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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.

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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?

else 1.20: “The future is much simpler than you think.”

By - January 20, 2014

This week we thought about the data in our homes, connecting the Internet of Things, and what’s next for the openness of the internet. 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!

 

Nest thermostat acquisition is Google’s home invasion — New Scientist
Google’s $3.2B acquisition of Nest is all about staking a claim as the data interface into the home.

Why Her Will Dominate UI Design Even More Than Minority Report — Wired
Downplaying the dominance of screens and interfaces in the “slight future.” Also – Her was great for a lot of other reason that resonated with the themes we’ve been mulling over. Highly recommended!

Theodore, and the disappearing interface of the “slight future.”

Internet of Things: The “Basket of Remotes” Problem — Monday Note
But to get to that “slight future” vision of seamless interactions with technology, we need to do a lot of work to integrate interfaces so that they begin to talk together, fixing the “Basket of Remotes” problem.

This group just created a address book for the internet of things — GigaOM
The Wireless Registry is trying to become the DNS or addressing system for connected devices. I, for one, am excited by the prospect of sending out a bat signal that declares my food allergies in a restaurant.

The internet of bees could save our food supply — Quartz
RFID sensors allow Australian scientists to study bees’ routine movements for clues to identify causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.

Back to the Digital Drawing Board — New York Times
Susan Crawford suggests that all is not lost with the latest net neutrality ruling—instead this is a chance to more clearly define internet service as a “common carriage.”

Eagle Scout. Idealist. Drug Trafficker? — New York Times
The Times has an in-depth profile on the man allegedly behind the Silk Road and a closer look at the libertarian ideals behind his vision for internet commerce.

Big Data + Big Pharma = Big Money — ProPublica
A closer look at the data markets for prescription habits and preferences shows us what is at stake with these kinds of emerging information asymmetries.

else 1.13: “Keep the instrument in its place”

By - January 13, 2014

This week, we look at more applications machine learning, new wearables from CES, and some visions for the coming year. 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!

How Google Cracked House Number Identification in Street View  — MIT Technology Review
Interesting details into the development of the neural network  that’s helping to identify distorted street numbers picked up by Street View images.

Pinterest, Yahoo, Dropbox and the (kind of) quiet content-as-data revolution — GigaOM
A nice rundown of the acquisitions that point to movement in machine learning and parsing of text and image content for consumer social platforms.

Sony’s new Core fitness tracker will be the ‘heart’ of its wearable experience (hands-on) — The Verge
Among the many wearables featured at CES, Sony is experimenting by drawing together activity trackers and life loggers, combining self-quantification and journaling features into one consolidated device and application combo.

This Clear, Flexible Electronic Circuit Can Fit on the Surface of a Contact Lens — Smithsonian Magazine
Flexible, printed circuits “one-sixtieth as thick as a human hair” are are the near-future of wearable sensors.

Bitcoin’s Incredible Year — Forbes
Kashmir Hill offers a thorough overview of the last year in bitcoin, which started in January valued at $13.50.

Portraits From Clips and Bytes – NYTimes
Interesting profile of data artist R. Luke DuBois who uses “technology to expose something about a subject that is not normally visible.”

Where Do We Go From Here? 8 Hypotheses About Tech in 2014 — The Atlantic
Alexis Madrigal has a nice take on the technoanxiety of the last year that has left us all a little skeptical and jaded. Happily, there are a lot of overlaps with where we have been focusing our attentions for the book.

Big Data and Its Exclusions — Stanford Law Review
Big data isn’t just about the privacy risks of inclusion by capturing data. This paper looks at who is excluded from an emerging data-driven ecosystem, and suggests a way to reconcile the data haves and have-nots with a “data antisubordination” doctrine.

Machine envy — Aeon
A nice history of science case for continued hypothesis-driven science, and the instruments that support it in an age of Big Data correlation.

Please enjoy this video of dancing drones — Engadget
Just for fun, watch this video of drones dancing like some retro-futuristic mash up of Daft Punk and Busby Berkeley.

else 1.6: “Ghosts in the machine”

By - January 06, 2014

Back from the holiday break, we look at data’s influence on culture; glass, both as a material for transmitting bits, and as a wearable interface; and the (im)permanence of data.

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!

 

How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood — The Atlantic
Alexis Madrigal and Ian Bogost do a little datamining to uncover the grammar of Netflix: 76,897 combinations of overly specific genres to tailor to every taste. It’s a great story of data journalism, and of the emerging influence of data on our culture. And they even built a generator from the data, which offered me “Hitman Coming of Age Stories.” Read through for the Perry Mason puzzle at the end: “The more complexity you add to a machine world, you’re adding serendipity that you couldn’t imagine. Perry Mason is going to happen. These ghosts in the machine are always going to be a by-product of the complexity. And sometimes we call it a bug and sometimes we call it a feature.”

netflix the atlantic

Data Broker Was Selling Lists Of Rape Victims, Alcoholics, and ‘Erectile Dysfunction Sufferers’ — Forbes
If you’re in the camp that says “what’s the worst that could happen if brokers are selling your data for advertising,” this list of vulnerable categorizations could change your mind.

The Postmodernity of Big Data — The New Inquiry
Getting a little heavy on the theory, but this is a nice start tying together big data, postmodernism and skepticism.

Kanye West Now Has His Own Cryptocurrency and It’s Called Coinye West — TIME
Amid the Bitcoin hype, new currencies like Coinye West and Dogecoin are cropping up, testing out the fundamentals of the cryptocurrency model.

The spread of glass — Benedict Evans
A concise and interesting metric about the spread of glass as the transit for our bits: “It’s all just glass with a data connection.”

I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass — Wired.com
Some interesting observations from a guy who wore Glass for an entire year – namely that he grew to really hate having to look at his smartphone. As for me, I’m compiling a list of all the places I consider briefly but decide not to wear Glass out.

One code to rule them all: How big data could help the 1 percent and hurt the little guy — Salon
This offers a nice discussion of the tension between algorithmic regulation (that is, putting regulation into programmable machines, such as Youtube DMCA takedowns) and the problem of regulating the algorithms themselves.

Do We Want an Erasable Internet? — WSJ.com
Do we assume the permanence of data, or not? This discusses the differences between a “forever internet” versus “erasable internet.”

Target confirms breach: 40 million accounts affected — ZDNet
This story got a lot of coverage over the holidays, but the most interesting thing here is that Target apparently stored CVV codes, which shows that if the data can be stored it will be stored, even if it’s not supposed to be.

Hyping Artificial Intelligence, Yet Again — The New Yorker
John Markoff’s front page discussion of deep learning seemed a little vague and hype-y to us,  though we’ve been paying close attention to latest AI surge, too. The New Yorker offers a little historical context.

We need to talk about TED — Benjamin Bratton
Criticism of TED talks oversimplification of complex issues and memification of ideas isn’t new, but it has never taken the form of TED talk before… #meta.

Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower — The New York Times
The New York Times editorial board came out in support of classifying Edward Snowden as a whistle-blower (as opposed to a traitor) and calls for clemency. We tend to agree.