Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Life in the wired society

August 25, 2014

Oral-B, a Procter & Gamble company, this year launched its SmartSeries Bluetooth toothbrush — an essential appliance for what the firm calls “the well-connected bathroom”.

It connects to your smartphone, where its app tracks brushing tasks: Have you flossed? cleaned the tongue? rinsed? And highlights areas of the mouth visualized on the phone screen that deserve more attention.

More importantly, as the toothbrush’s website proudly announces, it also “records brushing activity as data that you can chart on your own and share with dental professionals.”

What happens to that data — whether it goes to these dental professionals, or your insurance company, stays with you or is appended to your data already owned by Facebook and Google — is a controversial question.

via Evgeny Morozov: How much for your data?.

The principle of financialization is that if anything can be done, it not only can, but should be done for money, and that the only standard of value is monetary.  Technology in the service of financialization applies this to your personal life.  Any information about you that is worth knowing is worth selling for money.

Now if personal data is a financial asset and nothing else, the individual person should have the exclusive right to sell it, just as the individual person should have the exclusive right to sell his or her own blood.   But is this how we want to live?

The digitization of everyday life, and the rapaciousness of financialization, risk turning everything — genome to bedroom — into a productive asset. 

As Esther Dyson, a board member of 23andme, the leader in personalized genomics, said the company is “like the ATM that gives you access to the wealth locked within your genes”.

This is the future that Silicon Valley expects us to embrace: given enough sensors and net connections, our entire life becomes a giant ATM.  Those refusing this would have only themselves to blame. 

Opting out from the “sharing economy” would come to be seen as economic sabotage and wasteful squandering of precious resources that could accelerate growth.

Eventually, the refusal to “share” becomes tinged with as much guilt as the refusal to save or work or pay debts, with a veneer of morality covering up — once again — exploitation.

It’s only natural that the less fortunate, under the burden of austerity, are turning their kitchens into restaurants, their cars into taxis, and their personal data into financial assets. What else can they do?

For Silicon Valley, this is a triumph of entrepreneurship — a spontaneous technological development, unrelated to the financial crisis.  But it is only as entrepreneurial as those who are driven — by the need to pay rent — into prostitution or selling their body parts.

via Evgeny Morozov: How much for your data?.

 Hat tip for the link to Daniel Brandt.

Rise of the machines: Links & comments 8/19/14

August 19, 2014

The Internet’s Original Sin by Ethan Zuckerman for The Atlantic.

The basic problem with the commercial Internet, according to this writer, is the use of advertising to finance Internet services.

Because an individual advertisement on the Internet has little impact, the value of advertising is based on the ability of the firm to target individuals who are interested in this particular product.  And the only way to do this is to gather data and use it to profile individuals.

Invasion of privacy is not a bug.  It is a necessary feature.  The reason it is necessary is that most people would rather give up their privacy than pay for Internet services.

Zuckerman thinks this is the reason that NSA surveillance is no big deal for most Americans.  We’re already accustomed to giving up our privacy.

He doesn’t have a good answer as to what to do about all this, and neither do I.

How We Imprison the Poor for Crimes That Haven’t Happened Yet by Hamilton Nolan for Gawker.

The science-fiction movie Minority Report imagined a world in which it was possible to predict when people would commit crimes and to arrest them before the crime occurred.  A predictive science of human behavior does not exist, but that does not stop people in authority from acting as if it did.

American courts are increasingly using what’s called “evidence-based sentencing” on which the severity of the sentence is based on a computer algorithm’s determination of the likelihood that the person will commit another crime.

In practice, what this means that that poor youth who grew up in a family without a father will get a worse sentence than a middle-class youth with access to psychiatrists and good job opportunities.

This is contrary to the basic principle of equal justice under law.   If you commit a crime, you should be punished for what you did, not for what somebody thinks you may do.

(more…)

MonsterMind: cyberwarfare on automatic pilot

August 15, 2014

Edward SnowdenWiredcover2James Bamford, a journalist who’s been writing about the National Security Agency for decades, traveled to Russia to interview Edward Snowden for Wired magazine.

He learned, among other things, of the existence of a disturbing new NSA program, MonsterMind, for automating cyberwarfare.

The massive surveillance effort was bad enough, but Snowden was even more disturbed to discover a new, Strangelovian cyberwarfare program in the works, codenamed MonsterMind.

The program, disclosed here for the first time, would automate the process of hunting for the beginnings of a foreign cyberattack.

Software would constantly be on the lookout for traffic patterns indicating known or suspected attacks. When it detected an attack, MonsterMind would automatically block it from entering the country—a “kill” in cyber terminology.

Programs like this had existed for decades, but MonsterMind software would add a unique new capability:

Instead of simply detecting and killing the malware at the point of entry, MonsterMind would automatically fire back, with no human involvement.

That’s a problem, Snowden says, because the initial attacks are often routed through computers in innocent third countries.

“These attacks can be spoofed,” he says. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”

In addition to the possibility of accidentally starting a war, Snowden views MonsterMindas the ultimate threat to privacy because, in order for the system to work, the NSA first would have to secretly get access to virtually all private communications coming in from overseas to people in the US.

“The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows,” he says. “And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.”

A spokesperson for the NSA declined to comment on MonsterMind, the malware in Syria, or on the specifics of other aspects of this article.

via WIRED.

This reminds me of earlier reports that the Pentagon is researching ways to automate flying killer drones, so that the decision on whether to attack will be made by an artificial intelligence algorithm, not a human operator.

The great danger of this is not that machines will become intelligent and take over.  The danger is that human beings will come to treat machines as if they were intelligent, and abdicate responsibility for making decisions.

Big Brother and the ‘Internet of things’

August 7, 2014

The ‘Internet of things’ is the next big thing in technology.  Supposedly you will have combinations of sensors, RFID tags and Internet links that will be as much a part of you as your clothes, and will allow you  to control everything in your life, from your thermostat to your garage door.

But this is not just a new technology for people to control things.  It is a new technology for people to control other people as if they were things.

“The next wave is wearable technology, like Google Glass, smart watches, and smart vests,”  [Jason] Prater of Plex systems explained.

internetofthingsThe advantage of these devices is that they “will allow you to continue using your hands without having to input or look for data.”

The data will be sent to the factory’s computer where every movement and drop of sweat will be recorded and analyzed.

In Gartner [Inc.]’s words: monitoring, sensing and remote control … …

“Today, decisions are made instantaneously,” Prater said. “We can’t wait to hear about things after the fact.”

And then the industry insider too had an intriguing forecast: “Turning people into essentially walking sensors is going to be the future.”

via Wolf Street.

“Monitoring, sensing and remote control.”  Hmm.

Engineers will be able to constantly monitor the air temperature, humidity, and working conditions of a factory process, and track employee motions for ergonomics research and safety concerns.

New Internet-based technologies will allow all the data to be managed automatically, so that factory tooling and equipment can be adjusted without human intervention, Jason Prater … said … at the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars.

via Automotive News.

“Track employee motions.”  Hmm.

What the new technology will mean for factory workers is this: Managers will track what every line worker is doing every minute of the day, and make sure that (1) they never let up and (2) they always do things in the “one best way” as outlined in Frederick W. Taylor’s system of Scientific Management.

The key idea of Scientific Management is for industrial engineers to design an optimum way to perform any repetitive task, to teach factory workers to do it that way and to make sure they conform.

This is dehumanizing, but I think it is a bad idea even from the standpoint of economic efficiency—that is, unless you think economic efficiency is the same thing as managerial convenience.

The “one best way” system does not allow workers to use their intelligence and experience to adapt to variability of circumstancs.

And, of course, if you decide to treat employees as if they were machines, there is no reason not to decide to replace them with actual machines.

Telephone operators, data processors and customer service representatives know what it is like to work every minute of the day under surveillance, and to be punished for any slippage from the schedule or deviation from the script.  The new technology would bring surveillance and control to a new level.

§§§

Goal of Becoming ‘Internet of Things': Monitoring, Sensing, Remote Control – Factory Workers First, You Next by Wolf Richter on Wolf Street. Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

The passing scene: Links & comments 8/7/14

August 7, 2014

New Snowden? Leaks indicate more than one hole in American national security community by Ben Mathis-Lilly for Slate.

The Intercept is reporting new information about the National Security Agency that apparently comes from someone still on the inside.   The huge U.S. national security apparatus has too many secrets and too many people with access to those secrets for those secrets to be truly secure.

My guess is that for every Edward Snowden who patriotically tells the American public what their government is doing behind their backs, there are one or more people who really are spies and are selling information to Russia, China or other foreign governments.

The economics of a McDonalds franchise by Cathy O’Neil as Mathbabe.

The terms and conditions under which McDonalds grants restaurant franchises make it impossible for the restaurant owner to pay a living wage and still make a profit.  That’s why it was both just and important that the National Labor Relations Board decided to allow restaurant employees against McDonalds as a joint employer.

While I am disappointed in President Obama’s record overall, I have to say that such a decision would not have been made under a McCain or Romney administration.  Whether the decision will be upheld in the courts is another question.

Flight MH17 – What You’re Not Being Told by SCG News.

There are many unanswered questions about the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukrainian rebel-held territory, and circumstantial evidence that it was a false-flag attack by conspirators.  All I am willing to say is that we the public don’t know the facts, and that the tragedy should not be used as an excuse to start a new cold war with Russia.

Data Mining Your Children by Stephanie Simon for Politico.

Book review: To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Mozorov. (Daniel Brandt)

Facebook’s Gateway Drug by Evgeny Mozorov for the New York Times Book Review (Daniel Brandt)

Technology is a good servant but a fearful master.

 

Rewiring America: Links & comments 7/26/14

July 26, 2014

How America’s Internet can become the fastest on earth by John Aziz for The Week.

Americans created the Internet, and the United States has some of the fastest commercially-available Internet connections on earth.   But the USA as a whole is only No. 31 in average speed of Internet connections, behind such nations as Uruguay and Romania and barely equal to Russia, which is far from being a technology leader.

Digital-MediaJohn Aziz says the reason is the balkanized U.S. Internet system, in which, unlike in other countries, companies with broadband service don’t have to open up their service to other broadband companies.

Rather than try to force corporate owners to do something that is not in their interest, Aziz advocates spending $140 billion to build a nationwide fiber optic new with bandwidth equal to Google Fiber, which provides 1Gbps—50 times faster than the average U.S. Internet connection now.   That would be only 1/5th the cost of the TARP Wall Street bailout and less than 1/25th the cost of U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think this is a good idea.  What makes a community, or a nation, a good place for entrepreneurs is to provide a benefit that is unique to their place or better than anyplace else.

Hundred of Cities Are Wired With Fiber—But Telecom Lobbying Keeps It Unused by Jacob Koerber for Motherboard.

life before the internetWell, maybe the USA is no longer capable of carrying out ambitious large-scale projects.  The least that could be done is to allow American municipal governments to wire their cities with fiber optic.  Current state laws forbid this in most places in order to protect private companies from competition.

The Server Needs to Die to Save the Internet by Natasha Lomas for TechCrunch.

A Scottish company named MaidSafe has a plan to protect privacy by creating a network without servers or data centers.  To be honest, I don’t completely understand what they’re doing, but it sounds as if it could be important.

Here Is How Google Works by Andrew Smales for Medium.

The Smales piece is satire—I guess.

The world’s great powers in orbit

July 18, 2014
orbital-launches

Double click to enlarge

Notice Russia’s leading role and China’s growing role.

Hat tip to The Big Picture.

The world scene: Links & comments 6/27/14

June 27, 2014

On Robot Soldiers and the Recession by Scott Beauchamp for The Baffler.

The Department of Defense’s long-range policy is to replace troops with robots.   This means the U.S. government will be able wage war with fewer casualties, but it also means that enlistment in the armed forces will no cease to be available as a path out of poverty.   In a well-ordered society, there ought to be ways to provide useful work in ways that don’t involve wearing uniforms and carrying guns.

A glimpse into the Google-Military-Surveillance Complex by Yasha Levine for PandoDaily.

Google’s management has protested government surveillance of private citizens, but the company has been involved for years in that very business.  It has long been a major contractor in improving the surveillance capabilities of the NSA, FBI, CIA, DEA and other military and intelligence agencies in Washington.  Now it is trying to sell surveillance services and technology to local police departments.

Is Russia Replacing US in Iraq? by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Has the term ‘US ally’ become worthless? by Gwynne Dyer for Middle East Eye.

The problem with playing geo-political chess is that the chessmen play their own game, which is not the same as yours.  This has been the experience of  American diplomats in trying to use governments and political factions in the Middle East as proxies to achieve their aims.   Iraq is a prime example of this.

Ukraine signs trade agreement with EU, draws Russian threat by Reuters.

Ukraine Signs Trade, Economic Pact With European Union by the Associated Press.

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have signed association agreements with the European Union, which means they will not be part of Vladimir Putin’s proposed Eurasian Union.   It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Putin has economic and covert military means to disrupt this deal.  And the European Union will have more three more extremely poor nations to integrate into the Europe-wide common market.

How Russia-Austria pipeline deal buffers Moscow against sanctions by Fred Weir for Christian Science Monitor.

Putin plays his cards skillfully.  Various European countries are signing on to a Russian plan to build a new gas pipeline that will serve southern Europe and bypass Ukraine, which indicates they have no interest in boycotting Russian gas.

Nice work if you can get it

June 24, 2014
Keith Alexander

Keith Alexander

After a career overseeing an agency pushing for security backdoors in technological infrastructure, former NSA chief Keith Alexander is now on Wall Street “pitching his cybersecurity services for as much as $1 million a month,” according to Bloomberg News.

Ostensibly, Alexander is asking to be paid to help secure firms against the backdoors and vulnerabilities his NSA may have helped create.

Nice work if you can get it.

via PandoDaily.

I suppose it is the same idea as hiring convicted computer hackers to be consultants on protection against other hackers.   Why not hire the uber-hacker?

The financial markets on automatic pilot

June 24, 2014

flash-boys-jkt_1In a well-ordered economic system, financial markets provide a means for business enterprises to obtain financing and for investors to judge the worth of a business.

Flash Boys, the latest book by Michael Lewis, tells how far the financial markets have gotten away from that purpose.

His subject was high frequency trading, a method of skimming money from other peoples’ financial transactions.  Enormous expense and ingenuity has gone into perfecting high frequency trading.  But from the standpoint of social good, the only question is to what degree it is extremely dangerous, moderately harmful or  merely useless.

High frequency trading is done by computers, because human beings are too slow.  Computer trading accounts for about two-thirds of transactions on U.S. stock exchanges.  There is even a venture capital company that has a computer algorithm on its board of directors.

The science fiction writer Charles Stross wrote about futures in which artificial intelligences incorporate themselves in order to gain legal standing as persons, and in which computers and robots have created a fully functioning society while human beings die out or are sidelined.

I don’t expect this to happen, of course, but it is a good metaphor for what is going on.   Putting such a large part of the financial system on automatic pilot is reckless, especially in an economic recovery that is fragile to begin with.

§§§

Click on Scalpers Inc. for a review of Flash Boys by John Lancaster in the London Review of Books.  Hat tip to Steve Badrich for the link.  I haven’t read the book myself.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 568 other followers