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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

How Silicon Valley enabled the forces that put Donald Trump in the White House

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Jason Tanz writes in Wired:

TWO YEARS AGO, journalist Anand Giridharadas took the stage at the TED Conference and told the attendant techno-solutionists that they were, in fact, part of the problem. Literally, that’s what he said. Here, I’ll quote him directly:

“If you live near a Whole Foods, if no one in your family serves in the military, if you’re paid by the year, not the hour, if most people you know finished college, if no one you know uses meth, if you married once and remain married, if you’re not one of 65 million Americans with a criminal record — if any or all of these things describe you, then accept the possibility that actually, you may not know what’s going on and you may be part of the problem.”

Seen from today, as Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president, Giridharadas’ message joins “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.” as one of the great unheeded warnings of the 21st century. That socioeconomic despair was profitably channeled to elect a president who—beyond his politics—represents a threat to most of the values the technocracy holds dear: transparency; multiculturalism; expertise; social progress. And, in the greatest of ironies, he used the tools and language of the technocracy to do it.

At least since the 1960s, the computer—and, beyond that, the Internet–has been a symbol and tool of personal liberation. Stewart Brand called the computer revolution “the real legacy of the sixties”–—an outgrowth of the “counterculture’s scorn for centralized authority.” The ideology was codified by WIRED alum Steven Levy in his 1984 book Hackers, in which he summarized the Hacker Ethic:

  1. Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
  2. All information should be free.
  3. Mistrust authority—promote decentralization.
  4. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  5. Computers can change your life for the better.

These precepts inspired a worldview that saw institutions and middlemen as malign forces that mostly constrained human potential, and that placed unlimited faith in unshackled individuals to improve the world and their own lives. For much of the past three decades, that philosophy has borne out. It has become an unspoken truism of corporate and civic life.

But Trump’s inauguration provides a damning counterargument, an example of how each of those ideas can be exploited to advance the very values they were created to oppose. Universal access to computers created a greater audience for Trump’s culture-jamming Twitter feed. An outpouring of free information sowed confusion and created cover for half- and untruths. Trump used anti-authoritarian rhetoric to sow mistrust of the very institutions that might have provided a firewall against his own authoritarian tendencies. Democratizing the tools of creative production created not just ennobling art but a million shitposts and Pepe memes.

In the wake of the election, some despairing technologists have wondered how to improve the products and systems that led to this result. “There are things we were optimizing for that had unintended consequences,” says Justin Kan, a venture capitalist at Y Combinator and co-founder of Twitch. In designing to maximize engagement, social networks inadvertently created hives of bias-confirmation and tribalism.

Or consider the effect innovation in computing has had on employment. “Thirty or 40 years ago, you could have a good, steady paying job without a college education,” says Ben Parr, cofounder of Octane AI and author of Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention. “There aren’t as many of those jobs any more, and a large part of that is because tech has changed the world over the last 40 years, and Silicon Valley played a big part in that.”

No doubt. But it might be time to ask even bigger questions. Questions like: Is technology always an ennobling force? Questions like: Does allowing humanity untrammeled access to one another always result in a better world? Questions like: Are individuals capable of processing all the information that they once relied on institutions to process for them? Questions like: After people free themselves from their social and cultural shackles, then what?

If it’s any consolation,Trump-era Americans will not be the first to ask themselves these questions. During the Second World War, psychologist Erich Fromm asked in Escape From Freedom why, despite an overarching trend toward greater personal freedom, large chunks of the western world had embraced authoritarianism. It was tempting, he argued, to consider this an aberration, the fault of a few madmen who “gained power over the vast apparatus of the state through nothing but cunning and trickery,” and who rendered their constituents “the will-less object of betrayal and terror.” But Fromm argued against this attempt to shift blame. There was something inherent in humanity that feared true freedom, that preferred to be dominated. In other words, Fromm thought this was a feature of human nature, not a bug.

o explain this tendency, Fromm distinguished between two kinds of freedom: negative freedom, casting off the shackles of social, political, and cultural restrictions; and positive freedom, finding a truer expression of self and identity. When the former occurs without the latter, he wrote, “the newly won freedom appears as a curse; [mankind] is free from the sweet bondage of paradise, but he is not free to govern himself, to realize his individuality.”

This distinction might sound familiar to students of the Iraq War and the Arab Spring—when dictators, toppled in the name of “freedom,” gave way to chaos, power vacuums and warlordism. It also might help explain Trump’s ascendance. In casting off many of the middlemen, sclerotic corporations, and bureaucracies that throttled human accomplishment, people have achieved negative freedom. But without the tools or power to forge a more meaningful society—a positive freedom—some have plunged back into the comforts of authoritarianism and domination.

This is the world the tech industry now faces, a world—at least in part—of its own creation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2017 at 9:17 pm

‘Let’s Care About Someone Who Does Not Belong to Our Tribe’

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In the Atlantic James Fallows has a column with some good regional news:

We could use a little positive news at the moment, right? Here you go:

Over the past three years we’re written a lot about Fresno in general, one of the unglamorous cities of California’s Central Valley that is fighting its way back as a tech and cultural center, and about Bitwise Industries in particular. Bitwise, which we wrote about here, here, and here, is one of several organizations around the country (like the Iron Yard in Greenville, S.C., and Radius and Epic and others in Erie, Pa.) that are pioneering the ideas of creating opportunities in left-behind areas; of expanding those opportunities to left-behind people; and meanwhile helping redevelop downtowns and bring a sense of pizzazz and possibility to their cities.

Yesterday in Fresno, Bitwise made another big announcement, of a physical expansion combined with a social and civic goal. The physical expansion was the steady growth of its business to several more historic downtown structures, including the Hotel Virginia and old warehouses.

Tim Sheehan’s story in the Fresno Bee about the announcement said: . . .

Continue reading. Photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2017 at 11:18 am

Hacker Group Anonymous Breaks Their Silence After Trump Goes Too Far On Twitter

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Carissa House-Dunphy has an interesting article at Bipartisan Report:

It was clear on Sunday that Donald Trump was overstepping his bounds in his Sunday night Twitter outburst.

After attacking Civil Rights hero John Lewis with ridiculous claims and throwing a tantrum about Saturday Night Live‘s portrayal of him, Trump stepped into some deep and murky waters by accusing the head of the CIA of “leaking” classified information to the media.

It’s so ironic that Trump, who paints himself as the leader of the anti-fake news movement against legitimate news sources like CNN when they report things he doesn’t like seems to love spreading false accusations and lies about others. Remember the non-existent Alicia Muchado sex tapes?

The real truth about Trump, however, has yet to be exposed. That may change in short order now that Trump’s latest tweets have sparked the interest of Anonymous.

Anonymous, the online hacker group, have been largely silent in recent months. It seems that silence may finally be ending.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 10:47 am

DARPA’s Off-Roaders Ditch Windows for a Digital World View

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That headline was totally opaque to me. They’re going to Linux? Is it a game?

Eric Adams’s article in Wired begins:

AUTONOMOUS WARRIORS MAY dominate the battlefield of tomorrow, but even those that still require human flesh will take on a robotic sheen. That shift could start with the end of windows.

This, at least, is what Raytheon is proposing for its contribution to Darpa’s new Ground X Vehicle Technologies program, an effort to improve of future tanks, fighting vehicles, and transports. Darpa hopes smart new tech will obviate the need for increasingly heavy armor by making vehicles harder to spot, catch, and kill.

Ditching windows is a natural move: you eliminate a key vulnerability in both structural strength and crew protection. Problem is, you have to figure out how the folks inside the vehicle will know what’s going on around them.

While a simple external camera feeding an internal LCD “window” could do the trick—like in one supersonic plane concept—Raytheon thinks it can deliver a whole lot more. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2017 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Military, Technology

Wide Impact: Highly Effective Gmail Phishing Technique Being Exploited

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From the site Wordfence:

As you know, at Wordfence we occasionally send out alerts about security issues outside of the WordPress universe that are urgent and have a wide impact on our customers and readers. Unfortunately this is one of those alerts. There is a highly effective phishing technique stealing login credentials that is having a wide impact, even on experienced technical users.

I have written this post to be as easy to read and understand as possible. I deliberately left out technical details and focused on what you need to know to protect yourself against this phishing attack and other attacks like it in the hope of getting the word out, particularly among less technical users. Please share this once you have read it to help create awareness and protect the community.

The Phishing Attack: What you need to know

A new highly effective phishing technique targeting Gmail and other services has been gaining popularity during the past year among attackers. Over the past few weeks there have been reports of experienced technical users being hit by this.

This attack is currently being used to target Gmail customers and is also targeting other services.

The way the attack works is that an attacker will send an email to your Gmail account. That email may come from someone you know who has had their account hacked using this technique. It may also include something that looks like an image of an attachment you recognize from the sender.

You click on the image, expecting Gmail to give you a preview of the attachment. Instead, a new tab opens up and you are prompted by Gmail to sign in again. You glance at the location bar and you see accounts.google.com in there. It looks like this….

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. The attack is ingenious in how it spreads and how it is exploited.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2017 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Antikythera in animated virtual construction

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It’s an amazing mechanism:

Sound is not needed.

The video is from Colin Marshall’s Open Culture post, which includes other videos (including the Lego Antikythera). Here’s an actual working model, also from that post:

Written by LeisureGuy

14 January 2017 at 10:54 am

Posted in Technology

Outgoing FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says net neutrality is not dead

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Klint Finley reports in Wired:

REPUBLICANS HAVE BEEN fighting to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules since before they were even passed in 2015. They may finally get their wish. The party will soon control the White House, both houses of Congress, and the FCC itself. But on the eve of his resignation as chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, who ushered in the rules, says it’s not too late to save net neutrality.

“Vigilance to protect things that we enjoy today must be our watchword,” said Wheeler in a speech at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC, today. The Obama appointee plans to resign his post on Inauguration Day next week.

Net neutrality is the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, and that internet service providers shouldn’t be able to discriminate against certain types of traffic. In other words, the Comcasts and Verizons of the world shouldn’t be able to block Skype or other voice calling applications in order to advantage their own telephone services, nor should they be able to slow down Netflix or other streaming video sites in order to promote their own television packages. In early 2015, the FCC passed the Open Internet Order, which reclassified internet service providers as utility-like common carriers and forbid them from blocking or throttling sites.

The Open Internet Order was met with praise from consumer advocacy groups, but the telecommunications industry has always argued that the rules amounted to over-regulation. Republican FCC commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly have made no secret of their desire to roll back many of the regulations passed under Wheeler. “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” Pai said at an event in Washington, DC, last month.

“President-elect Trump has repeatedly noted the detrimental impact of the current stifling regulatory environment on the American economy overall, and he has promised fast relief,” O’Rielly said at the same event.

But Wheeler says it’s not that easy for the FCC to overturn established rules. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the commissioners will need to explain what has changed in the past two years since the Open Internet Order was passed to justify a revoking in the regulations. The telecommunications industry has argued that the net neutrality regulations would kill investment in infrastructure. But a report by the telco industry group US Telecom paints a different picture. Yes, the industry spent about a billion less in 2015 than in 2014. But it spent more in 2015 than it did 2013. Internet providers are expected to ramp up investments further in coming years as they build 5G wireless networks. “So where’s the fire?” Wheeler asks. “Other than the desires of a few (internet service providers) to be free of meaningful oversight, why the sudden rush to undo something that is demonstrably working?”

Less Protection

The bigger threat, according to Wheeler, is that Congress will pass laws that pre-empt the FCC’s regulations while offering less protection. For example, the Thune/Upton net neutrality bill. It would ban internet providers from creating so-called “slow lanes” on the internet. But it wouldn’t stop companies from exempting sites or apps from data limits, a practice known as zero rating, which has become the biggest threat to net neutrality. This week, the FCC told Congressthat zero-rated services from AT&T and Verizon, both of which allow their own video services to bypass customers’ data caps, violate the Open Internet Order. But the FCC’s Republicans had already told AT&T and Verizon not to worry about the FCC’s findings until after the inauguration.

Protecting net neutrality from loophole-laden bills will require citizens to be vigilant. But net neutrality advocates could have some powerful companies on their side. “The ability of consumers and businesses to connect to and use open broadband networks is essential to the 21st century economy,” Wheeler says. “The delivery of products and services that will define our future requires gatekeeper-free access to networks.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 5:57 pm

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