Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings occurred, and once police identified the accused bombers, the manhunt began. The police and other teams scoured Boston and the surrounding area for the Tsarnaev brothers. Meanwhile, the rest of the country scoured the Internet for their Internet presence. However, this had a new effect in light of the tragedy of the bombing:
The social media droppings the Tsarnaev brothers left behind not only attest to their own immersion in the interactive, electronic world, but they have also provided everyone else with plenty of digital data from which to try to extract patterns and possible meaning — fulfilling that very human need to try to make narrative sense of the tragic and the overwhelming.
(Unraveling Boston Suspects’ Online Lives Link by Link, New York Times)
With the continuing revelations surrounding the extent of NSA surveillance of, and indeed, spying on, Internet traffic and cell phone transmissions, the reality becomes that a more sinister narrative could arise. With the “social media droppings”–combined with location data provided by cell phone metadata, the content and recipients skimmed from our email messages, and decrypted VPN and SSL traffic–a very new, and more elaborate pattern and meaning could be constructed. As Sarah Kendzior points out in her most recent piece for Al Jazeera:
The greatest danger of data collection lies not in the information, but in its interpretation. With billions of pieces of intelligence stored in a given month, the ability to gather data has exceeded the ability to analyse it. The trail supersedes the target. Data becomes its own context.
She goes on to elaborate:
The greatest threat of online surveillance is not that they know us, but that they think they do, and we are hostage to their interpretation. They will spy until “something happens”, and what we naively called “life” will be spit back as evidence.
Crossposted from Medium, an evaluation from the depths of tech support
Working in tech support has its ups and downs, but is ultimately rewarding. Digital literacy—the ability to confidently and capably use and understand technology—is something that is often lacking from the people I support, from high school students to retirees. I mentally evaluate people on their level of digital literacy, not to judge or mock them, but to best assist them. The more self-aware a customer, the easier it is for us to help them. Rather than disparage the oft-perceived “stupidity” of the people that seek my assistance, I’d rather turn my attention toward improving their basic digital literacy skills.
Jill Lepore, in her excellent examination of the current state of surveillance that we languish in, made this remark in reference to Jeremy Bentham’s essay On Publicity:
““Without publicity, no good is permanent: under the auspices of publicity, no evil can continue.” He [Bentham] urged, for instance, that members of the public be allowed into the legislature, and that the debates held there be published. The principal defense for keeping the proceedings of government private—the position advocated by those Bentham called “the partisans of mystery”—was that the people are too ignorant to judge their rulers.”
To paraphrase, according to Bentham, it wasn’t previously that that citizens should know what their government was doing because they wouldn’t be smart enough to understand and evaluate the decisions made by their leaders.
The potential benefits and issues of self-driving cars have been addressed by many magazines, from The Economist and The Atlantic, to Business Insider and Forbes; and more recently acknowledged by highway safety authorities in the USA. A hot-button issue as of late, using autonomous vehicular control to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries is an ideal that should be encouraged, but it can’t be achieved without addressing a variety of concerns. Threats of generational trends, liability, security, and class (and cost) issues could doom a future of fully autonomous vehicle domination before it begins.
Naturally, to evaluate the future of this technology, we must first understand how self-driving cars work. Two notable elements of operating a self-driving car are the abundance of sensors involved and the integral role of programming the “right” way to drive. As quoted in the article:
Sometimes, however, the car has to be more “aggressive.” When going through a four-way intersection, for example, it yields to other vehicles based on road rules; but if other cars don’t reciprocate, it advances a bit to show to the other drivers its intention. Without programming that kind of behavior, Urmson said, it would be impossible for the robot car to drive in the real world.
Newt might’ve been onto something. It’s jarring to see pieces about the “internet of things” written using a dumb vs smart dichotomy. Once something becomes networked it becomes a “smart” device where previously it was a “dumb” device. It attributes an odd sense of inferiority on mere “manufactured” devices which are excellent at what they do–toasters, for example. Why do we refer to networked devices as “smart” inherently?
The article that sparked this thought train.
Certainly having Internet access gives one access to greater information, and having networked devices enables one to easily and efficiently collect data on such machines, but to what end? Smart meters in electricity are lauded as reducing the guessing game and allowing power companies (and homeowners) to evaluate their electricity usage and ways to reduce consumption. But they involve many pros and cons.
The myriad definitions of “smart” make defining networked devices as smart devices quite easy, and meaningful when assessing this dichotomy. In terms of smart meters, one might say they’re called such because choosing to install one could be a shrewd investment in ones energy savings. However, when it comes to devices with more fluid functions, like the smartphone, it becomes a bit more difficult to discern where such a prefix came from, and why analog devices have come to be known as “dumb”. Perhaps instead of shaming Newt Gingrich for his tech illiteracy we should entertain the idea that he might, in fact, be onto something as he searches for a new definition that goes beyond calling a networked device merely “smart”.