William Gibson on Google’s Earth

September 2, 2010

Source: New York Times

“I ACTUALLY think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” said the search giant’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, in a recent and controversial interview. “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

“G” as in God? Whether you found it online yesterday (31-Aug-2010) or in today’s dead tree edition (or just hearing about it now), cyberpunk’s godfather William Gibson gives his op-ed about Google’s want of playing god in telling us what to do.

OK, it’s not because of Google’s want of telling us what to do, but the apparent need of anyone who uses the big “G” to decide what they want to do. Those who use G’s services actually contribute to the search giant’s ability to make decisions for us. Gibson likens G to a genie that can grant our wishes:

We would all very much like to be sagely and reliably advised by our own private genie; we would like the genie to make the world more transparent, more easily navigable. Google does that for us: it makes everything in the world accessible to everyone, and everyone accessible to the world.

Of course, the “everyone accessible to the world” part is what some balk at as we find our personal information being more and more exposed online.

 

The inmates run the prison. The idea of Google being a sort of panopticon prison, with G as the proverbial omnipotent warden and us as the inmates, but Gibson argues that is only half-true:

In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy. But we do not participate in Google on that level. We’re citizens, but without rights.

As said before, it’s the people who use Google’s services who actually contribute to the building of the panopticon, and the real problem comes in when those people (over)expose themselves on social network sites. Gibson sees possibilities in a fake identity industry for such carelessness since Google doesn’t seem interested in protecting users from their own stupidity.

 

Don’t blame the government. It would be easy to do so IF the advances in technology wasn’t so quick. But when the only law Google follows is Moore’s Law, technology will always stomp a mud hole in legislation’s face and walk it dry:

We also seldom imagined (in spite of ample evidence) that emergent technologies would leave legislation in the dust, yet they do. In a world characterized by technologically driven change, we necessarily legislate after the fact, perpetually scrambling to catch up, while the core architectures of the future, increasingly, are erected by entities like Google.

Then again, Google is “a very large and powerful corporation to boot.” Too big to fail, and far too big to give a fuck.

This post has been filed under Internet Find, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Paul Buchheit on Applied Philosophy (aka “Hacking”)

October 21, 2009

Source: Paul Buchheit’s Blog

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is the mastermind behind Google’s Gmail and AdSense, and founder of FriendFeed (now part of Facebook). Click the pic to read the post being described.

A familiar storyline? Computer programming genius Paul Buchheit has his own blog (who doesn’t these days?), and while most of his posts have been geared to the techno-geeks, a post from last week has a certain, eerily familiar ring to it:

Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the truth, and discover the actual rules of a system. Once the actual rules are known, it may be possible to perform “miracles” — things which violate the perceived rules.

 

Shortcuts and Loopholes. Paul describes how he feels that hacking fits this description of violating perceived rules, and gives his work with AdSense as an example. Hacking these days goes beyond the computer:

Hacking isn’t limited to computers though. Wherever there are systems, there is the potential for hacking, and there are systems everywhere. Our entire reality is systems of systems, all the way down.

This hacking of systems results from a certain mindset… the “hacker mindset”… that breaks from the “straight and narrow” path in favor of “shortcuts and loopholes”; That there are always undiscovered areas of opportunity, and those who can exploit them become incredibly successful at the expense of others (an old obsolete system or innocent victims). Of course, these hacks can result in a vast improvement of something (Google’s rise as the predominant search engine) or an apocalyptic failure (bailouts).

 

Hack the future. Most don’t bother about finding the truth or even care if someone else does. Some people are content with just finding the truth about reality, but hackers try to bend that truth to see if it breaks or if it holds up. Those are the people, Paul says, who will make the future for us:

To discover great hacks, we must always be searching for the true nature of our reality, while acknowledging that we do not currently possess the truth, and never will. Hacking is much bigger and more important than clever bits of code in a computer — it’s how we create the future.

This post has been filed under Internet Find by Mr. Roboto.

Web Science: Because “We no longer fully understand the web.”

June 9, 2009

Sources: NewScientist, Web Science Research Initiative

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, is now concerned that the net has become more powerful than even he believed possible. Now, he wants to put it under a microscope so he/we can understand why.

The Web is God? When Tim Berners-Lee first created what would be the foundations for the Web (not the Net, WEB. Let’s get our usage right.), he could not have predicted the explosive growth seen in the 1990s through today. In fact, the Web is now so ingrained into our cultures that humanity is practically fused to it. This fusion is causing its own problems.

That is giving Berners-Lee some cause for alarm. To study the effects that the Web is now having on humanity, he has founded the Web Science Research Initiative and came up with the term Web Science to describe what the WSRI is studying:

When we discuss an agenda for a science of the Web, we use the term “science” in two ways. Physical and biological science analyzes the natural world, and tries to find microscopic laws that, extrapolated to the macroscopic realm, would generate the behavior observed. Computer science, by contrast, though partly analytic, is principally synthetic: It is concerned with the construction of new languages and algorithms in order to produce novel desired computer behaviors. Web science is a combination of these two features. The Web is an engineered space created through formally specified languages and protocols. However, because humans are the creators of Web pages and links between them, their interactions form emergent patterns in the Web at a macroscopic scale. These human interactions are, in turn, governed by social conventions and laws. Web science, therefore, must be inherently interdisciplinary; its goal is to both understand the growth of the Web and to create approaches that allow new powerful and more beneficial patterns to occur.

Web Science Collision map

As you can see by this ’simple’ map, the Web affects many aspects of society, so there are many aspects to Web Science to consider. It’s even possible that the Singularity may be lurking in here, with SHODAN and Skynet.

 

Weird Science, or necessary discipline?

(From NewScientist) How does understanding these emergent systems affect society?

Because if you get it right, you can create a new social phenomenon that changes how people operate. Take designing an online market for second-hand goods: if you get the website’s balance of social and technical wrong, or mess up its trust and reputation model, it won’t work. But if you get it right, you create a market for used goods internationally that can affect the price of products around the world because it provides the price of the second-hand alternative. It is a web phenomenon that changed the way society works, and we need a science to understand it.

Web Science sounds like something that people who work with the Web need to know, not just for designing sites, but for security and privacy as well. But is it something worth getting a PhD for? The biggest test will be when… or if… they are able to but the science into actual use for everyday people. Remember: In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.

This post has been filed under Internet Find, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

Machines Have No Conscience: Sadistical Fiction

March 28, 2009

Review By: Mr. Roboto

Author: Sadistical

Year: ????

Read it online.

A bit of online prose for you to peruse.

A familiar story. Every so often I do random web searches for some of my favorite songs/moves/etc. When I used Yahoo! to look for info on Queensryche’s classic track “NM 156,” I decided to use the opening line “machines have no conscience.” The very first result was this page; A bit of science fiction verse. Not exactly what I was looking for, but as I read it I had the feeling that I was reading some cyberpunk poetry… and what could very well be a story from the Terminator universe set in the future.

 

It Could Be An “Album.” The poem is divided into seven parts that tell a story of one person’s fight against the “Metal Gods,” the machines of the future:

1. Machines Have No Conscience
2. Metal Gods
3. Revolution
4. Terminate 156
5. My Mission
6. Next Action
7. Stand Proud

As you read, you might get the feeling of deja vu. Not because of the storyline itself, but some of the lines come straight from Queensryche (Sadistical lists them as one of his favorite bands).

I have to give him cred, Sadistical has put together a short but sweet verse that could very well become a concept album given the right music and musicians.

This post has been filed under Internet Find by Mr. Roboto.

War Against TRUTH: WikiLeaks’ Month of Hell

March 28, 2009

Source: WikiLeaks

wikileak.jpg

Information longs to be free. Setting it free, that’s the tough part.

March Madness. When WikiLeaks first started as a “whistle-blowing” site not long ago, they knew they would be in for some major fights in their quest to to get the truth out in the form of leaked documents. Somehow, despite lawsuit-happy suits, government thugs, and technical glitches, they managed to survive and even thrive to get privileged insider information out. But March 2009 is becoming a major test for the sunshine site because of lists of “banned” sites that they posted.

Things actually started last December when they published Denmark’s secret censorship site list, which includes some 3863 sites as of February 2009, with some legitimate sites being caught in the anti-child porn hysteria.

The list is generated without judicial or public oversight and is kept secret by the ISPs using it. Unaccountability is intrinsic to such a secret censorship system.

The list has been leaked because cases such as Thailand and Finland demonstrate that once a secret censorship system is established for pornographic content the same system can rapidly expand to cover other material, including political material, at the worst possible moment — when government needs reform.

On March 18, they published Norway’s blacklist for the same reason. Then Australia chimed in, and things started getting nasty…

 

Down Under Lowdown. Australia is preparing its own Internet “filtering” scam… scheme… whatever, and already the dingo-do is hitting the fans. The Australian Communications and Media Authority, or ACMA, said that it would fine anyone who hyperlinked to a banned site $11K/day. They threatened the host of an Internet forum with the fine for a link to a US anti-abortion site (link) to flex their muscles, then added WikiLeaks to their blacklist. WikiLeaks then published the ACMA’s blacklist (Latest version).

Things started to get personal Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Steven Conroy, threaten to go after WikiLeaks and their source. WikiLeaks’ response:

“Under the Swedish Constitution’s Press Freedom Act, the right of a confidential press source to anonymity is protected, and criminal penalties apply to anyone acting to breach that right.

Wikileaks source documents are received in Sweden and published from Sweden so as to derive maximum benefit from this legal protection. Should the Senator or anyone else attempt to discover our source we will refer the matter to the Constitutional Police for prosecution, and, if necessary, ask that the Senator and anyone else involved be extradited to face justice for breaching fundamental rights.”

Senator Conroy may wish to consider the position of the South African Competition Commission, which decided to cancel its own high profile leak investigation in January after being advised of the legal ramifications of interfering with Sunshine Press sources.

For the record, WikiLeaks is based in Stockholm.

 

Gestapo Tactics. Given the leaks of the censorship blacklists so far, it seems that the German police raid of the home of the WikiLeaks.de domain owner is more than just a coincidence. “Distribution of pornography”… “Discovery of evidence” … Rrrrriiiiiggggghhhhhttttt! You can see the documents about the raid here.

This may only be the beginning of a war against WikiLeaks. We’ll keep you advised of any major developments to come… assuming Cyberpunk Review hasn’t been added to some super-secret NSAT&T/RIAA/MPAA/UN blacklist…

This post has been filed under Internet Find by Mr. Roboto.

No Privacy Without Piracy

February 19, 2009

Source: Julian Togelius’ Blog

Julian Togelius

Julian’s Blogger profile shows he’s into technology, but has he come across something with a slogan he just pulled out of the ether?

Julian Togelius normally blogs about his work in artificial intelligence. However, on Monday 16-February-2009, he posted something that came to him completely out of the blue… or it got knocked loose from watching/reading/hearing about the currently in-progress Sweden vs. The Pirate Bay trial. It came to him in the form of a “slogan:”

NO PRIVACY WITHOUT PIRACY

Julian’s explanation:

The idea is that any method I’ve ever heard of for eradicating piracy, and indeed any conceivable method for doing so, build on also eradicating (or at least severely curtailing) privacy.

If you follow technology in the past few years, any anti-pirating tech has always come with anti-privacy issues whether it is DRM spyware or ISP wiretaps. In one simple slogan, Julian hopes to take the piracy-privacy connection to a new level, make people think more about the two, and possibly spread the word around viral-meme style.

So, is it an “All Your Base…” worthy battle cry, or something to be forgotten like Goatse and Tubgirl?

This post has been filed under Internet Find by Mr. Roboto.

The Unwillingness to Think for Ourselves

January 14, 2009

Source: The Student Operated Press (SOP)

A little something to tweak your brain. One thing I like about cyberpunk is how it makes you think about how technology is taking over our lives, and what good or harm that does. Consider this little essay a subtle hint about the “harm” part.

Actually, it’s about the author’s preference of Faulkner over Hemingway; A rejection of media-for-the-masses in favor of more intellectual fare, and why this may have saved his brain from mutating into sheeple-think:

We didn`t know it then, but the age of instant gratification and horse-race criticism was aborning. From there on fiction would be adjudged by whether it was a page-turner or a beach read. The best-seller list would reflect not literary quality but marketing expertise.

So, how does this relate to cyberpunk? This op-ed piece seems to touch on two cyberpunk themes: Control over society, and access to information. You control the information, you control what the sheeple think, and therefore, you control the society. You REALLY think that all those national firewalls and “filters” going up is to combat porn and piracy?

What happens to a society that can’t think for itself?

Clarity and forward motion would become buzz words for an underlying unwillingness to embark on the adventure that Proust`s marvelous powers of observation posed, just as the Republican Southern Strategy of the 1960s was actually a buzz term for license to keep on hating and oppressing. It was assumed that Crane had tied a mass of knots that were not worth untying, whereas in fact he had pressed the language into service for a voyage, much like fitting a spaceship. The critics were licensing the public to dumb down. The marketers were supplanting the editors. Such a society was bound sooner or later to accept a George W. Bush or Dick Cheney as leaders, because it had given up its intellectual future without a whimper.

We have allowed taste-making apparatchiks to turn literature into a horse race in which someone has to win and someone has to lose, a fundamentally silly idea. The winners of course will be the worst books, the worst minds, and, it goes without saying, the most venal.

Still need a clue? Check this Guidespot.com post called “SHEEPLE” things we LOVE because we can’t think for ourselves.

This is mass-media on your brain. Any Questions?

Cyberpunk, the cure for non-functional brains. Fortunately for us, cyberpunk has managed to stay out of the mass-media spotlight enough to not be co-opted into a propaganda brain-cell killer, though not from the lack of trying. Despite Time Magazine’s best efforts in 1993, cyberpunk survived the limelight and remained mostly underground. This kept the genre vital and interesting to inspire newer generations of CP fans and artists.

So next time you feel your brain-cells being anesthetized by mass-media, reach for a cyberpunk book, movie, or CD, and reboot your brain.

This post has been filed under Internet Find, Essays by Mr. Roboto.

First recorded usage of “Hacker” from MIT paper in 1963

October 4, 2008

Source: Gustavo Duarte

For the record… My day-job has me working at a document-to-data conversion company. That means we take physical paper documents, run them through various types of scanners connected to computers, and crunch the images to make files that can be indexed for searches and/or burned to optical media. Such operations are important to save possibly historical documents that could be lost over time as paper rots away.

Because you never know when you might come across gems like this…

Scan of 1963 MIT Paper where 'hacker' was 1st used

An scanned image of the MIT “The Tech” newspaper where “hacker” is reportedly first used.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology newspaper, and Professor Calton Tucker specifically, has the claim of first using the term “hacker” in recorded media. This information was found via Yale University’s Dictionary of Quotations.

 

Colored Connotations. As you can see from the article, “hacker” has had black-hat connotations from the start, so the mainstream media really can’t be blamed for that, though white-hats have been working hard at correcting that.

What’s not mentioned is how Professor Tucker came up with the term, especially since what’s being described is considered “phreaking” (though the use of the PDP-11 is definitely war dialing).

 

Too soon? Or not soon enough? There’s nothing that says this is officialy the first use of “hacker;” This is the earliest recording of the term so far. There’s still old documents out there waiting to be scanned, maybe something with an earlier use of “hacker” not yet discovered. Though with a couple of the the comments suggesting that “hacker” need not be limited to computers and technology, such a discovery could complicate matters.

A few bytes for interested cyberpunk historians to “nybble” on.

This post has been filed under Internet Find by Mr. Roboto.