What’s wrong with bots is they’re not ours

In Chatbots were the next big thing: what happened?, Justin Lee (@justinleejw) nicely unpacks how chatbots were overhyped to begin with and continue to fail their Turing tests, especially since humans in nearly all cases would  rather talk to humans than to mechanical substitutes.

There’s also a bigger and more fundamental reason why bots still aren’t a big thing: we don’t have them. If we did, they’d be our robot assistants, going out to shop for us, to get things fixed, or to do whatever.

Why didn’t we get bots of our own?

I can pinpoint the exact time and place where bots of our own failed to happen, and all conversation and development went sideways, away from the vector that takes us to bots of our own (hashtag: #booo), and instead toward big companies doing more than ever to deal with us robotically, mostly to

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For privacy we need tech more than policy

Nature and the Internet both came without privacy.

The difference is that we’ve invented privacy tech in the natural world, starting with clothing and shelter, and we haven’t yet done the same in the digital world.

When we go outside in the digital world, most of us are still walking around naked. Worse, nearly every commercial website we visit plants tracking beacons on us to support the extractive economy in personal data called adtech: tracking-based advertising.

In the natural world, we also have long-established norms for signaling what’s private, what isn’t, and how to respect both. Laws have grown up around those norms as well. But let’s be clear: the tech and the norms came first.

Yet for some reason many of us see personal privacy as a grace of policy. It’s like, “The answer is policy. What is the question?”

Two such answers arrived with this morning’s  Continue reading "For privacy we need tech more than policy"

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

Let’s start with Facebook’s Surveillance Machine, by Zeynep Tufekci in last Monday’s New York Times. Among other things (all correct), Zeynep explains that “Facebook makes money, in other words, by profiling us and then selling our attention to advertisers, political actors and others. These are Facebook’s true customers, whom it works hard to please.”

Giant Irony Alert: the same is true for the Times, along with every other publication that lives off adtech: surveillance-based advertising. These pubs don’t just open the kimonos of their readers. They treat them as naked beings whose necks are bared to vampires ravenous for the blood of personal data, all ostensibly so those persons can be served with “interest-based” advertising.

With no control by readers (beyond tracking protection which relatively few know how to use), and damn little care or control by the publishers who bare those readers’ necks to the vampires,

Continue reading "Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing"

The real problem is Decoy News (and decoy content of all kinds)—and the platforms can’t fix it

The term “fake news” was a casual phrase until it became clear to news media that a flood of it had been deployed during last year’s presidential election in the U.S. Starting in November 2016, fake news was the subject of strong and well-researched coverage by NPR (here and here), Buzzfeed, CBS (here and here), Wired, the BBC, Snopes, CNN (here and here), Rolling Stone and others. It thus became a thing…

… until Donald Trump started using it as an epithet for news media he didn’t like. He did that first during a press conference on February 16, and then the next day on Twitter:

And he hasn’t stopped. To Trump, any stick he can whup non-Fox mainstream media with is a good stick, and FAKE NEWS is the best.

So that pretty much took

Continue reading "The real problem is Decoy News (and decoy content of all kinds)—and the platforms can’t fix it"

Jack Ucciferri for 4th District

Santa Barbara is one of the world’s great sea coast towns. It’s also in a good position to be one of the world’s great Internet coast towns too.

Luckily, Santa Barbara is advantaged by its location not just on the ocean, but on some of the thickest Internet trunk lines (called “backbones”) in the world. These run through town beside the railroad and Highway 101. Some are owned by the state college and university system. Others are privately owned. In fact Level(3), now part of CenturyLink, has long had a tap on that trunk, and a large data center, in the heart of the Funk Zone. Here it is:

Last I checked, Level(3) was in the business of wholesaling access to its backbone. So was the UC system.

Yet Santa Barbara is still disadvantaged by depending on a single “high speed” Internet service provider: Cox Communications, which

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Data is the New Love

dat is the new love

Personal data, that is.

Because it’s good to give away—but only if you mean it.

And it’s bad to take it, even it seems to be there for the taking.

I bring this up because a quarter million pages (so far) on the Web say “data is the new oil.”

That’s because a massive personal data extraction industry has grown up around the simple fact that our data is there for the taking. Or so it seems. To them. And their apologists.

As a result, we’re at a stage of wanton data extraction that looks kind of like the oil industry did in 1920 or so:

It’s a good metaphor, but for a horrible business. It’s a business we need to reform, replace, or both. What we need most are new industries that grow around who and what we are as individual human beings—and as a society that values

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Some new ways to look at infrastructure

Nothing challenges our understanding of infrastructure better than a crisis, and we have a big one now in Houston. We do with every giant storm, of course. New York is still recovering from Sandy and New Orleans from Katrina. Reforms and adaptations always follow, as civilization learns from experience.

Look at aviation, for example. Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. and George Bush International Airport (aka IAH) is a major hub for United Airlines. For the last few days traffic there has been sphinctered down to emergency flights alone. You can see how this looks on FlightAware’s Miserymap:

Go there and click on the blue play button to see how flight cancellations have played over time, and how the flood in Houston has affected Dallas as well. Click on the airport’s donut to see what routes are most affected. Frequent fliers like myself rely on tools like this

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How the personal data extraction industry ends

Who Owns the Internet? — What Big Tech’s Monopoly Powers Mean for our Culture is Elizabeth Kolbert‘s review in The New Yorker of several books, one of which I’ve read: Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things—How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy.

The main takeaway for me, to both Elizabeth’s piece and Jon’s book, is making clear that Google and Facebook are at the heart of today’s personal data extraction industry, and that this industry defines (as well as supports) much of our lives online.

Our data, and data about us, is the crude that Facebook and Google extract, refine and sell to advertisers. This by itself would not be a Bad Thing if it were done with our clearly expressed (rather than merely implied) permission, and if we had our own valves to control personal data flows with scale across all the companies we deal with, rather Continue reading "How the personal data extraction industry ends"

An Archimedian Approach to Personal Power in the Land of Giants

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On a mailing list that obsesses about All Things Networking, another member cited what he called “the Doc Searls approach” to something. Since it was a little off (though kind and well-intended), I responded with this (lightly edited):

The Doc Searls approach is to put as much agency as possible in the hands of individuals first, and self-organized groups of individuals second. In other words, equip demand to engage and drive supply on customers’ own terms and in their own ways.

This is supported by the wide-open design of TCP/IP in the first place, which at least models (even if providers don’t fully give us) an Archimedean place to stand, and a wide-open market for levers that help us move the world—one in which the practical distance between everyone and everything rounds to zero.

To me this is a greenfield that has been mostly fallow for the duration. There Continue reading "An Archimedian Approach to Personal Power in the Land of Giants"

Defibrillating a dead horse

esb-antenae Before we start, let me explain that ATSC 1.0 is the HDTV standard, and defines what you get from HDTV stations over the air and cable. It dates from the last millennium. Resolution currently maxes out at 1080i, which fails to take advantage even the lowest-end HDTVs sold today, which are 1080p (which is better than 1080i). Your new 4K (4x the resolution of 1080) TV or computer screen “upscales” the picture it gets over the air or cable. But actual 4k video looks better. Sources for that include satellite TV providers (DirectTV and Dish), and streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc.). In other words, the TV broadcast industry is to video what AM radio is to FM. (Or what both are to streaming.) This is why our new FCC chairman is stepping up for broadcasters. In FCC’s Pai Proposes ATSC 3.0 Rollout, John Eggerton Continue reading "Defibrillating a dead horse"

Exploring the business behind digital media’s invisibility cloaks

  amsterdam-streetImagine you’re on a busy city street where everybody who disagrees with you disappears. We have that city now. It’s called media—especially the social kind. You can see how this works on Wall Street Journal‘s Blue Feed, Red Feed page. Here’s a screen shot of the feed for “Hillary Clinton” (one among eight polarized topics): blue-red-wsj Both invisible to the other. We didn’t have that in the old print and broadcast worlds, and still don’t, where they persist. (For example, on news stands, or when you hit SCAN on a car radio.) But we have it in digital media. Here’s another difference: a lot of the stuff that gets shared is outright fake. There’s a lot of concern about that right now: fakenews Why? Well, there’s a business in it. More eyeballs, more advertising, more money, for more eyeballs for more advertising. And so on. Those ads are aimed
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A few words about trust

cropped-wst-logo-mainSo i was on a panel at WebScience@10 in London (@WebScienceTrust, #WebSci10), where the first question asked was, “What are two aspects of ‘trust and the Web’ that you think are most relevant/important at the moment?” My answer went something like this:::: 1) The Net is young, and the Web with it. Both were born in their current forms on 30 April 1995, when the NSFnet backed off on its forbidding commercial traffic on its pipes. This opened the whole Net to absolutely everything, exactly when the graphical Web browser became fully useful. Twenty-one years in the history of a world is nothing. We’re still just getting started here. 2) The Internet, like nature, did not come with privacy. And privacy is personal. We need to start there. We arrived naked in this new world, and — like Adam and Eve — still don’t have clothing Continue reading "A few words about trust"

The problem for people isn’t advertising, and the problem for advertising isn’t blocking. The problem for both is tracking.

Ingeyes Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking, @JuliaAngwin and @ProPublica unpack what the subhead says well enough: “Google is the latest tech company to drop the longstanding wall between anonymous online ad tracking and user’s names.” Here’s a message from humanity to Google and all the other spy organizations in the surveillance economy: Tracking is no less an invasion of privacy in apps and browsers than it is in homes, cars, purses, pants and wallets. That’s because our apps and browsers are personal and private. So are the devices on which we use them. Simple as that. (HT to @Apple for digging that fact.) To help online advertising business and the publications they support understand what ought to be obvious (but isn’t yet), let’s clear up some misconceptions:
  1. Tracking people without their clear and conscious permission is wrong. (Meaning The Castle Doctrine Continue reading "The problem for people isn’t advertising, and the problem for advertising isn’t blocking. The problem for both is tracking."

Nobody else owns our experiences

shackles Who Owns the Mobile Experience? is a report by Unlockd on mobile advertising in the U.K. To clarify the way toward an answer, the report adds, “mobile operators or advertisers?” The correct answer is neither. Nobody’s experience is “owned” by another party. True, another party may cause a person’s experience to happen. But that doesn’t mean that party owns that personal experience. We own our selves. That includes our experiences. This is an essential distinction. For lack of it, both mobile operators and advertisers are delusional about their customers and consumers. (That’s an other important distinction. Operators have customers. Advertisers have consumers. Customers pay, consumers may or may not. That the former also qualifies as the latter does not mean the distinction should not be made. Sellers are far more accountable to customers than advertisers are to consumers.) It’s interesting that Unlockd’s survey shows almost identically high Continue reading "Nobody else owns our experiences"

The Internet deserves its proper noun

doc036cThe NYTimes says the Mandarins of language are demoting the Internet to a common noun. It is to be just “internet” from now on. Reasons:

Thomas Kent, The A.P.’s standards editor, said the change mirrored the way the word was used in dictionaries, newspapers, tech publications and everyday life.

In our view, it’s become wholly generic, like ‘electricity or the ‘telephone,’ ” he said. “It was never trademarked. It’s not based on any proper noun. The best reason for capitalizing it in the past may have been that the word was new. But at one point, I’ve heard, ‘phonograph’ was capitalized.”

But we never called electricity “the Electricity.” And “the telephone” referred to a single thing of which there billions of individual examples.

What was it about “the Internet” that made us want to capitalize it in the first place? Is usage alone reason enough Continue reading "The Internet deserves its proper noun"

Help: why don’t images load in https?

For some reason, many or most of the images in this blog don’t load in some browsers. Same goes for the ProjectVRM blog as well. This is new, and I don’t know exactly why it’s happening. So far, I gather it happens only when the URL is https and not http. Or so I gather. Okay, I’ll try an experiment. I’ll add an image here in the WordPress (4.4.2) composing window, and choose to center it in the process. Here goes: cheddar3 Now I’ll hit “Publish,” and see what we get. Okay, when the url starts with https, it fails to show in Firefox ((46.0.1), Chrome (50.0.2661.102) and Brave (0.9.6), but it does show in Opera (12.16) and Safari (9.1). Now I’ll go back and edit the HTML for the image, taking out class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-10370 from between img and
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Dear Adobe, Please buy Flickr

A photo readers find among the most interesting among the 13,000+ aerial photos I've put on Flickr

This photo of Utah is among dozens of thousands I’ve put on Flickr. it might be collateral damage if Yahoo dies or fails to sell the service to a worthy buyer.

This photo of the San Juan River Utah is among dozens of thousands I’ve put up on Flickr. it might be collateral damage if Yahoo dies or fails to sell the service to a worthy buyer. Flickr is far from perfect, but it is also by far the best online service for serious photographers. At a time when the center of photographic gravity is drifting form arts & archives to selfies & social, Flickr remains both retro and contemporary in the best possible ways: a museum-grade treasure it would hurt terribly to lose. Alas, it is owned by Yahoo, which is, despite Marissa Mayer’s best efforts, circling the drain. Flickr was created and lovingly nurtured by Stewart Continue reading "Dear Adobe, Please buy Flickr"

The Giant Zero

The Giant Zero

The world of distance

Fort Lee is the New Jersey town where my father grew up. It’s at the west end of the George Washington Bridge, which he also helped build. At the other end is Manhattan.

Even though Fort Lee and Manhattan are only a mile apart, it has always been a toll call between the two over a landline. Even today. (Here, look it up.) That’s why, when I was growing up not far away, with the Manhattan skyline looming across the Hudson, we almost never called over there. It was “long distance,” and that cost money.

There were no area codes back then, so if you wanted to call long distance, you dialed 0 (“Oh”) for an operator. She (it was always a she) would then call the number you wanted and patch it through, often by plugging a cable between two holes in a

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Decentralization Is Hard, Maybe Too Hard

Summary: Decentralized thinking is hard. So hard that future generations might see the Internet as a historical abberation. Silo In a Linux Journal piece entitled Giving Silos Their Due, Doc Searls laments that decentralized services, with a few notable exceptions, haven't become the preferred way of engineering new technologies. He says:
In those days, many of us had full confidence that Jabber/XMPP would do for instant messaging (aka chat) what SMTP/POP3/IMAP did for e-mail and HTTP/HTML and its successors did for publishing and all the other things one can do on the World Wide Web. We would have a nice flat, distributed and universal standard that people could employ any way they wanted, including on their own personal hardware and software, with countless interoperable systems and no natural barriers to moving data easily from any one system to any other. Didn't happen.
And in fact, Jabber/XMPP isn't the only place Continue reading "Decentralization Is Hard, Maybe Too Hard"

Speeding on the Subway

subway-speedtest At the uptown end of the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway platform there hangs from the ceiling a box with three disks on fat stalks, connected by thick black cables that run to something unseen in the downtown direction. Knowing a few things about radio and how it works, I saw that and thought, Hmm… That has to be a cell. I wonder whose? So I looked at my phone and saw my T-Mobile connection had five dots (that’s iPhone for bars), and said LTE as well. So I ran @Ookla‘s Speedtest app and got the results above. Pretty good, no? Sure, you’re not going to binge-watch anything there, or upload piles of pictures to some cloud, but you can at least pick up some email, look some stuff up on the Web, or otherwise tug on your e-tether to everywhere for a few minutes. Nice to have. So I’m Continue reading "Speeding on the Subway"