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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.

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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].

Is US Culture Veering Toward The Dark and Deadpan?

By - August 22, 2013

NSA_Logo_Prism_Floor_640_1_s640x427(image) According to Wikipedia, “deadpan” is a uniquely American neologism less than a century old. The term arose from the slang term “pan,” for face: “Keep a dead pan,” a gangster told an associate in 1934’s The Gay Bride. In other words, don’t show your cards.

“Deadpan humor,” of course, is playing a joke straight, pretending you’re unaware of the punchline. It’s often related to “dark” or “black” humor, which makes light of otherwise serious situations, often with a cynical or satirical tone.

Why am I on about this now? Because I think as a society we’re rapidly shifting into a dark, deadpan culture, driven almost entirely by revelations around the NSA’s PRISM and related programs. We know we can’t pretend we’re not being monitored – so we resort to deadpan humor to handle that new reality.

Over the past few months, on the mailing lists and sites I read, and in the personal conversations I’ve had, the NSA keeps coming up as a deadpan or black humor punchline. On scores of conference calls and Google Hangouts, someone has joked about the government listening in. One time, while discussing a sensitive issue around use of data in our industry, one of my colleagues asked if anyone was taking notes. “Don’t worry, the NSA’s got that covered,” another colleague deadpanned. This kind of humor seems to be spreading all over our culture.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Black and deadpan humor is usually a response to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness – it thrives in  authoritarian states or  in places encountering deep turmoil (East Germany, RussiaSyria, Egypt).

I’m not sure we want to join those ranks. Do you see this happening as well?

else 8.19: Why We Should Replace the Turing Test

By - August 19, 2013

433px-Weakness_of_Turing_test_1.svg

(image) Among many other things (we usually add 20-30 items into our book’s Evernote account each week), this past week we read about developments in brain-computer interfaces, and how connecting smart devices introduces new vulnerabilities. We also read about how policy and ethics questions need to catch up with technology that makes surveillance easier. 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.

 

Why Can’t My Computer Understand Me? – The New Yorker
Hector Levesque  makes the case to replace Turing tests with something that requires a little more common sense: anaphoras where the reference isn’t always linguistically clear. That requires logical finesse, rather than big data processing of existing answers found in webpages.

Brown University creates first wireless, implanted brain-computer interface – ExtremeTech
We’re getting closer and closer to  wearable brain-computer interfaces.

What Does It Really Matter If Companies Are Tracking Us Online? – The Atlantic
Ryan Calo’s recent paper makes the case that what is really at stake in the “creepiness” of advertising is the ability for corporations to take advantage of and exploit data around consumer irrationalities (in the behavioral economics sense).

The Ethics of Saving Lives With Autonomous Cars Are Far Murkier Than You Think – Wired
Interesting questions: “Do we now need a peek under the algorithmic hood before we purchase or ride in a robot car?…Shouldn’t informed consent be required to operate or ride in something that may purposely cause our own deaths?”

Welcome to the “Internet of Things,” where even lights aren’t hacker safe – Arstechnica
Connected devices introduce more vulnerabilities. Ease of use, in this case the ability to add more devices to control lights, often trumps more secure designs.

When Cars Crash Like Computers – The Atlantic
“When we make pieces of our infrastructure ‘smart’ with computers, we also give them the other characteristics of computers, like bugs, crashes, hackability, and downtime.”

3D printing failures shared online – BBC
Gallery of “Spaghetti” images of failed 3-D printer models. Strangely beautiful…

How A ‘Deviant’ Philosopher Built Palantir, A CIA-Funded Data-Mining Juggernaut – Forbes
Interesting profile of Alex Karp, the man behind Palantir, the software running the data mining analytics of the NSA.

Zimmermann’s Law: PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder Phil Zimmermann on the surveillance society – Gigaom
Om Malik talks with Zimmerman about the need for policy to catch up to reflect our democratic values when Moore’s law makes surveillance easier.

People Are Changing Their Internet Habits Now That They Know The NSA Is Watching – Fast Company
News of the Prism and surveillance might actually be the spark that gets average consumers to start engaging with their privacy settings.

Source: Annalect

The staring match between The Man and bitcoin: nobody’s blinked yet - CoinDesk
After two secure email servers shut down this last week, enter Bitmessage. It uses Bitcoin protocols to secure messages so that only users with the correct key can read them. There are no central servers, no users lists.

When the next Ernest Hemingway dies, who will own his Facebook account? – Quartz
Walks through what it takes for an estate to access the status updates and tweets of writers when they die, the modern day equivalent of letters archived in an attic. Current EULA policies don’t make it easy.

Thoughts on Ford’s OpenXC: In The Future, Brands With Open Data Will Win

By - August 18, 2013

Ford Open XCI spent today at the first-ever Boing Boing Ingenuity, a two-day hackathon cum “vaudeville show” – truly Boing Boing brought to life. It made me so proud to see the essence of conversational marketing at work – a major brand adding deep value to a community, an independent publisher realizing its dream of celebrating its voice and community through a unique event that built up online over many months.

Here’s the Twitter stream. It was really great. And the main insight I took away was this: Brands will soon have no choice but to become data (because we are all becoming data, after all). A car creates tons of data every mile it is driven, for example. Faced with this fact, how might a car brand respond? It could see that data as its private asset, put up fences around it, and make that data really difficult for the driver (and society at large) to access. Or, it could act like Ford did, and tack in the direction of openness.

Ford has created a platform called OpenXC that opens APIs into 50 or so data streams coming out of your car. On the first day of Ingenuity, teams of makers, hackers, and regular folks came up with amazing ideas that leveraged Ford’s innovative platform. For example, one team built an app that senses when a pet or child is in your car, then monitors the car’s internal temperature. If it gets too hot, this app can lower the windows, turn on the AC, and text the car’s owner. I mean, how cool is that?!

Boing Boing’s editors presented the winners on stage on Sunday during Ingenuity, a day long celebration of, well, the weird and wonderful people and ideas that make Boing Boing, Boing Boing. There was a hack that turned driving data into music – if you drive aggressively and waste resources, the music gets aggravating. If you drive well, it gets soothing. Another hack interpreted braking, steering, and other information into new signals for other drivers – imagine a taillight flashing “Thank you!’ when someone lets you merge into oncoming traffic, for example. Yet another hack took all that data and turned it into a “cost per trip” dashboard that gamifies driving and encourages you to drive in a way that saves money.

These kinds of innovations can only occur in an ecosystem of openness. As our society tips toward one based on data, our collective decisions around how that data can be used will determine what kind of a culture we live in. And what I observed at Ingenuity strengthened my belief that companies that lean into an open approach to data will win. There will soon be streams of data coming from all manner of products – appliances, clothing, sporting goods, you name it. Wouldn’t you rather live in a world where you can export the data from your son’s football helmet to a new app that monitors force and impact against a cohort of high school players around the country? Or would a better world be one where Riddell Inc. owns and controls that data?

Way back in 2008 I wrote a piece about Facebook and data called It’s Time For Services on The Web to Compete On More Than Data. My point was this: winning on a strategy of data lockdown is a short-term play. What matters is the service you provide on top of that data. For companies like Ford, the key won’t be to lock in customer data and try to be the best at leveraging your proprietary insights. It’ll be allowing your customers to take that data out, remix it into a robust ecosystem, and feed it back to your company and products, so they can get better. Companies will compete on how they best leverage a customer’s data, not on whether or not they’ve locked those customers’ data assets in (are you listening, cable companies?!).

Of course, a true test of this optimistic scenario will come when GM, Toyota, or other car companies join Ford in offering a data platform, and a long-time Ford customer buys a Chevy. Will Ford let that customer take their data over to GM? Time will tell, but I know where I come down: Openness and portability will win in the end.

The debut of “else”: Surveillance Everywhere and the Technological Wild West

By - August 13, 2013

As we’re working on the book, Sara and I are planning on sharing some of the news items and blog posts that catch our attention each week. We’ll also plan on talking through some of the things we’re reading and working on in this space. In keeping with boolean condition logic of the if/then working title for the book, we’ll be tagging these posts as “else.” Links aren’t necessarily endorsements, but they do point to ideas that got us thinking this week.

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 (coming soon) or through RSS.

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This week we look at challenges in the using quantified self data, developments in the NSA surveillance coverage, and round out with a few throwbacks to the Victorian age of technology. On to the links:

Inside the Nike+ Accelerator: Fueling the quantified-self movement – Engadget

TechStars accelerator working on Nike+ to build innovation on the Nike platform. Article talks a lot about the importance of opening up the Nike+ API for development innovation (right now it’s only open to these ten accelerator companies).

Why The Quantified Self Needs A Monopoly – ReadWrite

Highlights one of the big barriers to consumer adoption right now, that is correlating all these quantified self data sources into one, meaningful view. To do that you need to a) be able to get the data into one place, b) have it speak to each other, and c) know what you are looking at once you can see it all in one place. We might argue that you don’t need an Apple or Microsoft monopoly for that necessarily. But we will need tools that pull this together; maybe something more along the lines of Mint.

The Public-Private Surveillance Partnership – Bloomberg

Bruce Schneier walks us through the implicit business models that got us into the current surveillance state: “Imagine the government passed a law requiring all citizens to carry a tracking device. Such a law would immediately be found unconstitutional. Yet we all carry mobile phones.” [Incidentally, Schneier is also a Fellow at the Berkman Center this year along with Sara].

This Recycling Bin Is Stalking You - The Atlantic Cities

Recycling bins in London are tracking MAC addresses from passing smartphones and Wifi-enabled devices, essentially bringing tracking cookies from the internet into the physical world. Turns out this might actually be illegal.

The Atlantic Cities

 

A Cheap Spying Tool With a High Creepy Factor – NYTimes

Security researcher Brendan O’Connor uses cheap Raspberry Pi devices to monitor Wifi signals, proving that conducting surveillance is becoming easier, no matter who you are.

Other Agencies Clamor for Data N.S.A. Compiles – NYTimes

Once the data is in a format where it can be activated, others will find new uses for it.

Searching Big Data for ‘Digital Smoke Signals’ – NYTimes

The United Nations Global Pulse team is using sentiment analysis and mobile data to catch early signals for global economic trends to develop faster, more adaptive and responsive aid programs.

Why the Sun is Setting on the Wild West of Ride-Sharing – Wired

Car sharing dropoffs at airports are started to see a crackdown in SFO. Policies still protect taxi and limo service domain here and new regulations requiring insurance companies could increase operating costs. This could slow down the markets where consumers are taking underused assets and making them liquid. John recently wrote about how Uber saved the day in a recent travel snafu.

3-D Printing the 19th Century – NYTimes

Martin Galese is bringing back patents from a bygone era, 3-D printing them in all their beautifully-designed glory. Some of these designs might not have been easily manufactured in their time.

Last week Sara was reading Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. The book looks at the historical context around Muybridge’s photographic technology developments that increased the shutter speeds and introduced the ability to almost slow down time into smaller knowable bits. These developments paved the way for modern cinema, but also ran parallel to Victorian explorations of scientific discovery. Sara wrote about some interesting parallels with Muybridge’s body movement studies and the Quantified Self movement; film allowed us to slow down and dissect the bodies’ gate; sensors like the Fitbit allow us to track a walking gate all day long.

Four Minutes on the Future of Marketing

By - August 05, 2013

Earlier this year I sat down with a videographer at the Bazaarvoice Summit in Austin. He asked me about the future of marketing, in particular as it related to data and consumer behavior. Given what I announced earlier this morning, I thought you might find this short video worth a view. Thanks to Ian Greenleigh for doing all the work!