TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Copyright. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Copyright. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Redefinitions of Currency 3: Kim Dotcom's Scary Tweets



Kim Dotcom (aka Kim Schmitz), the Finnish-German-Kiwi Internet pirate, has decided that the USA is going to go the way of Venezuela. Dotcom is piloting a new crypto-powered ecosystem, K.im, and his own branded KimCoin, to reward content creators. This month, the Megaupload and Mega founder, Assange ally, Deep State foe, and founder of the Internet Party has also been writing scary tweets about the future of the US and global economy.

Dotcom has an axe to grind, because his companies' copyright violations led in July 2018 to a New Zealand court ruling that he could face extradition to the United States for racketeering, money laundering, fraud, and criminal copyright charges. While this gives him a motive to trash talk the US, and he is fundraising for a new project to cover his legal bills, Dotcom really believes that America's economy is about to go bust.

He has thought so for awhile. Originally, the hacker was based on the top floor of the five-star Grand Hyatt Hotel in Hong Kong. But Dotcom moved to New Zealand because he felt it was the best place to start and raise a family during and after World War III. As he put it:
"You wouldn't want to be stuck in a penthouse at the top of a hotel tower when it's end days. ... That's why I was looking for a place. And I thought that if I had somewhere in the South Island, shielded by mountain ranges on both sides, I would install a really sophisticated solar power plant. I was thinking if I had something like that, you could survive. New Zealand strategically is the safest spot in the world. It has everything that is required to sit it out and start again."
Dotcom is not alone. The very rich are talking about the end of the world and building bunkers in preparation. They see the future just like the backwoods and doomsday cult preppers, except billionaires build nicer bunkers.





Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Defend the Right to Repair


Image Source: LA Times (Hat tip: The Outer Light).

The tech giants have moved one step closer toward criminalizing anyone who refurbishes or recycles old electronics. The hypocrisy of Silicon Valley companies came into sharp relief as a US federal appeals court in Miami ruled to imprison a tech waste e-cycler on 11 April 2018.



HLN LIVE Recycler Eric Lundgren - Stands Up For Repair and Recycling! (2 May 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Losing Our Addiction


Mark Zuckerberg in 2009: Facebook privacy is central - BBC News (21 March 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

The endgame of social media is becoming clear. The exciting 2000s and early 2010s were the heyday of the Creative Commons. A beautiful ideal established in 2001, the Creative Commons refers to the free-sharing of information, the democratization of data.

The Commons made way for cyber-variants of political ideologies, which attempted to describe and defend new virtual freedoms. Social media seemed to offer soapboxes and development venues for tech-savvy individuals. Some of these individuals became hacktivists and citizen journalists, who used search engines and video platforms like Youtube to expose the power structures of the world. They fell for the tempting promise that the little person could finally be empowered, independent, and free. Having identified themselves in the system as potential leaders, they are now being censored. Each new liberty in this testing ground has led social media users ever deeper into a matrix of control.

It is evident that early Millennial spaces of free discussion, sexual libertinism, and politically liberated behaviour, alongside honeypot offers of cheap hardware and open source toolkits, were always controlled environments. Think of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google and even the chans! - as Petri dishes and you start to get a better idea of what has been happening. As I stated in an earlier post about the Dark Web, anonymity is a myth. These free spaces were merely opportunities to gather vast amounts of human data for future AI systems, dedicated to social control and surveillance.

"Sean Parker, 38, claims social media sites like Facebook are 'exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology' and said social media pioneers like himself 'understood this consciously and we did it anyway.'": Facebook founder warns of social media addiction (10 November 2017). Video Source: Youtube/ABC News.

Last year, VICE talked to Google ex-designer and ethicist Tristan Harris. Harris confirmed that social media platforms were deliberately designed to addict their users and employed tricks used in casinos, such as intermittent variable rewards. Social media platforms use social reciprocity, social approval, fear of missing out, and fear of social exclusion to trick users into sharing their personal data and their emotional sensibilities around that data. It's all done in a climate of fake positivity, driven by an undercurrent of addiction, social threat, and fear.

Social media platforms also employ principles of deception because they only offer users certain courses of behaviour, with few considering the choices which were not made available. You can read Harris's essays on this topic here.


Facebook's ex-president Sean Parker confirmed the founding principles of the platform in a series of interviews last year; from Slate:
"The thought process was all about, 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?', he said. 'And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social validation feedback loop. … You’re exploiting a vulnerabilty in human psychology.'"
Parker's revelations mean that in the 2009 interview at the top of this post, Mark Zuckerberg was outright lying to the BBC about Facebook's endgame. Today's Silicon Valley marketing is reminiscent of cigarette ads from the 1950s through the 1980s, which deliberately misled consumers about the terrible health effects of smoking.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Innovation in the Wild West


Travel on the back roads. Image Source: pinterest.

In this post, I intended to expand on my Wild West Theory of Innovation, continued from my 19 November 2016 post, Enter the Frontier. My idea was not based on the current American television series, which echoes the same notion that techno-societies have entered a Westworld. The piece became too long, and I have decided to submit it elsewhere.

Rather than fully elaborate on my understanding of a positive path through the frontier, this post will describe the initial inspiration I had for the piece. I started with the idea that when a society innovates radically and rapidly, the innovators will encounter marginalized people and ideas as they push into the outer reaches.

There is a paradox here. Although innovation is depicted in our culture as progressive, futuristic and positive, innovation starts from a point of social, political or economic alienation. The journey into innovation is an epic trek into the frontier, a 'wild west.' I suggest that the narrative of innovation does not automatically line up with the narrative of positive progress. The innovator, in inventing, transforming and changing the status quo, will confront society's fears and uncertainties, as much as he or she confronts its hopes and dreams. As a result, the innovative society will become increasingly polarized.

The film clip below shows the starting point of that trek, when the innovator metaphorically chooses one day to walk out the back door rather than the front. This choice inverts the normal way of viewing reality, the regular processes of thought and action. What the innovator discovers is a second reality, an alternate civil state beyond the conventional pathways, an Underground. The first figures the hopeful and inspired innovator will encounter on his or her journey are the people who were already marginalized and lurking about the back ways - the criminals, the psychopaths.

Back alleyways scene from Guy Maddin's docufantasia of a Canadian city, My Winnipeg (2007) © Buffalo Gal/Documentary Channel/Everyday Pictures. Winnipeg is Canada's western gateway city. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

Undergrounds were always repositories for strange behaviour and ideas, and normally contained them. Initially, cyberspace was that Underground, and was not taken seriously as part of the public space. It was considered a computer playland, filled with alienated losers and fringe actors, or mainstream citizens engaging in forbidden, anonymous play.

What is happening now is twofold and contradictory. As technological and socio-economic changes took hold, the usual polarization between mainstream and Underground occurred. At the same time, the Underground and mainstream are fully exposed to one another and merging together. This nasty alt-mainstream synthesis is incorporating polarities without dissolving them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Crowdfund the Creative Life


Image Source: The Oatmeal (29 October 2015).

In 2014, Pierre-Michel Menger published a fantastic book, The Economics of Creativity: Art and Achievement under Uncertainty, which describes the strange social psychology that governs how we assign value to creative products. Artists and other creative thinkers have never been more desperately needed to understand the changes of the new Millennium; but they face industrialized work conditions, corporate business models, and commercialized distribution systems. Over-competition and over-supply create professional hierarchies in which obedience trumps innovation. Worst of all, creative disciplines - from the amateur arts to academia - depend on an idealized belief in genius achievement, which is supposed to ignore money to maintain purity of intention.

Menger argued that the problem of evaluating and supporting creativity should not be framed in terms of employment and work conditions. Rather, the focus should shift to understanding the nature of human invention and how to sustain it. We must rethink how creative people live and work and how they are compensated, because true creativity already depends on what Menger called "self-realization," a non-chaotic engagement with uncertainty. Move to the edges of any society, and you will find people analyzing and radically rethinking how our world works, and how we fit in the world. Thus, imaginative work is, by definition, not a fully programmable activity. It is unpredictable, both in terms of how long it takes and in terms of results. Yet that uncertainty must be managed, or creative people cannot survive, and their cutting-edge visions will be lost.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: The Watcher


As of October 2015, 657 Boulevard, Westfield NJ, was on the market for USD $1.25 million. Image Source: Christian Hansen/Gothamist.

Every horror fan knows that when you buy property, you should beware the amazing real estate deal. In June 2015, a lawsuit in Union County, New Jersey, USA suggested that a house there sold with a hidden legacy. The court papers read like a cross between The Amityville Horror (1977) and When A Stranger Calls (1979). In June 2014, the Woods family sold their six-bedroom house at 657 Boulevard, Westfield, to the Broaddus family for $1.3 million, which was a steal because Union County is a prosperous place with nice schools and good jobs: it is 119th in per capita income among 3,113 counties in the United States. Perched on the Atlantic seafront, sheltered by the Watchung Mountains, the motto of this leafy enclave is "We're connected to you!"

Yes, we are: in June 2014, three days after the new home owners at 657 Boulevard moved in, they started to receive hostile anonymous letters, threatening their children and claiming that for generations, the house and its inhabitants have been stalked by the letter writer, a malevolent voyeur described in court documents as 'The Watcher.' The Daily Mail:
“Police have not yet released the letters but the profilers say they would be able to tell a lot from the handwriting, sentence structure, use of grammar and tone. In the messages, which date back to last year, the stalker said that his family had been 'watching' the house for generations. He also claimed he would be able to see the family through their windows. And he accused them of updating the house. ‘You have changed it and made it so fancy,' he wrote. 'It cries for the past and what used to be in the time when I roamed its halls, when I ran from room to room imagining the life with the rich occupants there… Stop changing it and let it alone.’ One letter read: 'Why are you here? I will find out. 'My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested?' He seems to be referring to the Broaddus family's three children. In the first letter, dated June 5 [2014], he wrote: 'Once I know their names I will call to them and draw them to me. 'I asked the [prior owners] to bring me young blood. And now I watch and wait for the day when they [sic] young blood will be mine again.'

'Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time they will. I am pleased to know your names and the names now of the young blood you have brought to me. 'Will the young bloods play in the basement. Who has the rooms facing the street? I'll know as soon as you move in. It will help me to know who is in which bedroom then I can plan better.' All the windows and door in [the house] allow me to watch you and track you as you move through the house. 'I am in charge of [the house].'
The buyers sued the house's previous owners for not disclosing information on the Watcher before the sale. Courthouse News reported that the plaintiffs invoked the 'decency of civilized society':
All told, the letters are "the epitome of extreme and outrageous conduct so severe in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society," the complaint states.
The Watcher's letters state that he had communicated with the sellers, but to win the case, the buyers have to prove that the sellers already knew about the Watcher when they sold the house. New Jersey does not have a law forcing sellers to disclose negative information about real estate. Nolo: Law for All advises that hauntings and other psychological stigmas are encouraged by sellers of New Jersey real estate, but disclosures remain voluntary; it is up to the house buyer to ask if the property is stigmatized:
What to Disclose If the House Is Haunted or Otherwise Stigmatized

There are some "intangible" problems with a property that buyers cannot discover through an inspection. A property may, for example, be "stigmatized" if it is affected by psychological or other factors that have nothing to do with its physical condition but affect whether it would be desirable to live in. Examples of such stigma include a house that is allegedly haunted or where a violent death took place. In New Jersey, you do not have to disclose these things BUT, if the buyer asks you about them, you must answer honestly.

Filling Out a Disclosure Form

In light of the various disclosure obligations described above, most Realtors in New Jersey will require that the seller fill out a SELLER'S PROPERTY CONDITION DISCLOSURE STATEMENT to share with prospective buyers. You may attract more buyers if you are willing to let them know straight up what condition the property is in before they make an offer. If you do not provide a disclosure form, you may well scare off a buyer who thinks there must be issues with the property that you'd rather not disclose. This form provides facts about the history of repairs to the property and almost every physical aspect of the property, from the basement sump pump to the rooftop. Sellers usually deliver it to prospective buyers when they express an interest in making an offer on the property. The form is not required of a New Jersey seller. In fact, some sellers refuse to fill it out, for fear that they may make an innocent omission or representation. If you do fill it out, make sure you answer it completely and honestly. Failure to do so could set you up for a potential suit for misrepresentation or failure to disclose.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quote of the Day: Kim Dotcom


Kim Dotcom launched his site Mega in January 2013. It's now worth NZ$210 million. Image Source: Toronto Sun.

German-Finnish Internet enterpreneur Kim Schmitz aka Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload and Megaupload's successor site, Mega, thumbed his nose at authorities yesterday on Twitter. From the Toronto Sun:
Kim Dotcom, one of the world's most wanted cyber fugitives, on Tuesday gloated over a deal that will see a cloud storage firm he founded while on bail listing on the New Zealand stock exchange and valued on paper at NZ$210 million ([CAD] $200.7 million).
The flashy internet mogul, who also goes by the name Kim Schmitz, is fighting a bid by U.S. authorities to extradite him from his lavish estate in New Zealand to face online piracy charges over the now closed file sharing site Megaupload.
The New Zealand government in early 2012 arrested Dotcom at his mansion near Auckland in a SWAT-style raid requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dotcom is free on bail as he fights extradition although his movements are restricted.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Time Capsules Inside Time Capsules: Paris, 1942


Marthe de Florian (1898), by Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Image Source: The Meta Picture.

In 1942, a French socialite, Madame de Florian, fled her apartment on Paris's Right Bank near the Opéra Garnier. She paid rent on it until her death in 2010, but never returned (hat tip: The Meta Picture). The apartment has sat, sealed and untouched, with nothing moved since the Second World War, gathering dust.

After 2010, the estate opened the apartment and began selling the contents. They included the portrait (above) of the apartment's absent tenant's grandmother. It was painted by Italian portrait painter Giovanni Boldini, and recently sold at auction for €2.1 million. From AnOther:
Florian resided in a breath-taking apartment on Paris' Right Bank, which she left to her granddaughter, Madame de Florian. At the age of 23, amid the chaos of the Second World War, Madame de Florian fled Paris for the South of France, apparently never to return, but she continued to pay rent on the building until her death at the age of 91. From 1942 then, until a wintery December afternoon in 2010 – when it was entered by auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry – the decadent apartment remained frozen in time, a time capsule recording the precise moment of de Florian's sudden flight.

Amid the luxurious if dusty furnishings, the wizened taxidermy and mountains of ephemera ranging from dressing tables to Disney toys, Choppin-Janvry came across a mesmerising Boldini portrait of a beautiful woman wearing a pink muslin dress, accompanied by a stack of ribbon bound love letters, including some from Boldini himself, addressed to Marthe de Florian. It became clear she was both his lover and the beauty in the painting. A reference found in Boldini’s wife's records has confirmed the identity of the portrait's subject, dating it to 1898, when de Florian was just 24 years old.
There is some historical confusion in how this story has been reblogged across the Web. The apartment was already outdated during the 1940s, having been passed to the tenant (Madame de Florian) from her grandmother (a different Madame de Florian). The apartment still had love letters on the premises to Marthe de Florian (the grandmother) from the artist Boldini. It actually reflects a frozen 1900 carried to 2010 by the wartime conditions of the mid-20th-century. The now-famous Boldini fin-de-siècle portrait above of the tenant's grandmother is a time capsule inside a time capsule. It is one turn of the century relayed to our turn of the century by an auction house at the end of the tenant's life at age 91.

Nevertheless, this time capsule is a reminder of how much 19th century was still alive and well at the mid-20th century. It gives a glimpse of the world that was swept away during World War II and was subsequently replaced by suburbs, cineplexes, shopping malls, travel points, credit cards and iPhones.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chinese Duplicature


An Eiffel Tower over a road in Hebei province. Image Source: Robert Harding/World Imagery/Corbis via WSJ.

In February of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Chinese fakes, knock-offs, copies and duplicates of western goods, landmarks and famous buildings. It is a great example of how globalization can spawn confusion and cognitive dissonance. A caveat: some critics of related reports assumed that this story was part of an anti-Chinese wave in the western media. Even if it is, it still exemplifies the Millennial taste for twins, doppelgangers and facsimiles.

Venice Water Town, Hangzhou. Image Source: Image Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

In the west, copies are derivative, inferior products. Almost always, respect goes first and foremost to an original inventor, creator, designer or architect. Copies are considered to be disrespectful and unoriginal because they violate the western principles of intellectual and commercial creation and ownership. Those principles derive from John Locke's labour theory of property, "a natural law theory that holds that property originally comes about by the exertion of labor upon natural resources." You own what you create. And if you created it first, then you get the credit for breaking ground first. There are some exceptions, particularly in American cities like Las Vegas.


Luodian Town, a Scandinavian-themed town. Images Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

But generally speaking, in western eyes, Chinese fakes constitute an admission that western creations (and even culture) are superior, and all the Chinese can do is furnish pale imitations of models established by stronger societies.

This is a misunderstanding.

The Wall Street Journal described a theory from author Bianca Bosker, namely, that when the Chinese make copies of another society's best goods and greatest buildings, they are asserting their cultural dominance over the other society. The other society is being symbolically diminished, incorporated and absorbed:
This "duplitecture" is not meant to flatter the West, nor is it a form of "self-colonization." The copies are built as monuments to China's technological prowess, affluence and power. The Chinese have seized on the icons of Western architecture as potent symbols for their own ascension to—and aspiration for—global supremacy.
It is an impulse with deep roots in Chinese architectural tradition, dating back thousands of years. In pre-modern China, emperors demonstrated their dominance by re-creating rival territories within their own: Sprawling imperial parks, which featured flora and fauna assembled from remote lands, buttressed rulers' authority by showing their ability to both create and possess an elaborate facsimile of the known universe.

China's emperors also used copycat buildings to convey their mastery—actual or anticipated—over their adversaries. In the third century B.C., the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, commemorated his conquest of six rival kingdoms by ordering that exact replicas of their palaces be built in his capital. Today, the ersatz Eiffel Towers and Chrysler Buildings symbolize China's power to control the world by transplanting Europe and the U.S. into its domain.
Traditional Chinese attitudes toward replication also help to explain the trend. While Americans view imitation with disdain, the Chinese have traditionally taken a more permissive and nuanced view of it. Copying can be valued as a mark of skill and superiority.
Knockoff of Tower Bridge in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu province. Image Source: Daily Mail.

The BBC reported on the Chinese mash-up of English municipalities - Thames Town:
As you enter Thames Town, the honking and chaos of Chinese city life fall away. There are no more street vendors selling steamed pork buns, and no more men hauling recyclables on tricycles. The road starts to wind, and then, in the distance, you see what looks like a clock tower from a Cotswold village.
"It has this almost dreamlike quality of something European," says Tony Mackay, a British architect, and the master planner for the Thames Town housing scheme and the surrounding district of Songjiang.
When local officials hired Mackay in 2001, he found farms and ducks here.
Today, there are cobbled streets, pubs and half-timbered Tudor houses. There's even a statue of Winston Churchill, and a medieval meeting hall that advertises chicken wings and beer in Chinese characters. But Mackay is not happy. "It doesn't look quite right," he says. "It looks false." 
Mackay says the architects who took on the designs for the buildings created a pastiche, throwing together different styles, and abandoning authenticity. Some of the half-timbered houses are six storeys high, for example, and the windows on the church just don't look right, he says.
"The proportions are wrong. The use of the different stones is all wrong. It would never be used like that in the genuine English church," he says.
The houses in Thames Town were largely bought as investment properties, so the town has always been quiet. It is only just beginning to develop a real sense of life and community.
To Mackay, the place looks like a film set. In fact, one Western blogger said it reminded him of the film, The Truman Show. ...
But Fan Yu Zhe couldn't care less. ... Fan and his bride Sun Qi Yao look ... deeply into each other's eyes as a photo assistant showered them with flower petals. Thames Town is crawling with young couples who want to have their wedding photos taken here. "I love European football, so I'm very interested in things from Europe," says Fan. "I really hope I can visit the real Thames River one day, sit along the banks, drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the British sunshine."
... Elsewhere in China, there is a replica Eiffel Tower, a mock Tower Bridge - even a recreation of Stonehenge.
Statue of Winston Churchill in Thames Town, Shanghai. Image Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

I09 reported on China's copycat craze without pinpointing its underlying message. See more copycat buildings from i09 below the jump.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Guns and Circuses: The New 3D Printing Search Engine


Cody Wilson. Image Source: Wired.

Caption for the above photograph: "Cody Wilson, a 24-year-old law student at the University of Texas, didn't invent the concept of printable, downloadable guns. He's only created the first platform devoted to sharing the blueprints online for free to anyone who wants one, anywhere in the world, at any time. Wilson and his group of amateur gunsmiths, known as Defense Distributed, are also currently working on producing what may become the world's first fully 3-D printed gun, which they call the 'Wiki Weapon.'"

The Gen Y entrepreneurs who brought us the 3D printed gun (primarily designer Cody Wilson, whom Wired named as one of "The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World.") did not like government authorities censoring them. So they've invented a new search engine devoted to 3D print model schematics. Oh, and it functions like the Pirate Bay.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Decryption, Public Trust and Civil War


British intelligence office GCHQ is now hiring, with a public call to anyone who can break a series of codes on its Web site: "The Can You Find It? competition is designed to test both experienced and self-taught techies to crack a series of cryptic codes." (Daily Mirror report from 11 September 2013). Image Source: GCHQ via The Daily Mirror. If you crack the codes, the GCHQ promises "You can win 1 of 100 Raspberry Pi or 1 of 5 Google Nexus 7 tablets."

Do not discuss the NSA decryptions, please. There's nothing to see, move along. On 5 September 2013, Matthew Green, Assistant Research Professor in Computer Science (with a specialty in applied cryptography) at Johns Hopkins University, wrote a blog post about a sensational joint report from The Guardian (here) and the NYT (here). These reports claimed that the American National Security Agency and British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have decrypted a whole spectrum of Web software and communications and monitor them with the Sigint Enabling Project. The NYT remarks that Sigint involves: "industry relationships, clandestine changes to commercial software to weaken encryption, and lobbying for encryption standards it can crack."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Genetic Surveillance Art


Heather Dewey-Hagborg: artist's self-portrait, demonstrating the surveillance capacity of DNA trace information. "6/28/12. Self-portrait. Based on mtDNA, Ancestry Information Markers and 50 trait specific SNPs describing gender, eye color and detail, hair color/baldness, hair curliness, complexion, skin lightness/darkness, tendency to be overweight." Image Source: Stranger Visions Project.

BBC reported this summer on an artist who creates portraits from DNA traces found on found objects. Beyond a Millennial artistic statement that is a weird interface of the scientific and transcendent, Heather Dewey-Hagborg aims to make the public aware of how much information really is there:
Heather Dewey-Hagborg is an artist who creates portraits of strangers based on DNA extracted from random rubbish. The project is meant to raise awareness of genetic surveillance, Dewey-Hagborg says. "We should be concerned because we don't know, yet, how our DNA might be used against us in the future," she says. Genetic artefacts such as cigarette butts and chewing gum yield enough DNA to determine one's ancestry, eye colour, and whether or not the person has a tendency to be overweight.
Some participants in this project have waived all copyright to their DNA information, which raises the prospect of understanding how copyright law applies to one's DNA.

While Dewey-Hagborg argues that she is not invading people's privacy and there is 'no way you could recognize someone' from her DNA reconstructions, two possible outcomes from her work immediately spring to mind.

One is the potential for criminal police investigations. The other is that we can trace the actual impact of external life upon our genetic heritage by observing the gap between the DNA reconstruction and the appearance of the real person. The DNA reconstruction provides an image of each person's basic 'blueprint.' The real person presents the 'blueprint' plus the impact of real life. That gap, between 'nature and nurture,' is something that has been the core of (often disturbing) debates in Darwinism versus Social Darwinism, left-right politics, political philosophy, and anthropological analyses since the 19th century.

Dewey-Haborg also identifies a very important aspect of the current mentality that drives technological change; she examines how inductive reasoning, or 'bottom-up' logic, runs rampant through the turn of the Millennium:
the concept of inductive bias, an inextricable component in the framework of intelligent computer systems. ... [T]his bias represents an abstract danger which could have very real social and political consequences. ... [M]y recent art projects [also] experiment with taking the apparatus of surveillance technology and re-purposing its mechanisms for the intention of play rather than the reinforcement of power.
Heather Dewey-Hagborg: Her DNA-Reconstructed-Self-Portrait and the artist In Real Life. Image Source: Design Boom.

DNA hair sample collection at site. Image Source: Thomas Dexter via Design Boom.

Petri dish of DNA samples. Image Source: Heather Dewey-Hagborg via Design Boom.

Sample 10: (Left) Bushwick - Adonis Grocery, 209 Wilson Avenue; (Right) DNA sample from haplogroup: H1+16189 (Spanish, Berber, Lebanese). Image Source: Heather Dewey-Hagborg via Design Boom.

Left: Sample 10 and Right: Sample 12. Image Source: Heather Dewey-Hagborg via Design Boom.

Sample 12: (Left) Bushwick - laundromat, Himrod Street; (Right) DNA sample from haplogroup: H2a2a (Eastern Europe, Near East). Image Source: Heather Dewey-Hagborg via Design Boom.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Where Are We Going? No Really, Where Are We Going?

Google Glass: 2012 preview, for release to consumers in 2014. Image Source: Extreme Tech.

The first twenty years of the Internet involved playing mental catch-up as the industry excitedly released each new application, operating system, or gadget. Except for think pieces at Wired, which launched in 1993 as a glossy magazine, few tried to grasp the implications as the sites and services rolled out - AOL (1991); Amazon (1994); eBay (1995); Yahoo! (1995); Craigslist (1995); Netflix (1997); PayPal (1998); Google (1998); Wikipedia (2001); Second Life (2003); Blogger (2003); Linked In (2003); Skype (2003); Facebook (2004); Digg (2004); YouTube (2005); Reddit (2005); Twitter (2006); Tumblr (2007); Pixlr (2008); Kickstarter (2009); Pinterest (2010); Instagram (2010). These are just the giants, with no mention of the porn sites, which do join the giants in the top rankings for traffic. See the Alexa Top 500 Global Sites for hundreds more of the most world's most popular Web hubs. There are also thousands more Web apps and services which you will have never heard of, unless they meet your particular needs.

The book reader of the future, from Everyday Science and Mechanics magazine (April 1935). Image Source: Paleofuture.

As great as these sites, services and devices are, if you are lucky, you can remember what life was like before they came along. It was far from perfect. But all someone had to do to become inaccessible was not answer the telephone. Now it takes a lot of willpower, excuses and effort to disconnect.

Wireless Emergency Alert System: "'Many people do not realize that they carry a potentially life-saving tool with them in their pockets or purses every day,' said W. Craig Fugate, administrator of FEMA." Image Source: NYT.

On the night of 5-6 August, a friend who lives in California was wakened in the middle of the night by cell phones in the house ringing an alarm he had never heard before: this was the state amber alert for a child abduction:
California issued its first cellphone Amber Alert late Monday, as phones in Southern California received an alert of two missing children in San Diego.

The timing differed from phone to phone but sometime between late Monday and early Tuesday many mobile phones across Southern California received an alert regarding James Lee DiMaggio, suspected of killing Christina Anderson, 44, and kidnapping one or both of her children, Hannah, 16, and Ethan, 8, the Los Angeles Times reported. ...

Some cellphones received only a text message, others buzzed and beeped as part of the Wireless Emergency Alert program, a cellphone equivalent of the Emergency Alert System that creates a high-pitched test tone on television.
The amber alert frightened many people when their mobile phones began ringing strangely (listen here). The system also warns the public about any other kind of major threat:
When you get an Amber Alert on your phone, you will definitely know. The sound is somewhere between a squeal, a siren and a series of tones. Even if you have your phone on silent or vibrate, or have enabled a "Do Not Disturb" or "Sleep" setting, your device may make this sound. The alert will appear as a text message including all pertinent information. ...
At the end of 2012, CTIA-The Wireless Association announced the transition from a Wireless Amber Alert program to a Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program. ... Now, the WEA program sends messages to users within the area of the suspected abduction. For example, if a child in Orlando is abducted, all eligible devices within that area will broadcast the alert. A representative from the California Highway Patrol told HLN that Amber Alerts have previously been issued through wireless carriers regionally, but Monday's alert was the first to be broadcast statewide. It is of note that the WEA system also broadcasts other types of emergency alerts, such as severe weather warnings and imminent threat alerts.
To my friend, the alert brought home the point that mobile phones have erased privacy and are just "personal tracking devices that we also use as telephones." Smartphones are good for tracking criminals. They're also good for tracking everyone else.

A system like this can be a very powerful tool, as Orson Welles discovered in 1938. The Emergency Alert even entered the English language: This is only a test. - Or - This is not a test. In February 2013, hackers hacked a Montana TV station's Emergency Alert System and aired a fake zombie apocalypse warning to demonstrate the system's vulnerabilities. Ars Technica reported in June 2013 that the TV and radio Emergency Alert System is generally hackable. I could not find comment online about whether the Wireless Emergency Alerts program is also hackable, but presumably it is.

Some would argue that worrying about the future is pointless and unhealthy. In a July post, Maria Popova noted that anxiety is often associated with contemplation of the future; also, recent psychological research links the suicidal mind with an over-contemplation of the future:
In Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception ... BBC’s Claudia Hammond explores the psychology of mitigating our worries: Ad Kerkhof is a Dutch clinical psychologist who has worked in the field of suicide prevention for 30 years. He has observed that before attempting suicide people often experience a period of extreme rumination about the future. They sometimes reported that these obsessive thoughts had become so overwhelming that they felt death was the only way to escape. Kerkhof has developed techniques which help suicidal people to reduce this rumination and is now applying the same methods to people who worry on a more everyday basis. He has found that people worry about one topic more than any other — the future, often believing that the more hours they spend contemplating it, the more likely they are to find a solution to their problems. But this isn’t the case.
But what happens when the future becomes the present? As the technological future approached over the past 20 years, there seemed barely time to digest what was happening. It was enough to just keep up with the changes. There is a need to stand back, to see the big picture, to contemplate how we are changing as human beings, to understand what is happening to society, politics, the economy.

Devin Coldewey a Seattle-based writer and photographer, has a number of interesting articles for Tech Crunch (here) in which he tries to make sense of the impact of the Technological Revolution with reference to the past. In 2009, he compared Google and its many services to the construction of Roman roads (here). It was a metaphor-laden piece and pretty clumsy in its historical analogy. Nevertheless, Coldewey's comparison - between Google's messy-but-often-cool labs projects and the Roman road system - was intriguing. But Coldewey misunderstood the potential parallel in his historical comparison. The Roman road system was technologically revolutionary, but the purpose the roads served was not revolutionary at all. The Romans were building an empire. And so is Google.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Powerful Promises of Synthetic Life


Synbiosafe DVD cover (2009) © Markus Schmidt and Camillo Meinhart. Image Source: Synbiosafe.

More breathless excitement: MSN reports that scientists are on track to build a synthetic yeast life form by 2017 (via Machines Like Us):
British scientists are taking part in a global effort to build the first synthetic life form whose cell structure resembles that of plants, animals and humans.

The researchers have been given almost STG1 million ($A1.67 million) in government funding to help them construct one of the organism's 16 chromosomes.

They are part of an international consortium committed to creating an artificial version of yeast by 2017.

It will be the first time scientists have built the whole genome, or genetic code blueprint, of a "eukaryotic" organism whose DNA is stored within a nucleus.

All animals and plants fall into this category. Bacteria and blue-green algae are examples of more primitive organisms that lack nuclei.

Three years ago a team led by American geneticist Craig Venter created a synthetic bacterium genome from scratch in what was described as a landmark achievement.

The new project takes the creation of artificial life to the next level by making the jump to a eukaryotic organism.

Professor Paul Freemont, a leading member of the team from the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial College London, said: "It's a massive leap forward. Yeast is a eukaryote - it's a much more complicated cell. These are chromosomes that mimic the chromosomes in our own cells."

But he made it very clear this was not a first step towards attempting to build Frankenstein-like human life in a lab.
The Imperial College site for the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation notes:
Synthetic Biology is the engineering of biology. It is an exciting new area of research combining science and engineering to design and build new biological functions and systems, and to understand existing biological life through its rational re-design.
Is there any cause for larger moral concern, or concern about weaponized synthetic biology? Scientific American mulled these questions over vaguely in a 2010 article. While the writer,

Excerpt from Adventures in Synthetic Biology (2007). Image Source: MIT/Nature via h+ magazine.

In 2007, Wired reported on a bit of MIT publicity outreach, published through Nature, which was designed to make synthetic biology more friendly and accessible to the public, and especially to children interested in studying science: "MIT’s Synthetic Biology Working Group partnered with cartoonist Chuck Wadey, to create a comic book, Adventures in Synthetic Biology, to showcase the principles of the field." You can see the whole comic, starring Bacteria Buddy, Device Dude, and System Sally, here.

In 2007-2008, a project, Synbiosafe, won 236,000 euros to explore the ethical and safety issues associated with synthetic biology. The grant came from an EU program, New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST). The Synbiosafe project was coordinated by Austrian scientist Dr. Markus Schmidt. Just his affiliation - with the Organisation for Internal Dialogue and Conflict Management (IDC) - should clarify where researchers think synthetic biology could go.

Schmidt's personal site notes that he works
in the area of technology assessment of novel bio-, nano- and  converging technologies (such as synthetic biology); [he] explores the interface between science, society and art; and [he] engages in documentary film production and art-science exhibitions. Schmidt is founder of Biofaction and co-founder of IDC.
IDC's project list shows the spheres which synthetic biology touches: environmental pollution; a sustainable energy policy for Africa; promoting biodiversity conservation in Cambodia; improved agricultural portfolios in Europe and Asia; biosafety and genetically modified crops in South Africa.

That's comforting: "Survival of the fittest – the constant battle for resources, the dynamic equilibrium between growth & decline, survival & adaption - is as valid at a human scale as at a microscopic scale." Yeast Pixels 1.0 art installation by pavillon 35/ Silvia Hüttner. Image Source: Pavillon 35.

Biofaction's work tends to concern the 'softer' impacts of synthetic biology, such as an exhibition this summer on how artists understand this technology, or this artistic collective, Pavillon 35 [sic: this is German for 'pavilion']. You can see Pavillon 35's bioart projects here. They have also launched a video game, Synmod, which teaches synthetic biology through science gamification. You can download the Synmod app here.

It looks like the limitations on the burgeoning merger of biology and engineering may not come from ethical considerations, but simply from patents. Like many aspects of today's exploding Tech Revolution, property rights exert a drag and pull effect. They slow things down. That might be a good thing, in some cases, because deeper thinking about what is going on during the tech boom can be thin on the ground in places.

Nevertheless, patents also worryingly corner the market for big players. The question that comes up behind all our new, shiny tech, again and again, is energy, and who controls it. In this case, biofuels are a central focus of this research. The promise of biofuels awakes competition and power grabs just as ruthless as any in the petroleum or nuclear industries. From The Council for Responsible Genetics:
[I]n 2007 the J. Craig Venter Institute applied for a frighteningly broad patent of its "minimal bacterial genome" called Mycoplasma laboratorium. This organism was an attempt to create life with the minimum number of genes by cutting out as many DNA sequences as possible without removing its ability to reproduce or survive. U.S. patent numbers US2007 0264688 and US2007 0269862 describes creation of the first-ever, entirely synthetic living organism-a novel bacterium whose entire genetic information is constructed from synthesized DNA (but whose genome is a near-replica of a naturally occurring genome).

This patent claims exclusive monopoly on the genes in the minimal bacterial genome, the entire organism made from these genes, a digital version of the organism's genome, any version of that organism that could make fuels such as ethanol or hydrogen, any method of producing those fuels that uses the organism, the process of testing a gene's function by inserting other genes into the synthetic organism, and a set of non-essential genes. These patents are not restricted to any specific cell type-it currently applies to prokaryotes and eukaryotes - or size of a synthetic genome.

While these patents have yet to be granted, the claim shows the extent to which some synthetic biologists are testing the limits in the battle to control the fundamental building blocks of life and actual living organisms. While it is likely this specific patent application's scope will be limited to cover only bacterial cells, such a patent would still grant Venter and company an exclusive license to create synthetic fuel-producing bacteria and the tools to create such organisms. Conveniently, Venter's company, Synthetic Genomics, has contracts with both Exxon Mobile and BP to produce "next-generation" biofuels from synthetic cells (or at least genetically engineered cells that contain synthetic DNA sequences).

Amyris Biotechnologies is a synthetic biology company that used genetically engineered yeasts that contain synthetic DNA to break down sugarcane to produce isoprenoids-which are then being converted to biofuels, industrial chemicals, among other products. Patent US 7,659,097, granted to Amyris in February 2010, covers the production of many different isoprenoids created though a number of different microbes. Amyris already has deals with major oil and chemical companies to turn Brazilian sugarcane into high-value commodities. Again, Amyris' "biosynthetic pathways" are near-copies of metabolic pathways found in nature with some "tweaking" of the DNA pathways to allow the yeast to do some things that traditional genetic engineering could not accomplish.

The novel challenge created by the emerging field of synthetic biology is that not only can natural or synthesized DNA be patented, but the processes used to synthesize DNA and create synthetic organisms can also be patented. Furthermore, the living organisms created with synthetic DNA are covered in these patents, as are the products they are engineered to produce. ...
What must be done
While it is clear to us that current court rulings would likely support the patenting of synthetic genomes as developed by Venter's lab and other researchers, Congress should prevent the patenting of DNA sequences that simply copy naturally occurring DNA. To do otherwise would in effect allow another way to patent natural occurring organisms and their DNA-just make synthetic copies of them. That is in no one's interest but the patent holders'.   
See the videos below the jump which promote and debate various synthetic biology concepts. There is also a Youtube playlist of 2011 talks delivered at the Royal Academy of Engineering here; the first video in that playlist is below the jump.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Whose Internet Is It, Anyway? Generation Y Responds

Turner Barr, with the Coliseum in Rome in the background. Image Source: Around the World in 80 Jobs.

Recent leaks about the PRISM project revealed that the American government's National Security Agency scans private correspondence on the Internet in the name of public security; this revelation rightfully awoke concerns over the future of the Web. PRISM was exposed by a Gen Y whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Today, Snowden was about to leave Hong Kong by private plane to seek asylum in Iceland. This was arranged via connections with WikiLeaks people. The US government, however, filed an espionage charge against Snowden and demanded his arrest in order to extradite him. This kind of international incident marks a new era, in which the Internet is becoming a battleground over who has the right to exploit information online.

"A bus drives past a banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, at Central, Hong Kong's business district, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Image Source: AP / Kin Cheung / CTV.

Some may find the exploitation of the Web on security grounds defensible. But a new aspect of the same phenomenon further demonstrates the problem at hand. The Web, imagined in its early days by enthusiasts as a bastion of free speech and communications for small people everywhere, has the potential to become the biggest surveillance apparatus the world has ever known. Worse, corporations - new and old - have begun skimming enormous profits off the acquisition and manipulation of Big Data. The Web was supposed to be an equalizer. It was supposed to level the playing field, not tilt the balance against the individual.

You might think that building your own business online or sharing your bright ideas on the Web right out in the open means that no one would be brazen enough to steal those ideas and turn them into big business with big profits elsewhere online. In fact, there is no safety in mass exposure. Consider Gen Y entrepreneur and blogger, Turner Barr. Barr graduated from UC Berkeley in 2007, just in time for the recession. Barr, like many people during the recession, took to the Internet and set up his own Website, on which he blogged about the opportunities he created for himself:
After the recession hit in 2008 I was at a crossroads. I had graduated school with the typical guidance a young American gets “Go to the best school possible, get the best job possible that makes the most money, and then get a huge untenable mortgage and live the American dream”. But what is that dream? How can you decide what you want to do if you haven’t had the experience yet to know what would make you fulfilled? From Hallmark, from University, from your parents who grew up in a different time with different expectations with different opportunities presented to them?
I had been on the road for over a year and had finally taken the plunge to solve these tough life questions by starting a youth hostel in Cali, Colombia, when I woke up to find Lehman Brothers and AIG go belly up. And as they went belly up, so did the economy, my little capital and my dream of living overseas. But like our forefathers before us, when times get tough, you can sit around and play spread around the blame, or you can man up and make shit happen. I try to live by the latter.
Barr traveled the world looking for jobs and blogged about his experiences on a site entitled, Around the World in 80 Jobs. You can see an example of one of his jobs here.

Image Source: Turner Barr (left) / Adecco (right) / StylewalkeR.

So far, so good. Then this week, Barr published a post on his blog: "How I Got Fired from the Job I Invented," in which he outlined how a Human Resources company, Adecco, stole the title of his blog and its concept, and even hired an actor play a Barr doppelganger. According to Barr, they pumped out Gen-Y-targeted promotionals, borrowed Barr's idea for their own site (here) and other HR sites (here) and Youtube (here). Their focus was on the 'perspective of young people.' StylewalkeR reports on how this mess unfolded:
Adecco is the world’s leading provider in HR solutions” and currently running a competition called “Around the world in 80 jobs” as part of the initiative “Adecco way to work
The problem is: “Around the world in 80 jobs” is also the name of a website by blogger Turner Barr from Washington. He is actually doing what the title depicts: Travelling the world and working in different jobs, blogging and about it, posting videos and pictures. Turner has been doing this since 2011. Adecco registered the trademark in April 2013.
Barr is upset: “Recently, I was both astonished and demoralized to find that my entire brand, image and web personality was swiped for use in a marketing campaign …
without ever being asked for permission or acknowledged. The video for their marketing campaign was particularly creepy for me, as even my age and personality didn’t escape the level of detail spent on creating this doppelganger.”
See another report here. The trademark application has not been processed yet, so Barr may be able to challenge it.