said Kadena’s technology does have challenges, not the least of which is its permissioned-public hybrid environment. That could complicate challenges that already exist with enterprise blockchain smart contracts.

Those challenges include:

  • Keeping immutable smart contracts current with business agreements, which is already problematic as they represent a shared system of record.
  • Keeping interfaces between off-chain events and data with smart contracts secure and authorized.
  • Maintaining umbrella legal frameworks across network members, as well as clear, documented and agreed-upon governance rules regarding blockchain participation and smart contracts. [Gartner believes] these are needed on top of smart contract automation so that the parties understand exactly what they need to do if things ‘go wrong.’

“Kadena would likely disagree with these challenges, but that’s how we see them,” Litan said.

Kadena’s proprietary smart-contract language called Pact, can also instruct a node (computer) on what the code means, or its purpose. For example, a smart contract coded with Pact can instruct a blockchain ledger to forbid users of cryptocurrency from going into debt, meaning the ledger balance can never go below zero.

“It’s the idea that I can run my code and then write what I intended it to do with it, and the computer can understand both my intent and what code means,” Martino said.

Essentially, the single blockchain platform can host multiple ledgers, each new ledger connected via an API to previous ones. In connecting the ledger, the processing power or hashing capability of nodes is divided among them and cryptocurrency and other data can be shared between the ledgers.

“If one [ledger] gets saturated, it doesn’t affect the throughput of another. You can horizontally scale this,” Martino said.

Kadena is also integrating its digital wallet, Chainweaver, with the Cosmos Network, an inter-blockchain communications protocol that enables multiple blockchains to communicate between one another, enabling cryptocurrency transfers across disparate blockchains.

“Kadena is one of the start-ups that stands out from the crowd,” said Martha Bennett, a Forrester vice president of research. “A key differentiator is the firm’s focus on, and understanding of, the requirements of enterprise-grade systems. Clearly, it’s too soon to tell how much traction Kadena will gain – it’s early days yet. But from a technology perspective, it’s one of the few that I regard as worth watching; the hybrid model is also a differentiator.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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How the Xnor.ai purchase opens Apple’s AI future

Apple’s $200 million acquisition of Xnor.ai provides tools for evolution in imaging, edge-based AI, HomeKit and more.

What does Xnor.ai do?

Xnor.ai was spun out of the Allen Institute for AI by Professor Ali Farhadi and Dr. Mohammed Rastegari in 2017. These men were also responsible for YOLO, YOLO9000, Label Refinery and other machine intelligence achievements.

The company developed machine learning and image recognition models that combined accuracy with the ability to work locally on the device, rather than sending those images to a server.

One client, Wyze Labs, used the tech for person detection in CCTV videos, though that feature was withdrawn earlier this month, before news of Apple’s purchase broke.

Xnor.ai was more ambitious than on-device image recognition. Its website states:

“Transform your business with on-device AI.”

On YouTube, a video is still available that explains its aims, including AI on smart home devices, on cameras and on agricultural drones. The intention seems to be to create self-learning AI that works on the device and does so without need of an internet connection.

In other words: no cloud required.

Independent self-learning devices

“We’re building a future where AI is available on almost every device,” The Xnor.ai voice over claims. “We call this AI Everywhere, for Everyone. And it’s the beginning of something truly transformational that will reshape how we work, live and play.”

Within this work, the company developed a solution called AI2GO, a self-serve platform to easily deploy advanced deep learning models onto edge devices.

(You can still watch an interesting account of what this does here.)

It is also important to note that the company has previously demonstrated an AI chip that used so little energy it could run off solar power.

There is an obvious symmetry between the two company’s visions: Xnor.ai’s AI models that can be installed on edge devices and Apple’s strategy to invest its devices with on-board intelligence that don’t need cloud servers.

The notion also fits current trends. Edge-based intelligence is seen as a bastion against the privacy and security risks of cloud-based systems – particularly in industrial deployments.

You’ll already find Apple working with models like this in Photos, which identifies faces, places and things in your images with analysis on your device. It may be possible that Xnor.Ai’s tech may help the company further reduce the quantity of information it needs to gather in order to make services work.

A stepping stone to homeOS?

Where things become more interesting is around smart home devices.

We already know that Apple is looking a little more deeply at HomeKit. It set the scene at WWDC 2019 with HomeKit Secured Routers and support for CCTV systems. It reprised the commitment in 2020 at CES.

The problem with most smart home devices is that they are dumb. They may have sensors, but they are centrally controlled by mobile devices, hubs and the like. They are controlled devices that lack on-board intelligence.

Xnor.ai changes that.

A lot of its work focused on enhancing Raspberry Pi with on-device AI. Huge quantities of processing power aren’t required. This makes it feasible to imagine these technologies being used to help Apple carve out some form of homeOS platform upon which developers can build self-learning (yet still affordable) smart home devices. Or even for industrial IoT deployments.

(While industrial tech has never been a prime market for Apple, things have changed, and its devices are now in use across the enterprise. Why wouldn’t it want strategic positions in some industrial verticals?)

Combine such devices with low power local IP-based networking and you end up with self-learning systems that are smart, but not online. They’re smart, upgradeable and inherently secure because intelligence takes place at the edge.

Don’t get too excited – yet

Apple’s platform-wide implementation of the newly acquired tech will take time. In the near term, it makes sense to see slightly more prosaic improvements, such as easier AI model updates, smarter person and object identification in Photos and smart object recognition in ARKit.

Another place where Apple may be able to make a difference is in CCTV video, improving playback and person recognition systems in these.

Wyze delivered this using Xnor.ai. Apple’s interest in HomeKit Secure Video and its focus on HomeKit, along with its work in video editing, machine intelligence and recognition systems makes this a place in which it could make a difference.

Another possibility is that this tech could make it easier for third-party developers to create, install and upgrade their own AI models on Apple platforms – I can even imagine an AI Playgrounds solution (like Swift Playgrounds) to teach kids the principles of machine intelligence. “I just built a jellybean recognition system for my iPhone…”

But these things take time – Apple is only now rolling out the kind of Maps improvements it began working on in earnest in around 2016.

The road between “could happen” and “did happen” is long and full of stumbling blocks, and the company’s grand plan for the implementation of these technologies is not necessarily linear or obvious. But the implications of the newly-acquired tech could extend across Apple’s product and software lines.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Worried about an NSA ChainOfFools/CurveBall attack? There are lots of moving parts. Test your system.

If you want to install the January Patch Tuesday patches, by all means, go right ahead. That said, I continue to recommend that you hold off installing the January Microsoft patches until we get a clearer reading on potential bugs.

The pro-patch-now argument generally goes something like this: Everybody is recommending that you install the patches to protect against the Crypto bug — almost all of the major security folks, the researchers, the big online sites, your local news station, your congresscritter, your neighbor’s nine-year-old, even the bleeping NSA. It’s a little patch. Why not just install it and be done with it?

Life’s not so simple. Microsoft has a horrible track record with updates. (You can see a month-by-month listing, going back 25 months, in this series of posts on Computerworld.) Some folks install the latest Microsoft updates like clockwork and never have a problem. But far too many Windows customers get bit. I’m still waiting to see if there are any big problems with the January crop.

The security folks, by and large, focus on one specific potential threat and don’t consider the rest of the picture. That’s understandable, but the big picture this month is very big indeed.

For many admins, this month’s Remote Desktop Gateway fix is much more important. Admins already have their plates full with Citrix vulnerabilities and the 334 security patches just dropped by Oracle. On a scale from one to ten, those are bonafide tens. The ChainOfFools/CurveBall CVE-2020-0601 threat? Not so much.

For those of you who aren’t guarding state secrets or corporate kickback schemes, the situation’s much simpler. There are several ChainOfFools/CurveBall Proof of Concept programs floating around. Saleem Rashid has a particularly entertaining one on GitHub. But they aren’t anywhere close to being widespread attacks.

They all suffer from a fatal flaw: Your machine has to pick up (“cache”) a specific good security certificate before that certificate can be attacked. So if the attacker is using a zapped version of the XYZ security certificate, say, you must first cache a good copy of the XYZ certificate. Current cracking attempts revolve around modifying a certificate that’s installed by default in Windows. We aren’t at crisis stage yet.

There are other hurdles a potential piece of CurveBall scumware faces:

  • Windows 7, 8.1 and earlier versions aren’t susceptible. They don’t evaluate security certificates in a way that can be subverted by CVE-2010-0601.
  • Certain browsers can’t be fooled. As of this writing, Firefox is immune (and always has been). When encountered with a malicious certificate, Edge throws a NET::ERR_CERT_AUTHORITY_INVALID error. Chrome was updated last night with a fix that’ll make it much harder to get bit. 
  • The latest updates to Windows Defender flag malicious CurveBall programs.

If you’re wondering whether your system is susceptible, Bojan and the folks at SANS have come up with a detailed analysis of attack patterns, and a website that you can use to see if your browser is vulnerable. 

Go to https://curveballtest.com/index.html. The site will tell you immediately if your specific system, using that specific browser, is susceptible. Chances are very good you’ll see the OK screen, which looks like the screenshot.

 

curveball test Woody Leonhard/IDG

On my unpatched Win10 1809, 1903 and 1909 Pro systems, running Firefox, Chrome and Brave, I’m seeing “You Are Not Vulnerable” signs.

Of course, that doesn’t cover all possible infection routes. But it certainly plucks off the most obvious. And, again, we haven’t seen any “real” malware out in the wild.

My recommendation is that you install the January Patch Tuesday patches immediately only if you get a “You Are Vulnerable” response from the SANS test page. If you’re all clear, meh, stay out of the unpaid beta-testing pit and hold off on installing the January patches until we have a clearer picture of potential collateral damage.

We’re following closely on AskWoody.com

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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FAQ: Microsoft’s new Edge explained

More than a year after Microsoft waved the white flag, saying it would scrap Edge’s rendering engine and replace it with Blink, the engine that powers Google’s Chrome, the company has now delivered its reborn browser to the public.

Kudos, then.

But the result? That’s still up for grabs. Although there was little downside to the radical shift to Chromium – Internet Explorer had long been on legacy life support and Edge was at a near-death 4% user share – it’s vastly unclear whether the switch to Chromium will save Microsoft’s browser bacon.

(It may be just as unclear a year from now, for even though Edge now boasts a share of nearly 7%, much of that growth stemmed from Windows 10’s gains, not the browser’s. We’ll be keeping tabs on Edge’s share over the coming year.)

Microsoft is hoping to snap up some new users by getting those now running Chrome on Windows to reconsider. We’ll see how that works out. But now that Edge has gone live, it’s time to answer important questions about the world’s newest browser remodel.

Why did Microsoft replace its own technologies in Edge with Chromium?

Microsoft’s sticking to its original answer. “A little over a year ago, we announced our intention to rebuild Microsoft Edge on the Chromium open source project with the goals of delivering better compatibility for everyone, less fragmentation for web developers, and a partnership with the Chromium community to improve the Chromium engine itself,” Joe Belfiore, the top Windows executive, wrote in a Jan. 15 post to a company blog.

More than a year ago, when Belfiore announced the revamp, he cited the same three altruistic motivations.

[ Review: Microsoft’s new Edge browser: Third time’s the charm? ]

Although there’s no evidence that Microsoft wasn’t sincere, Belfiore’s trio certainly weren’t the only reasons. It’s just as likely that Edge’s dismal adoption rate – used on just 10% of all Windows 10 PCs when he declared the decision, 12% in December 2019 – and Chrome’s overwhelming lead (67% of all personal computer-based browsing last month) were why Edge went Chromium. Other justifications may have included an expected decrease in Microsoft’s engineering head count, increased revenue from Bing if Edge’s share expands (Belfiore mentioned Bing on Wednesday) and a faster release cycle than the company could produce on its own.

How do I get the Chromium Edge?

If you want Edge immediately, you’ll need to download it manually from this site. Versions for Windows 7, 8/8.1 and 10 are available, as is Edge for macOS.

Users of PCs powered by Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro that are not managed by an IT staff will be automatically upgraded to the new Edge via Windows Update. Such upgrades will not begin immediately – Microsoft said “in the coming weeks” – and will be distributed in stages, as is Microsoft’s habit, rather than all at once. (The practice lets Microsoft turn off the spigot if the upgrade goes sideways on, say, some systems, before afflicting the entire Windows 10 user base.)

It’s probable that others – workers whose PCs are handled by IT, for example – will be blocked from manually upgrading by group policies deployed to their machines.

What happens to the old Edge when the new ‘full-Chromium’ version is installed? What happens to Internet Explorer (IE)?

The old Edge is scrubbed from the PC. “When you install Microsoft Edge on an up-to-date Windows 10 device, it will replace the previous (legacy) version on your device,” wrote Kyle Pflug, a senior program manager on the Edge developer experience team, in a separate blog post.

Before the old Edge is deleted, its bookmarks, passwords and some settings are automatically migrated to the new Edge.

As for IE, it’s staying put.

Is Chromium Edge a straight-out clone of Chrome?

No. But put them side by side and it’s tough to tell them apart.

Although the look-and-feel, the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), of Chrome and Edge may seem alike at first glance (or second or third for that matter), Microsoft has already staked out differences under the hood. Edge, for instance, already sports some anti-tracking defenses; only recently did Google say it is on a two-year plan to equip Chrome with something similar.

What about Windows 7? Does Chromium-Edge run on that? Or Mac? How about macOS?

Yes, Edge now runs on Windows 7. And macOS. Also, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, for the three or four of you out there still on that debacle of an OS.

Because there was no earlier Edge on those platforms, there’s nothing to remove when the new one lands. Microsoft has said nothing about automatically adding Edge to Windows 8/8.1, the only operating systems which connect to Windows Update. (Windows 7 exited support Tuesday, Jan. 14.) Anyone who wants Edge on a personal computer running anything, but Windows 10 will thus need to grab the browser themselves.

Can Edge run add-ons available for Chrome?

Yes.

Edge has its own add-on market, reached by selecting Extensions from the menu at the right of the address bar (the three horizontal dots), but it can also install those at the Chrome Web Store. There, the process is identical to that with Chrome itself, although users will have to one-time-approve that Edge may install extensions from other – read non-Microsoft – outlets.

Isn’t Windows 7 retired? Will Microsoft really support Edge on that out-to-pasture OS?

Yes, but for how long we don’t know. “We’re going to continue to support Windows 7 users with the new Microsoft Edge,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email reply to when the company would half that support.

Chrome has already promised to keep patching Chrome on Windows 7 until at least July 15, 2021. Microsoft would be foolish to do the same before Google, so consider that date as the earliest it would drop support.

Another possible termination date would be Jan. 10, 2023, the end of Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates (ESU) support for Windows 7. Since businesses pay for ESU, Microsoft will patch Edge on the machines covered by the deal. And since it has to craft the fixes for ESU customers in any case, it could just as well share them with everyone running the browser on Windows 7.

How often will Microsoft upgrade full-Chromium Edge?

About eight times a year. Or once every six to eight weeks, depending on, not Microsoft, but Chromium.

Edge, like Chrome, will refresh on or near Chromium’s schedule. Developers working the Chromium project branch the code – lock down the changes by saving the build as a separate instance for the testing, bug fixing and polishing that leads to a stable release – on this schedule for the first half of 2020. In turn, that leads to Chrome releases on dates up to 10 weeks later.

Chromium 80 Branch: Dec. 5, 2019 Release, Chrome 80: Feb. 4, 2020

Chromium 81 Branch: Jan. 30 Release, Chrome 81: March 17

Chromium 82 Branch: March 12 Release, Chrome 82: April 28

Chromium 83 Branch: April 23 Release, Chrome 83: June 9

Microsoft hasn’t committed to copying Chrome’s release calendar – Edge 79, which debuted this week, arrived five weeks after Chrome 79, for example – but it most likely will come close. Computerworld expects Edge to quickly narrow the gap and before the year’s half over, deliver Edge on the same day as Chrome.

How will Chromium Edge be updated?

Through the usual Windows channels, which for consumers and small businesses means Windows Update. Larger organizations will be offered Edge updates via Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and can also dole them out using Configuration Manager or Intune. (On macOS, IT must create plist files, which can be distributed through Intune or Jamf, the latter the de facto management platform for Macs in business or education.)

Because Microsoft has not yet clarified Edge’s release schedule – most importantly, whether it will mimic Chrome’s calendar – it’s unclear whether Microsoft will hold Edge updates until the next available Patch Tuesday or simply issue them on its own timetable.

Relying on Patch Tuesday would insert yet another update into Microsoft’s crowded schedule; Windows 10 has as many as four each month already. On the other hand, loosing updates on just any day runs counter to customer expectations that refreshes come at designated moments during the month.

Can we pilot Edge using a preview – like the Beta or Dev builds – on systems which have the stable Edge already on them?

Yes.

Like Chrome, Edge comes in four builds, in increasing order of stability and polish: Canary, Dev, Beta and Stable. One or more of the first three can be installed on personal computers already hosting Stable.

Microsoft even cast the multiple builds as a way around problems users encounter. “You can mitigate the risk of testing for users who have opted to install a pre-release channel,” a support document stated. “For example, if you have a user who’s using the Beta Channel, and there’s a problem, they can switch to the Stable Channel and continue working.”

The Stable and Beta builds are refreshed approximately every six weeks (meaning that as Edge 79 went live in Stable, Beta was promoted to version 80); Dev and Canary are updated weekly and daily, respectively (both of them are on version 81).

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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