Category Archives: technology

Ask Yourself, Is it Smart?

Five years on from Edward Snowden’s disclosure that governments collect huge amounts of data from “regular” citizens, it’s kind of perplexing to hear so many people caught up by the Alexa/Echo bug. Suspicious of many “smart” innovations, it is easy to turn down such things as “smart” light bulbs, kettles, electricity/gas meters, and so on. I mean, why would you want such things?

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And then there is the latest trend for voice collecting devices to be fitted around the home (bad enough that we have to carry mobile phones with us, but at least you can leave it in a drawer and exit the room). The Alexa/Echo thing means that wherever you are in the house it’s listening. And so, this begs the question, posed nicely in today’s The Guardian article commemorating the day that people got to know how interested their governments are in their everyday activities: “Why, just a few years after a global scandal involving government surveillance, would people willingly install always-on microphones in their homes?”citizenfour

Now that is a very good question, and if one requires a reason not to do such an idiotic thing, just spend a couple of hours watching Citizen Four, the documentary on Snowden and the actions he took on behalf of fellow citizens (here’s a free version– curious that the official site doesn’t let you watch it for free).

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Stephen Hawking, #AI, and the “History of Stupidity”

Following on from the very brief post on Adam Curtis’ #Hyper-Normalisation, which is riveting viewing despite its length being around 166 minutes, and despite the fact that it, like most of Curtis’ productions IMO, leaves you feeling oddly numb as the end credits roll, kind of like you’ve seen too much and can’t quite process the wave after wave of stupid human behaviour being presented to you in film format, it’s fascinating to hear Professor Stephen Hawking’s view that: “We [humans] spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.” And you’d have to admit, he’s got a point here.

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So, with that in mind, and very much “on-trend” in terms of what’s going on in the world, and as was touched on in Hyper-Normalisation, what’s the deal-i-o with AI? Is it likely to be, as Pro Hawking (can we just call him the Hawk?) predicts, “either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity?” Now, surely that will depend on your viewpoint in the first instance. Watching @Gemma_Chan1 on How to Build a Human the other night, it was interesting to hear views from experts who feel we may need to curb AI’s remit before it even comes into existence, and that AI needs to be for our benefit – but curb it from doing what, precisely, and who are the “we” that we are speaking of?

For instance, AI may reach a level where it decides that we are truly a very stupid species and that things need to change. But what things might it want to change, and how would that impact upon “humanity?” The show gave us a brief glimpse of AI gone rogue, with an example of a Twitter account run by AI that ended up all misogynistic and racist and stuff – so that’s not a great future.

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But what if a supremely intelligent form of AI were to come into existence, take a bit of time to look around and do its research before coming up with the following list of things that need changing:

  • The practice of thinking that the best way of keeping peace on the planet (even though that seems never to have happened, thus far) is to invent the deadliest weapons you can think of that would annihilate the population if used in sufficient numbers.
  • The practice of allowing “humane” end-of-life procedures for animals you care for, whilst at the same time leaving humans to suffer some awful and agonisingly slow deaths through sickness/illness, and the like.
  • The practice of encouraging/forcing the bulk of “civilised” populations to be placated into doing endless tasks that are, and always will be, meaningless – whether that be shopping, working (unless it’s a job that truly benefits society), or engaging in forms of entertainment.
  • The practice of viewing some humans as less human than others, and therefore less worthy of basic human rights – like adequate access to healthy sources of food and water, and the provision of shelter and a safe environment.

And those are just four examples of things that we might consider to be stupid ways of living. What if AI messed with those things? What would that look like, and, more to the point, who would object?


Troubled by Mr. Robot

Having binge-watched Mr. Robot on its initial release on Amazon Prime, probably the only thing I’ve ever felt compelled to watch episode after episode in such a manner, I have just revisited it and am left feeling just as troubled as after the first time of watching. The thing I’m struggling with is the question of just what is Sam Esmail’s show meant to convey? Does it foreshadow events that are happening currently, with the likes of Anonymous and its threat to take down the U.S. financial system in 2016? Is it another vehicle that exposes the possibilities that exist with respect to the emergence of technologies that can be accessed by “everyday” people, such as Elliot Alderson? Does this then speak of instances of injustice like Aaron Swartz and his family have faced, with tragic outcomes? Or is it raising awareness of conspiracy theories that are concerned with the ruling elite and their influence over the vast majority of the earth’s population?

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Can any form of mainstream medium actually do anything other than just merely “entertain?” That’s the real issue I have. Much of the conflict I’m feeling stems from metaphors and references that are found within the show.

Metaphor 1. Tyrell Wellick paying some homeless dude to be beaten to a pulp. This speaks of the present capitalist system where most of the world’s population puts up with some form of exploitation on a day-to-day basis, no matter how minor, for the sake of money.

Metaphor 2. (NSFW) Terry Colby’s insistence that he won’t divulge anything meaningful about the circumstances surrounding the decision that ultimately leads to Angela’s mother’s death until she stuffs her mouth with his private parts before repeating the question back to him. Which works very much the same way as Met. 1.

Metaphor 3. Gideon’s conversation with his finance director. They discuss the fact that since the inception of Allsafe there has never been a moment where money has been viewed positively. Money is a constant worry. Things have to be done to ensure money keeps coming in. Again, similar to Met. 1. and Met. 2.

Reference 1. Mr. Robot carrying a copy of Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Is this bit of intertextuality necessary, or merely whimsical?

Reference 2. The repeated references to Pulp Fiction. Just why?

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Can anything meaningful be taken from any of this? Or is it just throwaway pop-culture (keep consuming)?


Not quite Blade Runner but heading that way, sort of…

I’m not quite sure how I feel about receiving a cheeky wink and wave from a holographic projection/image-type-thing of a woman standing at the foot of the escalators of Platform 15 (I think, the platform) at Leeds railway station. Let me explain…

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Firstly, the cut out Perspex screen (cut out in the shape of a human body) upon which the woman’s image appeared was diminutive to the extent that she was reduced to more of a child-like size/stature – not that women (or men for that matter) cannot come in all manner of sizes, but she kind of looked like she had been shrunk, artificially, to fit the Perspex screen aforementioned – a bit like when Obi-Wan (Alec or Ewan, doesn’t matter here) appears as a projected image in a Star Wars film.

Secondly, it’s the way in which she suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, presumably an energy saving device where she disappears from the screen when the station platform is empty, to return to the screen when motion is detected once more by the presence of incoming travellers.

Thirdly, the interaction with the woman’s image-type-thing left an unsettling feeling as I passed her by, precisely because of the wink/wave combo. Deciding to opt for the escalators, because I couldn’t be bothered to climb the stairs, took me right past the Perspex domain from where she was issuing a bog-standard greeting letting you know which way to head if exiting the station or indeed if you were continuing an onward journey. And this is where the unsettling part comes in – she winked at me (I even made eye contact with her so I definitely know she was looking at me when she did it) and gave a cute little wave thing with her hand (kind of flirty, really). And then I’m off up the escalator and can’t see her anymore. And the first thing that popped into my head was that it was a teeny bit Blade Runner. The next thing was pondering over: A) what did she mean by the wink/wave?; and B) how did she know to wink/wave at that precise moment for it to look as if she was directing said wink/wave at me, just me?

Most unsettling, as you can probably tell.


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