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Else 4.7.14: So Much Information, Precious Little Insight

By - April 06, 2014

appsvwebReading over my picks from the past week, I noticed a strong theme – we’re using more and more apps, creating more and more data, but we’re not seeing the true value we might from connecting all the dots. Sure, the NSA is – and Facebook, Google, and other large platforms are as well. But imagine what happens when *we* get those insights?! A move from the center (big platforms) to the node (us) of the information ecosystem seems imminent…

Apps Solidify Leadership Six Years into the Mobile Revolution – Flurry 

Nearly three hours a day on our mobile phones (and we’re not talking). Most of that time we’re in “AppWorld” – not on “the open web.” That is a scary trend, to my mind. But I think it’s temporary. Or rather, I hope it is.

Facebook Explores Anonymity Features – Re/code

Turns out, as a service, you have to provide what people want. For the most part. Facebook is considering the impact of apps like SnapChat and Secret. Clearly, it’s not what the social networking giant *wants* – but perhaps this is a worm turning.

NSA chief’s legacy is shaped by big data, for better and worse – latimes.com

Indeed, if this outgoing NSA Director *missed* the big data revolution, he’d have been outgoing a long time ago…

Google Tops Exxon Mobil to Become World’s 2nd Most Valuable Company – Mashable

Apple is still #1. I wonder how long this will last, given Google’s ambitious push into entirely new markets.

Don’t eat that! SRI built a calorie-counting food app that works via a photo snap — Tech News and Analysis

Yes, I want this. Please. And please make it work with my Fuelband?!

Surprise, surprise: my online metadata actually reveals where I’ve been – Ars Technica

Startling to see how easy it is for someone with a few bits of digital information to figure out quite a lot more about us.

Forget the Quantified Self. We Need to Build the Quantified Us | Design – WIRED

Yes. I’ve been on about this for some time. Because of AppWorld, all these silos of data have yet to get to second and third-order insights. But we are starting to, slowly…

Google Weighs a Plunge into Mobile Phone Services – The Information

Most likley Google won’t do it the way the carriers are doing it. And I for one hope they go for it.

The Mozilla Manifesto – Mozilla

In light of the CEO controversy, worth remembering what it is about Mozilla that makes it unique.

The Fifth Protocol – Startup Boy

Because no edition of Else is complete without some thinking about Bitcoin.

We Are the Builders of Tech Revolutions. Why Are They Still a Surprise? | Blog | design mind

Reading this closely, and he’s talking about what I opened with – connecting all the dots…

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Else 3.31.14: Skulls, Bitcoin, AI, Souls, and Corporate Religion

By - March 30, 2014

ieee-spectrum-technological-singularity-thumb(image) If you’re a reader of this newsletter, you’re in elite company. Each week I chose ten or so stories from the score or so that I save to Evernote, and I annotate them after about three glasses of wine on a Sunday night. I make no pretense to be Jason or Dave, instead, this is a way to remember the most important stories of the past week through the filter of “the book.” And when I say “the book,” I mean That Project That Has Haunted Me For More Than Five Years But Is Increasingly Becoming Real. In other words, if you read this newsletter (or post), you’re a true fan of my work. And for that, I am thankful.

This past week was full of gems. The New Yorker reminded us how poignant digital life can be. We struggled with the ethics of 3D printing, even as we reveled in its power to save lives. Oh, and then there’s the singularity, and protecting us from the same. An epic Facebook rant, more Bitcoin, more brain-twisters about who’s a person, alive, dead, or corporate, in our increasingly mashed up world. To the links…

The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf : The New Yorker

What happens if you die in your car, alone in your garage, and your bill pay (and some well-intentioned neighbors) keep the world thinking you’re alive? You still “exist” – and this certainly makes one think about what the word “exist” really means.

Defending the World from Evil Robots – The Information

There are thousands of high-end PhDs at Google and many other places who want to create AI capable of thinking like a human. Then there’s this small group – seven in total – worrying about what happens if it actually comes to pass. Yikes.

The yet-to-be-defined Ethics of 3D Printing of Organs — Tech Talk — Medium

What happens to religion when we can play God?

Woman’s entire cranium replaced with 3D-printed skullcap – DVICE

Never mind, we already are. And thank God for that.

Facebook Joins Google In The Hunt For The Future – TechCrunch

Or, put another way, we have more money than we need for our current business, so let’s play the odds on where it might all go.

A Breakup Letter to Facebook from Eat24

Then again, maybe the current business has a few cracks in it. OMG. Just read this. Just READ THE WHOLE THING. And tell me you don’t want to just watch this gif over, and over. And over.

The Fierce Battle for the Soul of Bitcoin- Wired.com

Long read. Worthy.

I.R.S. Says Bitcoin Should Be Considered Property, Not Currency – NYTimes.com

Short read. Topical.

What will blow our minds in the *next* 30 years? -TED Blog

Swallowing Shakespeare.

It’s Time to Grant Immunity to Edward Snowden – Esquire

Hard to disagree with the logic here. If Snowden has forced a President to change policy, he’s a whistleblower, not a traitor.

Here’s what you need to know about the Hobby Lobby case – Wapo

Are corporations “people” with “religious beliefs”? This is a VERY BIG QUESTION now before the Supreme Court. It matters, because, you know, these “people” are making…machines that ACT LIKE PEOPLE. Does your head hurt yet? Why not?!

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Else 3.24.14: “In front of us are two roads – which way are we going to go?”

By - March 24, 2014

Back in the saddle after missing a week of Else (sorry about that). The best stories from the past two weeks are below, and you’ll note a bit of TED, which ran last week, as well as a fair amount of Google, which is hard to avoid given the focus of this newsletter: If you’re going to cover “becoming data” it’s best you get used to hearing about Google.

Larry Page: Where’s Google going next? – TED

Page does not do public speaking events very often, both because of his voice condition, and because it’s just not who he is. But this TED conversation with Charlie Rose offers insights into Page’s thinking on a range of issues, in particular, on privacy, where he moved the needle, in my estimation.

Richard Ledgett: The NSA responds to Edward Snowden’s TED Talk – TED

Ledgett is the Deputy Director of the NSA. He is responding to Snowden’s much covered video conference with TED curator Chris Anderson.  It’s rare to have someone like Ledgett respond so quickly, it’s a worthy half hour, despite the predictable bromides.

Algorithms will do more and more of the thinking in the world - Gigaom

A video and short article, taking up the fact that decisioning by machines is simply winning for most complex markets, in particular finance and marketing. Featuring Quid founder and CTO Sean Gourley.

Quirky and GE cook up a smarter, prettier air conditioner  - Engadget

As I read about this “smart” AC from GE, I thought to myself  ”Huh, now Google and GE are competing (via Google’s acquisition of Nest).” Interesting.

Thinking Out Loud: Potential Information - Searchblog

In which I muddle through an idea that’s been pulling at my brainstrings for quite some time.

The Rise of Anti-Capitalism - NYT

Jeremy Rifkin is back with an essay arguing that many information-based goods are approaching the cost of “free” – raising the question of whether capitalism will continue as we know it.

How Google Does Fundamental Research Without a Separate Research Lab -  MIT Technology Review

Step one: Tie research to actual product groups. Step Two: Bring in the academics, lots of them. Step Three: Add (piles of) money.

A Missing Jet in a World Where No One Gets Lost — Daily Intelligencer

A meditation on why the lost aircraft disturbs us so – in a world where data about our every move seems ubiquitous, how can something so “large” get lost?

The era of Facebook is an anomaly - The Verge

A profile of Microsoft researcher (and teen social expert) danah boyd, whose new book It’s Complicated recently came out.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee: World wide web needs bill of rights- BBC News

“It’s time for us to make a big communal decision,” says Berners-Lee. “In front of us are two roads – which way are we going to go?”

 

 

Else 3.10.13: Satoshi, Snowden, Google, And The Meaning of it All

By - March 10, 2014

nweekbitcoincover

The past week spun with controversy and breaking news around many of our society’s most interesting conversations: The elusive founder of bitcoin was identified, or perhaps not, Edward Snowden popped up at SXSW (by video, of course) and submitted testimony to the EU, the Aereo case is on its way to the Supreme Court (and launched in Austin at SXSW, of course), and in the end, we all long for something more. To the links….

The Face Behind Bitcoin – Newsweek The week’s most sensational story, which created a backlash worthy of the story’s claim.

Google’s Game Of Moneyball In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence – ReadWrite If the future of everything is tied to how we manipuate information through algorithms, then it makes sense to get as many of the brightest minds on your team. Also from ReadWrite:  Google At SXSW: The Internet Is Accelerating Social Change On A Global Scale In which Chair Eric Schmidt and Ideas Director Jared Cohen opine on the role of technology in autocracies (uncertain it’s a positive force, this is a shift from early techno optimism, I’d warrant).

Snowden Gives Testimony To European Parliament Inquiry Into Mass Surveillance, Asks For EU Asylum – TechDirt A nice overview of Snowden’s recent written testimony to the EU Parliament. Most interesting was his documentation of how the NSA plays one European country off the other to gain access to a plurality of data in each.

The Aereo Case Isn’t About Aereo, But About The Future Of Cloud Computing And Innovation - Techdirt An interesting argument about the nature of property and media rights – much more is at stake than simply whether Aereo is in fact legal.

Strictly algorithm: how news finds people in the Facebook and Twitter age – theguardian.com How do ideas find the public in the age of inscrutable algorithms? I find myself wishing for better tools to find good news stories – I’ve been using Circa lately and met with its CEO at SXSW. It’s a promising start.

A vast hidden surveillance network runs across America, powered by the repo industry | BetaBoston If there’s a profitable way to tag something of value, it’ll get tagged. That’s the lesson behind this story on the automobile repossession industry, which most has tagged your car at some point in the past year or so.

The question big data can’t answer: why? – FierceBigData Lots of data helps us understand how and what, but people are best at figuring out why.

The Internet is ready for a new cultural shift. Discuss. - gapingvoid - Hugh senses a wave forming in the Internet seas, one that will value signal over noise. I’m all in favor, but this initial essay feels more like a plea than a formed idea; still and all, I agree.

Else 3.3.14: Is The Internet A Utility?

By - March 02, 2014

elecutilThe week was dominated by Google related stories, but the top dialog had to do with the Internet itself. I’m sensing something of a shift in society’s beliefs about the Internet’s central role in our humanity. Five years ago, no one wanted to talk about Internet access as a basic human right. In 2012, the UN called it exactly that. With access consolidating into what looks like a natural monopoly, might regulation as a utility be far behind?

Real Time (Medium) Another, denser version of previous essays asking whether it isn’t time to call the Internet a basic utility. “..the immaterial organisation of the internet has now become the most dominant force on this side of the planet...” Unfortunately, this piece is too dense. Try this one instead: The Internet Is Fucked (TechCrunch) in which the author enjoins: “Go ahead, say it out loud. The internet is a utility.There, you’ve just skipped past a quarter century of regulatory corruption and lawsuits that still rage to this day and arrived directly at the obvious conclusion.” Of course, that created a rejoinder: More? - “The Internet is an incredibly useful tool in modern society, but it isn’t essential to the basic functioning of society. Utilities are.” My take: The Internet is a basic need now for the info-organism we are all becoming. So I’m leaning toward the utility camp, I’m afraid. There’s a new book on the subject, should you be interested.

The Monuments of Tech  (NYTimes.com) A meditation, with far too photos, on the meaning of the campuses built by Google, Twitter, Apple, Facebook. Have you read The Circle yet? Read The Circle. Then read this.

Welcome to Googletown (The Verge) As long as we’re talking tech monuments, here’s a full blown deep dive into the relationship between Google and its Silicon Valley home, Mountain View. As one might expect, it’s fraught. But I’ve spent time in Mountain View before Google got there. Not that much has changed, outwardly. If Google keeps growing the way it’s planning to grow, that won’t be the case.

Are the robots about to rise? Google’s new director of engineering thinks so (The Guardian) Part of me wonders why they let Ray Kurzweil out of the building at Google. But this is worth reading in any case. Related: Kurzweil’s review of Spike Jonze’ Her. 

When quantified-self apps leave you with more questions than answers (The Daily Dot ) Something of a takedown on admittedly kludgy first generation self trackers. “I tweet a lot, but it’s mostly nonsense. I don’t have a whole lot of use for “data” about myself.” I just started using the Nike Fuelband. I’ll post plenty about that I’m sure, as the first week has proven interesting.

Can Privacy Be Saved? (The New York Review of Books) Don’t you love articles that ask questions, then fail to answer them? Me too. This is a review of various government reports and Presidential speeches arising from the Snowden revelations. The essay makes a strong case for – making a stronger case for privacy. It ends by citing Orwell, Dick, and Bradbury. It does not answer the question – which may well be the answer after all.

To Be Clear: Do Not Build Your Brand House On Land You Don’t Own (Searchblog) In case you missed it, a small reminder about the perils of building on rented land.

else 2.24: “This is how revolutions begin”

By - February 24, 2014

This week we thought about paid peering, fiber, and privacy in a lot of different contexts. As always if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

 

Inside The Netflix/Comcast Deal and What The Media Is Getting Very Wrong — Streaming Media
Dan Rayburn clarifies some of the bad reporting on the Netflix Comcast deal: “it simply comes down to Netflix making a business decision that it makes sense for them to deliver their content directly to Comcast, instead of through a third party” and adding that Comcast guarantees certain quality by an SLA.

Comcast is definitely throttling Netflix, and it’s infuriating
Matt Vukas tries to parse what’s going on with Comcast’s alleged throttling of Netflix traffic, playing around with encrypted VPN that masks the video traffic, and pinging the traceroute to see where is packets are coming from. His follow up post describes how hard it is for consumers to understand what’s going on with their internet traffic, especially when CDN peering relationships are part of the problem.

ajblum_house of cards

Exploring new cities for Google Fiber — Google Blog
Google expands its experiments in Kansas City and Austin to a few major cities including Portland and the Research Triangle area. This is certainly an interesting step forward, especially as the natural monopoly of cable internet providers expands. So how do we feel about Google controlling the pipes and the content?

In Pricey Facebook Deal for WhatsApp, Two Strong-Willed CEOs — WSJ
Real names or not, the value is in the usage metadata. But WhatsApp will continue to operate independently from Facebook.

Can Someone Explain WhatsApp’s Valuation To Me? — LinkedIn
danah boyd (whose new book on teens social media use just came out!) walks through the logic for WhatsApp’s value when most of what it’s solving for is “carrier stupidity.”

Glass, Darkly — MIT Technology Review
Another in depth review on Glass likes the possibilities, “But for many, I think, Glass faces an insurmountable problem. It’s impossible to miss.”

Whose Life is it Anyway? — Bookforum
Clive Thompson’s review of Julia Angwin (formerly of the Wall Street Journal’s What They Know Series) details the arduous process of becoming truly secure online.

Data pioneers watching us work — FT
Mining for efficiency and effectiveness gains, but it all sounds a little creepy, too. Steelcase is even putting sensors into furniture.

else 2.17: “Drag the future here and see if we want it”

By - February 17, 2014

This week looked at convergence in wearables, how we live with technology today and in the near future, and the possibility that reality is just a mathematical model. As always if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

 

The Plus in Google Plus? It’s Mostly for Google — NYTimes
Even if Plus isn’t where you spend your time, it’s the basis for a consolidated view of your activity across Google. That will  become even more important with time. “With a single Plus account, the company can build a database of your affinities.”

The Dash Builds Wearable Fitness Sensors Into The Headphones You’re Using Anyway — Techcrunch
We’re starting to see the convergence of wearable sensors with other standard purposes. These Kickstarter Bluetooth headphones also track your workout.

Apple’s hiring spree of biosensor experts continues — Network World
Lots of Apple speculation here, but it’s certainly interesting to see all the biosensor expertise in these recent hires.

When Silicon Valley Met the NSA — The Information
Key members of industry meet with the NSA under the Enduring Security Framework program.
“It’s to build a relationship so that when we’re in a state of war, we’re already going to have operational agreement of how you support us and help us.” [Pay wall]

When You Fall in Love, This Is What Facebook Sees — The Atlantic
Facebook data scientists offer insights into patterns in the days leading up to making a relationship Facebook official. What they do with those insights is another story

A review of Her by Ray Kurzweil — Kurzweil AI
Father of AI and the singularity argues that Her falls short because it pits us against technology, instead of exploring a more integrated future. “It will not be us versus the machines (whether the machines are enemies or lovers), but rather, we will enhance our own capacity by merging with our intelligent creations.”

Intel’s Sharp-Eyed Social Scientist — NYTimes
Anthropologist and social scientists at Intel  are looking into the ways we live with technologies that we already have and thinking about how emerging technologies will integrate into our daily lives. Bell notes, “I am firmly in the present…But, sometimes, I want to drag the future here and see if we want it.”

Ad Infinitum: ‘Our Mathematical Universe’ — NYTimes
Toying with the possibility “that reality itself is a mathematical structure.” “Math is so effective in describing the world, he says, because physical reality is a mathematical structure. He calls it the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (M.U.H.).” Does it follow that the world is already data?

Netflix Is Building an Artificial Brain Using Amazon’s Cloud — Wired
Recommendations algorithms aim to get even more advanced with deep learning applications.

 

else 2.10: “Information that was never designed for a human to see”

By - February 10, 2014

This week, we were thinking about data post-language, reading the tea leaves of algorithms, and wondering how to protect the first principles of the web. As always, if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

 

We’re Leaving — The Bygone BureauI like this take on the discussion of the “post-verbal” in Her as suggesting a time when data supplants language. It was a very brief moment in the movie, but I think it’s at the crux of how we will relate to our machines going forward.

Your Eyes or My Words — Joanne McNeil
In a talk she gave at Lift, Joanne McNeil explores reading the “tea leaves” guess work of understanding algorithms. “Sometimes the information was surprising and made you wonder why that person spends so much time thinking of you. This is information that was never designed for a human to see.”

You Can Now Edit Your Cheesy Facebook “Look Back” Video — Slate
Facebook’s look back videos were poignant and nostalgic, but sometimes the algorithms were missing the mark, so it exposed the ability to edit. This is what happens when we let algorithms tell our stories for us.

How Facebook Has Changed in 10 Years — Courtesy of an Ex-Employee —Re/code
There were plenty of retrospectives celebrating Facebook last week, but this insight from a former employee exploring the “capital-R rules” shows exactly how much the normative rules of a system evolve in the span of ten short years. “No, you can’t let moms join Facebook because Facebook is for students.” to “No, you can’t allow anonymity because Facebook is built on real identity.”

Attempting to Code the Human Brain — WSJ.com
Facebook-backed Vicarious is teaching algorithms to imagine the shape of cows. “If you invent artificial intelligence, that’s the last invention you’ll ever have to invent.”

As Technology Gets Better, Will Society Get Worse? — The New Yorker
Tim Wu questions what “progress” means if it results in comforts that eventually kill us.

Tim Berners-Lee: we need to re-decentralise the web — Wired UK
Post-NSA, TBL warns against localized internet: “I want a web that’s open, works internationally, works as well as possible and is not nation-based.”

#recap: Defending an Unowned Internet — Cyborgology
Whitney Erin Boesel posted a nice recap of this Berkman talk discussing the consolidation of most of the web into corporate ownership (ex AWS). Video from the conversation is here in full.

else 2.4: “Seeing ourselves as bits and bytes”

By - February 04, 2014

faceprintThis week, lots of talk of data ethics and infopolitics. As always, if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

Google Beat Facebook for DeepMind, Creates Ethics Board — The Information
DeepMind acquisition terms required that Google establish an artificial intelligence ethics board.

When No One Is Just a Face in the Crowd — NYTimes
Whether tracking potential shoplifters or big spenders, commercial facial recognition in the physical world using “Faceprints” is becoming a reality.

When Big Data Marketing Becomes Stalking — Scientific American
Kate Crawford argues for data broker ethics to address the current power imbalance.

The Age of ‘Infopolitics’ — NYTimes
Philosopher Colin Koopman contends that we are becoming “informational persons,” and thus we need an “infopolitics” to address the power structures that travel with data. “We understandably do not want to see ourselves as bits and bytes. But unless we begin conceptualizing ourselves in this way, we leave it to others to do it for us.”

For the NSA, espionage was a means to strengthen the US position in climate negotiations — Information
Fascinating insight into how NSA spying shaped global politics.

Tech Giants, Telcos Get OK to Release Stats on NSA Spying — Wired
Tech companies are allowed to disclose FISA orders. While the disclosing in ranges is still obscure, its a step towards surveillance reform.

Out in the Open: Teenage Hacker Transforms Web Into One Giant Bitcoin Network — Wired
Ethereum is exploring how cryptocurrency protocols and architectures could serve as a model for other parts of the internet.

Google Glass to Be Covered by Vision Care Insurer VSP — NYTimes
VSP insurance provider is now covering Google Glass, which is also getting a design refresh to be more prescription friendly, but it’s really only reimbursing the lenses, not the hardware. There’s also talk of encouraging personalization with accessories. I still want my Warby Parker model, though.

Apple Hires Chief Medical Officer From Pulse Oximetry Company Masimo, Possibly for iWatch Team — MacRumors
Recent hires in the health informatics space suggest Apple might be integrating wearables into whatever smart watch efforts they are working on.

else 1.27: “Humans are pretty good at deceiving themselves”

By - January 27, 2014

This week we read about reverse engineering algorithms for dates, anticipatory algorithms, and more social weirdness with Google Glass. As always, if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

Gartner Says by 2017, Mobile Users Will Provide Personalized Data Streams to More Than 100 Apps and Services Every Day — Gartner
Gartner offers some estimates on apps, wearables, internet of things, and other interfaces that are becoming data.

OfficeMax Blames Data Broker For ‘Daughter Killed in Car Crash’ Letter — Forbes
The extent of data brokers’ overreach into the sensitive details of our personal lives is revealed in uncanny misfires such as this.

Amazon Wants to Ship Your Package Before You Buy It — WSJ
Patents for “anticipatory shipping” reveals how Amazon could use data from “previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping-cart contents, returns and even how long an Internet user’s cursor hovers over an item” to get things where you want them, even before you click “buy.”

How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love — Wired
An interesting profile of McKinlay who reverse engineered his OkCupid profile to make himself optimally appealing to more women. Still, there’s no mention about how we might expect the system to bias imperfect matches to keep us coming back for more…

How Real is Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’? Artificial Intelligence Experts Weigh In — WSJ
Stephen Wolfram and others pick apart the details of Her. Also, speaking of Her, Jonah Hill on SNL did an amazing spoof where the he falls in love with the OS that mirrors himself. (It’s kind of how I imagined Her anyway, as this perfectly suited algorithmic “other.”) Watch it.

Exclusive: Google to Buy Artificial Intelligence Startup DeepMind for $400M — Re/code
And the investments in deep learning continue…

Protesters show up at the doorstep of Google self-driving car engineer — Arstechnica
Protest go beyond the obscure targeting buses to targeting specific Google employees who are “Building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation.”

Google Pushes Back Against Data Localization — New York Times
Companies are starting to offer data storage differentiation, post-Snowden revelations, but some argue this isn’t really solving the problem (the data still has to travel).

CONFIRMED: Man Interrogated By FBI For Wearing Prescription Google Glass At The Movies —Business Insider
It’s a wild story, but a good example of how we’re all learning to adjust to new technologies that we don’t yet fully understand.

Sex With Glass lets users swap position suggestions and films their whole romantic interlude. — PSFK
There’s so much going on here. Embodying the other’s gaze, and yet somehow it’s still a male-focused command. Also, how am I not surprised that this exists?