When AI Is Taking Over The Neighborhood

8 days ago

This cute little girl doesn’t seem concerned at all about the progression of Artificial Intelligence. She embraces every new visitor of her street, beating heart or not. The “robot” seems a little underwhelmed though…

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‘ It’s not about your age, it’s about your notions ‘: the teen power listing

15 days ago

Meet 25 young activists, scientists, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs and big thinkers shaping your future

Harley Bird, 14, Tring, UK

An actors life is hard: its just one audition after another, and you have to grow a wall-thick skin to deal with all the rejection. For Bird, however, things went a little differently: she was signed to the Alphabet Kidz agency just before her sixth birthday and two weeks later beat hundreds of other young actors to land the lead role in a 1.4bn show.

She is the voice of Peppa Pig, the eponymous piglet who enjoys dressing up and jumping in muddy puddles. Bird, who in real life has two pet pigs (called, of course, Peppa and George), has now voiced Peppa Pig for eight years. Early on, she was too young to read the scripts, but that didnt stop her winning a Bafta at nine.

The show, while simple in its format of five-minute episodes, has taken the world by storm and is now shown in 180 territories and broadcast in 40 different languages. Not bad for a first role. Were there any clues that this one audition would lead to a starring role in a global franchise? Bird has said she doesnt understand it herself. I just auditioned and they said my voice matched. because it is quite husky.

Mihir Garimella, 16, Pennsylvania

Mihir Garimella won the 2014 Google Computer Science award. Photograph: Courtesy of Mihir Garimella

Some teens might be grossed out by a bowl of bananas starting to rot and attract flies; high school student Garimella came up with a potentially life-saving idea. The flybot a tiny, flying robot that avoids obstacles by mimicking the way a fruit fly avoids threats and moving obstacles could be used in search-and-rescue missions in dangerous environments, and went on to win the Google Computer Science award in 2014. Garimella has since turned his hand to everything from robotic violin tuners to algorithms that could help doctors diagnose brain tumours.

Shubham Banerjee, 15, California

Shubhan Banerjee, founder of Braigo Labs. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Banerjee turned his Lego bricks into a braille printer for the blind for a school science project, it wasnt just the famous toy company that was singing the then 12-year-olds praises. The product, which made computing more affordable for millions of visually impaired people, also caught the attention of Intel, and the award-winning Braigo Labs (an amalgamation of Lego and braille) was born. Hes solving a real problem, and he wants to go off and disrupt an existing industry, Edward Ross, director of inventor platforms at Intel, has said. Thats really what its all about.

Benjamin Kickz Kapelushnik, 16, Florida

Benjamin Kapelushnik: sneaker broker to the stars. Photograph: Complex

What started as a hobby, buying rare trainers and selling them on to classmates, is now a lucrative enterprise. A sneaker broker to the stars (Chris Brown and Drake are fans), Kapelushnik has accumulated 5,000 pairs and is well on his way to making his first million.

Rayouf Alhumedhi, 15, Germany

Rayouf Alhumedhi. emoji designer. Photograph: Courtesy of Rayouf Alhumedhi

While chatting with her friends on social media, this Saudi teen living in Germany realised there was no emoji to represent her, so she designed one. Now shes campaigning to get it added to phones (its currently being considered by the Unicode Consortium). In this day and age, representation is extremely important, Alhumedhi said. People want to be acknowledged. There are so many Muslim women in this world who wear the headscarf. It might seem trivial, but its different when you see yourself on the keyboard around the world.

Willow Smith, 16, California

Willow Smith: youngest artist signed to Jay Zs record label. Photograph: Broadimage/REX Shutterstock

After making her acting debut at the age of seven alongside her father in I Am Legend, the daughter of Hollywood golden couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith has forged her own way, becoming the youngest artist signed to Jay Zs record label, Roc Nation, at 10 remember Whip My Hair? Since then, shes swapped the smiley, happy, preteen style for a cooler, pared-back, Instagram-friendly aesthetic. She has starred in a Marc Jacobs ad, and this year Karl Lagerfeld made her his muse, photographing her for Chanel AW16. She and her older brother, Jaden (star of Netflixs The Get Down, directed by Baz Luhrmann), have been dubbed the coolest teens on the planet.

Sasha Obama, 15, Washington DC

Sasha Obama has had a unique global education. Photograph: Getty Images

Barack and Michelle Obamas youngest has lived her teen years in the White House (she was seven at her fathers inauguration), but stays down to earth: she spent the summer working on the till in a seafood shack (even if secret service agents sat at the tables outside). Her awkward moments have been captured the world over (most recently when Malia, 18, was snapped giving Sasha a sarcastic thumbs up as her little sister spoke to actor Ryan Reynolds at a Canadian state dinner).

More importantly, Sasha has had a unique global education, meeting Malala Yousafzai at the White House, and helping her mother promote womens education in Liberia and Morocco. In this years Thanksgiving message, the outgoing president described his daughters as funny, smart, humble and extraordinary young women. All eyes on the next-gen Obamas.

Maddie Ziegler, 14, Pennsylvania

Maddie Ziegler: thrust into the limelight aged eight. Photograph: Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

The pint-sized dancer was thrust into the limelight aged just eight, when she starred on US reality show Dance Moms. But she reached a global audience thanks to Australian singer Sia, who cast her in the video for Elastic Heart. Four videos, several world tours and stage appearances later, Ziegler has become more recognisable wearing her cropped blond Sia wig than sporting her natural hair. She has modelled for Ralph Lauren and become a judge on the junior version of So You Think You Can Dance.

Brooklyn Beckham, 17, London and Los Angeles

Next year Brooklyn Beckham will be bringing out a photography book. Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex/Shutterstock

Photographing the Burberry campaign, skateboarding through his mother Victorias Dover Street store and hooking up with Hollywood ingenue Chlo Grace Moretz; the eldest Beckham kid couldnt attract more attention if he had followed his father, David, on to the football pitch. Last week, Beckham announced to his 8.8m Instagram followers that next year he will be bringing out What I See, a photography book published by Penguin Random House. If even a small proportion of his social media followers buys the book, he has a bestseller on his hands.

Kiara Nirghin, 16, Johannesburg

This year, as South Africa suffered its worst drought since 1982, a Johannesburg schoolgirl came up with a potential solution. Nirghin found an orange peel mixture had better water-retaining properties than existing super-absorbent polymers, which are usually expensive and non-biodegradable. Her invention, which aims to help farmers save both money and crops, is made up of waste products from the juice manufacturing process, including discarded orange and avocado peel; it won Nirghin a $50,000 scholarship at the annual Google Science Fair.

Yara Shahidi, 16, Minnesota

Yara Shahidi: star of acclaimed comedy Black-ish. Photograph: Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock

The half-Iranian star of acclaimed comedy Black-ish (a sitcom about an upper-middle-class African American family) is passionate about media diversity: We are in the middle of a representation renaissance, she has said. She is constantly in conversation about keeping roles for women and people of colour multifaceted and representative of our true nature.

Flynn McGarry, 17, New York

Flynn McGarry: has taken up residency in New Yorks Kava espresso bar. Photograph: Courtesy of Eureka

Sick of being cooked kid food by his parents, McGarry took matters into his own hands with a little bit of help from The French Laundry Cookbook. By 11, he was hosting a supper club in his mums kitchen, cooking progressive American cuisine; at 15, he was charging $160 a head for his eight-course tasting menu. He has now taken up residency in New York espresso bar Kava, under the name Eureka, where his 16-course feasts are becoming the stuff of legend.

Gavin Grimm, 17, Virginia

Grimm didnt plan to become the poster boy for a national fight for equal rights for transgender students, but when his school wouldnt allow him to use the boys toilets, a long legal battle ensued. The result, now in the hands of the supreme court, could have implications for young trans people all over the US. That I have the opportunity to ensure that, hopefully, fewer kids or anybody will have to go through this in the future makes me feel good, Grimm said.

Katie Griffiths, Josie Baldwin, Emily Bowes and Alex Hill, all 16, Stratford-upon-Avon

These Stratford Girls grammar school pupils were shocked to discover that young LGBT people are at much higher risk of depression and suicide; two years ago they teamed up to create the Im Okay app, giving support and information to young people exploring their sexuality and gender. Thousands of people have since downloaded the app from the Google Play store; it won a national Apps for Good award in 2014.

Jeffery Xiong, 16, Texas

The USs second youngest player to become a chess grandmaster, Xiong stormed on to the scene aged 14 and snatched first place at the 24th Chicago Open. He played his first game at five, when he decided to join a friend who was playing by himself. Xiong carried on until he was the worlds under-20 champion, at just 15.

Krtin Nithiyanandam, 16, Surrey

Krtin Nithiyanandam won the Google Science Fair prize. Photograph: Newsquest

In 2015, Nithiyanandam won the Google Science Fair prize for developing a test to diagnose Alzheimers 10 years before any symptoms appear. An antibody is injected that then attaches to proteins present in the earliest stages of the disease; the injection contains fluorescent particles that can be picked up on a brain scan.

This early diagnosis could help families prepare for the future and ensure that existing drugs are used to better effect, Nithiyanandam explained. The Surrey schoolboy is now tackling the treatment of triple negative breast cancer, a rare form found in 15-20% of women with breast cancer. It doesnt respond to drugs, and must be treated with a risky combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Most cancers have receptors on their surface that bind to drugs like tamoxifen, but triple negative doesnt, Nithiyanandam explained. Working at home and in his school lab, he has found a way to block a protein that prevents those receptors from forming, thus turning this type of breast cancer into one that responds to drugs. Science isnt about your age, its about ideas, he told Wired magazine.

Mone Davis, 15, Philadelphia

Mone Davis: the first African American girl to play in the Little League World Series. Photograph: AP

Formerly a Little League baseball pitcher, Davis was the first African American girl to play in the Little League World Series, and the first female to pitch a winning game. The baseball (and basketball) prodigy was spotted at the age of seven while playing with her older brothers. Since releasing her memoir last year, Mone Davis: Remember My Name, she has designed trainers to raise money for Plan Internationals Because I Am A Girl campaign, aimed at helping lift girls in the developing world out of poverty.

Ben Pasternak, 17, Australia

Dubbed the next Mark Zuckerberg, Pasternak created the chart-topping app Impossible Rush (a colour-matching game) that was downloaded more than 1.3m times and made him a tech star at just 15. That success allowed him to secure just under $2m in funding from major Silicon Valley investors, move to Manhattan and launch his own startup, Flogg. He had noticed that friends were increasingly selling unwanted items to people they knew through Facebook, rather than to strangers on Gumtree or eBay. Yet Facebook wasnt really doing anything to look after their user experience. So he created an app that allows users to buy and sell items through their Facebook connections with a swipe left or right; the Sydney Morning Herald described Flogg as the love child of Tinder and eBay.

Lewys Ball, 17, London

This Hit Game Was Generated by a 26 -Year-Old Who Doesn’t Code

2 months, 7 days ago

Japanese frogs are proliferating across Asia. The good news is, they’re not an invasive species , nor are they real.

Tabi Kaeru, or Travel Frog, became the No. 1 downloaded smartphone app in China for almost two weeks after its debut, and is still hovering at the top of the charts in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. The notion for video games came from Mayuko Uemura, a 26 -year-old employee of developer Hit-Point Inc . who has never written a line of computer code.

The game’s objective is simple: pack a lunch, maybe a tent, plus a few other trip-friendly trinkets for your virtual amphibian and wait for him to come back from his travels with pictures and gifts. If the premise of gathering food and knickknacks while waiting for animals to show up voices familiar, that’s because it is: Nagoya-based Hit-Point is behind the cat-collecting game Neko Atsume and came up with the most recent hit. Both titles share DNA with Tamagotchi, Bandai Namco Holdings Inc.’s handheld virtual pet doll that became a global fad in the 90 s and early 2000 s.

Uemura said she was inspired by her passion for traveling and the feeling of waiting for a loved one to return from a journey.

” We are definitely constructing people wait, and sometimes I fret because I believe: aren’t we inducing people wait too long ?” she said in an interview.” I want to develop games that players can love. I don’t want to develop games where you have to focus too much .”

Indeed, by no means is the game fast-paced. When the frog is inside his cave-like home, he’s usually scribbling or reading a book. It’s oddly soothing. By collecting clover in the front yard, you can use it to buy food, lanterns and anything else that might help on a long trek. After straying about for hours or even days, the frog returns with souvenirs and snapshots from his travelings. That’s it. The objective is collect more stuff: for the frog to take on journeys, as well as the stuff he brings back.

Even though the game is only available in Japanese, it’s been downloaded more than 30 million times following its November debut( with China building up 95 percent of that ), outpacing even Nintendo Co.’s hit title Animal Crossing released around the same time, according to researcher Sensor Tower. By comparison, Neko Atsume has been downloaded 22 million times.

It’s especially popular among women, according to Daniel Ahmad, an analyst at Niko Partners. Women account for almost half of players in Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s $ 3 billion hitsHonor of Kings.” It shows that there is a huge opportunity to target female gamers in China ,” he said.

While frogs are considered a symbol of fortune and prosperity in China and parts of Asia, Hit-Point isn’t saying how much it’s made from Tabi Kaeru. While there are ads that bring in revenue, users can also buy additional clover as currency. There’s plenty of potential; Neko Atsume’s popular feline characters are now featured in playthings, volumes and even a movie.

” I like the position it carries: living a simple life , no sophistication at all ,” told Chen Jiajia, an accountant at a logistics company. The 29 -year-old tells she checks in on her frog, named fantuan, or rice ball, a few times a day.

David OReilly, a game decorator whose run appeared in the Spike Jonez film ” Her ,” said games are evolving beyond button-mashing and puzzle-solving. Tabi Kaeru is a good example of one that strives to calm instead of stimulate.” The internet, games, the screens we look at also require quiet areas ,” said OReilly, whose titles Mountain and Everything embody that spirit.” What we think of now as games will change radically in the next 5 to 10 years as more creators enter the space .”

It still isn’t clear whether Tabi Kaeru will be a hit outside of Asia. It hasn’t produced much buzz in U.S. And while 2014′ s Neko Atsume gained popularity in Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and the Netherlands, for now the traveling frog might be limited to intersecting merely one pond.

Monetising millennials: what the corporate world thinks it knows about young people

2 months, 15 days ago

At Sydneys Millennial 20/20 seminar the wifi password is SmashedAvo and the position is predatory infantilisation

Before the opening keynote of the Millennial 20/20 Sydney conference, a human strides up, folds me into a boardroom-firm handshake and gazes deep into my eyes.

His impeccably tailored business shirt, open to the third button, and swept-back blond hair attain him look like a more handsome version of the Trump sons, maybe a second cousin. But our meeting is an error; I inadvertently sat in one of the conference’s many designated networking spaces, signalling that I wish to be approached. By the time I apologise and move away, he is deep in conversation with someone else.

Millennial 20/20, held the coming week, was a two-day session of several hundred marketing executives, CEOs, startup founders, digital salespeople, youth publishers and app developers all looking to answer one question: how to persuade, coax, distract, datamine or otherwise compel young people to give their companies money. Representatives from some of the largest brands in the world gathered to swap success narratives, share tips, and peacock their youth-whisperer cred in front of any potential poachers.

Junior vice-presidents from blue-chip firms such as Telstra, Microsoft and Mondelez International rub elbows with more familiar brands such as Airbnb, Deliveroo and Pandora. New media doyens from Vice and BuzzFeed circle, chatting with swarms of emissaries from adventurously named attires you’ve never heard of, like Zuper and Paddl. Together they comprise a large portion of what is nebulously termed the” new economy” and a not-insignificant slice of the global one, so their collective perception of my generation carries weight, whether it’s accurate or not.

After two days surrounded by that collective perception, the believe is not promoting.

Millennial 20/20 is at Carriageworks, a vast converted former railway depot in Redfern. When home to a meeting like this, the venue becomes the exposed-brick-and-beam embodiment of the bloodless one-world aesthetic the conference is here to spruik; all reappropriated industrial working-class swank and graffiti reading “HOPE”.

A ping-pong table, unloved redoubt of startup offices the world over, sits neglected to one side, the “Double Happiness” slogan adorning it neither noticed nor understood. The Economist sponsorship stand is handing out free vegetable smoothies, ostensibly to make a point about food waste. The hand soap dispenser in the bathroom bears a Mark Twain quote exhorting me to” Explore. Dream. Discover .”. The wifi password is “SmashedAvo”.

Disruption, invention and content, content, content. Photograph: Alamy

From the Pyramid Stage, festooned with artificial ivy vines, speakers dispense wisdom on the mystical millennial, a word that remains conveniently undefined. Devoting so much effort to understanding “young people” may have seemed too fogeyish.

The insights, such as they are, sometimes reveal more about the speakers than the young customers that they profess to know. Facebook Australia’s marketing head tells the audience the key to a” purposeful life” is” work-life consolidation, rather than work-life balance”, and quotes an example about the importance of diversity from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who encourages teachers to tell parents that their assertive daughter is not “bossy”, but rather has ” executive leadership skills “.

But the main attraction isn’t the speakers; it’s the opportunity to network, and these people network hard. On stylised picnic tables and precarious barstools scattered throughout the dormitory, marketing executives in smart casual collect phone number and LinkedIn contacts with the fervour I once applied to amassing Pokemon cards.” The only time someone’s not trying to sell me something is in the bathroom”, an exhausted attendee says.

The presentations pass by in a blur. I lose count of the number of hours someone mentions “disruption”, or extols the virtues of” starting a dialogue “. The speakers are in furious arrangement that millennials are a rich gold seam waiting to be tapped, requiring only the right combination of effortless cool, total authenticity and microscopic data tracking to crack it open.

Given the route that many of these companies treat the young people they claim to have such deep connections with, it’s not surprising that a great deal runs unsaid. A co-founder of youth site Pedestrian.tv hosts a panel dedicated to unpacking where millennials are spending their money, but gives no insight for the purpose of determining whether content on his website paid for by a front group for the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, a pro-tobacco foyer group, successfully induced more young people to take up e-cigarettes.

Representatives from the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac wax lyrical on” building a culture of invention”, but have nothing to say about their exploitative lending practices promoting young would-be homeowners to take out mortgages they can’t afford. Unilever is eager to showcase its work keeping Weis Bars Australian-made since buying out the Toowoomba family business in August; less so to highlight the boycott its Streets ice-cream brand is confront for cutting employees’ wages by almost half.

‘ Cutting expenses by denying workers basic rights and conditions is as old as the hills, but do it via a smartphone app and you’re a paragon of invention .’ Photograph: Pekic/ Getty Images

But it’s when the we-are-your-friends shtick get personal that it really starts to unsettle. Michael Pearson, the managing director of traveling website Expedia, wonders why” millennials are delaying those key life purchases” such as houses and weddings; he boasts that his firm’s 700 data scientists trawl their customers’ information to target them as minutely as possible.” I know where he lives, I know he has a spouse and two kids ,” Pearson enthuses. A representative from the Accor hotel chain speaks of a new alternative accommodation option for backpackers, the Mama Shelter, designed to replicate the feeling of” being in your mother’s limbs “.

That attitude of predatory infantilisation oozes into everything here. It’s in the free donuts, branded fidget-spinners and misshapen Rubik’s cubes sponsors are devoting out in exchange for contact details. It’s in the endless, slickly made promotional videos, splashing all-caps cliches such as “LIFE IS AMAZING” and” COME AS YOU ARE” over footage of people operating through meadows and the swelling of children’s choirs. It’s in IYC POP, a sponsor slinging frozen cocktails in Calippo-like sleeves which vaunts itself as” a luxury popsicle for adults” and” a true disruptor in the frozen confectionary industry “.

Most of all, it’s in how entirely this congregation believes its own sermon. These people want to believe so badly that they are the harbingers of something bright and new, when they’re really simply inventing more efficient ways to do what big businesses have always done: induce mountains of fund by bolt people over. Cutting costs by denying workers basic rights and conditions is as old as the hills, but do it via a smartphone app and you’re a paragon of invention. It is dead-eyed capitalism with Snapchat’s puppy filter on.

I learned very little about millennials at Millennial 20/20, save that a great many people are running very hard to turn us upside down by our ankles and shake us until fund comes out. Being part of a generation bent under neoliberalism’s deadening legacy, from housing affordability to climate change, is depleting enough; to find the companies that earning off our exploitation rhapsodise about their self-appointed status as” change makers” and” thought leaders” just adds salt to the wound.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Don’t worry about AI running bad- the minds behind it are the hazard | John Naughton

2 months, 29 days ago

Killer robots remain a thing of futuristic nightmare. The real menace from artificial intelligence is far more immediate

As the science fiction novelist William Gibson famously find:” The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed .” I wish people would pay more attention to that adage whenever the subject of artificial intelligence( AI) comes up. Public discourse about it invariably focuses on the threat( or promise, depending on your point of view) of “superintelligent” machines, ie ones that display human-level general intelligence, even though such devices have been 20 to 50 years away ever since we first started worrying about them. The likelihood( or mirage) of such machines still remains a remote prospect, a phase made by the leading AI researcher Andrew Ng, who said that he worries about superintelligence in the same route that he frets about overpopulation on Mars.

That seems about right to me. If one were a conspiracy theorist, one might ask if our obsession with a highly speculative future has been intentionally orchestrated to divert attention from the fact- pace Mr Gibson- that lower-level but exceedingly powerful AI is already here and playing an ever-expanding role in shaping our economies, societies and politics. This technology is a combination of machine learning and big data and it’s everywhere, controlled and deployed by a handful of powerful corporations, with occasional walk-on components assigned to national security agencies.

These corporations consider this version of “weak” AI as the biggest thing since sliced bread. The CEO of Google burbles about” AI everywhere” in his company’s offerings. Same goes for the other digital giants. In the face of this hype onslaught, it takes a certain amount of heroism to stand up and ask awkward topics. If this stuff is so powerful, then surely we ought to be looking at how it is being used, asking whether it’s legal, ethical and good for society- and thinking about what will happen when it gets into the hands of people who are even worse than the folks who run the big tech firms. Because it will.

Fortunately, there are scholars who have started to ask these awkward topics. There are, for example, the researchers who work at AI Now, a research institute at New York University focused on the social implications of AI. Their 2017 report attains interesting reading. Last week assured the publication of more in the same vein- a new critique of the technology by 26 experts from six major universities, plus a number of independent thinktanks and NGOs.

Its title- The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention and Mitigation- tells it all. The report fills a serious gap in our thinking about this stuff. We’ve heard the hype, corporate and governmental, about the wonderful things AI can supposedly do and we’ve begun to pay attention to the unintentional downsides of legitimate applications of the technology. Now the time has come to pay attention to the really malign things bad actors could do with it.

The report looks at three main “domains” in which we can expect problems. One is digital security. The utilize of AI to automate chores involved in carrying out cyber-attacks will alleviate the existing trade-off between the scale and efficacy of attacks. We can also expect assaults that exploit human vulnerabilities( for example, through the use of speech synthesis for impersonation ), existing software vulnerabilities( through automated hacking) or the vulnerabilities of legitimate AI systems( through corruption of the data rivers on which machine learning depends ).

A second threat domain is physical security- assaults with dronings and autonomous weapons systems.( Think v2. 0 of the hobbyist dronings that Isis deployed, but this time with face-recognition technology on board .) We can also expect new various kinds of attacks that subvert physical systems- causing autonomous vehicles to accident, say- or ones deploying physical systems that would be impossible to remotely control from a distance: a thousand-strong swarm of micro-drones, for example.

Finally, there’s what the authors call” political security”- using AI to automate tasks involved in surveillance, persuasion( creating targeted propaganda) and misrepresentation( eg, manipulating videos ). We can also expect new kinds of attack based on machine-learning’s capability to infer human behaviours, moods and beliefs from available data. This technology will obviously be welcomed by authoritarian countries, but it will also further undermine the capacities of republics to sustain truthful public debates. The bots and fake Facebook accounts that currently pollute our public sphere will look awfully amateurish in a couple of years.

The report is available as a free download and is worth read in full. If it were about the dangers of future or speculative technologies, then it might be reasonable to reject it as academic scare-mongering. The alarming thing is most of the problematic capabilities that its authors envisage are already available and in many cases are currently embedded in many of the networked services that we use every day. William Gibson was right: the future has already arrived.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

My night out in Cleveland with the worst men on the internet

3 months, 24 days ago

At the Republican convention, Laurie Penny was invited to a rally led by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous and an unholy cast of characters united behind Donald Trump for whom turning raw rage into political currency is merely a game

This is a story about how trolls took the wheel of the clown auto of modern politics. Its a narrative about the insider traders of the attention economy. Its a tale about dread and disgust and Donald Trump and you and me. Its not a tale about Milo Yiannopoulos, the professional alt-right provocateur who was last week banned from Twitter for directing racist abuse towards the actor Leslie Jones.

But it does start with Milo. So I should probably explain how we know each other and how, on a hot, weird night in Cleveland, Ohio, I came to be riding in the backseat of his swank black trollmobile to the gayest neo-fascist rally at the Republican national convention.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the most serious people I know. I have assured the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses. It chills me. We satisfied four years ago when he was just another floppy-haired rightwing pundit and we were guests on a panel show. Afterwards, we got hammered and ran around the BBC talking about boys.

Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuaded him that we are not friends. The more famous he gets off the back of extravagantly abusing women and minorities, the more I tell him I dislike him and everything he stands for, the more he chuckles and asks when were drinking.

Feminism is cancer is one of Milos slogans, and yet it took him only seconds after learning we would both be at the RNC to offer me a lift to his Wake Up! rally. This time God help me I said yes.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Tim Cook explains to Apple employees why he met with President-elect Trump

3 months, 29 days ago

In a series of answers to questions posted on Apples internal employee info service Apple Webtoday, CEO Tim Cook commented to employees on some hot-button topics. We procured some of the answers to interesting questions about a few topics, including the fate of the Mac but more on that later.

First up is probably the most topical: Why did he feel it was important to meet with President-elect Trump? The short answer: You have to show up to have a say.

Cook was part of a round table of tech leaders that met with Trump last week. The group included Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Larry Page of Google, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and others. There has been a lot of discussion about the event, but the most prominent difference of opinion among commentators was whether it was worth engaging Trump in this manner at all given that the publicly carried values of many of these leaders were at such odds with statements he has made during and after his campaign.

Cooks case in the internal communication, which we confirmed is legitimate, is that there was more value in engaging than there was in not doing so. Personally, Ive never received being on the sideline a successful place to be, writes Cook. The style that you influence these issues is to be in the arena. Sowhether its in this country, or the European union, or in China or South America, we engage. And we engage when we agree and we engage when we disagree. I think its very important to do that because you dont change things by justyelling. You change things by showing everyone why your way is the best. In many routes, its a debate of ideas.

So much for the take your tech and stay home camp. The answer was given, specifically, to the following question: Last week you joined other tech leaders to satisfy President-elect Donald Trump. How important is it for Apple to engage with governments?

In his response, Cook says that there are specific issues that Apple cares about deeply and that it would need to become an advocate for those things.

Its very important[ to engage ]. Governments can affect our ability to do what we do, he reacted. They can affect it in positive styles and they can affect in not so positive ways. What we do is focus on the policies. Some of our key areas of focus are on privacy andsecurity, education. Theyre on advocating for human rights for everyone, and expanding the definition of human rights. Theyre on the environment and really combating climate change, something we do by running our business on 100 percent renewable energy.

Though this is far from a statement of intent, and he doesnt mention them specifically, Cooks strong statement does touch on a variety of topics that abut controversial Trump stances.

We very much stand up for what we believes in. We think thats a key part of what Apple is about. And well continue to do so, he concludes.

During the close reading and the consequences of the session, Cooks dour expression( ensure above) at the table became a meme of the moment. His stoic mien somehow transmitting what most people hoped was the posture at the table: I cant believe I have to be here but “someones got” do it. Cooks statements to employees seem to back that up.

No one knows for sure whether President-elect Trump will in fact enact many of the sweeping changes to immigration policy, cybersecurity and environmental protection statutes that he promised during the campaign but his cabinet selections so far are not doing much to disabuse people of that notion. If there is going to be a healthy counter-balancing of those policies from the private sector, then CEOs like Cook must be willing to take a firm posture publicly.

I was able to get a hold of this internal postingand its out there now, but it would be encouraging( as argued well recently by Kara Swisher) to assure these kinds of statements induced on the record and for them to be made by more people at that table. I await yourcalls.

Cook also talked about the future of the Mac desktop and Apples distinguishing factor in a more and more mobbed tech sector, but Ill have more on that in a bit.

Heres the posting in full 😛 TAGEND

Last week you joined other tech leaders to fulfill President-elect Donald Trump. How important is it for Apple to engage with governments ?

Its very important. Governments can impact our ability to do what we do. They can affect it in positive routes and they can affect in not so positive routes. What we do is focus on the policies. Some of our key areas of focus are on privacy andsecurity, education. Theyre on advocating for human rights for everyone, and expanding the definition of human rights. Theyre on the environment and actually combating climate change, something we do by operating our business on 100 percentage renewable energy.

And of course, creating jobs is a key part of what we do by devoting people possibility not only with people that work directly for Apple, but the large number of people that are in our ecosystem. Were really proud that weve generated 2 millionjobs, simply in this country. A great percentage of those are app developers. This dedicates everyone the power to sell their work to the world, which is an unbelievable invention in and of itself.

We have other things that are more business-centric like taxation reform and something weve long advocated for: a simple system. And wed like intellectual property reform to try to stop the people suing when they dont do anything as acompany.

Theres a large number of those issues, and the way that you advance them is to engage. Personally, Ive never find being on the sideline a successful place to be. The route that you influence these issues is to be in the arena. Sowhether its in this country, or the European union, or in China or South America, we engage. And we engage when we agree and we engage when we disagree. I think its very important to do that because you dont change things by justyelling. You change things by showing everyone why your style is the best. In many ways, its a debate of ideas.

We very much stand up for what we believes in. We think thats a key part of what Apple is about. And well continue to do so.

Image credit: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

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Ted Cruz Twitter account ‘likes’ pornographic tweet

4 months, 5 days ago

Married Texas senator, who once defended a ban on sex dolls, asked to explain how his account came to like the graphic post

Texas senator Ted Cruz has been asked to explain himself after his official account “liked” a pornographic tweet.

Although liking a Twitter post does not necessarily share it, the tweet became available to view on Cruz’s confirmed profile, leading to series of awkward screenshots.

A screenshot posted by Twitter user Ashley Feinberg of the pornographic tweet’ liked’ by Cruz’s account. Photograph: Ashley Feinberg/ Twitter

Catherine Frazier, Cruz’s senior communications adviser, said ” the offensive tweet positioned on @tedcruz account earlier has been removed by staff and reported to Twitter “.

But this added to confusion about what had happened, because the like was not a tweet and Frazier’s statement implied that it was made by someone who should not have had access to Cruz’s account.

Catherine Frazier (@ catblackfrazier)

The offensive tweet positioned on @tedcruz account earlier has been removed by staff and reported to Twitter

September 12, 2017

Cruz joked to reporters on Tuesday that” perhaps we should have done something like this during the Indiana primary “. Cruz finished second to Donald Trump in that state’s presidential primary, ultimately dooming his presidential campaign, which long suffered from the constant media attention are received by Trump.

The Texas senator went on to add” there are a number of people on the team that have access to the account and it appears that someone inadvertently reached the like button “. When would like to know whether Cruz himself had liked the tweet, he told said:” It was a staffing issue, and it was inadvertent, it was a mistake, it was not a deliberate action .”

The mishap was particularly awkward due to Cruz’s support of conservative household values and his involvement in a court case in Texas about banning the use of sexuality toys.

In 2007, when he was Texas’s solicitor general, two sex doll companies sued to overrule the state’s outlaw on the sale of so-called marital assists. The state defended the ban in submissions partly written by Cruz’s office, which argued 😛 TAGEND

There is no substantive due process right to induce one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.

The US supreme court subsequently found that there was no legality to the country interfering in the sexuality lives of consenting adults.

The liking of the pornographic post helped resurface a 2016 tweet from the Tv producer Craig Mazin, in which he said he shared a room with Cruz and his notion about genital stimulation were rather different to those expressed in the country argument.

Craig Mazin (@ clmazin)

Ted Cruz supposes people don’t have a right to “stimulate their genitals.” I was his college roommate. This would be a new notion of his.

April 13, 2016

Twitter users stimulated gags about the incident based on clips of the pornographic video liked by Cruz’s account.

Justin (@ DTPJustin)

Me waiting for Ted Cruz’s inevitable statement that his Twitter was hacked pic.twitter.com/ QVkpizbS4 7

September 12, 2017

Philip DeFranco (@ PhillyD) When you find why Ted Cruz is trending …

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Facebook on Defensive as Cambridge Case Exposes Data Flaw

4 months, 8 days ago

Facebook on Defensive as Cambridge Case Exposes Data Flaw

Updated on

Facebook Inc . wants you to know: this wasn’t a breach.

Yes, Cambridge Analytica, the data-analysis firm that helped U.S. President Donald Trump win the 2016 election, infringed rules when it obtained information from some 50 million Facebook profiles, the social-media company recognise late Friday. But the data received from someone who didn’t hacker the organizations of the system: a professor who originally told Facebook he wanted it for academic purposes.

He set up a personality quiz use tools that let people log in with their Facebook accounts, then asked them to sign over access to their friend lists and likes before using the app. The 270,000 users of that app and their friend networks opened up private data on 50 million people, according to the New York Times. All of that was allowed under Facebook’s rules, until the professor handed the information off to a third party.

Facebook said it found out about Cambridge Analytica’s access in 2015, after which it had the firm certify that it deleted the data. On Friday, Facebook said it now knows Cambridge actually maintained it — an infraction that got Cambridge suspended from the social network. Once that was announced, executives promptly moved on to defending Facebook’s security.

” This was unequivocally not a data breach ,” longtime Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth said on Twitter.” People chose to share their data with third-party apps and if those third-party apps did not follow the agreements with us/ users it is a violation .” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s head of security, echoed the same arguments. Cambridge denied doing anything illegal or employing the information contained in the 2016 presidential election; Facebook tells it has no way of knowing how or whether the data was used for targeting in the Trump campaign.

Facebook’s advertising business depends on users sharing their most personal data via its social network. But the company’s” not a violate” argument isn’t likely to make users feel any safer or more comfy doing so — especially given that it’s already under fire for missing that Russian actors were purchasing U.S. election ads on the site to sway voter sentiments, as well as operating fake accounts disguised as real Americans. The company has also been fending off accusations that it’s too slow to notice or react to harmful content.

U.K. Inquiry

The latest incident has raised new the issue of what technological guardrails Facebook has in place to prevent approved users from sharing sensitive datum, and how much visibility the company has into how outsiders use the data.

Facebook wouldn’t comment on those questions, saying only that it has made significant improvements in its they are able to” see and avoid violations” by app developers, such as random audits of applications use its tools to make sure they’re following the rules. And it’s no longer let developers who use Facebook’s login tools see information on their users’ friends.

The disclosure of Facebook’s actions also underscores it’s continuing struggle to anticipate negative consequences of its lack of oversight- in some cases taking action only after things go wrong. The company in the past two years has worked to understand and counteract the spread of misinformation on its site, the use of its automated ad system for racist targeting, the spread of fake user accounts, the spread of violent video, and more.

But when the company tries to explain what it’s doing, it grapples with the perception that it’s shirking responsibility for its problems, treating them as public-relations snafus instead of serious product flaws.

Stamos, the Facebook security executive, deleted his original tweets on Cambridge Analytica, saying he wasn’t so good at” talking about these things in the reality of 2018 .” Specifically, he said he didn’t know how to balance his personal notions with its own responsibility to Facebook and his co-workers, amid all the criticism.

” We have collectively been too optimistic about what we build and our impact on the world ,” Stamos wrote Saturday on Twitter.” Believe it or not, a lot of the people at these companies, from the interns to the CEOs, agree .”

Lawmakers in the U.S. and U.K. aren’t persuaded Facebook has its users’ own best interest in mind. Over the weekend the company faced criticisms from members of the Senate intelligence committee, and in London, the head of a parliamentary committee called on CEO Mark Zuckerberg to have a senior executive answer those questions.

” We have repeatedly asked Facebook about how companies acquire and hold on to user data from their site, and including with regard to whether data had been taken from people without their permission ,” Damian Collins, chair of the U.K. Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, said in a statement.” Their answers have consistently understated the health risks, and have also been misleading to the committee .”

Read more: www.bloomberg.com

Rise of the machines: who is the’ internet of things’ good for?

4 months, 10 days ago

The long read: Interconnected technology is now an inescapable reality ordering our shopping, monitoring our cities and sucking up vast amounts of data along the way. The promise is that it will benefit us all but how is possible to?

In San Francisco, a young engineer hopes to optimise his life through sensors that track his heart rate, respiration and sleep cycle. In Copenhagen, a bus operating two minutes behind schedule transmits its locating and passenger count to the municipal traffic signal network, which extends the time of the green light at each of the next three intersections long enough for its driver to make up some time. In Davao City in the Philippines, an unsecured webcam overlooks the storeroom of a fast food stand, allowing anyone to peer in on all its comings and goings.

What links these wildly different circumstances is a vision of connected devices now being sold to us as the internet of things. The technologist Mike Kuniavsky, a innovator of this idea, characterises it as a state of being in which computation and data communication[ are] embedded in, and distributed through, our entire environment. I prefer to see it for what it is: the colonisation of everyday life by information processing.

Though it can often feeling as if this colonisation proceeds of its own momentum, distinct ambitions are being served wherever and however the internet of things seems. The internet of things isnt a single technology. About all that connects the various devices, services, vendors and efforts involved is the end goal they serve: capture data that can then be used to measure and control the world around us.

Whenever a project has such imperial designs on our everyday lives, it is vital that we ask just what ideas underpin it and whose interests it serves. Although the internet of things retains a certain sprawling and formless quality, we can get a far more concrete sense of what it involves by looking at how it seems at each of three scales: that of our bodies( where the effort is referred to as the quantified ego ), our homes( the smart-alecky home) and our public spaces( the smart-alecky city ). Each of these instances illuminates a further aspect of current challenges presented to us by the internet of things, and each has something distinct to teach us.

At the most intimate scale, the internet of things is visible in the form of wearable biometric sensors. The simplest of these are little more than networked digital pedometers, which count steps, measure the distance a person has traversed, and furnish an estimate of the calories burned in the course of this activity. More elaborated models measure heart rate, breathing, skin temperature and even perspiration.

If wearable biometric devices such as Fitbits and Apple Watches are, in theory, aimed at rigorous self-mastery, the colonisation of the domestic surrounding by similarly networked products and services is intended to deliver a very different experience: convenience. The intent of such smart home attempts is to short-circuit the process of reflection that stands between having a desire and fulfil that longing by buying something.

Right now, the perfect example of this is a gadget being sold by Amazon, known as the Dash Button. Many internet-of-things devices are little more than some conventional object with networked connectivity tacked on. The Dash Button is the precise opposite, a thing in the world that could not have existed without the internet. I cannot improve on Amazons own description of this curious object and how it runs, so Ill repeat it here: Amazon Dash Button is a Wi-Fi-connected device that reorders your favourite item with the press of a button. To use Dash Button, simply download the Amazon app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Then, sign into your Amazon Prime account, connect Dash Button to Wi-Fi, and select the product you want to reorder. Once connected, a single press on Dash Button automatically places your order.

In other words: single-purpose electronic devices, each dedicated to an individual branded item, that you press when youre running low. Pressing a Dash Button specific to your preferred pet food, washing powder or bottled water automatically composes an order request to Amazon for that one product.

An Amazon Dash button

I dont for a second wishes to downplay the value of such a product for people who have ageing mothers to look after, or kids to drop off at daycare, or for whom simply getting in the car to pick up some cat food may take an hour or more out of their day. But the benefit to the individual client is tiny compared with what Amazon gains. Sure, “youve never” run out of cat food. But Amazon gets data on the time and place of your need, as well as its frequency and intensity, and that data has value. It is an asset, and you can be sure that Amazon will exploit it in every way its terms and conditions permit including by employing it to develop behavioural models that map our desires in high resolve, so as to target them with even greater efficiency in the future.

Again, the aim of devices such as the Dash Button is to permit the user to accomplish commercial transactions with as little conscious believed as is practicable not even the few moments it takes to tap out commands on the touchscreen of a phone or tablet. The data on what the industry calls conversion is as clear because this is unremitting: with every box to tick or form to fill, percentages per of users that make it all the way to checkout tumbles. The fewer steps there are in a transaction, the more likely people are to expend their money.

Manufacturers, seduced by the revenue potential of subduing the domestic surrounding, keep trying to eliminate these steps, in the hope that one of their connected products will become as essential to everyday life as the smartphone. The recent industry push towards the smart home is simply the latest version of this.

For the moment, this strategy is centred on so-called smart speakers, a first generation of which have now reached the market. These products include the Amazon Echo and Google Home, each of which is supposed to function as the command hub of a connected domestic environment. Amazons Echo is a simple cylinder, while the Google Home is a bevelled ovoid. But the physical kind of such speakers is all but irrelevant, as their primary task is to function as a branded virtual deputy, a simple, integrated way to access the numerous digital controls scattered throughout the contemporary home from lighting and entertainment to security, heating, cooling and ventilation systems.

Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple each offer their own such assistant, based on natural-language speech recognition. Most are given female names, voices and personalities, presumably based on research indicating that users of all genders prefer to interact with women. Apples is called Siri and will, according to reports, soon be get its own device, Amazons Alexa, and Microsofts Cortana, while one simply addresses Googles Home offering as Google.

At first, such devices seem harmless enough. They sit patiently and quietly at the periphery of our awareness, and we only speak to them when we need them. But when we consider them more carefully, a more problematic picture emerges.

This is how Googles assistant works: you mention to it that youre in the mood for Italian food, and then, in the words of one New York Times article, it will then respond with some suggestions for tables to reserve at Italian restaurants utilizing, for example, the OpenTable app.

This example showsthat though the choices these deputies offer us are presented as neutral, they are based on numerous inbuilt premises that many of us would question if we were to truly scrutinise them.

Ask restaurateurs and front-of-house workers what they think of OpenTable, for example, and you are able to swiftly learn that one persons convenience is anothers accelerated pace of run, or worse. Youll learn that restaurants offering reservations via the service are, according to the website Serious Eats, required to use the companys proprietary floor-management system, which means leasing hardware and using OpenTable-specific software, and that OpenTable retains ownership of all the data generated in this style. Youll also learn that OpenTable takes a cut on reservations per seated diner, which obviously adds up to a significant amount on a busy night.

Conscientious diners have therefore been known to bypass the ostensible convenience of OpenTable, and build whatever reservations they have to by phone. By contrast, Google Homes frictionless default to inducing reservations via OpenTable normalises the choice to use that service.

This is not accidental. It reflects the largely preconscious valuations, priorities and internalised beliefs of the people who devised Google Home. As throughout the industry, that is a remarkably homogeneous cohort of young designers and technologists. But more important than the degree of similarity they bear to one another is how different they are from everyone else.

Illustration: Getty/ Guardian Design

Internet-of-things devices are generally conceived by people who have entirely assimilated services such as Uber, Airbnb and Apple Pay into their daily lives, at a time when figures from the Washington DC-based Pew Research Center suggest that a significant percentage of the population has never use or even heard of them. For the people who design these products, these services are normal, and so, over period, they become normalised for everyone else.

There are other challenges presented by this way of interacting with networked information. Its difficult, for example, for a user to determine whether the options they are being offered by a virtual assistant result from what the industry calls an organic return something that legitimately came up as the result of a search process or from paid placement. But the main problem with the virtual assistant is that it fosters an approach to the world that is literally thoughtless, leaving users disinclined to sit out any prolonged frustration of passion, and ever less critical about the processes that result in gratification.

Virtual deputies are listening to everything that transpires in their presence, and are doing so at all times. As voice-activated interfaces, they must be constantly attentive in order to detect when the aftermath word that rouses them is spoken. In this style, they are able to harvest data that might be used to refine targeted advertising, or for other commercial purposes that are only disclosed deep in the terms and conditions that govern their use. The logic operating here is that of preemptive capture: the notion that companies such as Amazon and Google might as well trawl up all they can, because no one knows what value might be derived from it in the future.

This leads to situations that might be comical, were it not for what they connote about the networking of our domestic environments. These narratives circulate as cautionary narratives: one of the best-known was the time the US National Public Radio network aired a narrative about the Amazon Echo, and various cues spoken on the broadcast were interpreted as commands by Echos belonging to members of the audience, causing domestic chaos.

Put aside for one moment the question of disproportionate benefit the idea that you as the user derive a little convenience from your embracing of a virtual assistant, while its provider gets everything all the data about your life and all its value. Lets simply consider what gets lost in the ideology of convenience that underlies this conception of the internet of things. Are such constraints presented to us by life in the non-connected world truly so onerous? Is it genuinely so difficult to wait until you get home before you preheat the oven? And is it worth giving away so much, just to be able to do so remotely?

Most of us are by now awarethat our mobile phones are constantly harvesting information about our whereabouts and activities. But we tend to be relatively ignorant of the degree to which the contemporary streetscape has furthermore been enabled to collect information. This developing is often called the smart city. If the aspiration beneath the instrumentation of the body is ostensible self-mastery, and that of the home is convenience, the aspiration at the heart of the smart city is nothing other than control the desire to achieve a more efficient use of space, energy and other resources.

A broad range of networked information-gathering devices are increasingly being deployed in public space, including CCTV cameras; advertisements and vending machines equipped with biometric sensors; and the indoor micropositioning systems known as beacons that, when combined with a smartphone app, send signals providing information about nearby products and services.

The picture we are left with is that of our surroundings furiously vacuuming up info, every square metre of seemingly banal pavement yielding so much data about its its utilization and its users that nobody yet knows what to do with it all. And it is at this scale of activity that the guiding ideology of the internet of things comes into clearest focus.

The strongest and most explicit articulation of this ideology in the definition of a smart city has been offered by the house periodical of the engineering company Siemens: Several decades from now, cities will have countless autonomous, intelligently functioning IT systems that will have perfect knowledge of users habits and energy consumption, and provide optimum service … The goal of such a city is to optimally govern and control resources by means of autonomous IT systems.

There is a clear philosophical position, even a worldview, behind all of this: that the world is in principle perfectly knowable, its contents enumerable and their relations capable of being meaningfully encoded in a technical system, without bias or distortion. As applied to the affairs of cities, this is effectively an argument that there is one and only one correct solution to each identified need; that this solution can be arrived at algorithmically, via the operations of a technical system furnished with the proper inputs; and that this solution is something that can be encoded in public policy, without aberration.( Left unstated, but strongly implicit, is the presumption that whatever policies are arrived at in this way will be applied transparently, dispassionately and in a manner free from politics .)

Every aspect of this argument is questionable. Perhaps most obviously, the claim that anything at all is perfectly knowable is perverse. However thoroughly sensors might be deployed in a city, they will merely ever capture what is amenable to being captured. In other terms, they will not be able to pick up every single piece of information necessary to the formulation of sound civic policy.

Other, all-too-human distortions unavoidably colour the data collected. For instance, people may consciously adapt to produce metrics favourable to them. A police officer under pressure to make quota may focus on misdemeanours that she would ordinarily overlook, while conversely, her precinct commandant, under pressure to present the city as ever-safer, may downwardly categorize a felony assault as a simple misdemeanour. This is the phenomenon known to spectators of The Wire as juking the stats, and it is particularly likely to occur when financial or other incentives depend on achieving a performance threshold.

Illustration: Getty/ Guardian Design

There is also the question of interpreting. Advocates of smart cities often seem to proceed as if it is self-evident that each of our acts has a single, salient meaning, which can be recognised, attained sense of and acted upon remotely by an automated system, without any possibility of fault. The more prominent advocates of this approach appear to believe that no particular act of interpretation actively participate in making employ of any data retrieved from the world in this way.

But data is never just data, and to assert otherwise is to give inherently political and interested decisions an unmerited gloss of scientific objectivity. The truth is that data is easily skewed, depending on how it is collected.Different values for air pollution in a given location can be produced by differing the height at which a sensor is mounted by a few metres. Perceptions of hazard in a neighbourhood can be transformed by somewhat altering the taxonomy used to categorize reported crimes. And anyone who has ever run in opinion polling knows how sensitive the results are to the precise wording of a survey.

The bold assert of perfect knowledge appears incompatible with the messy reality of all known information-processing systems, the human individuals and organizations that make use of them and, more broadly, with the world as we experience it. In fact, it is astonishing that any experienced technologist would ever be so unwary as to claim perfection on behalf of the members of any computational system , no matter how powerful.

The notion that there is one and only one solution to urban problems is also deeply puzzling. Cities are made up of individuals and communities who often have vying preferences, and it is impossible to fully satisfy all of them at the same time.

That such a solution, if it even existed, could be arrived at algorithmically is also implausible. Assume, to the purposes of argument, that there did exist a master formula capable of balancing the needs of all of a citys competing constituencies. It surely would be convenient if this golden mean could be determined automatically and consistently. But the wholesale surrender of municipal management to an algorithmic toolset seems to place an undue sum of trust in the party responsible for authoring the algorithm.

If the formulas behind this vision of future cities turn out to be anything like the ones being implemented in the present generation of computational models, life-altering decisions will hinge on the interaction of poorly defined and subjective values. The output generated by this procedure may turn on half-clever abstractions, in which complex situations resistant to direct measuring are reduced to more easily ascertained proxy values: median walking velocity stands in for the pace of urban life, while the number of patent applications constitutes an indicator of invention, and so on.

Quite simply, we need to understand that creating an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself a political act. And, at the least for now , nowhere in the current smart-city literature is there any suggestion that either algorithm or their designers would be subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability.

And ultimately, it is difficult to believe that any such findings would ever be translated into public policy in accordance with the arrangements free from politics. Policy recommendations derived from computational models are only rarely applied to questions as politically sensitive as resource apportioning without some intermediate tuning taking place. Inconvenient results is a possibility repressed, arbitrarily overruled by more heavily weighted decision factors, or simply ignored.

As matters now stand, the claim of perfect proficiency that is implicit in most smart-city rhetoric is incommensurate with everything we are all familiar with the route technological systems run. It also flies in the face of everything we are all familiar with how cities work. The designers of the smart city have failed to reckon with current realities of power, and the capacities of elites to suppress policy directions that dont serve their interests. At best, the technocratic notion that the analysis of sensor-derived data would ever be permitted to drive municipal policy is naive. At worst, though, it dismisses the lessons of history.

So, yes: the internet of things presents many new potentials, and it would be foolish to reject those possibilities out of hand. But we would also be wise to approach the entire domain with scepticism, and in particular to resist the attempts of companies to gather ever more data about our lives no matter how much ease, convenience and self-mastery we are told they are offering us.

This is an adapted extract from Radical Technology: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield, published this week by Verso .

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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