Posts Tagged ‘hive mind’

Captain Cyborg: Computers are alive, like bats or cows

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Self-harming attention-seeker Kevin Warwick has admitted to snooping on the public in a previous life. Warwick made the creepy confession on Radio 4, recalling an earlier job as a GPO engineer:

“I remember taking ten different calls and plugging them all together; one call would continue, the other nine would listen in. Then I’d patch everything back again.”

In a 30-minute interview with Michael Buerk, Warwick compared his cat-chipping operation a decade ago to Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight. They were both scientific pioneers.
(more…)

€1bn handout from the EU targets ambient nagware and robot pets

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The EU is throwing an eye-watering €1bn of public funds to bankroll some of the most whimsical technology projects ever envisaged – for a decade. A shortlist of six applicants includes talking pet robots, and ambient low-power sensors that provide health tips and “emotional” advice.

The program is called FET, and is funded by the European Commission (which means it is funded by member states – although they can also fritter contribute even more money through matching funds) Lucky beneficiaries will be forgiven for thinking Christmas has come early: €1bn to be doled out over 10 years is earmarked for the winner: that’s €100m a year.

The final six nominees were unveiled by Digital Czar Neelie Kroes earlier this month. One project, “Robots Companions for Citizens”, from robotics expert Paolo Dario, promises us lifelong cyborg chums. (more…)

Google cranks up the Consensus Engine

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Image from Google's 2006 analyst presentation

Google this week admitted that its staff will pick and choose what appears in its search results. It’s a historic statement – and nobody has yet grasped its significance.

Not so very long ago, Google disclaimed responsibility for its search results by explaining that these were chosen by a computer algorithm. The disclaimer lives on at Google News, where we are assured that:

The selection and placement of stories on this page were determined automatically by a computer program.

A few years ago, Google’s apparently unimpeachable objectivity got some people very excited, and technology utopians began to herald Google as the conduit for a new form of democracy. Google was only too pleased to encourage this view. It explained that its algorithm “relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. ”

That Google was impartial was one of the articles of faith. For if Google was ever to be found to be applying subjective human judgment directly on the process, it would be akin to the voting machines being rigged.

For these soothsayers of the Hive Mind, the years ahead looked prosperous. As blog-aware marketing and media consultants, they saw a lucrative future in explaining the New Emergent World Order to the uninitiated. (That part has come true – Web 2.0 “gurus” now advise large media companies).

It wasn’t surprising, then, that when five years ago I described how a small, self-selected number of people could rig Google’s search results, the reaction from the people doing the rigging was violently antagonistic. Who lifted that rock? they cried.

But what was once Googlewashing by a select few now has Google’s active participation. This week Marissa Meyer explained that editorial judgments will play a key role in Google searches.

(more…)

Ancient satire foretold AOL's privacy disaster

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

“The Internet is becoming more and more widespread and will increasingly represent a scientific random sample of the population”
– Joi Ito

“Igor, to the machines – we have a sample”

One thing seems to have been forgotten following AOL’s careless, but quite magnificent data dump of the internet’s “hive mind” at play this week.

AOL’s assiduous documentation of the private thoughts of over 600,000 web searchers has certainly added some much needed sparkle to a public internet that of late, has been in dire need of a tonic. Now, internet users’ most private thoughts are revealed, in all their banality and creepiness, and we must count ourselves fortunate.

“AOL’s data sketch sometimes scary picture of personalities searching Net,” was the headline USA Today newspaper chose, but this barely conveyed the voyeuristic frisson, or glee we felt as the AOL database made its way across the net.

Nothing in recent months has made the net come alive quite like these queries, and it’s not hard to see why. Recently, the net has been drowning in banality. Billions of identical blogs – some human generated, some machine generated – spring up every day, with identical opinions to match the identical templates each blog hoster seems to provide. This outpouring of new recorded writing has been trumpeted as a new era in human expression. But the truth is, in practice, the consequence of all this is that it’s getting increasingly difficult to tell which is which. Human, or machine?

But let’s focus on an aspect lost in the “scandal”. The thing that everyone has overlooked is that this wasn’t an accidental or negligent data loss by AOL. The search query data was sincerely released in the name of science.

Boffins at AOL Labs published the data for boffins at similar “labs” to peruse.

That’s strange enough in itself, and it should make you yearn for white-coated frontiersmen of yore. Things have changed a bit since then and now.

Behold: the Mighty Atom
Fifty years ago, scientists did things like, oh… split the atom, and deduce the shape of the DNA double helix. Today, working off the hottest and freshest evidence available, scientists proclaim breakthroughs such as “People get more drunk at weekends”.

Once upon a time scientists set out to describe the unknown, and make it understood in
mechanical terms. But now, like a group of well meaning, but slightly simple lifelong in-patients making their first tentative steps into the real world, they venture out to find what’s on their doorsteps.

Now, if science is to have any useful purpose in society, it’s in describing the unknown, not the bleeding obvious. No wonder it has gotten such a bad name recently.
(more…)

Man discovers his net wasn't neutered

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Hanging the monkey

We have very little idea of how a hysteria can grip sensible, rational people – until it strikes. After Orson Welles’s War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, the public reported sightings of Martians. According to urban legend, a farmer’s water tower was peppered with small arms fire, in the belief that it was a Martian spaceship. During the McCarthyite Red Scare, the FBI’s snitch lines rang red hot with reports of suspected un-American activity. And in Hartlepool 200 years ago, the locals tried and hanged a monkey, suspecting it to be a Frenchman.

Here’s more evidence that the Net Neutrality scare is gripping otherwise rational people, presenting with two classic symptoms of mob-itis.

Professor Steven Bellovin of Columbia reported something strange with his Comcast router recently. Bellovin is a veteran crypto researcher with internet RFCs to his name – and not normally someone who needs attention. Last month he announceD:

“My cable modem service was out for eight hours yesterday. Tests I did – ICMP could get through to various destinations; TCP could not – make me believe that the problem is due to Comcast trying to treat p2p traffic differently.”

Of course. What else could it be?

(more…)

Trivia crisis: Wikipedia's bogus Professor resigns

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

The essential reference?

After pressure over the weekend from Wikipedia’s Il Duce Jimmy Wales, the encyclopedia’s most illustrious fake professor Ryan Jordan has resigned his post at Wikia Inc.

An assiduous editor with the nickname “Essjay”, the 24-year old Jordan passed himself off as an older and more mature character: a Professor of Theology with two PhDs – these impressive credentials even winning him fame in a New Yorker feature. The deception did little to stop Jordan’s meteoric ascent. Wales appointed Jordan to “ArbCom”, Wikpedia’s Supreme Court, and even found him a position at his own commercial venture, Wikia Inc.

The deception was initially unearthed by Daniel Brandt in January, and has been simmering since early February, when Wikipedians themselves put two and two together: the Essjay that Wales had blessed couldn’t be the character that Essjay claimed to be. It breezed into public view last week, with a short disclaimer on the New Yorker‘s website.

Wales initially said he was happy with Jordan’s deception, but changed his mind over the weekend, inviting Jordan to resign his positions of responsibility on Wikipedia. The 24-year quit Wikia Inc. yesterday.

(We don’t know if Jordan detached himself from the project completely, however – one blogger advised him to rejoin using a different pseudonym, and, presumably, a new fictional identity. What will it be this time?)

The incident raises more questions than it answers, as neither Wales, Jordan, nor the editors at the New Yorker appears to show a shred of regret for their behavior. And this is what turns a dull story about the procedures of a tediously procedural website into a kind of modern morality play.

(more…)

"The Government wants to copyright my thoughts!"

Friday, November 9th, 2007

They’re coming to take me away – ha haa!” – Napoleon XIV

The Patient

A student, Robert Soave writing in The Michigan, the student paper at the University of Michigan.

Clinical Symptoms

The patient is fearful:

“The idea that information can be owned is quite terrifying”

He also fears a loss of identity. Once something is digitally encoded, all rights vanish, according the patient.

“How can one possibly lay claim to information?”

Soave says that creator’s rights are a philosophical impossibility.

“Critics might argue that musicians should be able to own their music because they created it and you should own anything that you create by default.

“Only with the government’s random mandates could anyone actually lay claim to something as abstract as information that is sent over the Internet.”

Soave also displays paranoid fantasies common to the digital utopian:

“Today, the government defends companies that claim to own music. Tomorrow, it may defend people who claim to have invented new feelings and emotions.”

“Such abstract claims of ownership may seem ridiculous, but the government has already stretched copyright laws past any definable form by criminalizing file sharing over the Internet.”

Prognosis

Not good.

(Thanks to Dean Kay for the tip.)

Ursula le Guin dings surly Boing Boing

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Science Fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin has given the anti-copyright fanatics at the Boing Boing weblog a quick refresher in authors’ rights.

The blog posted a short piece by Le Guin, erroneously slapping a Creative Commons license on it.

“This is incorrect,” wrote her representative. “Ms. Le Guin has not placed this work under such a license and retains these rights. Ms. Le Guin has not given blanket permission for everyone to copy or create derivatives (which can include film, TV adaptations, etc.),” Andrew Burt told SF author Jerry Pournelle.

Robo-bloggers who act as repeaters of Boing Boing material – vital nodes in the Hive Mind, we like to think of them – added to the confusion.

“Numerous copies of her piece have been discovered on the web and attributed to boingboing, illustrating that many people are being mislead by this incorrect application of a Creative Commons license.”

“Given Doctorow’s intense interest in issues of copyright,” added Burt, “it is easy to imagine that he has let his wishes run ahead of reality, and so committed some serious ethical and legal errors, which he might wish to begin to redress by taking the Le Guin piece off his site and putting an apology in its place.”

Boing Boing has since truncated the excerpt, but declined to apologize or remove it. There’s more details on Pournelle’s letters page here.

It’s another example of the confusion generated by Creative Commons licenses – the autistic person’s answer to a problem that doesn’t really bother anyone. If even the most dedicated, foaming-at-the-mouth Commons evangelists can’t use it properly – what hope do us mortals have?

The license-abuser, Cory Doctorow, was recently a professor at the University of Southern California – where he was lecturing students about copyright.

In its first incarnation as a print ‘zine back in the late 1980s, “bOING bOING” (as it was) was one of the most highly regarded chroniclers of cyber culture. The title was revived in blog form as a self-promotional vehicle seven years ago.

This is how it looked before the Trotskyist-style takeover. And this is what it looks like now.

Quite a difference.

Braindead obituarists hoaxed by Wikipedia

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

The veteran BBC TV composer and arranger Ronnie Hazlehurst died on Monday night. His long career at the corporation produced some of the most (irritatingly) memorable theme tunes: including The Two Ronnies, Reggie Perrin, Last Of The Summer Wine, Blankety Blank and the Morse Code theme for Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

But when his obituaries appeared yesterday, there was an odd addition to Hazlehurst’s canon. Apparently he had emerged from retirement a few years ago to co-write the song ‘Reach’, a hit for Simon “Spice Girls” Fuller’s creation S Club 7.

“There could only be one source for this,” suggests Shaun Rolph, who tipped us off.

And yes – you can probably guess what it is:

(more…)

Parliament must listen to the blogger in his pyjamas

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Parliament may soon be debating whether to legalise incest, reclassify insomnia as a mental illness, microchip all children at birth … or give pantomime actor Richard Griffiths a Knighthood.

That’s if opposition leader David Cameron has his way. A Conservative Party task force examining democratic participation proposes that online petitions should help set the parliamentary agenda. The four proposals above are just some of the open petitions recently accepted by the No.10 Downing Street website. In other words, these are the sensible ones: over 10,000 have been rejected. (This one, for example, was quite inexplicably deemed to be outside the scope of Government.)

“I would like to see a system whereby, if enough people sign an online petition in favour of a particular motion, then a debate is held in Parliament, followed by a vote – so that the public know what their elected representatives actually think about the issues that matter to them,” said Cameron in a canned statement.

Gentlemen – start your scripting engines.

Cameron’s emphasis on the latest online gimmick overshadows the rest of the proposals in the paper Power To The People: Rebuilding Government, which involve checks and balances on an out of control executive. Rather generously, the paper absolves journalists of blaming for creating a culture in which people are bored with politics.

The suggestions from the task force, chaired by smoking hero Kenneth Clarke, won’t necessarily become official policy.

Cameron is the latest politician to use online to grab the healines. Identical clones George Osborne (Con., Google) and David Milliband (Lab., Google) appear to be locked in a private contest to see who can produce the most web-tastic gimmicks. Milliband is winning.