Category Archive 'Technology'
18 Jul 2019

Mobile Payments Rendering Cash Obsolete in China

, ,

What could possibly be better for state surveillance and control? (Logic Magazine)

This summer I spent a month in Beijing. I’d last lived in China in 2016, and I was relieved to find my favorite noodle shops in their usual niches. But this time round, navigating the city felt inexplicably different. The cabs I tried to hail passed me by. On the subway, other riders jostled past me, swiping their phones at the turnstiles as I fumbled with my ticket. When I tried to sneak into the cafeteria in Renmin University for a cheap lunch, clutching my grubby backpack, I made it past the guards only to be stopped at the cash register—apart from student cards, the only form of payment accepted was Alipay.

It gradually dawned on me that that was why Beijing felt like a different city from the one I knew: in the two years since I’d left, the whole city had switched over to mobile payments on China-specific platforms to which I, a foreigner, had no access. These days in Beijing, the green and blue logos of mobile payment providers WeChat Pay and Alipay appear everywhere, from breakfast stalls to five-star hotels.

Just about every foreigner who’s visited China in the last ten years comments on the dizzying speed at which physical infrastructure is built. When I first moved to Shanghai in 2012, I worked in the city’s financial district, home to a skyscraper nicknamed the “bottle opener”: according to Wikipedia, it’s the world’s tallest building with a hole in it. But these days, China’s part in the race to build the world’s tallest building appears to be waning. China’s much-vaunted speed in infrastructure building has more recently been directed at the digital rather than the physical world.

RTWT

18 Jun 2019

Have a Seat in Technological Innovation’s Great New Driverless Car!

,

Nicholas Phillips, at Quillette, delivers up a hearty serving of old-fashioned curmudgeonly skepticism of the benignity of all technological change. No Robotic Communism for him!

When forecasting the future, perhaps the only thing that can be trusted is the emergence of unprecedented, unpredictable events that violate past trends. On the eve of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, none of the models used to forecast house prices accounted for the possibility of a price collapse—for the simple reason that no such collapse had ever happened. Price data was historical, and extrapolating that history into the future rendered us blind to the possibility that something ahistorical might happen. Or as Pessimists Archive unwittingly put it: the possibility that “this time it’s different.”

But techno-optimists take the exercise a step further, by using data about one thing to forecast the future of an entirely different thing. This moves us from the flawed to the absurd. For instance, when techno-optimists compare anxiety over driverless cars to the protests of the horse-and-buggy industry over the automobile, they ignore the ways that driverless cars implicate fundamentally different problems than did automobiles. Driverless cars stand ready to collect immense amounts of personal data about the habits of their passengers, and their networked structure creates serious national security risks. What could the successful debut of the automobile in the early 20th century possibly tell us about that?

The political philosopher Gerald Gaus argues that the less precedent there is for some practice working, the less reason there is to prefer it. In the case of new technologies that implicate brand-new problems, the data we have about the success of past technologies is simply irrelevant. History gives us no reason to prefer a world in which, for example, most manual work is automated. It’s never happened before.

We draw spurious historical analogies precisely because it’s easy. If we can say that Change A is just like Change B, which went fine, it allows us to avoid grappling with the actual qualities of Change A. Argument by analogy displaces argument on the merits. It’s far more convenient to assert that past change was good, present change is just like past change, therefore present change is good too.

Unfortunately, by any objective measure, most new things are bad. People are positively brimming with awful ideas. Ninety percent of startups and 70 percent of small businesses fail. Just 56 percent of patent applications are granted, and over 90 percent of those patents never make any money. Each year, 30,000 new consumer products are brought to market, and 95 percent of them fail. Those innovations that do succeed tend to be the result of an iterative process of trial-and-error involving scores of bad ideas that lead to a single good one, which finally triumphs. Even evolution itself follows this pattern: the vast majority of genetic mutations confer no advantage or are actively harmful. Skepticism towards new ideas turns out to be remarkably well-warranted.

The need for skepticism towards change is just as great when the innovation is social or political. For generations, many progressives embraced Marxism and thought its triumph inevitable. Future generations would view us as foolish for resisting it—just like Thoreau and the telegraph. But it turned out that Marxism was a terrible idea, and resisting it an excellent one. It had that in common with virtually every other utopian ideal in the history of social thought. Humans struggle to identify where precisely the arc of history is pointing.

Techno-optimists would likely prefer to put aside failed products and ideologies and consider instead those innovations that have already proven successful. We’re talking about the iPhone, after all. Is popular adoption of an innovation reason enough to suspend skepticism? No—we turn out to be quite bad at predicting the full impact of even our most successful ideas. Adding lead to gasoline made automobile transportation more efficient, but it caused widespread brain damage and may have been responsible for the 20th century crime boom. Freon in refrigerators punched a hole in the ozone and had to be banned by international compact. Fossil fuels, one of the most successful product innovations in history, are experiencing what might politely be called a re-evaluation.

Another massively successful innovation undergoing a re-evaluation of its own is the internet itself. Optimists promised emancipation: knowledge would be democratized and civil discourse would flourish. Now, we understand that the internet is also a highly effective system of control. Incentives to commodify personal information have resulted in more and more of our daily lives becoming subject to data collection, transforming our economy into a surveillance ecosystem. This renders our conduct “visible” to states, which can punish us for it—as China is doing now through its dystopian “social credit” system. The whole thing could turn out to be a terrible mistake—we don’t know, because we’ve never had to solve this problem before. The fact that we previously solved the problem of the telegraph is irrelevant. One could probably fill a podcast—call it the “Optimists’ Archive”—with inappropriately rosy predictions about the wonders of new technology.

We are engaged in a giant social experiment. For 99 percent of the time humans have lived in settled societies, life in each generation was essentially like life in the generation before. Stasis, not change, was the rule. Now, for the first time, we live differently, and the gap between the generations grows wider as the pace of change grows faster. Can this continue indefinitely? We have no precedent for that working. Analogies to history are analogies to nothing at all. We might as well analogize the driverless car to the hand-ax.

Instead of empty analogies, the only way to survive change is to have a vigorous debate about the merits of our new ideas—precisely the kind of debate that techno-optimists want to foreclose by appealing to history. We might ask instead: what does this new thing do to us? Do we understand enough to answer that question? If not, on what basis does our confidence rest? Debate on the merits is essential to distinguishing good ideas from bad ones. And for that, you need the people that techno-optimists most loathe: conservatives.

RTWT

08 May 2019

New Password Rejected!

, , ,

19 Nov 2018

Using Facial Recognition Software to Identify Figures in Civil War Photos

, ,

Slate has the story.

When Kurt Luther walked into Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center in 2013 to attend an exhibition about Pennsylvania during the Civil War, he didn’t expect to be greeted by his great-great-great-uncle. A computer scientist and Civil War enthusiast, Luther had been drawn to researching his own family’s connection to the conflict, gradually piecing together information over years and years. But his searches had always failed to turn up a photograph, and Luther was ready to give up on the possibility of ever seeing his ancestors’ faces. It was only through sheer happenstance that, walking through the History Center that day, Luther had spotted an album of portraits of the men of Company E, 134th Pennsylvania––his great-great-great-uncle’s unit. Laying eyes on his relative’s face for the first time, he later wrote, felt like “closing a gap of 150 years.”

Five years later, Luther launched Civil War Photo Sleuth, a web platform dedicated to closing the gap a little further. Together with Ron Coddington (editor of the magazine Military Images), Paul Quigley (director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies), and a group of student researchers at Virginia Tech, Luther crafted a free and easy-to-use website that applies facial recognition to the multitude of anonymous portraits that survive from the conflict, in the hopes of identifying the sitter. When a user uploads a photograph, the software maps up to 27 distinct “facial landmarks.” Users are further able to refine their searches by adding filters for uniform details that could offer clues about rank. (Three chevrons and a star, for instance, indicates a rank of ordnance sergeant for both the Union and Confederate armies, while shoulder straps with an eagle were worn by Union colonels.) From there, the program cross-references the photo with the other images in CWPS’s growing database. The final search results present an array of possible matches (and possible names) for consideration.

RTWT

It’s all the facial fungus that makes it hard.

22 Oct 2018

Slow Blog Loading

,

I have compiled all the comments on this web-site loading slowly below, so that potential technical support can have a handy reference.

My own observations:

I have no clue what the problem some people (and only some people) seem to be having could be.

I use Chrome for blogging and I look at the blog all the time in Chrome, and it loads normally for me. My wife finds no problem either.

I did reduce the number of posts on page one which should slightly speed things up.

I now intend to ask for technical advice.

———————————-

2018/10/09 at 5:51 pm:

Your website has become really, really slow. Last few days. So slow sometimes I just cancel the load and go somewhere else.

——————

2018/10/11 at 3:03 pm:

Thursday, 10/11, 3:00 p.m. EST: unusable. 1:16 (one minute, 16 seconds) for your page to load once the name resolution completed. Just as long to access this comment page. No problems with any other websites.

——————

2018/10/13 at 9:42 am:

It’s working well now! Much, much better.

I’ve been using both Chrome and Safari on a Mac – operating system and browsers all latest versions. Chrome has been flakey with High Sierra, but the slow load was only your site, until last night.

You can email me to discuss offline if you like, and I’m happy to provide feedback going forward.

——————

2018/10/13 at 5:55 pm:

I spoke too soon. Now, almost 6:00 p.m. Saturday, it’s back to 1:16 from clicking the comment link to the page load.

Something’s very wrong.

——————

2018/10/13 at 10:06 pm:

Update: right now it’s really, really slow on Chrome and Safari, but
speedy on Firefox.

Mac OS X 10.13.6 (High Sierra)
Chrome Version 69.0.3497.100 (Official Build) (64-bit)
Safari Version 12.0 (13606.2.11)
Firefox 62.0.3 (64-bit)
(I believe these are all latest versions)

I can’t explain it.

——————

2018/10/16 at 7:33 am:

I know, it’s weird. I tried it again just now, it seemingly NEVER loads on Safari, and takes forever on Chrome, but it’s speedy with Firefox. As I said, latest Mac OS, latest Chrome, latest Safari, latest Firefox. The browser status when it’s taking a long time is “Connecting….” It eventually connects, but ever page load to your blog takes as long.

I’d really like to know if it’s me, what it is!

——————

2018/10/16 at 12:24 pm:

On Chrome on my home desktop has been loading slowly for a week or two.

——————

2018/10/16 at 11:42 am:

Use Chrome . No issues .

——————

2018/10/16 at 5:23 pm:

on Safari it has stopped loading all together when I click my bookmark. But if I manually type in url it will load. On Chrome it loads very slowly but eventually does load.

——————

2018/10/16 at 5:59 pm:

Usually access using Android phone with Chrome. Has been exceeding slow to load the last couple weeks but is ok after it does.
Tried it with Brave which I recently installed. Handshake took a few seconds but loaded quickly. Never had an issue with Firefox on laptop.

——————

2018/10/16 at 6:50 pm:

It is just fine on Firefox but videos linked from facebook don’t even show on the page.

——————

2018/10/16 at 7:05 pm:

Chrome… about two weeks ago it started to go very slow. Takes about 30 seconds to open the home page. Clicking here just now to comment also took another 30 seconds.

But like the old catsup commercial… anticipation was worth it.

——————

2018/10/19 at 12:44 pm:

Loads like ye olde greased lightning.

03 Oct 2018

Google Easter Eggs

, , , ,

Just type “T-Rex Run” in the Google Search Box.

—————————————-

Type “Text Adventure” into Google Search Box.

Right click on box and select “Inspect.”

Click on “Console” on top of screen.

You should get “Would you like to play a game? yes/no.”

23 Aug 2018

New PC

, ,

There was a lack of blogging the last two days, as I have been going through the ordeal of installing programs and moving stuff to a new personal computer.

I can remember seeing Jim Dunnigan, my boss at SPI, obsessing out playing with a new TRS-80 way back in 1977.

It’s been 41 long, hard years, folks, and these things are still not an appliance at all. Trying to put a non-Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft email into Outlook is a task on the scale of killing the biggest monster in the last dungeon. You die a lot before you get it.

23 Jun 2018

The American Character

, , , , ,

I was looking through the archives of my blog, looking for a book reference I’d forgotten, when I found this old column from Fred on Everything which demands republishing.

Fred Reed looks at what has become of the American character.

Americans tend to regard their national character as comprising such things as freedom, independence, individualism, and self-reliance…

In fact we no longer have these qualities and probably never will again. Generally we now embody their opposites. Modern society has become a hive of largely conformist, closely regulated and generally helpless employees who depend on others for nearly everything. The cause is less anything particularly American than the technology that governs our lives. The United States just moves faster in the direction in which the civilized world moves.

Character springs from conditions. Consider a farmer in, say, North Carolina in 1850. He was free because there was little government, self-reliant because what he couldn’t do for himself didn’t get done, independent because, apart from a few tools, he made or grew all he needed, and an individualist because, there being little outside authority, he could do as he pleased.

All of that is gone, and will not return. Freedom has given way to an infinite array of laws, rules, regulations, licenses, forms, requirements. Many make sense, may even be desirable in a complex world, don’t necessarily make for a bad life, but they cannot be called freedom. Various governments determine what our children learn, whether we can paint the shutters, who we must sell our houses to, who we can hire, what we can say if we want to keep our jobs, where we can park, and whether and how we can build an outbuilding.

People who live infinitely controlled lives become accustomed to such control. Obedience becomes natural…

Individualism has withered under the pressure of the mass media and a distaste for eccentricity. Self-reliance died long ago. We depend on others to repair our cars, grow our food, fix the refrigerator, and write our operating systems. The habit of reliance on others has reached the point that even the right of self-defense has come to be regarded as wrong-minded…

Most poignantly, we are become a nation of employees, fearful of losing our jobs. Prisoners of the retirement system, afraid of transgressing against the various governing bodies before whom we are helpless, unable to feed ourselves, we are at least comfortable. We are not masters of our lives.

Dense populations and the complexity of machines and institutions lead inevitably to regulation, which leads to acceptance of regulation and therefore of authority, which becomes part of the national character. This we see. In my lifetime the change has been great. In rural Virginia in the Sixties, you could walk down the road with your rifle to shoot beer cans, swim in the creeks without supervision and life guards and “flotation devices” approved by the Coast Guard, and generally be left alone. Now, no. Regimentation has grown like kudzu. We obey. The new generation knows nothing else..

At the moment we see a great increase in regulation in the guise of preventing terrorism. Other pretexts could have been found and, I suspect, would have been: fighting crime or the war on drugs or something. The result might have been a drift rather than a headlong rush toward control. But sooner or later, technology determines politics. The computer, not the Constitution, is primary.

I suspect that the concern about terrorism is just a particular manifestation of a growing obsession with safety. Not too long ago, Americans were a hardy breed—foolhardy at times, but the one comes with the other. Now we see attempts to eliminate all risk everywhere. Cities fill in the deep ends of swimming pools and remove diving boards. We require that bicyclists wear helmets, fear second-hand smoke and the violence that is dodge ball. Warnings abound against going outside without sun block. To anyone who grew up in the Sixties or before, the new fearfulness is incomprehensible.

The explanation I think is the feminization of society, which seems to be inseparable from modernity. The nature of masculinity is to prize freedom over security; of femininity, security over freedom. Add that the American character of today powerfully favors regulation by the group in preference to individual choice. Note that we do not require that cars be equipped with seat belts and then let individuals decide whether to use them; we enforce their use. The result is compulsory Mommyism, very much a part of today’s America.

Does technological civilization inevitably lead to totalitarianism? Certainly the general fear, in combination with technology, makes a sort of soft Stalinism easy. Just now we move toward national ID cards, smuggled in by linking records of drivers’ licenses. Passports, scanned and linked to data bases, provide a record of our travels. Security cameras proliferate. Some of them read the license plates of all passing cars. Email can be monitored, phones easily and undetectably tapped. Now the government is experimenting with X-ray scanners for airports that provide near-pornographic images of passengers. Whether these will be used for dictatorial ends remains to be seen. Historians may one day note that surveillance, when possible, is inevitable.

What then is the national character today? I think we are first an obedient people. We submit. We are comfortable with authority, and seem to be most comfortable when we are told what to do. We prize security, safety, and predictability. Increasingly we accept being treated like convicts at airports and elsewhere. We want to be taken care of. We can do few things for ourselves. We expect government to decide much that was once regarded as outside of government’s ambit. And we are to the marrow of our bones incapable of rising against the creeping tyranny.

Too bloody true, alas!

26 Apr 2018

Jaron Lanier Regrets His Own Role in Creating Digital Maoism

, , ,

Jaron Lanier tells New York Magazine how Big Internet Tech Companies went wrong.

We used to be kind of rebels, like, if you go back to the origins of Silicon Valley culture, there were these big traditional companies like IBM that seemed to be impenetrable fortresses. And we had to create our own world. To us, we were the underdogs and we had to struggle. And we’ve won. I mean, we have just totally won. We run everything. We are the conduit of everything else happening in the world. We’ve disrupted absolutely everything. Politics, finance, education, media, relationships — family relationships, romantic relationships — we’ve put ourselves in the middle of everything, we’ve absolutely won. But we don’t act like it.

We have no sense of balance or modesty or graciousness having won. We’re still acting as if we’re in trouble and we have to defend ourselves, which is preposterous. And so in doing that we really kind of turn into assholes, you know? …

when you move out of the tech world, everybody’s struggling. It’s a very strange thing. The numbers show an economy that’s doing well, but the reality is that the way it’s doing well doesn’t give many people a feeling of security or confidence in their futures. It’s like everybody’s working for Uber in one way or another. Everything’s become the gig economy. And we routed it that way, that’s our doing. There’s this strange feeling when you just look outside of the tight circle of Silicon Valley, almost like entering another country, where people are less secure. It’s not a good feeling. I don’t think it’s worth it, I think we’re wrong to want that feeling.

It’s not so much that they’re doing badly, but they have only labor and no capital. Or the way I used to put it is, they have to sing for their supper, for every single meal. It’s making everyone else take on all the risk. It’s like we’re the people running the casino and everybody else takes the risks and we don’t. That’s how it feels to me. It’s not so much that everyone else is doing badly as that they’ve lost economic capital and standing, and momentum and plannability. It’s a subtle difference. …

I think the fundamental mistake we made is that we set up the wrong financial incentives, and that’s caused us to turn into jerks and screw around with people too much. Way back in the ’80s, we wanted everything to be free because we were hippie socialists. But we also loved entrepreneurs because we loved Steve Jobs. So you wanna be both a socialist and a libertarian at the same time, and it’s absurd. But that’s the kind of absurdity that Silicon Valley culture has to grapple with.

And there’s only one way to merge the two things, which is what we call the advertising model, where everything’s free but you pay for it by selling ads. But then because the technology gets better and better, the computers get bigger and cheaper, there’s more and more data — what started out as advertising morphed into continuous behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them. So you end up with this mass behavior-modification empire, which is straight out of Philip K. Dick, or from earlier generations, from 1984.

It’s this thing that we were warned about. It’s this thing that we knew could happen. Norbert Wiener, who coined the term cybernetics, warned about it as a possibility. And despite all the warnings, and despite all of the cautions, we just walked right into it, and we created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks. We did it out of this desire to be both cool socialists and cool libertarians at the same time.

RTWT

17 Feb 2018

Peter’s Desktop Clean-up

, ,

I know someone who wanted to optimize his PC, so he formatted C:.

11 Feb 2018

George Gilder On Technology

, , ,


George Gilder

Forbes interviews Gilder on the future of Big Tech.

Q: One of your lifelong theories, which reaches back to your 1980s bestsellers https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1596988096?ie=UTF8 and The Spirit of Enterprise, is the role of the human spirit and human agency, something economists and governments don’t see or don’t want to acknowledge.

Gilder: It’s the greatest of all forces. Think about what’s going on in the U.S. today, particularly in our university system. As Tyler Cowen describes in his book The Complacent Class, we’ve adopted a kind of ideology of cautionary principles and stationary states. He really puts his finger on it. We’re not living in an age of boldness and abundance, but in an age of retrenchment and shrinking horizons and careful rearrangements of existing resources. A lot of it is epitomized by this whole idea that unless human beings stop moving, the climate’s going to collapse on us.

The climate-change paralysis has been very destructive, not only to our national economy but particularly to Silicon Valley. Every time I find a company that’s doing everything right, I discover a peculiar feature of its technology that’s designed chiefly to stop it from emitting carbon dioxide. And that feature twists the technology into a pretzel, making it less useful and less promising. Take Google. It’s making an elaborate effort to render all of its massive data centers around the world “carbon-neutral.” They’re all linked up to various druidical Sunhenges of solar panels or quixotic kites or windmills. I mean, that’s some archaic way to produce energy!

I think we’re really in the middle of a loss of confidence, a loss of courage that is expressed and perpetrated by a massive expansion in regulations. This began in the Bush era, was vastly expanded during the Obama years, but has now been marginally retrenched. My hope is that the Trump retrenchment signals a truly new approach to the world and the human predicament.

16 Jan 2018

Every Male Still Dating Needs This App

, , , , ,

I’d buy this app today, if I were young and unmarried.

Metro:

App creates contracts for one night stands to ‘prove’ sex is consensual.

Ever thought casual sex would be a lot easier if there was a legally binding contract proving consent?

Well, as it’s 2018, there’s now an app for that.

Let’s say you’ve met someone in a bar, you get along and it looks like you might be going home together.

To make sure the sex you want to have is consensual, all you do is open up an app and send a request like you would a message on Whatsapp.

The app in question is LegalFling which claims to be filling a void in the minefield that is dating.

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'Technology' Category.











Feeds
Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark