The Augmentationist Weekly: Surveillance, Attention Economy, DRM and Standards

augmentationist_logoThe Augmentationist Weekly with links about the Age of Context, Old and New Media, the Surveillance Society, the Attention Economy, Digital Rights Management and Lowering Standards. You can read The Augmentationist here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site.

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

The Age Of Context

I’ve been reading The Age of Context, a book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. They analyze five forces which are developing rapidly and interacting with each other: mobile, social, data, sensors and location-based technology. I think the book provides a framework for analyzing all kinds of industries - news media for instance, or education.

While the book is fundamentally optimistic about the consequences of the five above-mentioned forces, it also contains a clear warning about the dangers (most notably loss of privacy, political and corporate abuse).

It’s About Relationships

While Google and ever more other companies know where I am, what time of day it’s for me, what I’m interested in, and are getting ever better in finding out about my intentions, newspapers still believe in the myth of the mass media. “Why does *every* newspaper site still treat it’s hompepage as a one-size-fits-all pring page when it could prioritize news that might be more relevant to me?”, Jeff Jarvis asks onbuzzmachine. Newspaper fail to build relationships with individual readers and fail to help advertisers to build such relationships. He reacts against a Googler who – so Jarvis says – does not apply the Google-lessons to the newspaper industry: chief economist Hal Varian.

I partially agree with Jarvis about relationships, but then again I personally like to escape from filter bubbles and look at the news selection made by quality media.

Tablet Magazines are a failure

On GigaOm Jon Lund considers tablet magazines a failure. Not that Lund is a total pessimist: “I believe the future for producing quality content for niches is both bright and promising. But it has to be presented openly, socially, in flow — not in closed tablet apps.”

Does using Tor turns you into a target?

Journalists, bloggers, whistle blowers, dissidents, anarchists, terrorists, police, spies, illegal porn trafickers and drugs dealers use Tor software to hide their traces on the internet. The whole thing was financed by the US military. These days the NSA tries to find out who uses the software and what for. Even though Tor is a pretty robust system, using it seems to heighten the probability that the NSA will try to find out who you are, and there are quite some mistakes one can make which cancel the advantages of the Tor-features. Bruce Schneier explains it in some detail in the Guardian.

Related: Britain is sliding towards an entirely new kind of surveillance society, John Lanchester says in the Guardian.

The Attention Economy

Daniel Estrada about a ‘big idea’ on Digital Interface: “Attention Economy is a protocol for social organization and economic management that works by accounting for what all the system’s users attend to. The idea is one part Augmented Reality, one part Internet of Things, one part Use-Theory of Value, and one part Cognitive Surplus. I am utterly convinced that an attention-economic system will ultimately replace both money and centralized governance as the dominant method for large-scale organizational management, and moreover that it is the only method for ensuring a timely and effective response to global climate change andsustainability.”

No idea what he talks about? The best illustration, so Estrada says, can be found in science fiction, in Bruce Sterling’s 2009 novel The Caryatids (lengthy quote in his article).

Also read an analysis by Kevin Carson on P2P Foundation’s Blog

DRM and the Future of the W3C

Danny O’Brien on the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) analyzes the announcement by the W3C that its Director, Tim Berners-Lee, had determined that the “playback of protected content” was in scope for the W3C HTML Working Group’s new charter, overriding EFF’s formal objection against its inclusion. This means the controversial Encrypted Media Extension (EME) proposal will continue to be part of that group’s work product, and may be included in the W3C’s HTML5.1 standard.

O’Brien is not happy: “A Web where you cannot cut and paste text; where your browser can’t “Save As…” an image; where the “allowed” uses of saved files are monitored beyond the browser; where JavaScript is sealed away in opaque tombs; and maybe even where we can no longer effectively “View Source” on some sites, is a very different Web from the one we have today. It’s a Web where user agents—browsers—must navigate a nest of enforced duties every time they visit a page. It’s a place where the next Tim Berners-Lee or Mozilla, if they were building a new browser from scratch, couldn’t just look up the details of all the “Web” technologies. They’d have to negotiate and sign compliance agreements with a raft of DRM providers just to be fully standards-compliant and interoperable.”

The Age of Context shows us the storm ahead for news media

What happens if we apply the lessons of the book The Age of Context (Robert Scoble and Shel Israel) to news media? Well, I tried it today for a group of communication experts invited by the Belgian company Outsource and we got an intense debate.

The Age of Context analyzes five forces which are developing rapidly and interacting with each other: mobile, social, data, sensors and location-based technology. What could it mean for news media?

1) Mobile: we’re still finding out how to use tablets and smartphones to the fullest extent. More often than not newspapers transfer their print content to the mobile device, making it swipable, adding some videos and links. I think tablets offer new ways of telling stories. Remember movies: these are not just recordings of theater plays, using techniques such as cuts we can deliver a new media form – we’re still in the early phase of discovering the ‘cut’ which unlocks the unique possibilities of the tablet.

While we’re doing that, a new kind of mobile devices is about to be launched: wearable stuff such as Google Glass, making it even harder to stay in the print newspaper paradigm.

2) Social Media: meaning new curation practices for journalists but also new distribution challenges. Flipboard and Zite for instance convert social streams into customized news magazines. People re-assemble the content of very different providers through the filter of their social graph and preferences.

3) Data: do news media use the data on social media and on their own digital platforms to get to know the needs and intentions of their communities? They try to do so, but much more could be done.

4) Sensors. If sensors make devices aware of what their owner is doing (traveling, running, relaxing…) one could imagine that news will be selected and transmitted in a way which suits the user.

5) Location. There is no reason to assume that a user of a Belgian newspaper who happens to be in New York City needs the same information as someone who is in Brussels.

I added some ideas about communities, which in part can mitigate the conclusions mentioned above. If a newsroom can determine efficiently what really matters for a certain community, they’ll be more able to produce a common news selection which is relevant for the users as members of that community. The news provides a common background for the social interactions in that community. Real life meetings, forums and chat sessions help the newsroom to open up and to gain deeper insight in the needs of the community.

Of course we also discussed privacy. The Age of Context is optimistic: respect for privacy concerns will be a competitive advantage for makers of devices or service providers. Not everyone is that convinced – maybe the new generation cares less about privacy.

There was quite some discussion about ‘who determines what the individual wants’. I have the feeling that it’s not the newsroom, but not the individual either. It will be an algorithm, which makes a selection for the individual on the basis of revealed preferences, social graph, sensor and location data, and expressed preferences (explicit likes and dislikes).

The changes ahead are tremendous (we only discussed news production and distribution, but then there’s also the impact on advertising which adds another layer of complications) and very hard to predict. Exactly the kind of situation journalists like…

 

 

Open source communities meet… in real life!

Not sure I’ll understand very much of the seminars about “The Anykernel and Rump Kernels” or “Porting Fedora to 64-bit ARM systems” but then again they’ll talk also about “Open Science, Open Software, and Reproducible Code” and “the legislation in the European Union affecting free software”.

Anyway, FosDem gathers more than 5,000 hackers in Brussels, Belgium, February 2 and 3:

FOSDEM is a free event that offers open source communities a place to meet, share ideas and collaborate.
It is renowned for being highly developer-oriented and brings together 5000+ geeks from all over the world.

Hack your games!

Mozilla has a challenge for you: Show what’s possible using the web as an open gaming platform for the world. From the Mozilla-blog:

Imagine the Web as an open gaming platform for the world. Where game players seamlessly become game creators. Where your favorite games work on any device, anytime, anywhere. And where your own personal web-based creations earn you internet fame, fortune and the adulation of gamers around the world.

Sound like fun? Game on.

The Game On Competition wants YOU
Today, we’re proud to invite game designers, developers and enthusiasts everywhere to take part in this year’s Game On competition. We’re looking for your ideas and playable protoypes for gaming experiences that push the limits of what open Web technologies can do.

All are welcome to submit their entries now at gameon.mozilla.org. The deadline is Feb 24, 2013.

You can submit games in one of three categories: Hackable Games, Multi-Device Games and Web-Only Games. Hackable games? Have a look:


The guys at Mozilla explain:

Imagine games you could hack and remix to make even better — with open Web building blocks like HTML, CSS and Javascript serving as the world’s ultimate “level editor.” (Want to replace that zombie’s face with a picture of your dog? Go right ahead.)

“What if we looked at games as open, creative systems that, like the Web itself, are hackable by design?” says Mozilla’s Chloe Varelidi.

“Games are traditionally at the forefront of tech, continually pushing the envelope of what’s possible,” she says. “Mozilla is inviting you to re-imagine the Web as the console, and use the power of the browser to revolutionize the way we make and play games.”

More about open web technologies:

This includes but is not limited to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, WebGL and WebRTC, as well as server-side code like PHP, Python, Ruby or Java. Please go ahead and use freely available libraries and modules — there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Please list all the libraries and stock resources you use on your team’s profile page to provide fair attribution.

We also encourage you to make use of third-party web services and their APIs (like Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, etc). We love mashups and would love to see what you can do with these kinds of web services in the context of a game. Again, please be sure to list any of these services you use on your game entry page.

WebGL, a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D graphics and 2D graphics within any compatible web browser without the use of plug-ins, was also a popular subject at the recent MetaMeets gathering in the Netherlands. It’s an important building block for a browser based virtual world such as Cloud Party (which just has upgraded its Marketplace in a significant way – but I still wait anxiously for a mobile version).

MetaMeets! Virtuality Meets Reality

Tomorrow I’ll participate in the MetaMeets gathering in ‘s-Hertogenbosch,The Netherlands. What we’l do and talk about:

MetaMeets is a seminar/meeting about virtual worlds, augmented reality and 3D internet, this year’s topic will be The Art of Creation : Virtuality meets Reality.

Virtual worlds and 3D internet have been developing continuously. Mobile and browser based worlds have been created. Mesh format uploads have provided huge progress in content creation through open source programs like Blender and Google Sketchup.
Machinima creation has grown and improved with special interfaces and innovations in visual possibilities, making films shot in virtual worlds a professional tool for presentation to a mainstream audience.

MetaMeets has chosen this year to shine a light on this versatile digital canvas by taking its participants interactively into the Art of Creation. The programme will begin with a few lectures on the current state of virtual worlds and their new developments. Subsequently, we will have workshops exploring methods of accomplishing each of the key steps in 3D creation. The workshops will range from creating a virtual world on your own server, creating 3D content, creating (motion) pictures of it, and even printing 3D objects as real world 3D models.

We also will have an interactive roundtable discussion based on the movie The Singularity is Near that is released this summer for download and availible on dvd.

This is a mindmap I prepared. My subject is about the virtual which escapes into the real. Or how maybe Second Life is catering for a niche group of people, but the ethos of virtual worlds is spreading fast in what we once called the ‘real world’.



Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Organizing my Online Brain

So what have I been doing at the Think-Know course facilitated by Howard Rheingold?

These past few weeks we’ve been using Diigo extensively. This social bookmark-service is well-suited for group collaboration. While the course group is reserved for members, you’re welcome to join my own group about the impact of technology on society and the economy (apply and I’ll respond).

The next phase was mindmapping. This is an example of a Cmap I made of one of our synchronous sessions:

mindmap of an online course

(click to enlarge)

During that session we talked about TheBrain, which is a mindmap and database in one. The nodes of the knowledge plex are called ‘thoughts”, and some people have more than 100,000 thoughts in their online brains. This is the company-presentation of TheBrain 7:

This is a section of the Technology-thoughts in my online brain – the tools enables you to have this kind of random walks:

Now what are the benefits of using a tool such as TheBrain? It allows to get things done by externalizing a number of cumbersome brain processes. It generates ideas – e.g. I was integrating a thought about Andy Clark‘s Extended Mind and Natural Born Cyborgs, and through a link/association with another thought about the reproduction of traditional gender relations in the counterculture, I realized I should study Donna Haraway and her feminist thinking regarding cyborgs and minds. This is a typical ‘jump thought’ facilitated by these tools and which makes them so valuable.

mindmap with donna haraway as active thought

Disclaimer: I’m using the above mentioned tools on my own expenses, I have no ties with the companies involved.

Find out about the future by looking at Defense

The computer visionary Doug Engelbart designed in the 1960s the NLS – the “oN-Line System” – a revolutionary computer collaboration system implemented by researchers at the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). The NLS system, so explains Wikipedia, was the first to employ the practical use of hypertext links, the mouse, raster-scan video monitors, information organized by relevance, screen windowing, presentation programs, and other modern computing concepts. The project was funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force.

Throughout the history of computing we see the crucial role being played by the military and the intelligence community (this is just one of the many interesting discussion threads of Howard Rheingold’s course about Think-Know tools). One of these famously funded project gave us the Mother of all Demos by Engelbart (the mouse! videoconferencing! hyperlinks!):

Maybe it’s a good idea to have a look at what they’re funding now in order to get an idea of the longer term developments in computing. Typically projects which are too long term and risky to be interesting for big corporations or even venture capitalists sometimes get support from those defense-related agencies. However, these days the capital needed for innovative projects is no longer as enormous as it used to be, and we see how agencies invest in commercial start-ups not only to stimulate research which otherwise may not have been done, but also to get first-hand information about research which the private sector is doing anyway.

One of the most fascinating agencies is DARPA, which has a habit of changing names. Wikipedia: “Its original name was simply Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), but it was renamed to “DARPA” (for Defense) in March 1972, then renamed “ARPA” again in February 1993, and then renamed “DARPA” again in March 1996.”

DARPA of course is not only active regarding information processing. This is what Wikipedia tells us about the more recent history: “During the 1980s, the attention of the Agency was centered on information processing and aircraft-related programs, including the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) or Hypersonic Research Program. The Strategic Computing Program enabled DARPA to exploit advanced processing and networking technologies and to rebuild and strengthen relationships with universities after the Vietnam War. In addition, DARPA began to pursue new concepts for small, lightweight satellites (LIGHTSAT) and directed new programs regarding defense manufacturing, submarine technology, and armor/anti-armor.
On October 28, 2009 the agency broke ground on a new facility in Arlington, Virginia a few miles from the Pentagon.
In fall 2011, DARPA hosted the 100 Year Starship Symposium with the aim of getting the public to start thinking seriously about interstellar travel.”
Interstellar travel really sounds cool, but let me look at that another time. For now, let’s just read how the Information Innovation Office describes itself on the DARPA-site:

I2O aims to ensure U.S. technological superiority in all areas where information can provide a decisive military advantage. This includes the conventional defense mission areas where information has already driven a revolution in military affairs: intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, command, control, communications, computing, networking, decision-making, planning, training, mission rehearsal, and operations support.

It also includes emergent information-enabled technologies and application domains such as social science and human, social, cultural, and behavioral modeling; social networking and crowd-based development paradigms; natural language processing, knowledge management, and machine learning and reasoning; medical/bio informatics; and information assurance and cyber-security.

I2O works to ensure U.S. technological superiority in these areas by conceptualizing and executing advanced research and development (R&D) projects to develop and demonstrate interdisciplinary, crosscutting and convergent technologies derived from emerging technological and societal trends that have the potential for game-changing disruptions of the status quo.

The capabilities developed by I2O enable the warfighter to better understand the battlespace and the capabilities, intentions and activities of allies and adversaries; empower the warfighter to discover insightful and effective strategies, tactics and plans; and securely connect the warfighter to the people and resources required for mission success.

Headings on that page are “understand“, “empower” and “connect“.

One of the many fascinating programs is Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC). It aims to develop “a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base. Through the program, DARPA seeks to develop tools to support the efforts of human operators to counter misinformation or deception campaigns with truthful information.”

It’s all there: analyzing narratives, experiments with role-playing games which make heavy use of social media…

In-Q-Tel

Yet another interesting organization is In-Q-Tel, launched in 1999 as an independent, not-for-profit organization, IQT was created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and new advances in commercial technology.

Just looking here at information and communication technologies, the site of this special kind of venture capitalist explains:

Focus areas in the ICT practice include advanced analytic tools, next generation infrastructure and computing platforms, mobile communication and wireless technologies, embedded systems and components, geospatial and visualization tools, and digital identity analytics.

For more concrete information one can simply consult the list of companies in which In-Q-Tel invests (note to self: make a Twitter list which includes these companies to get updates!). To give but two examples:
- Streambase Systems, Inc., a leader in high-performance Complex Event Processing (CEP), provides software for rapidly building systems that analyze and act on real-time streaming data for instantaneous decision-making. The World Economic Forum awarded StreamBase the title of 2010 Technology Pioneer.

- Cloudera Enterprise is the most cost-effective way to perform large-scale data storage and analysis, and includes the tools, platform, and support necessary to use Hadoop in a production environment. (The Apache Hadoop software library is a framework that allows for the distributed processing of large data sets across clusters of computers using simple programming models.)

Read also:

- Pentagon’s Plan X

- Bezos, CIA invest $30M in quantum computing startup

- Big Data and Cyberpunk

- Cloudera Makes Hadoop Real-Time with Impala (SiliconAngle)

3D printing: does the revolution look vintage already?

Nice overview of 3D-printing:

Hat tip to Bruce Sterling on Beyond the Beyond. I liked his comment:

Really makes one anticipate 3d printing in 2022, when all this contemporary stuff looks charmingly crude and tentative. Very “early teens.”

So does our revolution look vintage now already? More about all this during the MetaMeets conference (November 30, December 1, ‘s-Hertogenbosch,The Netherlands): “The Art of Creation : Virtuality meets Reality”. If there really is a Makers revolution going on, how can we support that and profit from it in virtual environments?