Hey guys, it’s getting dangerous to be a man especially if your name is in wide circulation. Look at all those media makhers going down. So what about the rest of us blokes who don’t figure in People Magazine or have six-figure incomes? We might not get national attention for alleged conquests but our reputations could easily be besmirched too. And it’s most likely to happen on that most public of social media, Twitter. It’s time to get proactive, @VulnerableDudes.
Part 1: Hacking the Arpanet
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time before the Internet, a time when computers took up more space than the acolytes who tended to their needs. In the 70s I was one such boffin, a postgrad hacking FORTRAN in a university R&D lab. Computers then were still quite dear, and so we made do with terminals that sucked electrons from the teat of a minicomputer several blocks away through fiber cable. Our digital host had recently been hooked up to the Arpanet, the Internet’s predecessor, giving us real-time access to several dozen academic, government, and military computers scattered across the US. We used it to chat and exchange files and email with people we knew here and there, but mostly we wasted time and bandwidth psyching out the robot psychotherapist Eliza and playing text-based games like Adventure and Hunt the Wumpus, just like today’s youth do but more primitively.
Part 2: If We Only Knew Then
Continued from Hacking the Arpanet
Although it seems like it, the Internet just didn’t assemble itself from a kit. Engineers made it. Engineers just want to design and build cool useful things. Generally they like this much more than repairing things they have sent into the world. And, for the most part, they are not wont to worry how their darlings might be used to destructive ends or what unforeseen consequences their adoption might occasion. Except for the evil ones, inventors steer clear of the dark side of their bright ideas as they push on to their next big thing.
Not that the rest of us can take much pride in foreseeing un-wished-for effects of technologies (or our actions, for that matter); due diligence is not most people’s thing. Somebody should be doing that but unless we engineer something, why should figuring out what could go wrong be our job? Well it is, because elites make rules, build stuff, and write code conducive to their own hegemonic aspirations. We the people are supposed to suck it all up without a peep, occasionally acknowledging that shit sometimes happens.
NOTE: This article has been updated to include subsequent events. It is also posted on CounterPunch.
One of my correspondents (let’s call her Jinwar), a supporter of autonomous areas in northwestern Kurdistan, notified me that Facebook had deleted her support group’s page plus her personal page as well those of others, requesting that the above graphic be shared widely on social media. (But before doing so, please read the last four paragraphs.)
An alert reader turned me on to Fred on Everything, “Scurrilous commentary by Fred Reed.” You gotta admire Fred, he’s been there, done that, and has all sorts of considered opinions that are hard to dismiss. His bio, in which he says he’s crazy as a loon, begins with Would you trust this man with your daughter? If so, call. Crazy or not, unlike present company he’s learned in life. For that I give Fred a lot of credit.
Here’s his current post reblogged, a pretty un-PC take on diversity, or as he terms it, anti-togetherness. Continue reading “Guest Post: Fred on the Virtues of Clannishness”
Perhaps you haven’t noticed the investor class getting all gung-ho these days over Artificial Intelligence (AI). Only a couple of decades ago, these same people dismissed AI because it wasn’t very useful yet. But that’s all changed due to advances in machine vision and learning, and now VCs, hedge funds, and most of the rest of the usual big-money suspects are salivating over prospects of automating most of the rest of the economy, even including agriculture.
Thanks to its clot of institutions of higher learning, Boston—my fair city—is littered with tech startups and factories that churn them out. They and the Hub’s cloud of serial investors have created a knot of compressed energy, the nexus of which one can find at a suite in Kendall Square—epicenter of Boston’s tech scene, featuring outposts of Google, Oracle, Facebook and Amazon, pharma firms like Merck and Novartis and a host of biotechy startups fed by MIT’s biomedical research complex, augmented by its AI and Media Labs—where every Thursday evening prime movers get together for suds and savvy strategizing at private oasis called Venture Café. Continue reading “A.I. Enablers Gear Up to Assault Intellect”
An excerpt from a work in progress, a book called The Silica Papers: Who Technology Is and What She Wants, a set of essays that looks into what we can expect from this strange brave new world.
Our addictions to technology, especially of the digital sort and especially among the young, are manifest, but they aren’t entirely technology’s fault. Nor are they just the result of falling unto temptation, although practicing a bit more mindfulness and self-discipline wouldn’t hurt. Few of us ever asked for this stuff. We got it whether we wanted it or not, dreamed up by inventors and shoveled at us by the marketplace, packaged to titillate. And even what we think of as the good stuff often has a seamy underside that tries to hook us and then takes what it wants from us while we’re mesmerized. Technology won’t be denied, but the particular shapes it takes are fabricated by other forces that may not have our best interests at heart. Here are two stories of how our economy shapes the tech scene that in turn shapes us.
The Water Cooler Has Ears
For starters, you might not know that online social media is older than the personal computer. Forty years back, you only needed a computer terminal, a modem, and a telephone to participate in collaborative messaging apps called electronic bulletin board systems (BBS). They ran on minicomputers, were noncommercial, and staffed by volunteers (called SysOps). Some relics of that era still exist, but as the Net unfolded, BBS’s begat Usenet, then Reddit, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. piled on, demonstrating that computer users crave real-time online contact—the core social media value proposition. But sooner or later, almost all proprietary social media platforms succumb to Wall Street discipline to monetize our personal data, relentlessly upgrade, piling on features we never wanted or needed, and stalk us wherever we roam.
Today we celebrate the release by Sony Pictures of “The Emoji Movie,” rated PG (for saucy language). Rush to see it before it sinks without a trace. One look at the animation’s trailer told me it’s everything I hoped it wouldn’t be. Okay, the characters look authentic and are well voiced by prominent actors, but finding Patrick Stewart reduced to playing a pile of poop was particularly depressing. Basically the entire film is a promo for the eponymous app plus others for Google, Facebook, YouTube and DropBox. It is meant for children, of course, but the the protagonist is pathetic and the plot is a downer. Critics were sad-faced, to say the least, with reactions ranging from to to . Writing for rogerebert.com, critic Peter Sobczynski ended his review with
“The Emoji Movie” may be as depressing of a film experience as anything to come out this year but if the [lack of positive] reaction of the kids that I saw it with is any indication, there may be hope for the future after all.
We can hope against hope. The very fact that an emoji movie exists alarms me, but that it’s propaganda for big Internet brands hardly comes as a surprise. I guess I should get used to seeing more of that.
Stories allow us to untangle experience, make sense of our lives, and find meaning. They are containers for wisdom and lifeboats for memory — helping us not to forget, and then later, not to be forgotten. ~ Jonathan Harris
Imagine you’re a 19th-century novelist whose supply of paper has just run out and more can’t be found anywhere. Well, something like that recently happened to more than 10,000 writers when their electrons ran out.
They all belonged to a community called Cowbird that flourished on the Net for about five years. Late last winter its founder pulled the plug, perhaps bored with the site’s upkeep but saying he wanted us all to make more of a mark on the real world. What he told the Cowbird community at the time was:
Over the past five years, we’ve told nearly 100,000 stories — stories about birth, youth, sex, love, work, war, faith, death, grief, grace, and countless other topics. Together, we created a public library of human experience, so our knowledge and wisdom could live on in the commons, as a resource for others to look to for guidance. We found beloved community here, forging deep and lasting connections.
He went on to explain what had changed his thinking about shepherding this community:
For close to five years I have been a member of an online community of writers called for no compelling reason cowbird.com, which grew to encompass 14,000+ writers who put out almost 90,000 stories, all tagged and organized, most with images, some with audio. Members could love and comment on stories and privately message one another. It was a happening place for authors and visual artists
Yesterday, Cowbird turned to stone. The writers and the stories will remain, but authors and readers can no longer interact and no new stories can be posted. Instead of being a living “library of human experience” it’s become the library’s archives. Continue reading “A Cowbird Walks out of a Bar…”