So, what’s the trade-off here? In general, we are safer (automation makes airline flying safer, in general) except in the long-tail: pilots are losing both tacit knowledge of flying and some of its mechanics. But in general, we, as humans, have less and less understanding of our machines—we are compartmentalized, looking at a tiny corner of a very complex system beyond our individual comprehension. Increasing numbers of our systems—from finance to electricity to cybersecurity to medical systems, are going in this direction. We are losing control and understanding which seems fine—until it’s not. We will certainly, and unfortunately, find out what this really means because sooner or later, one of these systems will fail in a way we don’t understand.
We’ve seen some less-radical attempts to destroy technology in the real world in recent months, mainly in the form of attacks on people wearing Glass or flying drones, or the drone on its own (by hockey fans who reportedly and incorrectly thought it belonged to the LAPD). As in the movie, the destroyers haven’t been identified or punished, with one exception: Andrea Mears, 23, was charged with third degree assault for attacking a teen boy, Austin Haughwout, 17, flying a drone on a Connecticut beach. She got probation this week, as noted by comprehensive drone chronicler Greg McNeal. It’s easy to call these people Luddites, after the British workers who set about destroying machines — and in some cases killing the people who owned them — in the late 1700s and early 1800s in a futile attempt to turn back the tide of mechanization. It led Britain to pass a law making machine-wrecking punishable by death. But the new machine destroyers’ motivations are different. The original Luddites were worried machines would take their jobs; the Neo-Luddites fear machines will steal their privacy.
Unsurprisingly, the blame game is now playing out on Wikipedia, where editors battle to record the polemics that best reflect their side of the story. Earlier this morning, the Russian-language Wikipedia entry for commercial aviation accidents hosted one such skirmish, when someone with an IP address based in Kyiv edited the MH17 record to say that the plane was shot down “by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation.” Less than an hour later, someone with a Moscow IP address replaced this text with the sentence, “The plane was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers.”
Thanks to a Twitter bot that tracks anonymous Wikipedia edits made from IP addresses used by the Russian government, we know that the second edit to the MH17 article came from a computer at VGTRK, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company.
Since the violence escalated on July 7, there have been 209 Palestinian casualties to a single Israeli killed by mortar shrapnel. (The Palestinian equivalent to something like Red Alert would make your phone vibrate consistently but softly—enough that it can’t be ignored, but at a volume inaudible to everyone around you.)
None of this is meant to detract from the danger that the rockets pose to Israelis who live within firing range, as their fear is real. For the Israeli families in Sderot, Ashkelon, or Be’er Sheva (where I once lived), Red Alert is palliative.
But Red Alert commodifies the pain of war, and helps render invisible its toll on Palestinians. It turns the conflict into a monetized app, with Google-powered ads scrolling at the top of the screen and furious, scattershot comments crowding at the bottom. Red Alert, in addition to assisting Israelis on the ground and gathering advertising dollars, serves the purpose of a government that has the privilege of being able to sufficiently protect its citizens. The people of Gaza have no such luxury.
Welcome to the Future of Air Conditioning, says a poster at Venice airport, straight after passport control. Next to the words is an image of a composite Shanghai/Dubai-like city, made of sealed towers of the kind that would be impossible without artificial air. Any association with this year’s Rolex-sponsored Venice Biennale of Architecture is coincidental, but the poster is an eloquent exhibit of the event’s main theme. This is: thousands of years of architectural history are being changed utterly by modern techniques of constructing and servicing buildings which, predetermined by technical considerations, make architects marginal to their making. If, for example, a fireplace was once an occasion for social gathering and ornamental embellishment, there are now sensors that can track an individual and provide heating specific to that one person. The provision of heat becomes a solitary, dematerialised and invisible affair.
“I’ve made a bot that ‘likes’ everything on Facebook,” said Julien Deswaef […]
While it sounds an easy project to execute, it turns out that Facebook has its own scripts programmed to penalise ruthless automation. Because of this, Julien has had to mimic the sporadic interactions of humans to keep the bot under the radar. The artist has also had to forfeit his own Facebook account to the bot — you could interpret this as performance art, but Julien calls it software art. Many of his friends instantly complained about having everything liked by him. I follow him/it on Facebook, and yes it’s frustrating, but it is only irritating because it holds up a mirror of how pathetic your Facebook life really is; the bot likes every single mundane trace you leave on the site.
In fact, it’s all about the butts. Because players see their avatars from a third-person perspective from behind, men are confronted with whether they want to stare at a guy’s butt or a girl’s butt for 20 hours a week. Or as the study authors put it in more academic prose, gender-switching men “prefer the esthetics of watching a female avatar form.” This means that gender-switching men somehow end up adopting a few female speech patterns even though they had no intention of pretending to be a woman.