Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei

In art, Asia, culture, government, human rights, internet, technology on October 21, 2013 at 05:01

From: Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei, Policy Innovations,

For ages, artists have asked difficult questions about the human condition. It is their privilege to pursue such questions without needing to yield practical results. As individuals, and as a society, we can never really say we know everything. Society allows artists to explore what we don’t know in ways that are distinct from the approaches of science, religion, and philosophy. As a result, art bears a unique responsibility in the search for truth.
Art is a social practice that helps people to locate their truth. The truth itself, or the so-called truth presented by the media, has limitations. Manipulation of the truth does not lead to a lack of truth—it’s worse than no truth. Manipulated truths help the powerful, or advance the positions of the people who publicize them. So the arts and journalistic media play completely different roles.
I think it is important for artists to see themselves as privileged, and to bear some responsibility, because their job is about communication and expression. These are the core values of life, of being individuals. Most people don’t realize that they have to fight for this, but for us artists it’s necessary.

With 140 Chinese characters on Twitter, you can write a short story or novel. It’s not like in English, where you only have room for one question or piece of information. So we’re very privileged. But at the same time, I have been censored countless times for blogging on Sina Weibo, sharing my opinions, and publishing the names and stories of children killed during the Sichuan earthquake. The authorities delete my sentences. When they find that I’m writing too much, they shut off my IP. So I have to use another one and write under another user name. Sometimes in one month I have to use a hundred different IP addresses. Still, whatever I do, they’ll try to recognize me from the way I talk and the name I take—variations on my name like “Ai Weiwei,” “Ai Wei,” “Ai” and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations


The Dark and Starry Eyes of Ray Bradbury by Lauren Weiner

In art, books, literature, writers on December 16, 2012 at 17:25

From: The Dark and Starry Eyes of Ray Bradbury by Lauren Weiner, The New Atlansis,

The youthful experiences that made Bradbury into a writer preoccupied him throughout his life. Bradbury’s much-beloved novel Dandelion Wine is a thinly veiled fictionalization of many of his sweeter reminiscences — but even these could take an odd turn. “I loved to watch my grandmother eviscerate the turkey,” he once said, a memory that sums up his most characteristic literary trait: taking homey Americana and bending it in a violent or grotesque direction. His most seminal stories wrung terror out of common occurrences, such as going into a ravine that ran through the residential section of his native Waukegan, Illinois at nighttime. In the story “The Night,” an eight-year-old boy — the author’s alter-ego — simply scares himself. There is no ghost or criminal lurking, only the panic that wells up in all of us when we get lost in a dark, damp place and know we are alone in the universe, in the “vast swelling loneliness,” feeling the presence of “an ogre called Death.”

Bradbury spent his childhood goosing his imagination with the outlandish. Whenever mundane Waukegan was visited by the strange or the offbeat, young Ray was on hand. The vaudevillian magician Harry Blackstone came through the industrial port on Lake Michigan’s shore in the late 1920s. Seeing Blackstone’s show over and over again marked Bradbury deeply, as did going to carnivals and circuses, and watching Hollywood’s earliest horror offerings like Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera. He read heavily in Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, L. Frank Baum, and Edgar Rice Burroughs; the latter’s inspirational and romantic children’s adventure tales earned him Bradbury’s hyperbolic designation as “probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world.”

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

The End, The End, The End by Chad Harbach

In books, ecology, economics, literature, nature, North America, writers on November 3, 2012 at 20:56

From: The End, The End, The End: Why bother dreaming up a devastated world when you live in one? Chad Harbach, n +1 Magazine,

It remains the method of most sci-fi novels to imagine a kind of heightened present, combining and extrapolating extant technologies (an MP3 player … in your brain!) to demonstrate their psychological and political effects. The post-catastrophe novel does the opposite; it takes away the MP3 player, and almost everything else. It liberates the violent potential of technology (and its enemy, nature) to create an altered world whose chief characteristic is a bewildering lack of technology. This in turn means a severely winnowed human population, and plenty of hardship and casual brutality. This future doesn’t intensify the present moment, it contradicts it: What would happen if we didn’t live in an overpopulated, technology-saturated world in which travel by foot is considered eccentric, tacos cost forty-nine cents, and the prerogative to commit violence—despite an amazing profusion of handheld weaponry—lies entirely with the state?

We didn’t always live in this kind of world. Or rather, we always did, but not long ago even Americans and Western Europeans didn’t. They lived in the 19th century, before the full flowering of the petroleum age; they belong to history. So too, increasingly, do the residents of the 20th century, with their reliance on cheap oil and predictable climate patterns. The century just ended was full of anxiety and terror, but it was also a pampered time. Even while tens of millions were murdered by oil-driven technologies like incendiary bombs and gas chambers, other oil-dependent technologies like tractors, penicillin, and nitrogen fertilizers enabled the population to quadruple in a few generations, and produced unprecedented comfort and ease for unprecedentedly large numbers of people. Now we’ve burned half the available oil, or close to it, and burning it (along with so much coal) has altered the earth’s equilibrium. Our future, like our past, may be virtually free of oil, and global culture, and many of the social safeguards we enjoy. Thus the novel of future catastrophe threatens to become a version of the historical novel.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1 Magazine


Interstellar Hard Drive by Giles Turnbull

In astronomy, information science, science, technology on October 29, 2012 at 22:28

From: Interstellar Hard Drive by Giles Turnbull, The Morning News,

All your precious data, everything you’ve created and every memory you’ve captured and stored, is etched on a hard disk somewhere on Earth. Back it up all you want—it won’t matter if the planet goes. The search for storage beyond the cloud.

The whole concept of putting physical data storage in space is flawed. Why not send the data itself. Pure data. Data is as data does.

“You could try bouncing a laser beam off something large,” muses Lucy. “Maybe Jupiter.”

But Jupiter, orbital conditions permitting, is 32 to 48 light minutes away. At the most, bouncing your data up there and back again would only back it up for just under a couple of hours. There doesn’t seem to be much point.

Surely we can manipulate light to our advantage somehow?

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Reposted with permission from: The Morning News


Utopia’s second coming by Antony Funnell with Craig Bremner and Erik Olin Wright

In audio, government, history, philosophy, politics, society, technology, theory on October 27, 2012 at 20:01

From: Utopia’s second coming by Antony Funnell with Craig Bremner and Erik Olin Wright,  ABC Radio National,

Excerpt from Thomas Moore documentary: In 1535 Thomas Moore is brought to trial. He is an embarrassment to the King, a living opposition to state policies. Henry must make an example of Moore.

Antony Funnell: Poor old Thomas Moore. He was a man of religion, of principle and of literature. But he lost his head, of course, for not doing the King’s bidding. Now, if you ask me, what he should have got the chop for, in my humble opinion, was for giving the world one of its great and enduring frustrations; the idea of Utopia.

Craig Bremner: Utopia is not about an ideal location, it’s about the location of ideas. And what I mean by that is that we’ve become transfixed by the description that Utopia is somewhere and can be, in a sense, attained, missing the point that it is both presented…the very, very first version, the book that Thomas Moore wrote, presented as both an ideal location, but also a location that we don’t necessarily want. And its real function is the ideas that it brings back to the here and now.

Nicole Pohl: What we have seen, certainly after 2008, with the economic collapse and now with the economic crisis, across the Western world at least, people are picking up on the study of Utopia again and are trying to imagine different forms of society’s blueprints that are precisely not either socialism or communism or capitalism.

Listen to the broadcast

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National


The Brave New Battlefield by Shane Harris

In government, history, nature, North America, politics, science, science fiction, society, technology, war on October 3, 2012 at 06:42

From: The Brave New Battlefield by Shane Harris, Defining Ideas, A Hoover Institution Journal,

While there is a tremendous amount of money and thought going towards the construction of new drones, comparatively less attention is being paid to managing the consequences of autonomous warfare. The proliferation of drones raises profound questions of morality, hints at the possibility of a new arms race, and may even imperil the survival of the human species. Many of the most important policy judgments about how to adapt the machines to a human world are being based on the assumption that a drone-filled future is not just desirable, but inevitable.

This dilemma is not restricted to the battlefield. Civilian society will eventually be deposited in this automated future, and by the time we’ve arrived, we probably won’t understand how we got there, and how the machines gained so much influence over our lives.

In any case, it is not an overstatement to say that the people building and flying these unmanned machines are wrestling now with the very fundamentals of what it means to be human. And while senior military officials and policymakers swear up and down that humans will always have at least a foot in the loop, and that the military would never deploy robots that can select and attack targets on their own, the evidence suggests otherwise.

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Reposted with permission from: Defining Ideas, A Hoover Institution Journal


Is There an End to DR Congo’s Suffering? by César Chelala

In Africa, ethics, government, news, politics, society, technology, war on September 17, 2012 at 01:07

Is There an End to DR Congo’s Suffering? by César Chelala, Common Dreams,

DR Congo. A relative holds a war-wounded patient’s hand in a Goma hospital. (Photo: © ICRC / Phil Moore)

The rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), which has spread to the South Kivu province, has caused the humanitarian situation in the country to deteriorate significantly, warned the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Human Rights Watch. The conflict in the DR Congo has already caused almost 6 million victims and caused enormous environmental damages.

Behind the war in Congo are what are called “conflict minerals,” such as coltan. Coltan is the name for Columbite-tantalite, a black mineral found in great quantities in Congo, from which the elements niobium and tantalum are extracted. Coltan is a crucial element in creating devices that store energy, and which are used in a wide array of small electronic devices such as cell phones, laptop computers and prosthetic devices for humans. Once coltan is processed, then it is sold to big companies which use it to make their products. Although it is mined in several countries, Congo has large amounts of this mineral.

The prime exploiters of coltan in the Congo are Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, whose proxy militias are responsible for thousands of rapes and killings, part of a history of exploitation of natural resources such as coltan, cassiterite, wolframite and gold. In addition, the Congo has 30% of the world’s diamond reserves. To exploit more freely those resources, militias from those countries have conducted for years campaigns of intimidation, and brutal rapes and killings, leaving afterwards a terrorized local population.

Although Rwanda and Uganda possess little or no coltan, their exports escalated exponentially during the Congo war. For example, recorded coltan production in Rwanda increased from 50 tons in 1995 to 1,300 tons in 2001, when coltan was the biggest single export earner. Much of that increase was due to the fraudulent re-export of Congolese coltan. The Tantalum-Niobium International Study Centre in Belgium has asked international buyers to avoid buying Congolese coltan on ethical grounds. Because international dealers are under pressure not to buy from the DRC, however, they circumvent this prohibition by having Congolese coltan re-exported as Rwanda’s.

“The consequences of illegal exploitation have been twofold: (a) a massive availability of financial resources for the Rwandan Patriotic Army, and the individual enrichment of top Ugandan military commanders and civilians; (b) the emergence of illegal networks headed by either top military officers or businessmen,” noted a UN report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources.

The DRC has half of Africa’s forests and water resources. However, because of uncontrolled mining, the land in the DRC is being eroded and there is significant pollution of lakes and rivers.

To make matters even more troublesome, this war-ravaged country has a new emerging rebel group, known as March 23 or M23 Movement. While the government forces are being backed by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, rebel forces are backed by Uganda and Rwanda. All sides take advantage of the chaos reigning in the country to plunder its considerable natural resources. The conflict has resulted not only in the loss of millions of lives, but also on increased levels of disease and malnutrition, creating one of the worst health emergencies to unfold in Africa in recent times.

The M23 forces answer to Gen. Bosco “the Terminator” Ntaganda, who is a fugitive wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. He has been accused of rape, murder and child-soldier recruitment. Although his forces are trying to show that they can administer territory better than the central government in Kinshasa, many are skeptical of those claims. More significantly, there is widespread fear that the M23 forces will reignite a wider regional conflict.

Rwanda, which has been a key player in these events, has been charged by the UN and by Human Rights Watch of backing M23, and provoking an increase in tension between Rwanda and the DR Congo. Rwandan President Paul Kagame did not attend a recent regional meeting aimed at finding a solution to the continuous unrest in eastern Congo.

Without a concerted international effort aimed at curbing Rwanda’s support for rebel forces operating in eastern Congo, notably the M23 movement, there won’t be a solution to the DR Congo’s problems. It is time to stop the bloodletting of a country made poor by its own riches.

César Chelala

 César Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award. He is also the foreign correspondent for Middle East Times International (Australia).

Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams



Are you bored at work? by

In civilisation, history, society, sociology, technology on August 27, 2012 at 20:32


From: Are you bored at work?,

Workplace boredom arrived hand in hand with the inventions of the office and the production line; it was in fact their psychological equivalent. An enormous intellectual and practical effort was made to rationalise both the production of goods and the processing of the information that controlled production and distribution of these goods. Early last century, so-called ‘time and motion studies’ examined the work of factory and office workers in rigorous detail. The results were interpreted and used to eliminate unnecessary effort or individual technique from the workplace. People were idealised as components in industrial machines. Little thought was given to what was going on inside their heads. This was the age of behaviourism – people and animals were understood to be black boxes with inputs and outputs (“So, how was it for me?” the behavioural scientist asked his lover): output and efficiency were the priority. Work became boring and repetitive by design, but profits soared.

A recent edition of the New Scientist magazine featured an article on evidence for boredom in animals kept in inadequate conditions. For example, the confines of a zoo’s enclosure have virtually nothing in common with a polar bear’s natural environment. Before long, the forlorn beasts begin to exhibit repetitive behaviour. They pace up and down the concrete, tracing exactly the same steps, swooping their heads from side to side. They look very disturbed, they are portraits of frustration. Examination of captive animal brains has revealed that when certain neural pathways are damaged, stereotypical behaviour can develop. These findings have brought into question a huge body of research using live animals – it was presumed that they had no capacity for boredom and it played no part in their behaviour. Lab rats, it seems, are bored out of their tiny rodent skulls.

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Reposted with permission from:


Your e-Reading Habits are “Public” by David Brin

In books, ethics, government, information science, media, politics, privacy, technology on August 20, 2012 at 05:31


From:  Your e-Reading Habits are “Public”- Kindles, iPads and Nooks are Tracking You  by David Brin, IEET,

The major players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting into novels and nonfiction, how long they spend and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.

“We think of it as the collective intelligence of all the people reading on Kindle,” says Amazon spokeswoman. But how will all this data be used? Who can access it? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has pushed for legislation to prevent information about consumer’s reading habits from being turned over to law enforcement agencies without a court’s approval.

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Reposted with permission from: The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies


ACTA Lives by Michael Geist

In copyright, ethics, Europe, law, North America, politics on July 9, 2012 at 16:58


From: ACTA Lives: How the EU & Canada Are Using CETA as Backdoor Mechanism To Revive ACTA by Michael Geist,

While the court referral has attracted the lion share of attention, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) reports that there is an alternate secret strategy in which Canada plays a key role. According to recently leaked documents, the EU plans to use the Canada – EU Trade Agreement (CETA), which is nearing its final stages of negotiation, as a backdoor mechanism to implement the ACTA provisions.

The CETA IP chapter has already attracted attention due to EU pharmaceutical patent demands that could add billions to provincial health care costs, but the bigger story may be that the same chapter features a near word-for-word replica of ACTA. According to the leaked document, dated February 2012, Canada and the EU have already agreed to incorporate many of the ACTA enforcement provisions into CETA, including the rules on general obligations on enforcement, preserving evidence, damages, injunctions, and border measure rules. One of these provisions even specifically references ACTA. A comparison table of ACTA and the leaked CETA chapter is posted below.

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The Basic Income is Dead by Edward MIller

In economics, government, history, North America, politics, sociology on July 9, 2012 at 16:43


From: The Basic Income is Dead by Edward MIller, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies,

Technological progress is accelerating faster than ever before. Are robots going to “take our jobs?” Do we require a Basic Income to solve this? Let’s examine some basic principles.

Wages are determined by the margin of production. What this means is that a laborer’s bargaining power in the market is determined by their next best alternative to wage labor. Typically, that alternative, where available, has been homesteading.

That was the historic difference between the “New World” and the “Old World.” The New World was a land of opportunity because it had a lot of high quality land available for the taking. Not just for elites, but for any citizen who was willing and able.

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“Scarers in Print”

In books, humanities, languages, media, universities on May 30, 2012 at 09:27


“Scarers in Print”: Media Literacy and Media Practice from Our Mutual Friend to Friend Me On Facebook. Part 2 – Jim Mussell –

The materiality of media must become disciplined so they can function, in a particular instance as a particular type of object. Bill Brown’s distinction between ‘object’ and ‘thing’, where objects become socialized through discourse while things remain obliquely out of view, is useful here. As Brown notes, ‘we begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us’.5 But what if rather than positing a binary we rethink thingness as a repository or resource, something that can be drawn upon to recast objects from one form to another? In her book, Writing Machines, N. Katherine Hayles posits a materiality that is emergent and shifting, linking together representation and the physicality of the object that allows representation to operate. If, as Hayles suggests, ‘the physical attributes constituting any artefact are potentially infinite’, then objects – standing on the threshold of a generative, unknowable, thingness – are repositories of materiality.6 The object world marks the boundary between the socialized properties of things and the vast repository of the unknown that constitutes their thingness. As use is social practice, the form of this threshold constantly changes: objects manifest different properties and, in turn, recast the social relations in which they are embedded. As Brown suggests, the ‘thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation.’7 In a very real way, then, objects are interfaces because they make things happen.

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