Various government departments spent a whopping £489,329 in 20014–15 on adverts with Facebook in the UK. In return the…

Various government departments spent a whopping £489,329 in 20014–15 on adverts with Facebook in the UK. In return the multi-billion dollar company gave the public purse £4,327, a lot less than most people in the UK paid in tax for the same period.

Astonishingly, Facebook claimed they only needed to pay this amount because they recorded a £28.5 million loss overall in the UK. However, they still managed to splash out £35million in share bonuses to staff.

Government pays Facebook 113 TIMES more for adverts than company pays in taxes (viaiamdanw)

You are the robots - The Long and Short

finance, fintech, automation, computer world, Brett Scott

It seems uncontroversial that these systems may individually lower costs to users in a short-term sense. Nevertheless, while startup culture is fixated upon using digital technology to narrowly improve short-term efficiency in many different business settings, it is woefully inept at analysing what problems this process may accumulate in the long term. Payments startups, for example, see themselves as incrementally working towards a ‘cashless society’: a futurist buzzword laden with positive connotations of hypermodern efficiency. It describes the downfall of something 'old’ and archaic – cash – but doesn’t actually describe what rises up in its place. If you like, 'cashless society’ could be reframed as 'a society in which every transaction you make will have to be approved by a private intermediary who can watch your actions and exclude you.’

A capsule filled with art and artifacts is headed to the moon at the end of this year, where it will remain indefinitely as a…


A capsule filled with art and artifacts is headed to the moon at the end of this year, where it will remain indefinitely as a celebration of the human capacity for creativity. Designed by an international team of artists, scientists, and engineers, the less-than-a-foot tall object is hitching a ride on a rover engineered by Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute that’s competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE. If the journey proves successful, the MoonArk will land approximately 300 works in space, from ancient maps to poems to digital art.

From Ancient Inuit Maps to Poetry, Researchers Send Art to the Moon

A copyright troll took down one of our favorite Tumblrs. Here’s why it could happen to you.


Regular Boing Boing readers have seen me credit This Isn’t Happinessmany times for wonderful visual and audio finds. We’ve been linking toPeter Nidzgorski’s work since way back in 2008. Recently, his wonderful tumblog—a mix of art, music, film, urban ennui, and sexy design ephemera—went dark. No! Why? Automated DMCA takedowns, spurred by the complaint of a well-known copyright troll.

In Pete’s case, the copyright claimants are known tumblr trolls based in the UK who were claiming rights of music related photos erroneously. Tumblr appears to be now using an automated “take-down first” policy and not a process in which each claim is personally reviewed by staff, as Tumblr has claimed.

This stuff happens all the time with our blogging and remixing artist friends, but I like to share these stories because they’re totally outrageous and wrong, and– they now happen all the time. Pete’s tumblr is back up, but the down time added up to two weeks or more. I’d lose my shit if that happened to Boing Boing.

Teaching kids about copyright: schools and fair use


I’m incredibly skeptical of the project of teaching kids about copyright and fair use – not because it’s unimportant, because it’s so dire.

But copyright was developed as an industrial doctrine to regulate the entertainment industry. If kids need to understand industrial regulation in order to do their homework or horse around with their friends, something’s desperately wrong. You can’t write a regulation that’s complex enough to help Warner license Harry Potter to the Universal theme parks and still make it simple enough to cover children writing Harry Potter fanfic.

If it was simple enough for them, it wouldn’t matter, because no one at Warners wants to write a contract for a schoolchild.

But California, in its infinite absurdity, has passed a rule requiring schools to teach copyright – thanks to intense lobbying from the film industry – and almost all the education kids get amounts to “abstinence only,” as in, “Whatever you’re doing, it’s probably illegal, so don’t bother trying.” Various entities, including EFF, have developed better curricula than that, but the bottom line is, if you have to understand obscure industrial rules in order to conduct routine activities, the rules are stupid and at best you’ll be helping kids get in slightly less trouble and/or feel slightly less hopeless.

Consumerist’s Mary Beth Quirk has an excellent piece surveying the copyright curriculum landscape, and the people doing the heroic, nearly impossible work of providing a nuanced view of copyright to schoolkids.

counter-constraint #1: non-progress dogma


One obvious place to start looking at counter-constraints is progress dogma - the belief that technological development will simply lead to a better future. This is a tricky subject and as such warrants a deeper investigation before we approach countering it. Questioning progress is obviously not new, rather we are in a dichotic system of rampant belief on one side and numerous doubters and critics on the other.

Let’s start with the world’s fairs. Norman Bel Geddes’s Futurama exhibit for General Motors at the 1939 New York World’s Fair is perhaps the ur-example of a glossy model of the future - a 35,738 square foot (3320 m2) model depicting the development of motorways and vast suburbs across the United States. The key technology at the core of Bel Geddes’s proposal was the internal combustion engine, his client’s core product – he foresaw the need for big, straight, fast roads to connect big cities; revolutionary run-offs allowing the cars to join and leave the motorways without slowing down; and the sprawl of a perfect picket-fenced suburbia. For visitors with mindsets tainted by the Great Depression this future was compelling. It was a place clearly better than the present, and they bought into the dream. As a result, many aspects of Futurama became a reality.


Twenty-five years after Futurama, at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, spectacular exhibits such as the Eero Saarinen-designed IBM pavilion, with content by Charles and Ray Eames, revealed how the backdrop of sublime technological development, Cold War fears, and the spectacular challenge of the space programme were impacting on popular culture. The social theorist Richard Barbrook points out in Imaginary Futures (2007) how iconography and fetishisation were, for the first time, used to deny the principal use value of these new technologies, neatly disguising them as profound benefactors to humanity. At the heart of the IBM pavilion was the Eames’ multimedia, multi-sensory presentation, describing in highly aestheticised terms the benefits of the emerging technology. As Barbrook sums it up: ‘In the IBM pavilion, the new technology of computing was displayed as the fulfilment of a science fiction fantasy: the imaginary future of artificial intelligence.’ Building on the positive 1950s image of the robot, IBM presented the utopian public face of Cold War developments in cybernetics.

These future-utopia tropes persist because they communicate clear, marketable values. They have their foundations in genuine technical concepts, but the complexity and intangibility of an emerging technology means that there is limited potential to communicate its commercial, functional, or political value. By extrapolating the essential function of the technology to create spectacular demonstrations of future products or systems, a more tangible value can be presented. Through this productification, an emerging technology is effectively transformed into a form of currency; in the eyes of the consumer or potential benefactor, hypothetical products communicate value far more succinctly than complex scientific or technical purity. The nature of this relationship means that the message is always positive: those with a vested interest in a specific technology or concept have an innate tendency to ignore or deny anything remotely critical or negative.

Progress fatigue

Resistance to progress dogma has a long and storied history. Since the Industrial Revolution there have been several major phases to this resistance coming (for example) from the arts: starting with Romantics like William Blake portraying industrial ‘progress’ and the environmental and social degradation it involved as heralding a hell on earth, to William Morris providing a counter-constraint to Victorian progress dogma through the Arts and Crafts movement, to the avant-garde provocations (e.g. dada) of the early twentieth century - not least in response to the First World War, which many people (including some artists, like the Italian Futurists) had seen as a great bloodletting in the name of progress.

The world’s fairs also offer their insights into this dichotic system. For example, Futurama’s hidden agendas are strikingly revealed in E. L. Doctorow’s novel World’s Fair (1985). As a family leaves the exhibit, the father says: ‘“When the time comes General Motors isn’t going to build the highways, the federal government is. With money from us taxpayers.” He smiled. “So General Motors is telling us what they expect from us: we must build them the highways so they can sell us the cars.”’

Bel Geddes’s vision of super-highways largely came true, but so did various dystopian imaginaries that were generated out of the Futurama vision. In ‘Futurama, Autogeddon’, Helen Burgess describes the way in which ‘a messy, always-under-construction, polluted highway system, beaming cheerfully forward into the future, is reflected back to us in the second half of the century as a degraded landscape in J. G. Ballard’s Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition. In these tales,’ Burgess writes,

Bel Geddes’ optimistic narrative of the Interstate has collapsed … because the Interstate system is unsustainable - both narratively and ecologically. The ghosts of the highway call back to us from these future narratives, reminding us that death is just around the next bend.

The profound effects of Bel Geddes’s vision include not only large-scale societal problems, from endemic obesity to Blade Runner-level air pollution in cities like Beijing, but also the mundane daily effects - traffic jams, road rage, and status anxiety.

Progress dogma as an eternally recurring phenomenon

The progress boosterism in the West of the 19th century was followed by two highly regressive world wars. Yet the postwar period saw an almost immediate return to … optimism! Progress dogma was reborn! America, isolated from the worst ravages of the two World Wars, kept blowing the trumpet for progress, and the other western countries followed. The lessons of history continued, and continue, to fall on deaf ears.


Designing counter-constraints

We realise now that we’ve not set ourselves an easy task. These are massive, complex systems that are more easily identified and critiqued than challenged with alternatives. But inaction is no solution. So we’ll go on, inspired by historical examples of how critical approaches have impacted on specific research directions and undermined progress dogma. The public inquiry into genetically modified food development in Europe and the consequent demonising of an entire scientific area (‘Frankenstein foods’) led by certain newspapers is one example of technology being steered away from its intended trajectory. In that case, however, the approach was problematic because the debate was simplified as a contest between good and evil, dystopia vs. utopia, rather than being an open and constructive dialogue. As this article suggests, the reality is often more nuanced and complex than a simple binary opposition can express.

So how do we move toward a more constructive approach to counter-constraints?

Here, as a discussion starter, are some first steps:

  1. Stop assuming that, through technology, the future will be better than the present.
  2. Be wary of too-positive presentations of technological future solutions.
  3. Don’t assume that any of society’s problems will be solved by technology alone.
  4. Do assume that for every benefit a new technology brings there will be unforeseen implications.
  5. Remember to ask: ‘Progress for whom?’
  6. And: ‘What in this specific case does progress actually mean?’
  7. Remember that progress is easily confused with automation. Or efficiency.
  8. Watch Adam Curtis’s The Century of the Self (and then watch it again).
  9. Find ways of encouraging a critical perspective in others, without being a dystopian dick about it.
  10. Actively start building the future you want, with or without technology.

One approach where we have first-hand experience and that begins to address point 10 is speculative design, which aims to facilitate a more critical and considered approach to future-formation. By countering the constraints that limit normative design to slavishly serving the market, speculative design is free to present futures that are neither explicitly utopian or dystopian. Using this approach we can explore possible scenarios when specific emerging technologies collide with everyday life. Or we can see what happens when we apply alternative configurations of contemporary technologies or systems to generate fresh perspectives on particular problems (a counter-constraint to constraint no. 2: legacies of the past, which we’ll return to in a future post). Speculation is time well spent.

We’ll give further thought to counter-constraints over a game of ping-pong on our rough-hewn  autoprogettazione table, followed by coffee and toast. More, much more, to come. 

Images - General Motors, Futurama, 1939; Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920 [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Pictures of Nothing


“There are not any ‘hard’ reasons why abstract art has to be. Nor any teleology that explains why it developed as it did. And it is useless to keep looking for those kinds of justifications. This does not invalidate abstract art. The familiar arguments that abstraction is just a big hoax, a colossal version of the ‘emperor’s new clothes,’ perpetrated on a duped public by cynical art mandarins, seem like tiresome whistling in the dark. Abstract art has been with us in one form or another for almost a century now, and has proved to be not only a long-standing crux of cultural debate, but a self-renewing, vital tradition of creativity. We know that it works, even if we’re still not sure why that’s so, or exactly what to make of that fact. To borrow the phrase of the apocryphal contemporary academic, “Okay, so it works in practice. But does it work in theory?” … abstract art absorbs projection and generates meaning ahead of naming, establishing the form of things unknown, sui generis, in their peculiar complexities. This is one of abstraction’s singular qualities, the form of enrichment and alteration of experience denied to the fixed mimesis of known things. It reminds me of the joke about the person who invented the cure for which there was no known disease. … the development of abstraction in the last fifty years suggests something more Alexandrian than Adamic, that is, a tradition of invention and interpretation that has become exceptionally refined and intricate, encompassing a mind-boggling range of drips, stains, blobs, blocks, bricks, and blank canvases. The woven web of abstraction is now so dense that, for its adepts, it can snare and cradle vanishingly subtle, evanescent, and slender forms of life and meaning. … Just the same, this is risky business. Abstract art is a learned language, and not always easy to understand. Some of the most deep-seated pleasures of our natural selves…involve appetites that had to be educated. If these pleasures are rooted in crude instinct, they nonetheless grow in depth and power as we acquire hierarchies of discrimination, until second nature is nowhere separable from the first. Yet visual art – and abstract art most particularly – remains one of the last bastions of unashamed, unrepentant ignorance, where educated experience can still be equated with phony experience…This syndrome becomes even more acute as the tradition gets fatter and the work gets leaner. What we see gets simpler, and what we can bring to it gets more complex. So we are constantly worried that we are being played for fools by works like Flavin‘s sculpture or Marden‘s painting. What makes the anxiety even worse is the fact that this is an art that, by its very nature, willfully and knowingly flirts with absurdity and emptiness, dancing on the knife-edge of nonsense and beckoning us to come along. Why put up with it? Because we want what only this risk has been able to give us.”

Kirk Varnedoe

Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock

3D printed flowers reveal how orchids trick flies by mimicking mushrooms You might have heard the expression “you catch more…


3D printed flowers reveal how orchids trick flies by mimicking mushrooms

You might have heard the expression “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” but a new study has revealed, thanks to 3D printed flowers, that for a certain species of orchid the saying might actually be “you catch more flies by pretending to be a mushroom.

Weather on Demand: Making It Rain Is Now a Global Business

Weather, rain, technology, drought, India, cloud seeding

Sweeney has seeded clouds all over the world for more than 20 years, but the Maharashtra project is unique in that the circumstances are so dire. “The hardest part is managing expectations,” he says. “People in Maharashtra are hoping for a cure-all to drought. They come out and dance in the streets when it rains, they hug our pilots and say, ‘Do it again.’ But we can’t guarantee that the clouds will be there—and willing to cooperate.”

With an estimated 239 tonnes of mineable ore available in the region, the USSR’s insatiable desire for natural resources quickly…

With an estimated 239 tonnes of mineable ore available in the region, the USSR’s insatiable desire for natural resources quickly transformed the economy of the ancient city. However, a decline in the value of manganese, crossed with a bolshevik seizure of mining property and foreign divestment in operations, ushered the unintended decline of production at the mine, which had only a decade earlier provided more than half the world’s manganese ore. The divestiture of the mine caused officials to renege on plans to build infrastructure that would have modernized the mine and the lives of its workers. Miners continued to spend much of their days winding their way up and down steep, 80 degree cliffs, working excessive hours and in miserable conditions, until in 1954, shortly after Stalin’s death, city planners took to the sky to solve the issue of transportation. Almost miraculously, and without the use of heavy equipment, they constructed the intricate cable car system that would become a unique feature of Chiatura, transporting miners and citizens between the city and the mines above. Sixty-one years later, the system is still in operation and free to ride.(5/7 Soviet Swing) by misterzvereff (via

The NSA’s SKYNET program may be killing thousands of innocent people

Ars Technica, SKYNET, machine learning, warfare, murder, classification, NSA, CIA, USA, metadata

Many facts about the SKYNET program remain unknown, however. For instance do analysts review each mobile phone user’s profile before condemning them to death based on metadata? How can the US government be sure it is not killing innocent people, given the apparent flaws in the machine learning algorithm on which that kill list is based?“On whether the use of SKYNET is a war crime, I defer to lawyers,” Ball said. “It’s bad science, that’s for damn sure, because classification is inherently probabilistic. If you’re going to condemn someone to death, usually we have a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard, which is not at all the case when you’re talking about people with 'probable terrorist’ scores anywhere near the threshold. And that’s assuming that the classifier works in the first place, which I doubt because there simply aren’t enough positive cases of known terrorists for the random forest to get a good model of them.”

What if ‘The Onion’ Made Drones and Sex Toys?

Object Solutions, consumerism, heath, lifestyle, wonkiness, critique, 2016

Last week entrepreneur Amanda Chantal Bacon was in the news for her unbelievable lifestyle. She sells something at Urban Outfitters called “Moon Juice Brain Dust.” The product is described thusly: “Moon Juice Brain Dust is an adaptogenic potion that lights up your brain and increases mental flow by feeding neurotransmitters and brain tissue. Neuron velocity and vision are fine tuned by toning the brain waves, in particular the alpha waves that connect to creativity.”

The Art-World Insider Who Went Too Far

The New Yorker, Art, Yves Bouvier, art market, Natural Le Coultre, bizniz

Barely anyone knew about Bouvier’s dealings: a handful of gallery owners across Europe, his lawyer, and Sotheby’s private-sales department. His staff at Natural Le Coultre noticed the art works stored on his account but insist that they were never told more. Their boss was rarely in the office; Bouvier travelled constantly, investing. He controls more than forty companies, which cover a bewildering range of interests, from R4, a new complex of galleries on the site of an old Renault factory in Paris, to Smartcopter, an idea for developing a low-cost helicopter. His manner discouraged conversation. Reynard told me that he never inquired where the money for the Singapore Freeport was coming from. “It is a question you don’t ask,” he told me. “Because you know that he will not answer.”