Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
How much does "free" really cost?
In Life After Google, George Gilder writes that we're paying a heavy cost for "free."
- The famed technology and financial writer says we're paying for "free" with our most valuable resource: time.
- Gilder predicts that the lack of focus on security will be Google's downfall.
- He says decentralization offered by blockchain technology will be the only path forward.
Everyone loves free. It's hard to find any marketing pitch today without the word in it. There's always someone ready to give up the goods at no cost to you. Free has become such a bargain that the idea of paying for anything anymore seems antiquated and ludicrous.
Of course, nothing is truly free.
So the question: What are we actually paying with?
That's the argument that George Gilder makes in his nineteenth book, Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy. Gilder's accolades are many. Thanks to his plea for supply-side economics and capitalism, he was Ronald Reagan's most quoted living author. While his ideas about religion are questionable—he supports intelligent design—he's also, somewhat ironically, been a leading technology thinker. In 1990, for example, he predicted computers would make television obsolete.
Around that time, the idea of a network of linked computers was just starting to emerge in the public consciousness. The revolution promised freedom, but it hasn't panned out that way. A handful of tech companies now dominate two economies: monetary, sure, but also attention. Apple, at least, makes a physical product, something Gilder supports. Google, however, relies on the concept of "free" to sell its advertising model. And Gilder thinks this will be its undoing.
Most alarmingly, in the race for attention (and hence, time), leading technology companies have sacrificed security, what Gilder calls "the most crucial part of any system." If security isn't considered from the outset, the architecture must be replaced. Because the promise of the early internet has turned into the exact opposite, companies like Google are not going to replace the infrastructure they've spent billions creating. Their fortresses have become prisons.
The concentration of data in walled gardens increases the cost of security. The industry sought safety in centralization. But centralization is not safe.
Decentralization, he continues, is much safer than having all your data tied up in one company's servers. Centralization creates conformity. In Skin in the Game, Lebanese-American risk analyst and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses a previous powerhouse of conformity, IBM, which required its employees to wear white shirts and dark blue suits. Such uniform mentality served the employees well inside of the system. When Microsoft forced IBM to lay off many "lifers" as the internet emerged, however, "these people couldn't find a job elsewhere; they were of no use to anyone outside of IBM."
We are all part of Google's world, whenever we use Gmail or any of its many free applications. Yet someone—us—is paying for those services. Us. One of Gilder's ten rules of the cryptocosm (his term for the coming digital system run by blockchain) is that "time is the final measure of cost."
Photo: Alex Guillaume / Unsplash
That time is divided in many ways. Try to navigate the current world of digital journalism and you'll quickly find frustration in the load time (most fees associated with going online on your phone are thanks to ads), auto-play videos, pop-up banners, and ads that you can't shake no matter how diligently you scroll. Visit USA Today's site and you'll be met with an assault of all of these blockers to content and more. Actually, don't visit that site, unless you want to discover a ring of hell Dante could not have foreseen. Or, as Gilder puts it,
Google's Free World is a way of brazenly defying the centrality of time in economics and reaching beyond the wallets of its customers to seize their time.
And time is all we really have. If you want real "f*** you money," Taleb writes, then be broke. You might not feel rich, but you'll have all the time in the world—the true measure of freedom. While this sounds counterintuitive, that's likely because our intuition, which has been drilled into us ad nauseam for a century, is that money frees us so we have more time. Taleb argues the opposite: money steals time as we become dependent on acquiring the money that takes up all of our time.
Which is the model Google relies on. Without a tangible product all they can offer is distraction. No one at the end of their life says, "I didn't spend enough time on my phone." Yet that's the expensive cost of free, and we're all paying it handsomely.
Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.
- Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
- With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
- The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
Howard et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While this approach has wide implications for heritage management/museum display, its relevance conforms exactly to the ancient Egyptians' fundamental belief that 'to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again'," they wrote in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-56316-y#Fig3" target="_blank">paper</a> published in Nature Scientific Reports. "Given Nesyamun's stated desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever, the fulfilment of his beliefs through the synthesis of his vocal function allows us to make direct contact with ancient Egypt by listening to a sound from a vocal tract that has not been heard for over 3000 years, preserved through mummification and now restored through this new technique."</p>
Connecting modern people with history<p>It's not the first time scientists have "re-created" an ancient human's voice. In 2016, for example, Italian researchers used software to <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hear-recreated-voice-otzi-iceman-180960570/" target="_blank">reconstruct the voice of Ötzi,</a> an iceman who was discovered in 1991 and is thought to have died more than 5,000 years ago. But the "Voices of the Past" project is different, the researchers note, because Nesyamun's mummified corpse is especially well preserved.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was particularly suited, given its age and preservation [of its soft tissues], which is unusual," Howard told <em><a href="https://www.livescience.com/amp/ancient-egypt-mummy-voice-reconstructed.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>.</em></p><p>As to whether Nesyamun's reconstructed voice will ever be able to speak complete sentences, Howard told <em><a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Weird/wireStory/ancient-voice-scientists-recreate-sound-egyptian-mummy-68482015" target="_blank">The Associated Press</a>, </em>that it's "something that is being worked on, so it will be possible one day."</p><p>John Schofield, an archaeologist at the University of York, said that reproducing voices from history can make museum experiences "more multidimensional."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is nothing more personal than someone's voice," he told <em>The Associated Press.</em> "So we think that hearing a voice from so long ago will be an unforgettable experience, making heritage places like Karnak, Nesyamun's temple, come alive."</p>
Inequality in wealth, gender, and race grew to unprecedented levels across the world, according to OxFam report.
- A new report by global poverty nonprofit OxFam finds inequality has increased in every country in the world.
- The alarming trend is made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, which strained most systems and governments.
- The gap in wealth, race and gender treatment will increase until governments step in with changes.
People wait in line to receive food at a food bank on April 28, 2020 in Brooklyn.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Credit: Oxfam International
A supernova exploded near Earth about 2.5 million years ago, possibly causing an extinction event.
- Researchers from the University of Munich find evidence of a supernova near Earth.
- A star exploded close to our planet about 2.5 million years ago.
- The scientists deduced this by finding unusual concentrations of isotopes, created by a supernova.
This Manganese crust started to form about 20 million years ago. Growing layer by layer, it resulted in minerals precipitated out of seawater. The presence of elevated concentrations of 60 Fe and 56 Mn in layers from 2.5 million years ago hints at a nearby supernova explosion around that time.
Credit: Dominik Koll/ TUM