12.9 else: “The most mericful thing in the world”

This week, the tension between industry, governments, and regulation gets hashed out over the NSA, drones, bitcoins, and DNA databases; bots are running research on our behalf, and I became “postdigital.”

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!


Tech Giants Issue Call for Limits on Government Surveillance of Users – New York Times
Coordinated efforts by industry leaders push back on surveillance standards. Seems like a good first step towards an open dialog between industry and government to talk more openly about their data relationships.

Amazon Drones Are Part of Jeff Bezos’s Pre-Lobbying Strategy – New York Magazine
The drone announcement is more than a PR stunt, it’s “charmware,” laying the  groundwork to get regulators on the side of progress. “And while these companies haven’t always mastered the regulation surrounding their chosen targets…they have found that charmware can be an effective technique for ­getting what they want. Making tantalizing preview videos, conducting social-media campaigns, and telling consumers how much better their lives will be when—not if—these products are legalized have become central to their business plans.”

DNA Testing Is Not Why 23andMe Is in Trouble – Motherboard
The FDA’s shutdown of 23andMe isn’t as much about individual consumers’ access to personal health information, as it is about the subsidized genomic dataset that the company is building and its future potential value.

Bitcoins: The second biggest Ponzi scheme in history – The Daily Dot
Gary North makes the case that bitcoins are not stable enough to be considered “money” and don’t provide consumer value otherwise.

For Bitcoin, a Setback in China and an Endorsement on Wall Street – New York Times
Interesting attempts at characterizing and comparing bitcoin, to Tulip bubbles and commodities trading.

Sentient code: An inside look at Stephen Wolfram’s utterly new, insanely ambitious computational paradigm – Venture Beat
Offers a look inside Steven Wolfram’s vision for smarter programmable knowledge to provide answers to complex questions. And it has a lot to do with autonomous coding: “What we’re trying to do is that the programmer defines the goal, and the computer figures out how to achieve that goal,” he said.

This Landmark Study Could Reveal How The Web Discriminates Against You – Forbes
Researchers are sending bots out to run comparative analysis on discrimination through personalization around the web, potentially offering some transparency to an otherwise opaque and individualized process.

Heartbreak and the Quantified Selfie – New York Magazine
Personal data gets really personal. Lam Thuy Vo explores using data as self-help/therapy to cope with a divorce. There are some interesting visualizations and personal meaning making of data, even if we’re not 100% sold on the neologism of the “quantified selfie.”

3D Me – Sara’s blog
I visited the Out of Hand exhibit this weekend in New York, and got Shapeways 3D scanned with a Microsoft Kinect device. It’s a novelty self portrait in this instance, but it demonstrates how easy it’s getting to scan things in the physical world, turn them into data, and spit them back out into the world as printed objects. I have been “materialized as the postdigital!”

My Shapeways scan, ready for 3D printing.

Can Ad Tech Really Change the World? – Digiday
Following on John’s post last month, Digiday explores some novel applications of adtech for data exchange. “Millions of dollars have been spent on technologies that allow advertisers to chase consumers across the Web in order to sell them shoes and insurance. But what if those same technologies could one day help cure cancer, eliminate car crashes or mitigate global warming?”

HP Lovecraft on Big Data – The Atlantic
Food for thought in the age of big data correlations, surfaced by Alexis Madrigal: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”

The Artful Accidents of Google Books – The New Yorker
Blogs are collecting (and fetishizing) the traces that reveal the physical form of the book as it becomes digitized in scanning efforts, including marginalia, library records, and the hands caught scanning pages.

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