Big Brother is here, it’s the bots

June 25 would have been the 110th birthday of George Orwell. I was reminded of this by the article in Popsci which features some pretty odd photos, here’s an example:

Surveillance camera donning hat in celebration of Orwell birthday

Surveillance camera donning hat in celebration of Orwell birthday

So they say one picture is worth a thousand words; in this case that’s not the case. Facebook, Google, et.al. are taking your words (and pictures too), thousands, millions of them and crunching them into big data piles that then get analyzed and simonized and turned into the real truth about you, which then gets turned into “gold” for the data miners who make sure the information gets into the right hands.  How important is all of this in the world of goods and services? Very important. McKinsey&Company, one of the “mining companies” that stands to gain by all of this makes it abundantly clear how critical the data is to our future as a society in the “picture” they paint in their post:

Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity

They’re not kidding around. The larger question is whether all of this manipulation and usage of personal information is innocuous, beneficent, or malevolent?  It is not yet clear what the big picture will be.

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Beyond books and e-readers

I am an “early adopter” of the Amazon Kindle reading device. I love it. I am also a bibliophile. My personal collection includes among other volumes a 1764 copy of Hume’s Essays as well as an edition of Epictetus, His Morals, published in 1694. To me, beyond the value of their  content, these and  numerous others I have are treasures  – in a way, these books represent possessing the past, and handling them, carefully turning their aged pages, and reading from them gives me a sense of the time when they first appeared.

Stephen King, the well known horror and science fiction author, wrote an  article for Entertainment Weekly about his first experience reading with the Kindle in which he declared essentially that the Kindle will not supplant the book for the reason that books house the thoughts expressed in them in such a way that they give a permanency and stability to their works. Anyone who has watched a toddler walking about clutching his or her favorite storybook understands the significance of this attribute of books.

But while books may continue to co-exist with new technologies for the transmission of ideas, their raison d’etre may well change.

Eli M. Noam is Professor of Economics and Finance at Columbia University and Director of the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (CITI). The university-based research center focuses on strategy, management, and policy issues in telecommunications, computing, and electronic mass media. Professor Noam has devoted considerable attention to media, and books are by definition media, the means of communication.

In his article “Will Books Become the Dumb Medium?” published in 1998 in the Educom Review, Professor Noam prognosticates that books per se will ultimately have a secondary position to other information sources particularly, and will be used as an entertainment means primarily. While focusing on academia, his statements apply generally without doubt. Originally presented as the keynote address to the Annual Convention of Educom in 1997 (Educom, now Educause, is a noted non-profit organization dedicated to advancing higher education through information technology), it should be required reading for anyone interested in the future of books.

Advancing the transmission of thought and information through technological innovation is a constant human striving:  from cave paintings and oral lore to the invention of writing and alphabets, from stone tablets to papyrus and paper, from scribes to printing presses, from quill pens to typewriters, telegraph, telephones, televisions, computers, laptops, iPhones and Kindles and who knows what next?

Vannevar Bush (1890-1974) I think would venture to speculate on this very question if he were alive today. Fortunately for posterity, his vision of the future is enunciated in the article “As We May Think” published in The Atlantic Monthly (now called simply The Atlantic) in 1945  and comes strikingly close to a 2009 reality.

Dr. Bush was a pioneering American engineer who had a hand in advancing the coming computer age, the atomic age, and was nominal first presidential science adviser. His idea of what he called the “memex” as described in “As We May Think” reads much like a description of how a 5th or 6th generation Kindle might function.

What is particularly fascinating, amidst all the fascinating prescience of Bush, is the incorporation of voice recognition and speech synthesis functionality for the “memex”. Why so?

Enter Dr. William Crossman, Founder and Director of the CompSpeak 2050 Institute for the Study of Talking Computers and Oral Cultures who predicts that “talking computers, VIVOs, will make text/written language obsolete, replace all writing and reading with speech and graphics, democratize information flow worldwide, and recreate an oral culture in the electronically-developed countries by 2050.” (from the online synopsis to the book, VIVO, Voice-In/Voice-Out, The Coming Age of Talking Computers).

Amazing supposition? Perhaps not so much. After thousands of years of technological progression a new oral culture is able to emerge. It may just turn out that what makes oral culture seemingly less advantageous to “literate” societies is not inherent  but rather relates more to the available means by which it is sustained. Move over books and e-readers, here come the VIVOs!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/09/07/beyond-books-and-e-readers/

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Iran’s eyewitnesses not “citizen” journalists

I have been considering the issue of elevating eyewitness reports – on Twitter – or elsewhere, to the level of citizen journalism. In fact, I have been doing extensive evaluation of this matter as the “phenomenon” occurring during the recent protests of the election in Iran has been generally hailed as technology advancing democracy. Thanks to cell phones and Twitter, citizens can provide “information” to a waiting world, no matter how hard a particular regime tries to suppress what may be taking place.

In theory, this is a good thing. It would mean that no government is able to hide behind a technology “blackout” which it might try to impose; and indeed in Iran, such was and is being attempted by the powers that be. Internet access has been successfully curtailed to strangle the flow of information in and out of the country. But the Supreme Leader did not reckon with the ability of great numbers of tweets to reach eager readers throughout the world, or cell phone photos and videos either.

This is all justifiably to be recognized as a step forward for humankind to be sure.  But, to convert eyewitness reports – which is what we are truly dealing with – into what has been dubbed  “citizen journalism” is a leap not to be taken lightly.

First, the authenticity of any given set of data, whether transmitted in words or pictures, is not finally subject to thorough verification. There is no standard under which the “reporting” is undertaken; normal professional reporting dictates corroboration through at least two separate sources for any bit of information to be considered credible and accepted for public airing. There is no oversight, or editorial scrutiny; in point of fact, one can question the source and origin of many of the tweets represented to be from Iran.

So what we have are eyewitness reports – an element often used by police and journalists in helping to piece together an incident or event; while a truly remarkable outpouring of verbiage and pictorial documentation, which certainly by its sheer volume and commonality of content, renders a “picture” of a government using totally heinous means to subdue an uprising over a questionable election, to raise these sincerely heroic efforts to get the word out to the world to the level of journalism is to reach too far and in the process to lower the bar for fact.

I have previously called attention to related matters in  prior posts which addressed the important concept of “truthiness” (see tag cloud). Truth, is not just “true enough”. The measure must be the strictest yardstick.

So while not diminishing the accomplishment of “the people” in sweeping away the “veil” attempted to cover the atrocities committed in the name of civil obedience through the use of new media and new technology, let’s not overreach, that would be to diminish the work of journalists throughout history who have indeed often risked their very lives to report the facts!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/15/irans-eyewitnesses-not-citizen-journalists/

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Jurors, a new hope for the new Information Age

Today’s New York Times article by John Schwartz http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/us/18juries.html?_r=1

 raises a number of important questions regarding for example the seeming dichotomy between traditional jurisprudence and contemporary information technology which is really the thrust of the story. But then there is, as Paul Harvey always said (may he rest in peace, see my previous post on Harvey) “the rest of the story”.

 What I want to focus on here is the quest for enlightenment beyond the confines of the courtroom for which the as many as nine jurors reported about clearly thirsted.

 “…conducting Google searches on the lawyers and the defendant, looking up news articles about the case, checking definitions on Wikipedia and searching for evidence that had been specifically excluded by the judge. One juror, asked by the judge about the research, said, “Well, I was curious,” according to Mr. Raben.”

 Peter Raben is the defense attorney for the case in question. “It was a heartbreak,” Mr. Raben added.

 Au contraire, mon amie. (caution: accumulating French flourishes ahead in this post)  In a recent post I cited the book True Enough by Farhad Manjoo. In his book Manjoo points to a concerning trend that people are accepting as gospel any pronouncements made by those they “follow” to use the Twitter idiom. This is great for the Russ Limbaughs of the world who actually laud this characteristic by giving it credence through the use of such terms as “dittohead”.

But in terms of our future as a society, I would much rather the Socratic Method be extolled.

 Well, lo and behold, these nine jurors are practicing intellectual curiosity don’t you know. Wow, what a concept! Yes there needs to be a rapprochement between the justice system and the new ways of accessing and sharing information and from some of the article’s content it seems we are groping our way in that direction, but I must say: la curiosité, c’est magnifique!

 

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/18/jurors-a-new-hope-for-the-new-information-age/

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