Posts tagged technology
Balaji Srinivasan asks in a Twitter thread why we’re not far more productive given the technology available and gives five possible explanations…
The Great Distraction.
All the productivity we gained has been frittered away on equal-and-opposite distractions like social media, games, etc.
The Great Dissipation.
The productivity has been dissipated on things like forms, compliance, process, etc.
The Great Divergence.
The productivity is here, it’s just only harnessed by the indistractable few.
The Great Dilemma.
The productivity has been burned in bizarre ways that require line-by-line “profiling” of everything.
The Great Dumbness.
The productivity is here, we’ve just made dumb decisions in the West while others have harnessed it.
(via Balaji Srinivasan)
There are still a lot of working public pay-phones all around downtown Taipei in metro stations and convenience stores. They often double as wifi hotspots too
ExoMars moves on (via https://www.flickr.com/photos/europeanspaceagency/50397911967/)
the advent of the mass-produced graphite pencil in the second half of the 19th century coincided with profound changes in the way a performer engaged with a musical text. The generation of musicians who benefited from the new tool — capable of making durable, but erasable, markings that didn’t harm paper — were, he wrote, “the first where practice was aimed at perfection of execution, and not developing the skills for real-time extemporization on the material in front of them, or improvisation ‘off book.’” What changes does the new digital technology reflect or enable? Conversations with some of classical music’s most passionate advocates of the gadgets and with developers like forScore and Tonara that write applications for them reveal a number of developments. The traditional top-down structure of teaching has been shaken loose. The line between scholarly and practical spheres of influence is becoming blurred. And the very notion of a definitive text is quickly losing traction — and with it, the ideal of that “perfection of execution.”
“The Future was better protected than the Past”
Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?” The aesthetics of solarpunk merge the practical with the beautiful, the well-designed with the green and wild, the bright and colorful with the earthy and solid. Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world — but never dystopian. As our world roils with calamity, we need solutions, not warnings. Solutions to live comfortably without fossil fuels, to equitably manage scarcity and share abundance, to be kinder to each other and to the planet we share. At once a vision of the future, a thoughtful provocation, and an achievable lifestyle. In progress…
There are few pictures of us together. Very few were taken by us; neither of us are much for selfies. Those that do exist, we ask our friends to keep offline. We know that the vague and soft anonymity of our relationship probably won’t last forever. And I doubt there will ever be a surfeit of digital connections between us. Our phones trace the paths we walk together, existing in telecom databases (and more recently, in WhatsApp’s logfiles) long after we’ve moved on. Their cell tower and GPS logs are like a pair of maze paths with no walls, lines coming together and parting, and coming together again. But what we said on those walks is lost, even to us. Only the feelings, memories, and paths remain.
The war for the open internet is the defining issue of our time. It’s a scramble for control of the very fabric of human communication. And human communication is all that separates us from the utopia that thousands of generations of our ancestors slowly marched us toward — or the Orwellian, Huxleyan, Kafkaesque dystopia that a locked-down internet would make possible.By the end of this article, you’ll understand what’s happening, the market forces that are driving this, and how you can help stop it. We’ll talk about the brazen monopolies who maneuver to lock down the internet, the scrappy idealists who fight to keep it open, and the vast majority of people who are completely oblivious to this battle for the future.In Part 1, we’ll explore what the open internet is and delve into the history of the technological revolutions that preceded it.In Part 2, we’ll talk about the atoms. The physical infrastructure of the internet. The internet backbone. Communication satellites. The “last mile” of copper and fiber optic cables that provide broadband internet.In Part 3, we’ll talk about bits. The open, distributed nature of the internet and how it’s being cordoned off into walled gardens by some of the largest multinational corporations in the world.In Part 4, we’ll explore the implications of all this for consumers and for startups. You’ll see how you can help save the open internet. I’ll share some practical steps you can take as a citizen of the internet to do your part and keep it open.
“Feudalism with cell phones is still feudalism.”
First communication became digitized and free to everyone. Then, when clean energy became free, things started to move quickly. Transportation dropped dramatically in price. It made no sense for us to own cars anymore, because we could call a driverless vehicle or a flying car for longer journeys within minutes. We started transporting ourselves in a much more organized and coordinated way when public transport became easier, quicker and more convenient than the car. Now I can hardly believe that we accepted congestion and traffic jams, not to mention the air pollution from combustion engines. What were we thinking?
First they took over communication. I don’t believe what I hear anymore. I only trust what I see out there in the streets. Then, when they took over the energy grid and fuel supply, things started to move quickly. Transportation became increasingly restricted. It made no sense for us to use cars anymore, since their control systems wouldn’t let us go anywhere inside the city anyway. And the militias control the countryside, so with a bit of skin pigmentation, there’s no telling whether you’ll end up as labor or food. I wonder what those flying cars look like from the inside. The only things that fly around here are the autonomous police drones. Forget about using public transportation. Unless you want to get tased. Or shot. Their facial recognition software is not good at distinguishing dark faces, so they may well confuse you with a known threat. Now, I can hardly believe that we were once allowed to move freely about the city, not to mention not being watched by persistent, omnipresent security systems. Sometimes I use the sewers when I need to go to somewhere far. They haven’t rigged them up with cameras yet, I think. I guess the smell is deterrence enough for most people. It’s hard to wash off that journey.
After spending so much time researching CRISPR, I thought I’d save everyone else the time, write a summary of why I think it’s a big deal, and then curate some of the best content on the subject I found.
From the very beginning, since Archillect was made to find images by following a certain relational structure, I had to trust that Archillect would have a certain character in what she found and shared, which would create an almost personal profile. This is the reason I wanted to present Archillect as a person rather than a random bot. As people perceived Archillect as a character, a personality, they also contributed to the project through the ways they interacted with the project as a result of this perception. This was important to me.
Means well technology seems to exist in isolation of how we normalize and understand objects, never quite understanding or using them how the designer wants us to, because we are humans with doubts and fears and cultural ‘stuff’ that often rubs up against the technology that is supposedly meant to help us.
In a painstaking analysis, Gada drills down on the insight that economists have entirely missed a crucial feature of the modern world called “technological deflation”. While the concept is nuanced, the basic point of technological deflation is that technological things (like, say, iPhones) have the funny habit of becoming “almost free” very quickly. Remember that fancy new iPhone 6 you bought for $600 back in 2013? How much is it worth now? Well, today if you are so inclined, you can get a brand-new one for $150. One fourth the cost in three short years. Remember, we aren’t talking about buying a used iPhone 6, these are brand new. In another two years, you’d be hard pressed to give one of these away.You don’t see this kind of price deflation everywhere. In fact, in our modern society, we tend to expect to see prices rise over time. Oranges, for example, cost more today than they cost in 2012. Same with milk. A new Eames Chair from Knoll costs a solid $5,000. The same chair brand new cost a mere $310 in 1956. And if you want to ask “how much is that in today’s dollars” you are hitting the point: we are so very used to inflation that we intuitively think of the money itself as different. And yet, a brand new iPhone 6 today costs only one fourth as much as the same phone three years ago. Technological things are, quite vigorously, swimming against the inflationary current.
a consortium of scholars called the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative (CALI), which uses a technology known as lidar to shoot ultraquick pulses of light at the ground from lasers mounted on helicopters. The way they bounce back can show the presence of subtle gradations in the landscape, indicating places where past civilizations altered their environment, even if buried beneath thick vegetation or other obstructions. The soft-spoken, fedora-clad Mr. Mackey, a 14-year veteran of fieldwork here, noted that before lidar’s availability, an accurate ground survey of archaeological features in the Cambodian landscape entailed years or even decades of work.
It’s not easy to make social change with technology. There’s excitement around bringing “innovation” to social problems, which usually means bringing in ideas from the technology industry. But societies are more than software, and social enterprise doesn’t have the same economics as startups.
We could call this strange geography created by technology “AirSpace.” It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers like Schwarzmann take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started. It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace, and some people don’t. Well-off travelers like Kevin Lynch, an ad executive who lived in Hong Kong Airbnbs for three years, are abandoning permanent houses for digital nomadism. Itinerant entrepreneurs, floating on venture capital, might head to a Bali accelerator for six months as easily as going to the grocery store. AirSpace is their home. As the geography of AirSpace spreads, so does a certain sameness.
Over the past several years, Marlinspike has quietly positioned himself at the front lines of a quarter-century-long war between advocates of encryption and law enforcement. Since the first strong encryption tools became publicly available in the early ’90s, the government has warned of the threat posed by “going dark”—that such software would cripple American police departments and intelligence agencies, allowing terrorists and organized criminals to operate with impunity. In 1993 it unsuccessfully tried to implement a backdoor system called the Clipper Chip to get around encryption. In 2013, Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed that the NSA had secretly sabotaged a widely used crypto standard in the mid- 2000s and that since 2007 the agency had been ingesting a smorgasbord of tech firms’ data with and without their cooperation. Apple’s battle with the FBI over Farook’s iPhone destroyed any pretense of a truce.
Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship? The cornerstone of liberal democracy is the notion that free speech allows us to create a marketplace of ideas, from which we can use the political process to collectively choose the society we want. Most critiques of this system tend to focus on the ways in which this marketplace of ideas isn’t totally free, such as the ways in which some actors have substantially more influence over what information is distributed than others. The more fundamental problem, however, is that living in an existing social structure creates a specific set of desires and motivations in a way that merely talking about other social structures never can. The world we live in influences not just what we think, but how we think, in a way that a discourse about other ideas isn’t able to. Any teenager can tell you that life’s most meaningful experiences aren’t the ones you necessarily desired, but the ones that actually transformed your very sense of what you desire. We can only desire based on what we know. It is our present experience of what we are and are not able to do that largely determines our sense for what is possible.
People in the innovation-obsessed present tend to overstate the impact of technology not only in the future, but also the present. We tend to imagine we are living in a world that could scarcely have been imagined a few decades ago. It is not uncommon to read assertions like: “Someone would have been unable at the beginning of the 20th century to even dream of what transportation would look like a half a century later.” And yet zeppelins were flying in 1900; a year before, in New York City, the first pedestrian had already been killed by an automobile. Was the notion of air travel, or the thought that the car was going to change life on the street, really so beyond envisioning—or is it merely the chauvinism of the present, peering with faint condescension at our hopelessly primitive predecessors? The historian Lawrence Samuel has called social progress the “Achilles heel” of futurism. He argues that people forget the injunction of the historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee: Ideas, not technology, have driven the biggest historical changes. When technology changes people, it is often not in the ways one might expect: Mobile technology, for example, did not augur the “death of distance,” but actually strengthened the power of urbanism. The washing machine freed women from labor, and, as the social psychologists Nina Hansen and Tom Postmes note, could have sparked a revolution in gender roles and relations. But, “instead of fueling feminism,” they write, “technology adoption (at least in the first instance) enabled the emergence of the new role of housewife: middle-class women did not take advantage of the freed-up time … to rebel against structures or even to capitalize on their independence.” Instead, the authors argue, the women simply assumed the jobs once held by their servants.
According to Keynes, the nineteenth century had unleashed such a torrent of technological innovation—“electricity, petrol, steel, rubber, cotton, the chemical industries, automatic machinery and the methods of mass production”—that further growth was inevitable. The size of the global economy, he forecast, would increase sevenfold in the following century, and this, in concert with ever greater “technical improvements,” would usher in the fifteen-hour week. To Keynes, the coming age of abundance, while welcome, would pose a new and in some ways even bigger challenge. With so little need for labor, people would have to figure out what to do with themselves: “For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won.” The example offered by the idle rich was, he observed, “very depressing”; most of them had “failed disastrously” to find satisfying pastimes.
The first camp contains those organizations which are primarily concerned with mitigating harmful consequences of modern technologies. The second camp contains organizations that exist to try to solve problems and promote welfare through methods that use digital technologies. I’ll call these two camps the ‘mitigators’ and the ‘promoters.’ There are a lot of good organizations and familiar names in both camps. The most famous in the mitigators would be the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but there’s also the Chaos Computer Club, the Open Rights Group, and the red-hot new research institute Data & Society. In the promoters camp the biggest name would undoubtedly be the Wikimedia Foundation, followed by Mozilla, and then a thousand other organizations
Imagine, for a moment, if it were possible to provide access not just to those books, but to all knowledge for everyone, everywhere—the ultimate realisation of Panizzi’s dream. In fact, we don’t have to imagine: it is possible today, thanks to the combined technologies of digital texts and the Internet. The former means that we can make as many copies of a work as we want, for vanishingly small cost; the latter provides a way to provide those copies to anyone with an Internet connection. The global rise of low-cost smartphones means that group will soon include even the poorest members of society in every country. That is to say, we have the technical means to share all knowledge, and yet we are nowhere near providing everyone with the ability to indulge their learned curiosity
As much as my Wired archive is a document of its era’s aspirations, it’s also a record of what people once hoped technology would be—and, in hindsight, a record of what it might have become. In early Wired, a piece about a five-hundred-thousand-dollar luxury “Superboat” would be followed by a full-page editorial urging readers to contact their legislators to condemn wiretapping (in this case, 1994’s Digital Telephony Bill). Stories of tech-enabled social change and New Economy capitalism weren’t in competition; they coexisted and played off one another. In 2016, some of my colleagues and I have E.F.F. stickers on our company-supplied MacBooks—“I do not consent to the search of this device,” we broadcast to our co-workers—but dissent is no longer an integral part of the industry’s ethos.
“Today’s men’s nerves surround us. Each technological extension gone outside is electrical involves an act of collective environment. The human nervous environment system itself can be reprogrammed with all its private and social values because it is content. He programs logically as readily as any radio net is swallowed by the new environment. The sensory order.”
–William S. Burroughs, picking up a copy of The Nation.
The Feraliminal Lycanthropizer is a fictional machine invented by American writer David Woodard, whose 1990 pamphlet of the same title speculates on its history and purpose. The brief, anonymously published work describes a vibration referred to as thanato-auric waves, which the machine electrically generates by combining three infrasonic sinewaves (3 Hz, 9 Hz and 0.56 Hz) with concomitant tapeloops of unspecified spoken text (two beyond the threshold of decipherability, and two beneath the threshold).
It is intoxicating to trace materials and people back towards their origins. You start with an iPhone in Brooklyn and end up in an open pit mine in Alaska, Russia, or Peru. You start with Silicon Valley and end up digging a ditch in Thailand. It is great fun, zipping along unexpected pathways to exotic locales. But Beware! Exoticization is one of the hazards of trying to grapple with networks of sublime scale. So are: oversimplification, marginalization, undue emphasis, overcomplication, obfuscation, and tedium. Tim Cook has spent a lot of his professional life trying to grapple with networks of sublime scale. His success has resulted in one of the most powerful and effective supply chains on the planet. In order to accomplish this, he has had to delegate much and abstract away much else. From the perspective of the supply chain, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a workers’ strike, and an overlong security line at the border are more or less the same thing. Tim must also avoid oversimplification, overcomplication, marginalization, and all the rest of it. When he gets it wrong, there are substantial human costs.
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.”
Faith is a concept that often enters the accounts of GPS-induced mishaps. “It kept saying it would navigate us a road,” said a Japanese tourist in Australia who, while attempting to reach North Stradbroke Island, drove into the Pacific Ocean. A man in West Yorkshire, England, who took his BMW off-road and nearly over a cliff, told authorities that his GPS “kept insisting the path was a road.” In perhaps the most infamous incident, a woman in Belgium asked GPS to take her to a destination less than two hours away. Two days later, she turned up in Croatia.
The only reason that anyone could be induced to take part in such a dangerous business was the fabulous profit that could be made. Gideon Allen & Sons, a whaling syndicate based in New Bedford, Massachusetts, made returns of 60% a year during much of the 19th century by financing whaling voyages—perhaps the best performance of any firm in American history. It was the most successful of a very successful bunch. Overall returns in the whaling business in New Bedford between 1817 and 1892 averaged 14% a year—an impressive record by any standard. New Bedford was not the only whaling port in America; nor was America the only whaling nation. Yet according to a study published in 1859, of the 900-odd active whaling ships around the world in 1850, 700 were American, and 70% of those came from New Bedford.
Every economy has to answer two questions: how much to produce and how to distribute that production. Technological advances ensure that each year we can make more stuff with less labor and capital than the year before. This has not changed. What has changed is how we allocate the benefits of progress. Back in the day, workers got the money; today, owners of assets do. Stagnant wages and higher stock prices are two sides of the same coin.
These three visions lead to radically different worlds.
If you think the Web is a way to CONNECT KNOWLEDGE, PEOPLE, AND CATS, then your job is to get the people and cats online, put a decent font on the knowledge, and then stand back and watch the magic happen.
If you think your job is to FIX THE WORLD WITH SOFTWARE, then the web is just the very beginning. There’s a lot of work left to do. Really you’re going to need sensors in every house, and it will help if everyone looks through special goggles, and if every refrigerator can talk to the Internet and confess its contents. You promise to hook up all this stuff up for us, and in return, we give you the full details of our private lives. And we don’t need to worry about people doing bad things with it, because your policy is for that not to happen.
And if you think that the purpose of the Internet is to BECOME AS GODS, IMMORTAL CREATURES OF PURE ENERGY LIVING IN A CRYSTALLINE PARADISE OF OUR OWN INVENTION, then your goal is total and complete revolution. Everything must go. The future needs to get here as fast as possible, because your biological clock is ticking!
The first group wants to CONNECT THE WORLD.
The second group wants to EAT THE WORLD.
And the third group wants to END THE WORLD.
These visions are not compatible.
“Compared with the accuracy of various human judges reported in the meta-analysis, computer models need 10, 70, 150, and 300 Likes, respectively, to outperform an average work colleague, cohabitant or friend, family member, and spouse (graypoints) […]
Automated, accurate, and cheap personality assessment tools could affect society in many ways: marketing messages could be tailored to users’ personalities; recruiters could better match candidates with jobs based on their personality; products and services could adjust their behavior to best match their users’ characters and changing moods; and scientists could collect personality data without burdening participants with lengthy questionnaires. Furthermore, in the future, people might abandon their own psychological judgments and rely on computers when making important life decisions, such as choosing activities, career paths, or even romantic partners. It is possible that such data-driven decisions will improve people’s lives”
IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Other
We were sold magic as the affordance of technology, from the term “automagic” on down, and we were sold this magic as the provision of personal agency – fifteen years ago I couldn’t move on the web for people talking about the internet as channel for emergent democracy, five years ago everyone couldn’t shut up about smartphones as the new computing paradigm that put the world in our hands. And now we’re at the end of the current cycle and the five dark towers of big digital technology are reduced to bullshit squabbles. I mean, sure, large ones, rolling across the world and throwing their shadows over us all. But the sleight of hand is all over. There’s a bit at the end of the tv series THE THICK OF IT, where spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, frequently self-described as “a practitioner of the dark arts,” says, in his final extremity, “Look at me. I’m not pulling anything out of my magic hat. The rabbits have fallen to pieces. Their fucking heads are coming off and frightening the kids.”
The Osborne 1 among the Mujahideen
The algorithmic metaphor is just a special version of the machine metaphor, one specifying a particular kind of machine (the computer) and a particular way of operating it (via a step-by-step procedure for calculation). And when left unseen, we are able to invent a transcendental ideal for the algorithm. The canonical algorithm is not just a model sequence but a concise and efficient one. In its ideological, mythic incarnation, the ideal algorithm is thought to be some flawless little trifle of lithe computer code, processing data into tapestry like a robotic silkworm. A perfect flower, elegant and pristine, simple and singular. A thing you can hold in your palm and caress. A beautiful thing. A divine one. But just as the machine metaphor gives us a distorted view of automated manufacture as prime mover, so the algorithmic metaphor gives us a distorted, theological view of computational action.
Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not. It’s not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with making (although it’s not all that clear that the world needs more stuff). The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing—it’s almost always doing things for and with other people, from the barista to the Facebook community moderator to the social worker to the surgeon. Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.
Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life. All revolutions exaggerate, and the digital revolution is no different. We are still in the middle of the great transformation, but it is not too early to begin to expose the exaggerations, and to sort out the continuities from the discontinuities. The burden of proof falls on the revolutionaries, and their success in the marketplace is not sufficient proof. Presumptions of obsolescence, which are often nothing more than the marketing techniques of corporate behemoths, need to be scrupulously examined. By now we are familiar enough with the magnitude of the changes in all the spheres of our existence to move beyond the futuristic rhapsodies that characterize much of the literature on the subject. We can no longer roll over and celebrate and shop. Every phone in every pocket contains a “picture of ourselves,” and we must ascertain what that picture is and whether we should wish to resist it. Here is a humanist proposition for the age of Google: The processing of information is not the highest aim to which the human spirit can aspire, and neither is competitiveness in a global economy. The character of our society cannot be determined by engineers.
Topic 478: Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow & Jon Lebkowsky: State Of The World 2015
Here we show that error-corrected quantum memories installed in cargo containers and carried by ship could provide a flexible and scalable connection between local networks, enabling low-latency, high-fidelity quantum communication across global distances. With recent demonstrations of quantum technology with sufficient fidelity to enable topological error correction, implementation of the necessary quantum memories is within reach, and effective bandwidth will increase with improvements in fabrication. Thus, our architecture provides a new approach to quantum networking that avoids many of the technological requirements of undersea quantum repeaters, providing an alternate path to a worldwide Quantum Internet.
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Gartner: Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2014
By administering mild electric currents to the brain, neuroscientists from Frankfurt University have successfully induced self-awareness in sleeping volunteers. Amazingly, the technique could be used to help people take better control of their dreams. But it’s also a discovery that’s offering critical insights into the very nature of consciousness itself. Gamma waves have been linked to consciousness before — a process called gamma coherence — but this is the first time scientists have used it to coax self-awareness during the dream cycle.
Science has also provided the world with images of sublime beauty: stroboscopically frozen motion, exotic organisms, distant galaxies and outer planets, fluorescing neural circuitry, and a luminous planet Earth rising above the moon’s horizon into the blackness of space. Like great works of art, these are not just pretty pictures but prods to contemplation, which deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and of our place in nature. And contrary to the widespread canard that technology has created a dystopia of deprivation and violence, every global measure of human flourishing is on the rise. The numbers show that after millennia of near-universal poverty, a steadily growing proportion of humanity is surviving the first year of life, going to school, voting in democracies, living in peace, communicating on cell phones, enjoying small luxuries, and surviving to old age. The Green Revolution in agronomy alone saved a billion people from starvation. And if you want examples of true moral greatness, go to Wikipedia and look up the entries for “smallpox” and “rinderpest” (cattle plague). The definitions are in the past tense, indicating that human ingenuity has eradicated two of the cruelest causes of suffering in the history of our kind.
On the horizon is more technology that will make it even easier for governments to monitor and track everything that citizens do. Yet I’m convinced that, if we’re sufficiently motivated and sufficiently clever, the future can be one of more freedom rather than less. I saw this tweet not so long ago: unless you’re over 60, you weren’t promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.
Communication involves speaking, listening and understanding what we hear. One of the main technical challenges the ISEE-3/ICE project has faced is determining whether we can speak, listen, and understand the spacecraft and whether the spacecraft can do the same for us. Several months of digging through old technical documents has led a group of NASA engineers to believe they will indeed be able to understand the stream of data coming from the spacecraft. NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) can listen to the spacecraft, a test in 2008 proved that it was possible to pick up the transmitter carrier signal, but can we speak to the spacecraft? Can we tell the spacecraft to turn back on its thrusters and science instruments after decades of silence and perform the intricate ballet needed to send it back to where it can again monitor the Sun? The answer to that question appears to be no.
In the same way that the transition from film to digital is now taken for granted, the shift from cameras to networked devices with lenses should be obvious. While we’ve long obsessed over the size of the film and image sensors, today we mainly view photos on networked screens—often tiny ones, regardless of how the image was captured—and networked photography provides access to forms of data that go beyond pixels. This information, like location, weather, or even radiation levels, can transform an otherwise innocuous photo of an empty field near Fukushima into an entirely different object. If you begin considering emerging self-metrics that measure, for example, your routes through cities, fitness level, social status, and state of mind (think Foursquare, Nike+, Facebook, and Twitter), you realize that there is a compelling universe of information waiting to be pinned to the back of each image. Once you start thinking of a photograph in those holistic terms, the data quality of stand-alone cameras, no matter how vast their bounty of pixels, seems strangely impoverished. They no longer capture the whole picture.
For centuries, humans have been creating ever-more complicated systems, from the machines we live with to the informational systems and laws that keep our global civilisation stitched together. Technology continues its fantastic pace of accelerating complexity — offering efficiencies and benefits that previous generations could not have imagined — but with this increasing sophistication and interconnectedness come complicated and messy effects that we can’t always anticipate. It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable. We now live in a world filled with incomprehensible glitches and bugs. When we find a bug in a video game, it’s intriguing, but when we are surprised by the very infrastructure of our society, that should give us pause.
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A Borg Complex is exhibited by writers and pundits who explicitly assert or implicitly assume that resistance to technology is futile. The name is derived from the Borg, a cybernetic alien race in the Star Trek universe that announces to their victims some variation of the following: “We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”
To the problem of narrative collapse, Rushkoff suggests that young people have reacted to the loss of storytellers by realizing they have to become the storyteller. The gamer can write his own next level. We can be fragmented by allowing ourselves to operate on the (non-temporal) time scale of computers or we can program our computers to keep us in sync with our own goals and our own lives. Technology is, in fact, neutral. It doesn’t “want” things to be a certain way. But all technologies are ste up by people with certain biases, but those biases are often unclear until they play out in the real world. So civilians do have an opportunity to intervene in technologies that they dont’t fully understand because they do have the capacity to understand the impact of those technologies on their lives.
When it comes to talking about social media, it’s easy to get trapped in utopian and dystopian rhetorics. My goal is not to go down one of these rabbit holes, but rather, to critically interrogate our participation in the culture of fear. Many of you are technologists, designers, pundits, and users. How are we contributing to or combating the culture of fear? What are our responsibilities with regard to the culture of fear? What kinds of things can and should we do?
Rather than apologizing to Alan Turing after his death, I’d be happier if we had some working way to reach out to other Alan Turings, ways to find people like him and to convince them to put down the poisoned apple and find good, sensible reasons to cheer the hell up and enjoy life.
Immaculate Telegraphy was an experiment to build electronic communication from scratch in the wilderness. In summer of 2009, I set out in the mountains of western Montana without any modern tools or materials except information, and constructed a working electric telegraph from materials found on the ground. The experiment showed that electronic communication could have been constructed at any point in history given the right information.
Of all the noises that my children will not understand, the one that is nearest to my heart is not from a song or a television show or a jingle. It’s the sound of a modem connecting with another modem across the repurposed telephone infrastructure. It was the noise of being part of the beginning of the Internet.
Driven by their optimism bias, people use the clearly huge opportunity of technology to reassure themselves we won’t face a crisis. They believe any serious limits in the system will be avoided because technology will intervene and we’ll adapt. There are two reasons I think this is wrong and may actually be dangerous. Firstly, while technology has huge potential to address the issues we face, without strong price signals and other government support, large-scale technology change takes a very long time. We see this today where, though there are many programs supporting clean technology around the world, it is taking a long time – many decades – for this technology to have scale impact. This is the second reason the techno-optimists view is wrong, the science says we simply don’t have a long time. In fact we’re completely out of time, with the evidence clear that the ecosystem limits have already been breached. This is no longer forecasts but rather the measurement of today’s reality.
HavenCo’s failure—and make no mistake about it, HavenCo did fail—shows how hard it is to get out from under government’s thumb. HavenCo built it, but no one came. For a host of reasons, ranging from its physical vulnerability to the fact that The Man doesn’t care where you store your data if he can get his hands on you, Sealand was never able to offer the kind of immunity from law that digital rebels sought. And, paradoxically, by seeking to avoid government, HavenCo made itself exquisitely vulnerable to one government in particular: Sealand’s. It found that out the hard way in 2003 when Sealand “nationalized” the company.
For the last two years, I’ve researched the history of Sealand and HavenCo. I used the Wayback Machine to reconstruct long-since-vanished webpages. I dug through microfilm of newspapers back to the 1960s. I pored over thousands of pages of documents, only recently unsealed, from the United Kingdom’s National Archives.
Drawing on messages posted by more than two million people in 84 countries, researchers discovered that the emotional tone of people’s messages followed a similar pattern not only through the day but…