Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Wow! This piece by Andrew Leonard in Salon is astonishing—and enthralling:
In the wee hours of the morning of January 27, 2013, a Wikipedia editor named “Qworty” made a series of 14 separate edits to the Wikipedia page for the late writer Barry Hannah, a well-regarded Southern writer with a taste for the Gothic and absurd.
Qworty cut paragraphs that included quotes from Hannah’s work. He removed 20 links to interviews, obituaries and reminiscences concerning Hannah. He cut out a list of literary prizes Hannah had won.
Two edits stand out. Qworty excised the phrase “and was regarded as a good mentor” from a sentence that started: “Hannah taught creative writing for 28 years at the University of Mississippi, where he was director of its M.F.A. program …” And he changed the cause of Hannah’s death from “natural causes” to “alcoholism.” But Hannah’s obituaries stated that he had died of a heart attack and been clean and sober for years before his death, while his role as a mentor was testified to in numerous memorials. (Another editor later removed the alcoholism edit.)
Taken all together, the edits strongly suggest a focused attempt to diminish Hannah’s legacy. But why? Who was Qworty and what axe did he have to grind with Hannah?
The answer to this question is on the one hand simple, almost trivial: Qworty turned out to be another author who had a long history of resenting Hannah. The late night Wikipedia edits are certainly not the first time that a writer’s ego has led to mischief. But the story is also important. Wikipedia is one of the jewels in the Internet’s crown, an amazing collective achievement, a mighty stab at realizing an awesome dream: a constantly updated repository for all human knowledge. It is created from the bottom up, a crowd-sourced labor of love by people who require no compensation for their work but also don’t need to jump through any qualifying hoops. Anyone can edit Wikipedia. Just create an account and start messing around! . . .
The US government, of course, routinely spies on its citizens, thanks to the Patriot Act and the willingness of Congress to allow the Executive and the telecomms to pass all electronic communications through the NSA.
Andrew Leonard has the interview in Salon:
What do you do when you’re a hacker specializing in secure communications protocols, and you get a request to help the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spy on its own people? For San Francisco’s Moxie Marlinspike, a respected computer security expert, the experience provoked a thoughtful examination of the current state of hacker culture.
Not so long ago, hackers often perceived themselves as standing in opposition to authority and governments. Moreover, the subcategory of hackers who specialized in discovering and publicizing security vulnerabilities — referred to as “exploits” in the security trade — did so out of a belief that the best way to improve the integrity of our communication systems was by publicizing dangerous security holes.
Times have changed. As Joseph Menn documented in a breakthough special report for Reuters last week, today’s security-minded hackers often end up working directly for defense contractors, hand in hand with the U.S. government. Identifying exploits and selling them off to the highest bidder has become a lucrative business. Worst of all, the buyers of these exploits aren’t interested in improving security, but instead often plan to deploy these vulnerabilities for their own purposes.
Marlinspike spoke with Salon on Tuesday morning to explain how his Saudi Arabian encounter encouraged him to challenge the hacker community to rethink its values.
A week ago you were approached by a Saudi Arabian telecom company. What did they want and why did they come to you?
The company Mobily is actually from the United Arab Emirates, but they are one of the three major telecoms that operate in Saudi Arabia. They’d gotten a requirement from the regulator in Saudi Arabia to be able to both monitor and block mobile application data — data transmitted from apps on phones. They were trying to meet that requirement and were looking for help on the surveillance.
You said they came to you because you had written some software tools that targeted security holes in communications software? Can you explain what that means?
A lot of these apps use a secure protocol for communicating with their server called SSL. I have spent some time doing security research in that area, and I’ve published a number of vulnerabilities concerning SSL over the years. I think they saw that and assumed that I would be able to help them intercept SSL communications.
Why had you chosen to focus on exposing such vulnerabilities?
For a bunch of reasons. I’m just interested in security protocols, for whatever weird reason. And SSL is probably the most popular secure protocol on the Internet, so focusing work in that area just makes a lot of sense, you know, bang for the buck. I’m also interested in doing research in secure protocols and specifically SSL because more and more that’s what we depend on for the security of our communications, and more and more there are people who are interested in intercepting that communication, and I think we have to look at it really critically to make sure that it is as secure as we want it to be.
Ultimately, you turned Mobily down. Why?
Well, I’m not interested in helping them surveil the private communications of millions of people.
That led to the Mobily guy saying to you: “If you are not interested then maybe you are indirectly helping those who curb the freedom with their brutal activities.” Kind of a,”if you’re not with us, you’re against us” moment. How did that make you feel?
Obviously concerned. But I do think it was a really great example of the same logic we are going to be confronted with over and over again. There’s sort of an ongoing debate in the security community about what our role is in this new dynamic where governments are weaponizing the insecurities that are out there. Over and over again we hear it’s us or them, you’re with us or against us, your choice is either bombs or exploits. That it is something that we in the security community need to be talking about and be aware of.
Joseph Menn’s Reuters article on how the U.S government is one of the biggest purchasers of these exploits was a real eye-opener. It’s weird to see security hackers co-opted by the military-industrial complex — selling exploits to the highest bidder. How did that happen? . . .
Again, via Open Culture:
Four years ago, I experienced musical polymath, rock producer, “drifting clarifier,” and high-tech painter Brian Eno‘s generative-art installation 77 Million Paintings in Long Beach. I also saw him give an entertaining talk there on his observations of and ideas about sound, images, and culture. This year, he brought the show to New York City, giving it the largest staging yet, and then sat down for an equally entertaining 80-minute Q&Afor the Red Bull Music Academy. Perhaps it sounds a little odd that a creator who has based the past few decades of recent solo work on quietude, reflection, and mental receptiveness would appear at such length in a forum sponsored by an energy drink, but hey, we live in interesting times, and Eno has interesting thoughts, no matter where he voices them.
Sitting back on a sofa (whose side table comes stocked with cans of Red Bull), Eno discusses composing music for hospitals after meeting a great many children born to his 1975 album Discreet Music; the amateur chorus he runs and with whom he sometimes invites famous singer friends to sit in; “scenius,” or the special kind of genius that emerges when large numbers of enthusiasts cohere into a scene; the DJ as cultural “lubricant”; his love of early 20th-century Russian painting; what makes popular music, from Abba to Beyoncé, sound popular; the importance of deadlines; and his new iPad app Scape, which, to his mind, should soon displace the tiresome conventions of Hollywood film scoring entirely. While this provides a stimulating introduction to Eno the intellectual, longtime fans will want to catch up with his latest thoughts on several favorite subjects, such as the value of surrender in not just experiencing but creating art, and the counterintuitive bursts of creativity that come when working with fewer options, not more.
Kevin Drum asks an interesting question at Mother Jones:
Robots! That’s the topic of my latest piece in the current issue of the magazine. I’ve blogged on this subject a fair amount, but this is the first time I’ve tried to put everything together and explain what I really think robotics is likely to mean over the next few decades. Some of you are going to nod right along, some of you are going to think I’m crazy, and any economists in the audience are going to be rolling their eyes at my rather casual use of macroeconomic trend statistics to help make my point. But I’m pretty sure none of you will be bored.
So what is my point? First off, it’s the obvious one that I think computer hardware and software are progressing fast enough that we’re not very far away from true artificial intelligence. Along the way I break exciting new ground in describing Ray Kurzweil’s “back half of the chessboard” analogy, which illustrates how continuous growth can look insignificant for a long time and then suddenly explode. After immense amounts of research, I decided on Lake Michigan as the key to my explanation of the chessboard analogy, but you’ll have to click the link to see what this means. It even comes with a nifty little graphic that our art department created to illustrate how Lake Michigan is just like a digital computer.
Why spend so much time on all of this? Because whenever the subject of AI comes up, everyone wants examples but people like me can’t come up with any. That’s because AI doesn’t exist yet. So we haul out Watson and driverless cars and so forth, and it all seems like pretty weak tea. But Lake Michigan explains why it’s not. All these examples that seem pretty lame and not really very AI-like are exactly what you’d expect as mileposts along the road to AI. They aren’t demonstrations of how far away we are, but exactly the opposite. They’re demonstrations of how close we are. When this all finally happens, it’s going to happen fast.
That’s the first half of the piece. The second half is about what all this means. If AI is coming—and coming quickly—what does it mean for the economy? In the long run, it will be great, an era of both infinite leisure and material progress. But in the medium run I think the consequences will be fairly grim: more and more people will be put out of work, and no, there won’t be new jobs that open up for them along the way. This will very decidedly not be a replay of the Industrial Revolution. What’s worse, it will all happen so slowly that we’re going to spend a long time denying what’s unfolding before our eyes, and a whole lot of people are going to suffer because of it. . .
Almost four years after the MV-22 Osprey arrived in Afghanistan, trailing a reputation as dangerous and hard to maintain, the U.S. Marines Corps finally has had an opportunity to test the controversial hybrid aircraft in real war conditions. The reviews are startlingly positive.
“This is an ugly duckling that turned into a swan,” said Richard Whittle, the author of “The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey” and a senior scholar at the Wilson Center, a research center in Washington. “It is still probably more expensive than it should be, and more expensive to operate. But I think many people are still laboring under the impression that it is dangerous to fly, when it now has probably the best safety record of any rotorcraft that the military flies.”
The odd aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but rotates its engines forward to fly like an airplane, had a star-crossed development period that took more than two decades and included huge cost overruns and crashes that claimed 30 lives. Its deployment to Iraq’s Anbar province from 2007 to 2009, where as combat waned it was used mainly to transport people and cargo, won it criticism from the Government Accountability Office over maintenance and performance issues.
In Afghanistan, however, the Marines have been able to use it more widely, flying it for everything from freight to hundreds of assaults, where it’s carried loads of Marines into or out of landing zones, often under intense fire. It’s twice as fast as the helicopter it replaces, the CH-46, it has substantially greater range, and can carry more cargo and more than twice as many troops. The Marines are learning how to maintain it in a harsh environment.
Whittle, once an Osprey skeptic, has become a fan. “The Osprey has proven itself in Afghanistan in a way it didn’t in Iraq,” he said. “Partly that was because it didn’t get the chance in Iraq. Also, it was new, and the military is conservative with new equipment, but once they see it gives them a significant leap in capability like this, they are quick to take advantage of it.” . . .
I had no idea that Netflix sopped up 1/3 of the Internet each evening. Here’s a close look at the company in a Bloomberg Businessweek article by Ashlee Vance:
On a normal weeknight, Netflix (NFLX) accounts for almost a third of all Internet traffic entering North American homes. That’s more than YouTube, Hulu, Amazon.com (AMZN), HBO Go, iTunes, and BitTorrent combined. Traffic to Netflix usually peaks at around 10 p.m. in each time zone, at which point a chart of Internet consumption looks like a python that swallowed a cow. By midnight Pacific time, streaming volume falls off dramatically.
As prime time wound down on Jan. 31, though, there was an unusual amount of tension at Netflix. That was the night the company premièred House of Cards, its political thriller set in Washington. Before midnight about 40 engineers gathered in a conference room at Netflix’s headquarters. They sat before a collection of wall-mounted monitors that displayed the status of Netflix’s computing systems. On the conference table, a few dozen laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other devices had the Netflix app loaded and ready to stream.
When the clocks hit 12 a.m., the entire season of House of Cards started appearing on the devices, as well as in the recommendation lists of millions of customers chosen by an algorithm. The opening scene, a dog getting run over by an SUV, came and went. At 12:15 a.m., around the time Kevin Spacey’s character says “I’m livid,” everything was working fine. “That’s when the champagne comes,” says Yury Izrailevsky, the vice president in charge of cloud computing at Netflix, which has a history of self-inflicted catastrophes. Izrailevsky stayed until the wee hours of the morning—just in case—as thousands of customers binge-watched the show. The midnight ritual repeated itself on April 19, when Netflix premièred its werewolf horror series Hemlock Grove, and will again on May 26, when its revival of Arrested Development goes live.Netflix has more than 36 million subscribers. They watch about 4 billion hours of programs every quarter on more than 1,000 different devices. To meet this demand, the company uses specialized video servers scattered around the world. When a subscriber clicks on a movie to stream, Netflix determines within a split second which server containing that movie is closest to the user, then picks from dozens of versions of the video file, depending on the device the viewer is using. At company headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., teams of mathematicians and designers study what people watch and build algorithms and interfaces to present them with the collection of videos that will keep them watching.
Netflix is one of the world’s biggest users of cloud computing, which means running a data center on someone else’s equipment. The company rents server and storage systems by the hour, and it rents all this computing power from Amazon Web Services, the cloud division of Amazon.com, which runs its own video-streaming service that competes with Netflix.
It’s a mutually beneficial frenemy relationship. Over the years, Netflix has built an array of sophisticated tools to make its software perform well on Amazon’s cloud. Amazon has mimicked the advances and offered them to other business customers. President Barack Obama’s data-fueled reelection campaign, for example, was run almost entirely on Amazon with the help of code built by Netflix engineers. . .
Read it and see what you think. It’s a McClatchy article by Greg Gordon:
In a U.S. patent application, a little-known Maryland inventor claims a stunning solar energy breakthrough that promises to end the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels at a fraction of the current cost – a transformation that also could blunt global warming.
Inventor Ronald Ace said that his flat-panel “Solar Traps,” which can be mounted on rooftops or used in electric power plants, will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy a cheap, clean and reliable alternative.
“This is a fundamental scientific and environmental discovery,” Ace said. “This invention can meet about 92 percent of the world’s energy needs.”
His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser, who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology.
Ace said he is arranging for a national energy laboratory to review his calculations and that his own crude prototypes already have demonstrated that the basic physics for the invention work.
If the trap even comes close to meeting his futuristic vision, its impact could be breathtaking: It could reorder the world’s energy landscape, end the global economic drag of soaring energy costs, and eventually curb greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for climate change.
That all might sound rather rosy, since the previously undisclosed invention has yet to be constructed and fully tested. But John Darnell, a scientist and the former congressional aide who has monitored Ace’s dogged research for more than three years and has reviewed his complex calculations, has no doubts.
“Anybody who is skilled in the art and understands what he’s proposing is going to have this dumbfounding reaction: ‘Oh, well it’s obvious it’ll work,’” said Darnell, a biochemist with an extensive background in thermodynamics.
“Ron has turned conventional wisdom about solar on its head,” he said. “He thinks outside the box.” . . .
Continue reading. There’s more detail at the link.
Amazing new building capabilities described in New Scientist by Hal Hodson (with a video at the link):
Editorial: ”Will digital architecture build follies or glories?“
THERE’S a winery outhouse in a field in Fläsch, Switzerland, that was built using robots and algorithms. Each one of its 20,000 bricks was laid at a precise angle and interval – by a robot arm. One hour away, in the town of Pfungen, the twisting brick facade of an office building has the same algorithmic origins. These are arguably the world’s first digital constructions in which computer designs have become a large-scale structural reality thanks to automated machine labour.
The outhouse and the office were built by ROB Technologies, a company spun out from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich by architect-cum-roboticist Tobias Bonwetsch. ROB has developed a mobile robotic construction platform (pictured above) which can be wheeled to any construction site, where it spits out customised brickwork. The bricks are laid according to any design chosen in the customised software which underpins the system. A robotic arm made by Kuka Robotics based in Augsburg, Germany, grabs each brick off a slide, daubs it with sticky epoxy resin and lays it with superhuman precision. The robot means designers can experiment with mathematically complex designs, knowing that every brick will be effortlessly, perfectly placed.
“We do things with the robot that would never have been done in a traditional, manual way,” Bonwetsch says. “As soon as every brick must be positioned differently, it’s very hard for a builder. But the robot doesn’t care.”
Swiss construction company Keller has given ROB more than half a million Swiss francs ($540,000) to develop its bricklaying robot. Upcoming projects include a robot-built wooden slat ceiling and a 3500-square-metre brick facade – Bonwetsch’s biggest project yet. A robot that could handle the tiling of a whole room with the same level of autonomy as a Roomba vacuum cleaner is also on the list.
Meanwhile, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, robo-arms and design software are being unleashed to create a whole house. Steven Keating at the MIT Media Lab took delivery of a truck with a 15-metre-long boom-arm last week. That vehicle is now being transformed into a giant robotic print head, capable of 3D-printing building-sized versions of the curvaceous mini-structures that festoon Keating’s office. “No one has ever built a robotic arm this large,” he claims. “Our end goal is a digital construction vehicle which would allow what we call print-in-place construction.” In other words, a system that can drive onto a construction site and automatically print a completely unique building directly from digital designs.
While Bonwetsch has succeeded in bringing digital construction to an industry niche, Keating is aiming to revolutionise the way we build. . .
This is really weird. The company that published (and through obnoxious spam solicited people to use) gambling software now attempts to pass to customers blame for defects in the software they were so eager that people use. I guess you’re not supposed to notice flaws in company strategy. Hell, why don’t they simply request $1 donations, of which they refund $.80? I’m reminded of a New Yorker subway cartoon: the coin machine on the pillar with a sign, “Deposit 10¢”. Cartoon man does, gets card, reads it: “Thank you.”
TL;DR: The company asked people to use the software it made available. Many did. End of story, should be.
Latest answer in a NY Times article by Martin Fackler:
Two years after a triple meltdown that grew into the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is faced with a new crisis: a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain.
Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools.
But even they are not enough to handle the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant — a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster and, in critics’ view, ad hoc decision making by the company that runs the plant and the regulators who oversee it. In a sign of the sheer size of the problem, the operator of the plant,Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, plans to chop down a small forest on its southern edge to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task that became more urgent when underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.
“The water keeps increasing every minute, no matter whether we eat, sleep or work,” said Masayuki Ono, a general manager with Tepco who acts as a company spokesman. “It feels like we are constantly being chased, but we are doing our best to stay a step in front.”
While the company has managed to stay ahead, the constant threat of running out of storage space has turned into what Tepco itself called an emergency, with the sheer volume of water raising fears of future leaks at the seaside plant that could reach the Pacific Ocean.
That quandary along with an embarrassing string of mishaps — including a 29-hour power failure affecting another, less vital cooling system — have underscored an alarming reality: two years after the meltdowns, the plant remains vulnerable to the same sort of large earthquake and tsunami that set the original calamity in motion. . .
Barry Eisler writes in The Guardian:
Until November 2007, when Amazon introduced the Kindle, the only viable means of book distribution was paper. Accordingly, a writer who wanted to reach a mass audience needed a paper distribution partner. A writer could hire her own editor and her own cover design artist; she could even hire a printing press to create the actual books. The one service she couldn’t hire out was distribution. And publishers didn’t offer distribution as an à la carte service. If a writer wanted distribution, she had to pay a publisher 85% of her revenues for the entire publishing package: editorial, copyediting, proofreading, jacket design, printing, and marketing, all bundled with distribution.
Was a price of 85% of revenues a good deal for this packaged publishing service? For some writers, it clearly was. JK Rowling became a cash billionaire via the traditional packaged publishing service, and obviously there are hundreds of other examples of authors for whom the packaged service has represented a good value.
But for every author who wanted and benefited from the packaged service, there were countless others who took it – if they could get it at all – only because they had no alternative.
Digital distribution has provided that alternative. And increasing numbers of authors are choosing it.
Digital book distribution is available to anyone who wants it. What in the paper world requires trucks, warehouses, a sales force, and longstanding relationships with buyers at dozens of retail operations, in digital is a push-button à la carte service offered by companies like Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo, and Smashwords. An author so inclined can buy digital distribution for 30% of the list price of the book she’s publishing – the same digital distribution a legacy publisher offers – and outsource all other publishing functions, all for significantly less than legacy publishers charge for their packaged service.
Tens of thousands of writers newly presented with the lower-priced, à la carte choice of self-publishing are taking it. Many others prefer the traditional route. Some are embracing a hybrid approach, doing one book with a legacy publisher, another with Amazon Publishing, and yet another by self-publishing.
Now, there’s nothing unnatural about this, you might think. Or undesirable. I myself have published books with legacy publishers, with Amazon Publishing, and via self-publishing. The various possibilities all have their advantages and disadvantages, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and different routes will make sense for different authors. What matters is that authors make informed choices – because, for the first time, we authors are fortunate enough to have choices to make.
And yet, when I offered these fairly axiomatic observations during a recent keynote at the 21st annual Pike’s Peak Writers Conference, the reaction among some editors and agents in the audience (and elsewhere) was extremely negative, with some walking out; others taking to Twitter to urge others to leave, to boycott my talks, and to boycott conferences where I’m talking; and a fair amount of name-calling.
The hostility is surprising in one sense (we’re just talking business, after all, not politics or religion), but in another sense it’s readily understandable. Because in essence, what I was describing in my talk was how digital distribution has changed the legacy publishing industry from something a writer needed, into something a writer might merely want. Because of digital, legacy publishing, which used to be a necessity, is now only potentially useful. . .
Bill Keller in the NY Times writes:
One of my favorite coffee-table books is an odd volume called “The Commissar Vanishes,” a portfolio of doctored photographs from Stalin’s Russia. When Stalin purged one of his fellow Bolsheviks, the comrade who fell from favor was duly cropped or airbrushed out of official photographs. “The Commissar Vanishes” juxtaposes the before and after. Here is the party stalwart grinning alongside Lenin in Red Square; and now — poof! — he’s gone. Person, un-person. History, un-history.
For a contemporary take on the subject of un-history, I take you now to a lawsuit scheduled for argument next month in a Connecticut courtroom. The case tests the proposition that in America in the Internet age, there are benign, even humane reasons that sometimes history should be erased.
Connecticut has a law that allows people accused of crimes to expunge the official record if a case is dismissed. Most states have some version of expungement laws, or erasure laws as they are sometimes called. They are intended to let those whose cases have been dropped or overturned get on with their lives, unencumbered by the taint of arrest. Thus under the Connecticut law any person whose record is erased “shall be deemed to have never been arrested” and “may swear so under oath.”
Lorraine Martin, a nurse in Greenwich, was arrested in 2010 with her two grown sons when police raided her home and found a small stash of marijuana, scales and plastic bags. The case against her was tossed out when she agreed to take some drug classes, and the official record was automatically purged. It was, the law seemed to assure her, as if it had never happened.
But Martin found that when she applied for jobs that should have been well within her reach, she got the cold shoulder. She Googled herself and discovered what any vigilant employer would have seen: stories still sitting in online news archives with headlines like “Mother and sons charged with drug offenses.”
“It’s essentially a scarlet letter,” her lawyer, Mark Sherman, told me. “She’s become unemployable in spite of the fact that she has no criminal arrest record.”
So Martin filed a class action against local news outlets, claiming that they had defamed her and everyone in a similar situation. Defamation is the publication of information that is both damaging and false. The arrest story was obviously true when it was first published. But Connecticut’s erasure law has already established that truth can be fungible. Martin, her suit says, was “deemed never to have been arrested.” And therefore the news story had metamorphosed into a falsehood.
There are passages in the court briefs that make you think the lawyers were possessed by the ghost of Lewis Carroll. They debate the difference between “historical fact” and “legal fact.” They dispute whether something that was true when it happened can become not just private but actually untrue, so untrue you can swear an oath that it never happened and, in the eyes of the law, you’ll be telling the truth. Several pages and copious footnotes are devoted to considering what the meaning of “publish” is. Martin’s lawyers insist that every time a search engine delivers the old story to a new reader, it amounts to republishing, and constitutes a new libel. The defending news companies say that is ridiculous.
The plaintiff’s brief concedes that the suit is “novel,” and most lawyers I talked to predicted the case would probably be dismissed. It seems to collide head on with the First Amendment. The closest thing I could find to a similar case, in New Jersey’s Supreme Court, was thrown out with a ruling that suggested the plaintiff’s logic was “Orwellian.”
But the dilemma underlying this case is real, and not so simple. The Connecticut case is just one manifestation of an anxious backlash against the invasive power of the Internet, a world of Big Data and ever more powerful search engines, in which it seems almost everything is permanently recorded and accessible to almost anyone — potential employers, landlords, dates, predators. In Europe, where press freedoms are less sacred and the right to privacy is more ensconced, the idea has taken hold that individuals have a “right to be forgotten,” and those who want their online particulars expunged tend to have the government on their side. In Germany or Spain, Lorraine Martin might have a winning case.
I sense that the idea is gaining traction here. . .
Matt Richtel in the NY Times:
WHEN the e-mail came out of the blue last summer, offering a shot as a programmer at a San Francisco start-up, Jade Dominguez, 26, was living off credit card debt in a rental in South Pasadena, Calif., while he taught himself programming. He had been an average student in high school and hadn’t bothered with college, but someone, somewhere out there in the cloud, thought that he might be brilliant, or at least a diamond in the rough.
That someone was Luca Bonmassar. He had discovered Mr. Dominguez by using a technology that raises important questions about how people are recruited and hired, and whether great talent is being overlooked along the way. The concept is to focus less than recruiters might on traditional talent markers — a degree from M.I.T., a previous job at Google, a recommendation from a friend or colleague — and more on simple notions: How well does the person perform? What can the person do? And can it be quantified?
The technology is the product of Gild, the 18-month-old start-up company of which Mr. Bonmassar is a co-founder. His is one of a handful of young businesses aiming to automate the discovery of talented programmers — a group that is in enormous demand. These efforts fall in the category of Big Data, using computers to gather and crunch all kinds of information to perform many tasks, whether recommending books, putting targeted ads onto Web sites or predicting health care outcomes or stock prices.
Of late, growing numbers of academics and entrepreneurs are applying Big Data to human resources and the search for talent, creating a field called work-force science. Gild is trying to see whether these technologies can also be used to predict how well a programmer will perform in a job. The company scours the Internet for clues: Is his or her code well-regarded by other programmers? Does it get reused? How does the programmer communicate ideas? How does he or she relate on social media sites?
Gild’s method is very much in its infancy, an unproven twinkle of an idea. There is healthy skepticism about this idea, but also excitement, especially in industries where good talent can be hard to find.
The company expects to have about $2 million to $3 million in revenue this year and has raised around $10 million, including a chunk from Mark Kvamme, a venture capitalist who invested early in LinkedIn. And Gild has big-name customers testing or using its technology to recruit, including Facebook, Amazon, Wal-Mart Stores, Google and Twitter.
Companies use Gild to mine for new candidates and to assess candidates they are already considering. Gild itself uses the technology, which was how the company, desperate for programming talent and unable to match the salaries offered by bigger tech concerns, found this guy named Jade outside of Los Angeles. Its algorithm had determined that he had the highest programming score in Southern California, a total that almost no one achieves. It was 100.
Who was Jade? Could he help the company? What does his story tell us about modern-day recruiting and hiring, about the concept of meritocracy?
PEOPLE in Silicon Valley tend to embrace certain assumptions: Progress, efficiency and speed are good. Technology can solve most things. Change is inevitable; disruption is not to be feared. And, maybe more than anything else, merit will prevail.
But Vivienne Ming, who since late in 2012 has been the chief scientist at Gild, says she doesn’t think Silicon Valley is as merit-based as people imagine. She thinks that talented people are ignored, misjudged or fall through the cracks all the time. She holds that belief in part because she has had some experience of it.
Dr. Ming was born male, christened Evan Campbell Smith. He was a good student and a great athlete — holding records at his high school in track and field in the triple jump and long jump. But he always felt a disconnect with his body. After high school, Evan experienced a full-blown identity crisis. He flopped at college, kicked around jobs, contemplated suicide, hit the proverbial bottom. But rather than getting stuck there, he bounced. At 27, he returned to school, got an undergraduate degree in cognitive neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego, and went on to receive a Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon in psychology and computational neuroscience.
During a fellowship at Stanford, he began gender transition, becoming, fully, Dr. Vivienne Ming in 2008.
As a woman, Dr. Ming started noticing that people treated her differently. There were small things that seemed innocuous, like men opening the door for her. There were also troubling things, like the fact that her students asked her fewer questions about math then they had when she was a man, or that she was invited to fewer social events — a baseball game, for instance — by male colleagues and business connections.
Bias often takes forms that people may not recognize. One study that Dr. Ming cites, by researchers at Yale, found that faculty members at research universities described female applicants for a manager position as significantly less competent than male applicants with identical qualifications. Another study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that people who sent in résumés with “black-sounding” names had a considerably harder time getting called back from employers than did people who sent in résumés showing equal qualifications but with “white-sounding” names.
Everybody can pretty much agree that gender, or how people look, or the sound of a last name, shouldn’t influence hiring decisions. But Dr. Ming takes the idea of meritocracy further. She suggests that shortcuts accepted as a good proxy for talent — like where you went to school or previously worked — can also shortchange talented people and, ultimately, employers. “The traditional markers people use for hiring can be wrong, profoundly wrong,” she said.
Dr. Ming’s answer to what she calls “so much wasted talent” is to build machines that try to eliminate human bias. It’s not that traditional pedigrees should be ignored, just balanced with what she considers more sophisticated measures. In all, Gild’s algorithm crunches thousands of bits of information in calculating around 300 larger variables about an individual: the sites where a person hangs out; the types of language, positive or negative, that he or she uses to describe technology of various kinds; self-reported skills on LinkedIn; the projects a person has worked on, and for how long; and, yes, where he or she went to school, in what major, and how that school was ranked that year by U.S. News & World Report.
“Let’s put everything in and let the data speak for itself,” Dr. Ming said of the algorithms she is now building for Gild.
Gild is not the only company now scouring for information. . .
NPR has a very interesting article on the modern style of prejudice and bias and why it feels good to exercise prejudice and bias.
First, Tom Brokaw has spoken out on the effects of America’s enthusiastic embrace of shooting missiles to kill civilians. David Sirota reports that for AlterNet:
“The stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” — Reverend Jeremiah Wright
In 2008, the hysterical backlash to the above comment by Barack Obama’s minister became a high-profile example of one of the most insidious rules in American politics: You are not allowed to honestly discuss the Central Intelligence Agency’s concept of “blowback” without putting yourself at risk of being deemed a traitor to country.
Now, five years later, with America having killed thousands of Muslim civilians in its drone strikes and wars, that rule is thankfully being challenged — and not by someone who is so easily smeared. Instead, the apostate is one of this epoch’s most revered journalists — and because of that, we will see whether this country is mature enough to face one of its biggest national security quandaries.
This is the news from Tom Brokaw’s appearance on “Meet the Press” last Sunday. Discussing revelations that the bombing suspects may be connected to Muslim fundamentalism, he said:
We have got to look at the roots of all of this because it exists across the whole (Asian) subcontinent and the Islamic world around the world. I think we also have to examine (America’s) use of drones (because) there are a lot of civilians who are innocently [sic] killed in a drone attack in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And I can tell you having spent a lot of time over there, young people will come up to me on the streets and say, ‘We love America, but if you harm one hair on the head of my sister, I will fight you forever.’ And there is this enormous rage against what they see in that part of the world as a presumptuousness of the United States.”
As one of the establishment’s most venerated voices, Brokaw is not prone to radical statements. But in a nation that often avoids acknowledging its own role in intensifying cycles of violence, it is unfortunately considered radical to do what the NBC News veteran did and mention that our violent attacks abroad increase the chance of retributive attacks at home.
Of course, Brokaw was merely stating the obvious: With America having killed thousands of civilians in its wars, we should be appalled by acts of terrorism — but we shouldn’t be surprised by them. We should know that violence will inevitably come from those like the Boston bombing suspect who, according to the Washington Post, “told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack.”
Noting this is not to argue that such attacks are justified or that we deserve them. It is only to reiterate what Brokaw alluded to: Namely, that blowback should be expected in this age of Permanent War and that one way to potentially avert such blowback in the future is to try to de-escalate the cycle of violence. . .
And note this ProPublica report from Cora Currier:
The officially secret drone war, carried out in some of the world’s most dangerous regions, is extremely challenging to report on. Several thousand people have been killed in hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and other attacks carried out beyond the battlefield in Afghanistan, but from legal memos to casualty estimates, the government has made little hard data about the wars public. (ProPublica has been covering the lack of transparency about the drone program.)
Mark Mazzetti, New York Times national security reporter and author of “The Way of the Knife,” and Adam Baron, who reports from Yemen for McClatchy, the Christian Science Monitor, and others, joined ProPublica’s Cora Currier to share their experiences covering drone strikes. Some key takeaways:
- Though the U.S. says it will only kill when capture is not feasible, sources on the ground say many targeted killings are of people that could have been arrested. “It does appear that in Pakistan, the tribal areas have basically been declared a ‘no capture zone,’” Mazzetti wrote.
- The term “drone war” doesn’t cover the strikes in Yemen carried out by manned aircrafts. “It seems like public opinion in the U.S. seems to focus on the issue of the unmanned drone, while in Yemen, the issue is largely the idea of airstrikes itself,” Baron explained.
- Getting details in the aftermath of a drone strike is a huge challenge. Strikes often happen in remote districts, and there can be lots of misinformation about who was killed.
See the full transcript of their conversation here. . .
Continue reading to follow the interview/exchange of tweets.
Obama is exhibiting a bad form of denial in his insistence on secrecy about every aspect of his assassination program. DemocracyNow! has a video of some of the Senate hearing. The video transcript is also provided:
Six days after the U.S. bombed his village, Yemeni activist Farea al-Muslimi testified on Capitol Hill about the terror of the U.S. drone wars. Al-Muslimi spoke during the Senate’s first-ever public hearing on the Obama administration’s targeted killing program. His family’s village was hit by a U.S. drone strike last week. The White House refused to send an official to defend the program’s legality. “When they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time,” al-Muslimi says of his fellow Yemenis. “What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.” Others to testify at the hearing included law scholars and members of the U.S. military.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Nermeen Shaikh, sitting in for Amy Goodman.
On Tuesday, the Senate held its first-ever public hearing on the U.S. secret drone program, 12 years after the United States launched its first deadly drone strike. By some estimates, more than 4,000 people have been killed in drone strikes since then. The Obama administration is facing criticism after it refused to send anyone to testify at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, despite President Obama’s vow to be more forthcoming about the drone program.
Witnesses at the hearing included Georgetown University Law Professor Rosa Brooks, who served as the Pentagon’s special coordinator for rule of law and humanitarian policy during Obama’s first administration.
ROSA BROOKS: What it comes down to, Senator—Senator Durbin, Senator Cruz, is that right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone anywhere on earth at any time for secret reasons based on secret evidence in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. That frightens me. I don’t doubt their good faith, but that’s not the rule of law as we know it.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Marine General James Cartwright, also testified at Tuesday’s Senate hearing. He criticized the secrecy surrounding the drone program.
GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT: I am concerned we may have ceded some of our moral high ground in this endeavor. While I continue to support the objectives of this campaign, I commend to the committee for its consideration the recommendations in my written and oral statements.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The most moving testimony at the Senate hearing on drones came from Farea al-Muslimi, a youth activist from Yemen. His family’s village was hit by a U.S. drone strike last week.
FAREA AL-MUSLIMI: I am from Wessab, a remote village mountain in Yemen. Just six days ago, my village was struck by an American drone in an attack that terrified the region’s poor farmers. Wessab is my village, but America has helped me grow up and become what I am today. I come from a family that lives off the fruit, vegetables and livestock we raise in our farms. My father’s income rarely exceeded $200. He learned to read late in his life, and my mother never did.
My life, however, has been different. I am who I am today because the U.S. State Department supported my education. I spent a year living with an American family and attending an American high school. That was one of the best years of my life. I learned about American culture, managed the school basketball team and participated in trick-or-treat on Halloween.
But the most exceptional is an experience was coming—the most exceptional experience was coming to know someone who ended up being like a father to me. He was a member of the U.S. Air Force. Most of my years—most of my year was spent with him and his family. He came to the mosque with me, and I went to church with him. And he became my best friend in America. I went to the U.S. as an ambassador for Yemen, and I came back to Yemen as an ambassador of the U.S.
I could never have imagined that the same hand that changed my life and took it from miserable to promising one would also drone my village. My understanding is that a man named Hammed al-Radmi was the target of a drone strike. Many people in Wessab know al-Radmi, and the Yemeni government could easily have found and arrested him. Al-Radmi was well known to government officials, and even to local government—and even local government could have captured him if the U.S. had told them to do so.
In the best, what Wessab’s villagers knew of the U.S. was based on my stories about my wonderful experiences here. The friendships and values I experienced and described to the villagers helped them understand the America that I know and that I love. Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time. What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger against America in Wessab.
This is not an isolated incident. . .
If you’re fascinated by this sort of thing:
Then you must watch the video of the construction of real-life versions via 3-D printing. Amazing.
Caroline Winter writes in Bloomberg Businessweek:
Neuroscientist and former software engineer Ruggero Scorcioni found himself consistently distracted by the phone while he was trying to work. “If I’m busy coding or thinking about research and have phone calls coming in, it’s hard to get back into the same mental state,” says Scorcioni, 42. “Maybe you had a great idea, but then it’s gone.” In January, on a whim, he entered an AT&T app-development hackathon, and came up with a solution.
His idea was sparked by a gift to participants: a cat-ear headset built by Neuro-wear with sensors that track the wearer’s brain waves and perk up fluffy motorized ears during periods of high brain activity. Scorcioni, who’d just finished a fellowship at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, Calif., decided to hack the headset to create an app that blocks incoming calls when the receiver is concentrating. With 26 hours to complete the hackathon, he worked until the last minute, pausing only for two hours of sleep and a shower. That labor produced a working prototype of Good Times, which analyzes real-time brain wave data from the headset, then sends commands to AT&T’s telephone network to either permit or block incoming calls. Blocked callers are redirected to an automated message asking them to try again later. Scorcioni describes the app as “a mentally activated ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.”
The Good Times prototype won . . .