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else 10.14: “Drones don’t feel” – But the people who see them do.

By - October 14, 2013

Between OpenCo, the Quantified Self conference, and our visit to Google, it was a busy week for the book. From around the web: drones get the critical treatment, sensors develop new capabilities, the internet of things gets more connected, and our twitter streams start speaking for themselves.

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.

Granny peace brigade anti-drone protesters at #droneconf via kimgittleson Instagram

At Drone Conference, Talk of Morals and Toys – NYTimes
Hobbyists and ethicists came together in New York to talk drones this weekend. The lineup ranged from aerial demos to policy debates.

The Latest Smartphones Could Turn Us All Into Activity Trackers – Wired
The M7 coprocessor in the new iPhone 5S brings low-battery consumption activity tracking to the masses, turning the device in your pocket into a tracker. But does that mean we’re all quantified selves when we as a cost of using smart phones?

MIT’s ‘Kinect of the future’ looks through walls with X-ray like vision – IT World
Simply using the reflections off the human body, this tool can pinpoint a body’s location within ten centimeters. Through a wall.

G.E.’s ‘Industrial Internet’ Goes Big – NYTimes
A big announcement plants more sensors in more places, with the promise of optimizing industries with more data.

Free Software Ties the Internet of Things Together – MIT Technology Review
OpenRemote offers the connections between smart devices, making it easier and cheap to manage a smart home.

Enough with the Trolley problem, already – Brad Ideas
After our ride in the self-driving car at Google last week, we’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics stories that get told. Brad Templeton is tired of the same, played out hypothetical.

A Twitter Account After One’s Own Tweets – The New Yorker
Twitter bots live on after @horse_ebooks with @tofu_product, an account that mimics the “flavor” of your own tweets.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: A Long Time Coming – YouTube
From Dick Tracy to the Power Rangers, Samsung’s ad for the Gear smart watch brings back our retro-futuristic nostalgia for calling base from our wrists.

 

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Google Now: The Tip of A Very Long Spear

By - October 09, 2013

Yesterday my co-author and I traveled down to Google, a journey that for me has become something of a ritual. We met with the comms team for Google X, tested Google Glass, and took a spin in a self-driving car. And while those projects are fascinating and worthy of their own posts (or even chapters in the book), the most interesting meeting we had was with Johanna Wright, VP on the Android team responsible for Google Now.

Some of you might respond – “Google what?!” – and that’d be normal. Google Now is one of those products that to many users doesn’t seem like a product at all. It is instead the experience one has when you use the Google Search application on your Android or iPhone device (it’s consistently a top free app on the iTunes charts). You probably know it as Google search, but it’s far, far more than that. It’s the tip of a very important spear for Google, and if you study its architecture, all manner of interesting questions and insights can be found about where Google – and the Internet – may be headed.

When you fire up the Google search application on your phone, Google Now is all the bits that are not the familiar search bar. Here’s a screen shot of my Google Now “home page”:

gnow

As you can see, the search bar, which in a PC format is usually the *only* thing one sees, is most certainly not the main event. Certainly it’s at the top, and voice search is prominently featured (I could write 1,000 words just on voice search…another time, perhaps). But, the screen is dominated by “cards” of information – in this case a reminder of a call I have coming up (Google Now integrates with my calendar and contacts), as well as information about my drive home (Google Now knows I usually drive home in the afternoon). If I were to scroll down, more “cards” of information are shown, including local weather, points of interest, and sports scores (when the SF Giants were playing this past summer, I’d see scores – because Google Now knew I searched for “SF Giants scores” a lot).

These cards are extremely important to understanding where Google is heading with not only search, but with all of its various services (the card interface is now incorporated into Google’s “knowledge graph” search results, Google+, Gmail, and Google Maps, among many others). First, the cards “know” things about me – most critically my location, but also my search history, my calendar and contacts, my browsing history, key links in my Gmail, and more. They show up based on what interests and needs that Google believes will be most important to me. In essence, they are very tangible expressions of Google’s pivot from being a company that answers search queries, to being a company that anticipates your most important questions in real time, and answers them before you ask.

This, of course, has been the holy grail of tech  for some time – predating Google and even Microsoft. But now that rich data streams course constantly through the silicon veins of a very personal mobile device, that long-held vision is becoming reality.

In short, Now is Google’s attempt at becoming the real time interface to our lives – moving well beyond the siloed confines of “search” and into the far more ambitious world of “experience.” As in – every experience one has could well be lit by data delivered through Google Now.

Google knows that this moment – the moment of our lives becoming data – is happening now, and the company is very, very focused on seizing it.

If you doubt my hyperbole, I’d not be surprised, but I tend to test such hyperbole on multiple senior sources working deeply inside Google. To each I posited this question: “Is Google Now one of the most important products  at Google today?” Each answered emphatically yes.

To see why, consider this message, which popped up on my screen as I was preparing to write this post:

share daily commute

This is Google, asking me if I’d like to let selected people know where I am, in real time, during my daily commute. Of course, I can only share that status with people who are also Google+ users (no option to share on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc) – and that’s my point. First, questions like these are habituating us to the idea of sharing intimate information about ourselves with others, in real time. Second, a feature like this is *only* available to Google Now because of its integration with Google+ – one platform is reinforcing the other. Will Google let others play in this sandbox? Such a feature raises a very important question about what kind of world we want to live in – a world dominated by tightly integrated vertical platforms, or a world, as David Weinberger elegantly stated it, made up of small pieces loosely joined?

It was this question that weighed on my mind as I sat down with Johanna Wright yesterday. Since introducing Google Now (and the extremely related Google Knowledge Graph), the company has introduced more than 40 cards – cards for hotels, car rentals, and other travel information (like boarding passes), cards for movies, events, music and local businesses, cards tracking your activity (like walking, biking, etc.), and cards for nearby restaurants. There’s even a card that listens to your TV and tells you what music is playing.

Sound familiar? It should, because, to put it in words we can all understand: There’s an app for that. Or rather, there are apps for each of those. Let me list just a few of them, in order what what I laid out above: Hotel Tonight, Expedia, Lyft, Sidecar, Travelocity; Fandango, NetFlix, Hulu, iTunes, Spotify, Eventful, Yelp, Foursquare; Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Fuelband, Human; OpenTable, Urban Spoon; Shazam.

Google Now supplants the need to open an app by surfacing cards – cards that magically turn into just the information you need, when you need it – *without having to go to an app to get it.*

You following where this is going? Google is potentially disrupting the app world much the way its Universal Search disrupted major web properties  - taking the most valuable service or information, and surfacing it up for free. You may recall that universal search was quite controversial when it came out, because it appeared to favor surfacing Google-owned properties, such as YouTube, Finance, and Maps, over other web properties. Now, six years later, Universal search is, well universal, and that debate, which included an FTC investigation,  is over. Google properties won.

It’s worth noting that a key product manager for Universal Search was Johanna Wright, now the VP over Google Now. With all this in mind, I asked Wright about Google’s plans for Now: Would it be an open platform, where third parties can compete to be surfaced based on merit, or would favored services win out? And would various commercial products and services be able to pay to get integrated into Now’s suggestions and services?

Wright was understandably careful with her words when approaching this question. She declined to talk about monetization and business models for Now, but she did note that Google’s overall philosophy was one that favored the open web. The key, she said, was that Google get the user experience for Now right. The business model will come later (though she did note that Google Offers was already integrated into Now).

While Wright deferred comment on Now’s business model, I have no doubts there are plenty of folks inside Google thinking long and hard about the next steps the company will take to monetize Wright’s work. For now (no pun intended), Google Now is, in the main, a closed platform – surfacing only information that Google has deemed worthy of being surfaced, and integrating on a selective basis with only those services that Google believes will add value its consumers  (Google’s restaurant card, for example, integrates with OpenTable). Just as it did with search, Google is angling to control a key moment of a person’s daily life and attention – the point at which we lift our phone up to receive new information. When and if Google Now become ubiquitous, I can certainly imagine that the question of access and fairness will once again be raised. This movie, it seems, is fated to play out once again.

else 10.7: A Dread Pirate Gives Up His Bitcoins

By - October 06, 2013

Anonymity on the web becomes increasingly fractious as Tor and Bitcoin come into question with recent headline-grabbing stories. A quick scan of this weekend’s NYTimes reveals three big articles on the novel ways our digital histories stay with us. Clearly, our story has come to the fore.

This week, we’re also looking forward this coming week’s OpenCo and the Quantified Self global conference, both in San Francisco. 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.

The Dread Pirate Roberts, AKA Ross William Ulbricht, may suffer from the seedy reputation of the Silk Road, but as goes Silk Road, so go more legitimate uses of online anonymity.

FBI’s Case Against Silk Road Boss Is A Fascinating Read – Techdirt
The capture and revelation of dramatic details of the Ulbricht’s Silk Road drug trafficking website has called into question both legitimate and seedy uses of anonymous technologies like Tor and Bitcoin. NSA and GCHQ target Tor network that protects anonymity of web users – The Guardian
Tor, a routing system that masks traffic through a network of relaying nodes, isn’t safe from government spying. The latest Guardian NSA piece describes measures designed to peel ‘back the layers of Tor with EgotisticalGiraffe.’

How a Purse Snatching Led to the Legal Justification for NSA Domestic Spying – Wired
The unlikely story behind the precedent for monitoring metadata with a “pen register” illustrates how our technical systems outpace or legal means for dealing with them.

When Meta Met Data – NYTimes
There was a time when “meta” meant something self-referential and funny. This is a thoughtful take on cultural shifts as we begin to understand what our metadata says about us.

Rage Against the Algorithms - The Atlantic
“Algorithms, driven by vast troves of data, are the new power brokers in society, both in the corporate world as well as in government.” Makes the case for journalists and others to reverse-engineer these black boxes to better understand how they work and to develop algorithmic accountability.

Selling Secrets of Phone Users to Advertisers – NYTimes
Getting beyond cookies to bridge ad experiences across all connected devices, from desktop to tablet to phone.

Mugged by a Mug Shot Online – NYTimes
The business of reputation management is lucrative for these exploitative sites with high SEO ranking that bring up mugshots, long after you’ve been cleared.

Deciding Who Sees Students’ Data  – NYTimes
Systems for managing and tracking students’ progress offer great potential in personalizing education, but we’re still figuring out where more student data is appropriately applied and used.

Living with Data: Personal Data Uses of the Quantified Self - Sara M. Watson
I posted my thesis on the Quantified Self in full for those interested: “As Big Data becomes standard practice and more sensors enter into our homes, cars,devices, and bodies, data proliferates. This will happen whether or not we are actively engaged in the creation and uses of data. As such, we are all becoming quantified selves. We have a responsibility in this emerging data environment to recognize and engage with this fact. If we ignore this reality, we risk losing our agency.”

else 9.30: The “Monkeys with Typewriter” Algorithm

By - September 30, 2013

This week, the blind see with data, algorithms are uncovered, networks are analyzed, and data remains siloed. 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.

Disruptions: Visually Impaired Turn to Smartphones to See Their World – NYTimes
Assistive technologies in smart phones help the blind read the world as data.

Eulogy for a Horse – Dan Sinker
Susan Orlean broke that the @horse_ebooks twitter account that tweeted seemingly random selections from books is not a bot, but performance art. The internet got up in arms about the revelation, mostly because it disrupted our desire to believe that there was beauty in algorithms and randomness. Dan Sinker (of @MayorEmanuel parody twitter account fame) offers some final thoughts for his “monkey Shakespeare.”

Goodbye, dear programmatic poet. We believed in you.

Google Alters Search to Handle More Complex Queries – NYTimes
Search gets semantic as Google quietly replaces keyword based search algorithms with Hummingbird, which understands context.

Facebook Launches Advanced AI Effort to Find Meaning in Your Posts – MIT Technology Review
Facebook introduces “deep learning,” or more advanced machine learning and AI, to uncover more meaning in all our data.

N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens – NYTimes
As we might have expected, the NSA is conducting social network analysis or “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata.” Immersion is still a great tool for visualizing and understanding what your own metadata social graph looks like.

NSA Internet Spying Sparks Race to Create Offshore Havens for Data Privacy – WSJ.com
As trust in US-based internet companies falters, international alternatives jump at the opportunity and compete on local law.

The Extremely Quantified Self: Meet Rachel Kalmar, Who Wears 21 Fitness Trackers at the Same Time (Video) – AllThingsD
Kalmar suggests that even as she collects so much data, it’s all locked up in proprietary silos. This is a recurring theme in the world of personal data that I’ll explore further in a breakout session at the upcoming Quantified Self conference.

From Anonymous to Bitcoin, The Good Wife Is the Most Tech-Savvy Show on TV – Wired Opinion
Clive Thompson shares his enthusiasm for responsible and nuanced depictions of technology in fiction as they shape the way we see the world. Adding The Good Wife to the Netflix queue…

else 9.23: From “Pulp to Prototype” and Other Good Reads

By - September 22, 2013

This week we’ve been thinking a lot about driverless cars and related data-driven innovations in transportation. (We even saw one up close this week at Google Zeitgeist.) We looked at Google’s newest effort to extend life with data in its new company, Calico. We thought about the relationship between science fiction and technological development, and we’re excited about a new crop of literary takes on tech industry.

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.

 

How a self-driving car sees the world, Popsci.

Inside Google’s Quest To Popularize Self-Driving Cars – Popular Science
A long-read look at the current state of Google’s driverless car program.

Tesla’s Elon Musk says self-driving cars will be produced by 2016 – Daily Mail
Will healthy competition drive innovation? Tesla throws down the gauntlet with a tighter timeline to put driverless cars on the road.

A Self-Driving Crash Test – Stanford Center for Internet and Society
Bryant Walker Smith poses an interesting hypothetical for tackling fuzzy questions about liability in driverless car accidents.

California finally legalizes Lyft, SideCar, and other rideshare app firms – Ars Technica
California Public Utilities Commission legitimizes ridesharing, setting standards requiring background checks, driver training, and insurance coverage, so expect to see more pink mustashes on the road.

TIME Talks to Google CEO Larry Page About Its New Venture to Extend Human Life – TIME
Google’s Calico aims to use data to extend human life. John was reminded of the end of The Search on Google and the question of immortality.

Digital Advertising Alliance Exits Do Not Track Group – Adweek
Might this be the end of Do Not Track efforts? Multistakeholderism is at an impasse.

Science Fiction shapes the way we think about technology.

Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science Fiction – The Atlantic
An MIT Media Lab course “Science Fiction to Science Fabrication” aims to connect visions for the near future with the makers and builders realizing our technological future. “Reading science fiction is like an ethics class for inventors.”

Project Hieroglyph – Future Tense
This podcast introduces a center for connecting writers and scientists in an effort to inspire science fiction with a more optimistic take.

The Deepest of Webs – Faz
Evgeny Morozov reviews Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, which came out this week. It takes place in the tech scene in New York in the period between the dot com bust and before 9/11.

Dave Eggers’s ‘The Circle’ Takes Vengeance on Google, Facebook – Wall Street Journal
Egger’s new novel tackles the tech giants head on.

Did Dave Eggers ‘Rewrite’ Kate Losse’s Book? – The Atlantic Wire
Truth is stranger than fiction it seems, because Eggers new book sounds a lot like Kate Losse‘s The Boy Kings, based on her experience as employee number 51 at Facebook. Guess we’ll have to read both now.

Search and Immortality

By - September 19, 2013

google.cover.inddFunny thing, there I was two days ago, at Google’s annual conference, watching Larry Page get asked questions so pliant in nature they couldn’t be called softballs. They were more like tee balls – little round interrogatives gingerly placed on a plastic column for Page to swat out into the crowd. Not that we would expect anything else – to be clear, this is Google’s event, and I see nothing wrong with Google scripting its own event. I had moderated the final session of the day, but Larry was the final speaker. Perhaps wisely, Google brought  someone else on to “grill” Page – those were his words as the interview started. (You be the judge –  a sample question: “What are your thoughts about tablets in schools?”)

Anyway, I was certainly not the right choice to talk to Larry. I know the folks at Google well, and have tons of respect for them. We both know I would have insisted on asking about a few things that were, well, in the news at the moment of that interview on Tuesday. Like, for example, the fact that Google, on the very next day, was going to announce the launch of Calico, a company seeking to solve that “moonshot” problem of aging. Oh, and by the way, current Apple Chair and former Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson was going to be CEO, reporting to Page. Seems like pretty interesting news, no? And yet, Larry kept mum about it during the interview. Wow. That’s some serious self control.

And yet I think I understand – each story has its own narrative, and this one needed room to breathe. You don’t want to break it inside an air-conditioned ballroom in front of your most important clients. You want to make sure it gets on the cover of Time (which it did), and that the news gets at least a few days to play through the media’s often tortured hype cycle. It’s grinding its way through that cycle now, and I’m sure we’ll see comparisons to everything from Kurzweil (who now works at Google) to Bladerunner, and beyond.

But what I was reminded of was the very end of my book on search, some 8 years ago. I was trying to put the meaning of search into context, and I found myself returning again and again to the concept of immortality.  This was my epilogue, which I offer here as perhaps some context for Google’s announcement this week:

“Search and Immortality”

On a fine sunny morning in 2003, not long after the birth of my third and most likely final child, I typed “immortality” into Google and hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button. I can’t explain why I turned to a search engine for metaphysical comfort, but I sensed the search might lead me somewhere—here I was writing a book about search, but what did it matter, really, in the larger scheme of things?

In an instant, Google took me to the Immortality Institute, an organization dedicated to “conquering the blight of involuntary death.”

Not quite what I was looking for. So I hit the search again, but this time I took a look at the first ten results, etched in blue, green, and black against Google’s eternal white.

Nothing really caught my eye. Cryonics stuff, a business called Immortality Inc., pretty much what you might expect. I couldn’t put what I was looking for into words, but I knew this wasn’t it.

Then I noticed the advertising relegated to the right side of the screen. There were four ads, each no more than three lines of text. The first was someone who claimed to have met immortal ETs. Pass. The third and fourth were from eBay and Yahoo Shopping. These megasites had purchased the immortality keyword in some odd and obliquely interesting hope that people searching for immortality might well find relief through . . . buying shit online. (In fact, what Yahoo and eBay were doing was the equivalent of search arbitrage— buying top positions for a search term on Google and then creating a link to the exact same search term on their own sites, in the hope of capturing high-value customers).

Interesting, but I wasn’t looking to buy the concept of immortality; I wanted to understand it. I took a pass on those as well. But the second paid link pointed to the epic Gilgamesh, which I hazily recalled as the first story ever written down—in Sumerian cuneiform, if memory served. I clicked on the link, earning Google a few pennies in the process, and landed on an obscure bookseller’s page. The epic of Gilgamesh, the site instructed me, recounts mankind’s “longing stretch toward the infinite” and its “reluctant embrace of the temporal. This is the eternal lot of mankind.”

Bingo. I didn’t quite know why, but this was the stuff I was looking for. My vague desire to understand the concept of immortality had brought me to the epic of Gilgamesh, and now I was hooked. My search was bearing fruit. But I didn’t want to buy a book and wait for it to come. I was in the moment of discovery, the heat of possible consummation. I wanted to read that epic, right now.1 So I typed the title itself into Google, and once again found myself larded with options.

But this time the organic results (the search results in the middle of a Google page, as opposed to the ads on the right) nailed it: the first two offered direct translations of the stone tablets upon which the epic is written. Clicking on the first link, I found a Washington State University professor’s summary of the Gilgamesh story. It read:

Gilgamesh was an historical king of Uruk in Babylonia, on the River Euphrates in modern Iraq; he lived about 2700 b.c. Although historians . . . tend to emphasize Hammurabi and his code of law, the civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates area, among the first civilizations, focus rather on  Gilgamesh and the legends accruing around him to explain, as it were, themselves. Many stories and myths were written about Gilgamesh, some of which were written down about 2000 b.c. in the Sumerian language on clay tablets which still survive . . . written in the script known as cuneiform, which means “wedge-shaped.” The fullest surviving version, from which the summary here is taken, is derived from twelve stone tablets . . . found in the ruins of the library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, 669–633 b.c., at Nineveh. The library was destroyed by the Persians in 612 b.c., and all the tablets are damaged. The tablets actually name an author, which is extremely rare in the ancient world, for this particular version of the story: Shin-eqi-unninni. You are being introduced here to the oldest known human author we can name by name!

In my search for immortality, I had found the oldest known named author in the history of Western civilization. Thanks to the speed, vastness, and evanescent power of Google, I came to know his name and his work within thirty seconds of proffering a vaguely worded query. This man, Shin-eqi-unninni, now lived in my own mind. Through his writings, with an assist from Google and a university professor, he had, in a sense, become immortal.

But wait! There’smore. Gilgamesh’s story is one of man’s struggle with the concept of immortality, and the story itself was nearly lost in an act of literary vandalism—the destruction of a great king’s library. As I contemplated all of this, sensing that, just possibly, I had found a way to explain why search was so important to our culture.

I read the first tablet’s opening lines:

The one who saw all (Sha nagba imuru) I will declare to the world, The one who knew all I will tell about [line missing] He saw the great Mystery, he knew the Hidden: He recovered the knowledge of all the times before the Flood. He journeyed beyond the distant, he journeyed beyond exhaustion, And then carved his story on stone.

What does it mean, I wondered, to become immortal through words pressed in clay—or, as was the case here, through words formed in bits and transferred over the Web? Is that not what every person longs for—what Odysseus chose over Kalypso’s nameless immortality— to die, but to be known forever? And does not search offer the same immortal imprint: is not existing forever in the indexes of Google and others the modern-day equivalent of carving our stories into stone? For anyone who has ever written his own name into a search box and anxiously awaited the results, I believe the answer is yes.

Something to think about, anyway. Good luck, Mr. Levinson and Mr. Page. I’m cheering you on, even if I can’t quite explain why. Maybe it’s that missing line from Gilgamesh we’re all trying to find….

*Hat tip to one of my editors Bill Brazell, for pinging me as I was writing this about this very news.

else 9.16: Start Making Sense

By - September 16, 2013

This week, we’re excited about what the new M7 sensors mean for iPhone activity tracking, we’re thinking about how to rebuild trust in the internet and tech companies post-Snowden, and we’re listening to some music that plays with the boundaries between analog and digital. 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.

Apple’s M7 Motion Sensing Coprocessor Is The Wizard Behind The Curtain For The iPhone 5s – TechCrunch
One of the most interesting new features of the iPhone 5S is the M7 sensors that bring fitness tracking to the devices we already carry in our pockets, making it easier for us to all become quantified selves without having to remember to wear our Fitbits or Jawbones.

M7 motion coprocessor will make tracking walking, running, or even driving more efficient.

This bracelet could replace your passwords, your car keys, and even your fingerprints – The Verge
Using ECG as a unique biomarker, the Nymi might introduce new ways of using our physical attributes as digital identifiers.

E-ZPasses Get Read All Over New York (Not Just At Toll Booths) – Forbes
A hacked E-ZPass reveals other checkpoints where it is surreptitiously read on the road. Must we assume that if a sensor is present, it will be read?

Video: Google Finally Explains the Tech Behind Their Autonomous Cars – PopSci
It’s a little old, but it’s a great walk through of what’s going on with driverless cars. We’re especially intrigued by the programmed signaling that goes on at four-way intersection.

Government Announces Steps to Restore Confidence on Encryption Standards – NYTimes
NIST needs to restore trust after it was revealed that the NSA is able to break encryption standards.

CloudFlare CEO: ‘Insane’ NSA gag order is costing U.S. tech firms customers – Washington Post
Customers demand greater transparency, but there are barriers to disclosing data requests details that explain tech companies’ interactions with the NSA.

Government Secrecy and the Generation Gap – FT
Bruce Schneier writes that the culture of loyalty and secrecy that intelligence agencies relies on is breaking down with generational differences. Expect more whistleblowers.

Dawn of Midi – Radiolab
This Radiolab short features Dawn of Midi, a band that plays with the boundaries between acoustic and electronic music production. We’ve gone from analog to digital and back again. Worth a listen for the music, and for the description of the process we’re going through as our tools expand our understanding of what we might be capable.

else 9.9: We Got Yer Star Trek Right Here

By - September 09, 2013

This week in our round up we look at near-future advances in body scanners, self-driving sensors, and robots. We also read about what happens next as the internet’s fundamental trust architecture is on shaky grounds with the latest NSA revelations.

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.

Holy Spock! The Star Trek Medical Tricorder Is Real, And It’s Only $150Gizmodo
The stuff of science fiction eventually inspires real technology. The SCOUT body scanner reads “your pulse transit time, heart rate, electrical heart activity, temperature, heart rate variability and blood oxygenation” in less than ten seconds.

Self-driving cars will bristle with sensorsCNET
There are a lot of layers of data that allow the driverless cars to “see” and navigate the world around them. Part of an ongoing series on the topic.

Bosch lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors turning the world around the driverless car into data.

Robots: Is the uncanny valley real?BBC
Is the threshold for “creepiness” shifting as we become more familiar with our new robot friends?

The US government has betrayed the internet. We need to take it backThe Guardian
Now that the trust infrastructure of the internet has been called into question, Bruce Schneier rallies technologists and engineers to blow more whistles and expose details about the how the NSA is getting around encryption. Bruce is an important voice to follow in this story, and he’s a Fellow at the Berkman Center along with Sara.

Verizon-F.C.C. Court Fight Takes On Regulating Net
New York Times
Meanwhile, net neutrality, that is whether or not content providers could pay infrastructure providers like Verizon for special delivery privileges, is (always) up for debate. Another important axis around which our story spins.

Consumer Subject Review Boards: A Thought ExperimentStanford Law Review Online
What’s the worst that could happen with advertisers using your data? Ryan Calo suggests asymmetric manipulation of data is the real concern and proposes a Consumer Subject Review Board to review ethics of data use.

Facebook Delays Controversial Privacy Policy ChangeThe Huffington Post
Facebook is holding off on policy changes that would allow them to use your likeness in an advertisement. Remember the last time they tried to do that? In short, this is going to happen.

else 9.3: Staring at the Tiny Screens

By - September 03, 2013

This week: Gartner’s latest hype cycle addresses the relationship between humans and machines, moral panics about our attention and time resurface, UPS optimizes drop offs around the happiness of drivers, Bitcoin’s regulatory environment gets messy, and data brokers take steps towards improved consumer transparency. 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.

Gartner’s 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Maps Out Evolving Relationship Between Humans and Machines – Gartner
Gartner’s latest hype cycle on emerging technologies focuses on the relationship between humans and machines. Any one of these technologies stand as examples of how data is shaping our world, and how our world is becoming data.

Google Glass and a Futuristic Vision of Fashion – Vogue
Wearable tech gets the haute couture treatment in the September issue of Vogue. The spread mixes retrofuturist aesthetic with modernist architecture. This isn’t the first time Google Glass has gone high-fashion.

Vogue Goes Back to the Future. Don’t expect enlightenment here. 

We’ve seen a streak of moral panics about how technology is changing how we relate to others around us; that we are getting out of touch with being present. Rebecca Solnit walks through the evolution, and does a poetic job of noting how we’re letting technology break up our time, and how we might reconnect with the physical world. Mike Rugnetta cuts through the language that gives agency to our devices, when we should be taking ownership over our decisions about how we use technology. Charlene deGuzman’s painful but true I Forgot My Phone gets the NYT treatment, and Clive Thompson suggests that Glass will only be most useful to interrupt or augment our attention when it matters.

The Giant Hurdle For The Internet Of Things – Popsci
What will the protocol to connect and integrate the the Internet of Things look like? There’s lots of work to be done here. Larger, cheaper wireless networks like Flutter could help connect sensor devices.

Unhappy Truckers and Other Algorithmic Problems – Nautilus
Tom Vanderbilt (author of Traffic, which we’ve also been reading), writes about the challenges of modeling the human aspects of the traveling salesman problem in UPS delivery optimization. “But modeling the real world, with constraints like melting ice cream and idiosyncratic human behavior, is often where the real challenge lies.”

Bitcoin’s complex and changing regulatory environment – Pandodaily
As cryptographic currencies like Bitcoin gain policy makers’ and regulators‘ attention, things are getting complicated.

A Data Broker Offers a Peek Behind the Curtain – NYTimes
Acxiom will launch a consumer-facing data management interface at AbouttheData.com to give us the opportunity to update and correct the demographic data they have on us. This is an important step towards improved communication and transparency between data brokers and consumers. (Caveat: John is on the Board of Acxiom.)

Health apps run into privacy snags – FT
Research reveals how free health tracking apps like MapMyRun are sharing their data (with as many as 70 third parties). Another reminder that free services are never really free.

Thoughts on privacy – Doc Searls
Doc Searls walks us through a brief history of privacy and the internet. He talks about the human instinct to talk about privacy as a bodily sense of ownership; our physical world norms aren’t matching up with  digital realities. Our take: we still haven’t caught up with those evolving norms, but what if we are moving towards a hybrid reality where physical and digital norms are merging?

else 8.26: Getting a Little Too Comfortable with Technology

By - August 26, 2013

This week in the else round up we explore the responsibilities of technology builders and designers, what it will take for 3D printers and autonomous vehicles to go mainstream, and how humans will always find ways to misuse technology. 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.

Addicted to Apps - The New York Times
“We cannot rely on the makers of new technology to think about the moral and privacy implications.” This article walks us through the arc of seduction of new technologies, from distrust of the creepy to dependence on the critical. Outlines many of the reasons we’re tackling the societal implications of data in the book.

Addicted to Apps, The New York Times

The Machine Zone: This Is Where You Go When You Just Can’t Stop Looking at Pictures on Facebook – The Atlantic
Natasha Dow Schüll’s work on slot machine “Addiction by Design” might explain the pleasures of infinite scrolls and click throughs on Facebook photo albums. Incidentally, the 99% Invisible podcast mentioned is also great.

The Rise of the Period Apps: Where Big Data Meets Girlie Graphics - The Cut
Women have been tracking this for a long time. Now we have pink, flowery apps developed by men to help us make better data.

Marketing to the Quantified Self - Ad Exchanger
“First-party data” from self-quantifiers is closer to the consumers, but requires more value and trust in the exchange.

Why bitcoin has a firm foothold in the online gambling world – CoinDesk
Bitcoin gambling sites might have the added benefit of trustworthiness and transparency.

3D Printing Goes Mainstream Retail – The Atlantic
Consumers need a little hand-holding from engineers to bring their 3D printing needs to life at the UPS Store.

A 3-D Scanner Reaches for the Masses – The New York Times
The Digitizer desktop scanner will make 3-D printing more accessible to the masses.

Beyond the tech, autonomous driving is an issue of trust – and parking – Digital Trends
It’s going to take a lot of infrastructure changes, like databases of parking spaces, for driverless cars to take off at scale.

Do our brains pay a price for GPS? – The Boston Globe
GPS impacts on our mental maps and way-finding abilities. What happens when our cars start doing the navigation work as well?

NSA Officers Spy on Love Interests - Wall Street Journal
Even with controls in place, technology will be misused. Human jealousy gets the better of NSA officers, code: LOVEINT.

How We Killed Privacy in 4 Easy Steps - Foreign Policy
“A legal framework that has remained largely static since the 1970s, significant changes in our use of rapidly evolving technology, commercial providers’ increasingly intrusive tracking of our every online habit, and a growth in non-state threats that has made governments the world over obsess about uncovering these dangers.”

Terms and Conditions May Apply
This documentary picks apart the lengthy TOS that we all accept without reading. The whole thing is available on Youtube [looks like it's been taken down, but here's the trailer and some showtimes].