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In the Computer’s Cheap Glow

By Gary Griffiths, CEO

By the computer's cheap glow

The library, with its Daedalian labyrinth, mysterious hush, and faintly ominous aroma of knowledge, has been replaced by the computer’s cheap glow, pesky chirp, and data spillage.
 – P.J. O’Rourke

Well, I was feeling pretty good about our recent iPass SmartConnect press release until I stumbled across the quote above from P.J. O’Rourke, one of my favorite political satirists. This rather Dystopian view of the Information Age gave me pause — are we really just oily purveyors of tinny technology spilling data wherever we go? Kinda scary.

Back to the press release, the one that explains how iPass SmartConnect, in less than two months, is building the world’s first real-time picture of global Wi-Fi locations and performance. So the company that is the world’s largestWi-Fi network is now also the first to understand how many access points exist around the world – where they are – and to discern the good ones from the bad ones. Of course, this is a dynamic map – everyday, around the world, hundreds of thousands of new access points are activated, while others may be taken out of service.

This got me thinking about all the data (spillage) we’ll be collecting through iPass SmartConnect – massive amounts of data, well over 100 million records already – and how we could best use and leverage this data. That, in turn, got me thinking about how much time we’d otherwise have to spend in a library to find all the right sources to connect only the relevant dots. Not in my lifetime, for sure.

Of course, we already know how we will use iPass SmartConnect data internally: to improve our product and user experience, by matching  users with the available hotspot that best meets their needs; and to manage our network costs, as iPass SmartConnect gives the product the intelligence to determine least-cost-routing, meaning all other factors being equal, we can route the connection through the lowest-cost network.

But what about the other uses of this data? P.J. got me thinking about the hierarchy of data, information, intelligence, and knowledge. Data – hundreds of millions or even billions of records – may be impressive, but it is also daunting. One of the things we’ve learned immediately is that filters – lots of them – are required. For instance, iPass SmartConnect will identify any device that connects via Wi-Fi, which includes Wi-Fi-enabled printers or smartphones acting as mobile hotspots I suspect at some point, the traffic mapping information we get from those kinds of devices will be interesting, especially for the Internet of Things. But for now, we need to make sure we apply the proper filters to these analytics. Otherwise, the data we get will be nothing more than a string of random numbers.

The magic is in turning these random numbers into the power, which comes from knowledge, reminding me of one of the prime directives of artificial intelligence: “There is no such thing as data overload – there are simply inadequate filters.”

For the record, I love libraries, and I doubt that they’ll be going away any time soon. But if we’ve got the chance to turn all the data we’re collecting into knowledge, I’ll work in the cheap glow cast by my computer.