April 25th & 26th
287 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Abstract Submission Deadline: January 19th
What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
“Drawing workshop - B.A.C. of 14th district of Paris” by Julien Prévieux. who asked cops in Paris to draw Voronoi diagrams based on maps showing recent crimes… as a way to make them understand each step of crime prediction algorithms:
A month and a half ago, I set up a drawing workshop with four police officers from the 14th arrondissement in Paris: Benjamin Ferran, Gerald Fidalgo, Blaise Thomas and Mickael Malvaud. The goal of the workshop was to learn to draw “Vorfonoi diagrams” [sic: Voronoi] manually from maps identify- ing recent crimes. These diagrams, used in the U.S. but not in France yet, are among the mapping analysis tools used to visualize crimes in real time to deploy patrols accordingly. Usually they are made by computer, but I offered the French policemen a chance to draw them by hand, taking the time to execute one by one the different steps of the algorithm. The exercise is slow and laborious and requires a precision that is difficult to obtain. With this technique of traditional drawing, the optimization tool is stripped of its primary function by invariably producing the results too late. But what you lose in efficiency is certainly gained in other areas: intensive drawing practice at weekends and holidays, in-depth exploration of the technical division of surfaces into polygons, discussions about Police processing systems(?) and introduction of new management methods, and production of a series of very successful abstract drawings.
The framed example above is “theft from cars” (november 2004, Paris 75017. Drawing executed by Gérald Fidalgo unique piece, serie of 7 + 7 draft.)
The tessellation of a Voronoi map is actually straightforward to conceive but difficult to execute:
This technique is faster if you successively approximate: manually draw guestimated regions around each spot, and after a pass, return to each, making the blog non-overlapping. Software is good at this; people, so-so.
In the case of crime deterrance, the outcome is to rethink police cruising patterns, to concentrate on Voronoi regions of greatest density of crimes, but to cover all areas in a way that matches crime density and shortest path algorithms.
The big data slant: imagine superimposing other non-obviously correlated data sets with a map like this. Social networks of known criminals. Street light maps and luminosity indices. Walking patterns, and locations of public transport. Analyses of how long cars are parked in each region.
People can’t crunch all these variables to determine which are correlated and to what degree, but big data analysis can. And soon, it will cost nothing to peer into the fog of this snarl of data and winnow out the facts. It will be like turning on a flashlight on a dark street.
This is not the same as prediction, but it is so close that there is no difference. You’ll know that a cloudy Sunday night when there a football game at the high school means that in a district a mile away thefts from cars will spike. You could stop that by redirecting two more police cruisers to that neighborhood.
And the deep data machines could be cranking that for all sorts of crimes — not just thefts from cars — and optimize to distribute cruisers and foot patrols based on the goals of minimizing violent crimes first, felonies second, and so on. So cops won’t be hassling kids for smoking on school grounds when they should be patrolling the next district to counter armed robberies and burglaries.
This is the domain of future studies I have always called imaginary objects or speculative design, now being called design fiction:
Objects as oracles
[…] there is a growing practice of designing and writing about speculative objects as mechanisms for peering into the near future. In the emerging field of design fiction, these notional objects are created in order to embody stories about the the social, cultural and ethical implications of emerging technologies. These objects are like fragments of a hologram: They contain the residue of a whole world frozen from one perspective. They don’t (quite) exist yet, rather they are artifacts extracted from potential futures that allow us to think through the emergent behaviors and unexpected repercussions of our current trajectories.
In Design Fiction as a Pedagogical Practice, Matt Ward speaks to the power of exploring unintended consequences:
Things that don’t work create interesting stories…Finding the uncomfortable haunting fiction that surrounds an object, the place where social life starts to break down and fracture is far more interesting than a world that ‘just works’.
A powerful example of exploring the seams where things break is in Warren Ellis’s Lich House, a crime story by Warren Ellis told from the point of view of a networked house that is being murdered. In discussing the piece, Ellis says that in “looking for the place where a society of networked matter breaks,” he “went straight to ‘Where’s the crime story there?’” The result is both profoundly strange and deeply familiar — technology doesn’t alter who we are as humans, but it gives us new expressions of those essential needs, desires, and flaws. “Lich House” is part of The Institute for the Future’s short story collection, “An Aura of Familiarity: Visions from the Coming Age of Networked Matter,” which contains quite a few examples of speculative object fiction.
Warren Ellis is ten steps ahead, his design fiction is actually fiction, not just a anecdote about sensors Twittering.
The authors of this NY Times piece ask an interesting question about the compatibility of Snapchat’s imagined world and Facebook’s:
As for Snapchat, its compatibility with Facebook is unclear. Snapchat is centered on impermanence and offers privacy and anonymity. Facebook constantly pushes users to share more and is rooted in real-world identities and creating a permanent, largely public record of people’s daily lives and interactions.
Given these differences, the Snapchat bid looks like an attempt to corral back some of the cool factor in the form of young eyeballs. Three years ago, Snapchat did not even exist, and Facebook, with a valuation of $100 billion before its public offering, was the hot company. Now with younger users preferring Snapchat — which says it processes nearly as many photos as Facebook each day — Snapchat may well have the upper hand.
“It’s head-scratching,” said Christopher Poole, 25, the founder of 4chan, the message board. “From a business perspective, I understand it. But from a cultural perspective, it’s like, ‘Wait, what?’ ”
Mr. Poole said Facebook’s aggressive pursuit of Snapchat may point to an identity crisis of sorts.
“Does that mean that they’re willing to embrace an alternative to Facebook identity, or does it mean that they feel that threatened by it that they’d leave their own wheelhouse?”
But what of the larger question: is society (starting with the Snapchatting young) rejecting the Facebook notion of a single, unchanging identity and a global social network based on publicy? Yes. The fall of Facebook has started. Peak Facebook has already passed or will soon. Why?
The Benthamite underpinnings of Facebook are becoming unpopular. Young people in particular don’t want their teachers, parents, employers, and even all their friends to know everything going on in their lives. Oh, and the government. People want to have multiple, contextually defined identities, different circles of knowing, different non-overlapping rules of attraction. Everything is not everything.
Google is involved in a huge brouhaha now about imposing Google+ ‘real identities’ on YouTube commenting, which is an echo of the same shout for identity freedom.
My bet for the next answer is on social operating systems, although Google is moving down a dark road with Google+ identities, and Apple seems oddly reluctant to do anything social, natively. Perhaps the failure of Apple’s Ping has frightened them off it.
Maybe we should be on the lookout for some crazy developers that build streaming at the OS level, or near to it. Dropbox and other virtual distributed file systems are close enough to do something like that, constantly syncing in the background, and implementing a distributed model of sharing. Imagine if Dropbox supported plugins to provide the equivalent of Snapchat, or Facebook-like sharing of updates with friends, but where the user can define the visibility of interactions, not Facebook. And — if they want — users could opt to share some things in closed contexts, like private accounts on Twitter, and others in more open settings. People are after a spectrum of identity sharing, and Facebook just won’t go there.
Jenna Wortham is part of a growing trend: people who find that the Facebook social experience is waning in interest, partly because others are spending less time there, but also because they are migrating to messaging-based instead of profile-based apps:
Just a few years ago, most of my online social activity revolved around Facebook. I was an active member of several Facebook groups, including one that helped me and others find apartments and sell used items. Another group was wonderful for organizing midnight movie screenings. And I used Facebook to stay up-to-date on the latest achievements of my sisters and their children, and the many members of my extended family.
But lately, my formerly hyperactive Facebook life has slowed to a crawl. I’ve found that most of my younger relatives have graduated from high school and have deleted their accounts or whittled them down until there is barely any personal information left. As for my own account, I rarely add photographs or post updates about what I’ve been doing. Often, the only interesting thing on the site is the latest Buzzfeed article that my friends are reading — and I can go directly to Buzzfeed for that.
Is it just me, or is Facebook fading?
The company has long denied that public interest in it may be waning — or that social upstarts may be luring away users. But this month, during a quarterly earnings call, David A. Ebersman, Facebook’s chief financial officer, made a startling acknowledgment. Facebook had noticed “a decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens,” he said. Those teenagers, mostly American and likely around 13 or 14, weren’t deleting their accounts, he said, but they were checking the site less often.
The comment confirmed what many of us had suspected but were never able to prove — that the service had become less appealing for at least some of its users. And though Facebook is still the default social network for many people, perhaps it is no longer as crucial as it once was for social survival.
as it has become nearly universal, Facebook may have lost some of its edge — or, at the very least, it may no longer feel novel or original to some of its users. It’s possible that it has lost some of the cachet that made it appealing, especially for young users.
Many people have become much more wary of the longer-term implications of sharing on Facebook and on other social media. In recent months, it has become clear that seemingly harmless antics online can lead to serious repercussions in the real world.Young people may be particularly vulnerable.
Those cracks in Facebook’s veneer have provided a market opening for other messaging services among young people in the United States and worldwide. Mr. Sundar calls those services — which include WhatsApp, Line (popular in Japan), Snapchat, WeChat of China and the Korean service KakaoTalk — “mini social media,” because they satisfy one desire among teenagers: keeping in constant communication.
“That is an aspect of being a teen — they love chatting with their friends and they are always on their phones,” he said.
With the lightning speed at which social media is evolving, it is at least possible that Facebook is already entering a midlife crisis. Could we be approaching peak Facebook?
The answer is yes, but advertisers might find selling to 30-, 40- and 50-somethings ok for a while, but as Facebook starts to seem like the Sears of social networks the kids will be off finding the newest pop-up stores as far from the mall as possible.
Chairman and CEO of Clear Communications, Bob Pittman, inteviewed by Adam Bryant:
Tell me more about how you encourage dissent.
Nobody’s in an ivory tower, and let’s figure this out together. Often in meetings, I will ask people when we’re discussing an idea, “What did the dissenter say?” The first time you do that, somebody might say, “Well, everybody’s on board.” Then I’ll say, “Well, you guys aren’t listening very well, because there’s always another point of view somewhere and you need to go back and find out what the dissenting point of view is.” I don’t want to hear someone say after we do something, “Oh, we should have done this.”
I want us to listen to these dissenters because they may intend to tell you why we can’t do something, but if you listen hard, what they’re really telling you is what you must do to get something done. It gets you out of your framework of the conventions of what you can and can’t do.
Researchers at Duke have built a metamaterial array that harvests free energy sources like ambient wifi and microwave radiation:
The device wirelessly converts the microwave signal to direct current voltage capable of recharging a cell phone battery or other small electronic device, according to a report appearing in the journal Applied Physics Lettersin December 2013.
It operates on a similar principle to solar panels, which convert light energy into electrical current. But this versatile energy harvester could be tuned to harvest the signal from other energy sources, including satellite signals, sound signals or Wi-Fi signals, the researchers say.
The key to the power harvester lies in its application of metamaterials, engineered structures that can capture various forms of wave energy and tune them for useful applications.
Undergraduate engineering student Allen Hawkes, working with graduate student Alexander Katko and lead investigator Steven Cummer, professor of electrical and computer engineering, designed an electrical circuit capable of harvesting microwaves.
They used a series of five fiberglass and copper energy conductors wired together on a circuit board to convert microwaves into 7.3V of electrical energy. By comparison, Universal Serial Bus (USB) chargers for small electronic devices provide about 5V of power.
"We were aiming for the highest energy efficiency we could achieve," said Hawkes. "We had been getting energy efficiency around 6 to 10 percent, but with this design we were able to dramatically improve energy conversion to 37 percent, which is comparable to what is achieved in solar cells."
An incredible breakthrough that could lead to ambient charging of mobile devices, simply through the addition of a small array circuit. Carried to a logical conclusion, we could potentially do away with wires, and items as basic as light bulbs could be powered by wifi or cell signals. The communication medium can become the power supply, as well.
Steve Ballmer, cited by Monica Langley in Steve Ballmer on His Retirement as Microsoft CEO
Ballmer might have used the Steve Macone quote: A tradition is a habit whose logic has faded. He created and managed over a long series of behaviors at Microsoft that are so embedded in the culture that it may take years to counter them, many of which have little logic to them anymore, if they ever did.
Getting rid of stack ranking is one such step, but the fastest way to make Microsoft competitive again is likely to involve selling off all the parts that are not essential — like Bing — and spinning off the consumer businesses: xBox, notably.
My bet is that won’t happen with the the next CEO, but perhaps the one after that. The next one will have a very difficult time to come in and make real changes given the half-completed reorg, the acquisition of Nokia’s handset business, and Chairman Bill and the other longtime board members that want a Microsoft that is fighting in all sectors, just doing it better.
This week’s GigaOM Research Tweets, and my first customer timeline.
The baseband OS on mobile devices is a frightening mess: incompletely understood and very insecure:
Every smartphone or other device with mobile communications capability (e.g. 3G or LTE) actually runs not one, but twooperating systems. Aside from the operating system that we as end-users see (Android, iOS,PalmOS), it also runs a small operating system that manages everything related to radio. Since this functionality is highly timing-dependent, a real-time operating system is required.
This operating system is stored in firmware, and runs on the baseband processor. As far as I know, this baseband RTOS is always entirely proprietary. For instance,the RTOS inside Qualcomm baseband processors(in this specific case, the MSM6280) is called AMSS, built upon their own proprietary REX kernel, and is made up of 69 concurrent tasks, handling everything from USB to GPS. It runs on an ARMv5 processor.
The problem here is clear: these baseband processors and the proprietary, closed software they run are poorly understood, as there’s no proper peer review. This is actually kind of weird, considering just how important these little bits of software are to the functioning of a modern communication device. You may think these baseband RTOS’ are safe and secure, butthat’s not exactly the case. You may have the most secure mobile operating system in the world, but you’re still running a second operating system that is poorly understood, poorly documented, proprietary, and all you have to go on are Qualcomm’s Infineon’s, and others’ blue eyes.
The insecurity of baseband software is not by error; it’s by design. The standards that govern how these baseband processors and radios work were designed in the ’80s, ending up with a complicated codebase written in the ’90s - complete with a ’90s attitude towards security. For instance, there is barely any exploit mitigation, so exploits are free to run amok. What makes it even worse, is that every baseband processor inherently trusts whatever data it receives from a base station (e.g. in a cell tower). Nothing is checked, everything is automatically trusted. Lastly, the baseband processor is usually the master processor, whereas the application processor (which runs the mobile operating system) is the slave.
So, we have a complete operating system, running on an ARM processor, without any exploit mitigation (or only very little of it), which automatically trusts every instruction, piece of code, or data it receives from the base station you’re connected to. What could possibly go wrong?
With this in mind, security researcher Ralf-Philipp Weinmann of the University of Luxembourg set out to reverse engineer the baseband processor software of both Qualcomm and Infineon, and he easily spotted loads and loads of bugs, scattered all over the place, each and every one of which could lead to exploits - crashing the device, and even allowing the attacker to remotely execute code. Remember: all over the air. One of the exploits he found required nothing more but a 73 byte message to get remote code execution. Over the air.
It sounds like the background for a Daniel Suarez-like scifi novel about an evil genius crashing the world’s economy by controlling the cell phones of politicians, bankers, and security personnel, and causing a stock market and financial market crash by making cell phones execute trades, steal money from bank accounts, and to fund his organization’s terrorism.