Monday, February 4, 2013

I am not a number!


Working with computers almost all my life, I am fully aware of the importance of numbers and codes. But today’s computers, even NonStop, are so much faster and so much smarter – how much longer will it be before I no longer need to provide a number?
When I finally sat down in front of television this week, I spent the short time that I had channel surfing. Of course, this can be extremely distracting to those seated nearby, watching a show, but I have little patience for commercials and after being on the road over the holiday period I had exhausted the Tivo. However, as I surfed, I came across the show, NUMB3RS, and the episode opened with an introduction that caught my attention.

“We all use math every day; to tell time, handle money. We also use math to analyze crime; reveal patterns, predict behavior,” came the program’s voice-over. The punch line? “Using numbers we can solve the biggest mysteries we know!” A little over the top, perhaps, but coming at a time when television shows like The Mentalist, Pysche, even Perception featuring an
eccentric neuroscientist suffering schizophrenia-induced hallucinations, who is also quite paranoid, NUMB3RS represents a refreshing, if not unique, distraction featuring just a little more science than most.

The picture above is of Margo captured while passing the Maserati stand at a recent car show; with the subdued light and wearing dark glasses, surrounded by exotic cars, the effect was to remind me of the many mystery and spy thrillers I have watched over the years. The use of codes and references to agents by numbers, not to mention the fact that there is always cyphers to unravel before missiles are launched and bombs explode, seems stock-in-trade for this genre of film so much so that the suspense they generate would be lost if it wasn’t for our fascination with numbers.

Secret agent man … They've given you a number, and taken away your name,” were the words of a well-known 1960s pop song by Johnny Rivers that played on my satellite radio station this week as I drove back from running errands. While Margo could so easily play the role of a secret agent, I suspect, dressed the way she is in the picture, should she ever be given a number within the NonStop community she will always be known as Margo. So perhaps there is a limit to how deep our fascination with numbers runs, after all.

However, being known by a number is gradually marginalizing the value of our given name. This week I went online to renew a motorcycle registration – I had to know the specifics of the license plate number and have a credit card number handy. Something similar transpired as I renewed an auto club membership online – I needed to know my membership number and pin. While running errands I found time to deposit a check – I needed my debit card number and a pin. While online, only a short time ago, I ordered new business cards from FedEx – I needed my account number and password. It seems that very few transactions can be completed these days without me having to provide numbers.

In my January 24, 2013, post to ATMmarketplace, Love those machines!, I wrote of how involved we have all become with machines. In the post I reflect on how, personally, when it comes to getting my boarding pass, purchasing my tires and brake pads and yes, getting to my cash, I am more than happy to be on first name terms with machines. Well perhaps not by name, I then add, but definitely by number even if it does remind me of the old TV show, "The Prisoner," in which actor Patrick McGoohan angrily chastises his unknown captors, saying, "I am not a number, I am a free man"!

“We all use math every day; to tell time, handle money,” is an observation about how we live. And at the heart of any sentiment we may share (with the television series), are transactions. Yes, checking the time is a transaction, albeit very simple, and for most of us, our instinctive response these days is to check our smartphone preferring its accuracy to that of the jewelry we may be wearing. For the most part, too, a low value transaction as there are so many options available to us should we find our smartphone’s battery expired.

However, handling money? That’s always going to be viewed as a high-value transaction. If you have been following Margo’s posts to this blog, you can’t miss her many references to maRunga. Margo has become quite evangelical when it comes to NonStop and  opportunities for NonStop participating with Cloud computing. Bottom line for me is that Clouds are just another resource option to be tapped whenever circumstances dictate – a flood of unexpected transactions, an overflow of data, and perhaps even as a fallback resource during maintenance. When it comes to handling money, then the numbers clearly add up should we elect to size future systems solely to handle average transaction loads rather than peaks.

Secret agents may be better known by their numbers and numbers may be helpful in analyzing crime, but as the power of transaction servers increases, and the drive for even greater security continues, are we about to leave the numbers game behind? In emerging markets biometrics continue to penetrate communities – the “unbanked” demographic within emerging markets becoming a strong candidate for such technology, leaving numbers behind. While few government agencies are prepared to describe the specifics of facial recognition, this technology has come a long way since 9-11, so much so, that I suspect even among developed companies it will not be long before it enters the mainstream.

All of which brings me back to NonStop. Any transition from numbers to biometrics will see very “rich” transactions being generated where response times will be sub-second. Parallel processing will be a premium requirement along with scalability. The database can’t be turned off, even to run maintenance tasks. We continue to see the price of NonStop systems come down even as their compute power increases, often begging the question what will we do with all this additional processing capability? The answer is quite simple – we will need it as numbers go away. We will need it to solve the everyday problems where once we used numbers.

Even under the soft lighting of a trade show floor, Margo’s identity is hard to hide – we all know it’s Margo. Very soon it will not just be television characters who can easily recognize us using the latest in facial recognition technology, but every system we come in contact with. There will be a lot of fuss made over confidentiality and civil rights, but in the end, we would all enjoy not having to shuffle through our wallets and bags for cards and other forms of identification and will come to terms with where the lines are drawn. As for me, I am only too happy for my number to be taken away -  yes, give me back my name!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A unique link exists between two of your examples. 'The Prisoner' was a sequel to the series 'Secret Agent Man'... and the Johnny Rivers song was the theme for that series!

A current series, "Person of Interest" has a theme that might show a future NonStop system in action; one that watches every camera, listens to every phone conversation, etc. identifies people and tracks them. Perfect app for a (big) NonStop!