TECHNOLOGY

REINVENTING SOCIETY IN THE WAKE OF BIG DATA

[8.30.12]

With Big Data we can now begin to actually look at the details of social interaction and how those play out, and are no longer limited to averages like market indices or election results. This is an astounding change. The ability to see the details of the market, of political revolutions, and to be able to predict and control them is definitely a case of Promethean fireit could be used for good or for ill, and so Big data brings us to interesting times. We're going to end up reinventing what it means to have a human society.

ALEX 'SANDY' PENTLAND is a pioneer in big data, computational social science, mobile and health systems, and technology for developing countries. He is one of the most-cited computer scientists in the world and was named by Forbes as one of the world's seven most powerful data scientists. He currently directs the 

Sandy Pentland's Edge Bio Page


[24:08 minutes]


REINVENTING SOCIETY IN THE WAKE OF BIG DATA

[SANDY PENTLAND:] Recently I seem to have become MIT's Big Data guy, with people like Tim O'Reilly and "Forbes" calling me one of the seven most powerful data scientists in the world. I'm not sure what all of that means, but I have a distinctive view about Big Data, so maybe it is something that people want to hear.

I believe that the power of Big Data is that it is information about people's behavior instead of information about their beliefs. It's about the behavior of customers, employees, and prospects for your new business. It's not about the things you post on Facebook, and it's not about your searches on Google, which is what most people think about, and it's not data from internal company processes and RFIDs. This sort of Big Data comes from things like location data off of your cell phone or credit card, it's the little data breadcrumbs that you leave behind you as you move around in the world.

INNOVATION ON THE EDGES

[6.21.12]

Today, what you want is to have resilience and agility, and you want to be able to participate in, and interact with the disruptive things. Everybody loves the word "disruptive innovation." Well, how and where does disruptive innovation happen? It doesn't happen in the big planned R&D labs; it happens on the edges of the network. Most important ideas, especially in the consumer Internet space, but more and more now in other things like hardware and biotech, you're finding it happening around the edges.

JOI ITO is MIT Media Lab Director and a leading thinker and writer on innovation, global technology policy, and the role of the Internet in transforming society in substantial and positive ways. A vocal advocate of emergent democracy, privacy, and Internet freedom, Ito is board chair (and former CEO) of Creative Commons, and sits on the Boards of The New York Times Company, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Knight Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, WITNESS, and Global Voices. 

Joichi Ito's Edge Bio Page


 


INNOVATION ON THE EDGES

[JOI ITO:] I grew up in Japan part of my life, and we were surrounded by Buddhists. If you read some of the interesting books from the Dalai Lama talking about happiness, there's definitely a difference in the way that Buddhists think about happiness, the world and how it works, versus the West. I think that a lot of science and technology has this somewhat Western view, which is how do you control nature, how do you triumph over nature? Even if you look at the gardens in Europe, a lot of it is about look at what we made this hedge do.

What's really interesting and important to think about is, as we start to realize that the world is complex, and as the science that we use starts to become complex and, Timothy Leary used this quote, "Newton's laws work well when things are normal sized, when they're moving at a normal speed." You can predict the motion of objects using Newton's laws in most circumstances, but when things start to get really fast, really big, and really complex, you find out that Newton's laws are actually local ordinances, and there's a bunch of other stuff that comes into play.

INNOVATION ON THE EDGES

Topic: 

  • TECHNOLOGY
http://vimeo.com/89131072

"Today, what you want is you want to have resilience and agility, and you want to be able to participate in, and interact with the disruptive things. Everybody loves the word 'disruptive innovation.' Well, how does, and where does disruptive innovation happen? It doesn't happen in the big planned R&D labs; it happens on the edges of the network. Most important ideas, especially in the consumer Internet space, but more and more now in other things like hardware and biotech, you're finding it happening around the edges."

A NEW KIND OF SOCIO-INSPIRED TECHNOLOGY

Topic: 

  • TECHNOLOGY
https://vimeo.com/82234589

"There's a new kind of socio-inspired technology coming up, now. Society has many wonderful self-organization mechanisms that we can learn from, such as trust, reputation, culture. If we can learn how to implement that in our technological system, that is worth a lot of money; billions of dollars, actually. We think this is the next step after bio-inspired technology."

A NEW KIND OF SOCIO-INSPIRED TECHNOLOGY

[6.19.12]

There's a new kind of socio-inspired technology coming up, now. Society has many wonderful self-organization mechanisms that we can learn from, such as trust, reputation, culture. If we can learn how to implement that in our technological system, that is worth a lot of money; billions of dollars, actually. We think this is the next step after bio-inspired technology.

PROFESSOR DIRK HELBING is Chair of Sociology, in particular of Modeling and Simulation, at ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and the Scientific Coordinator of the FuturICT Flagship Proposal.

Dirk Helbing's Edge Bio Page


[42:54 minutes]


A NEW KIND OF SOCIO-INSPIRED TECHNOLOGY

[DIRK HELBING:] People are sometimes asking me what would we do if we had one billion euro for research. We have been thinking about that, actually, for a while. We thought we know so much about our universe and about our physical world, but we don't understand all the problems on earth, so we should really turn around this man on the moon mission and basically take the shuttle down to the earth in order to see what is going on there. The big unexplored continent in science is actually social science, so we really need to understand much better the principles that make our society work well, and socially interactive systems.

Our future information society will be characterized by computers that behave like humans in many respects. In ten years from now, we will have computers as powerful as our brain, and that will really fundamentally change society. Many professional jobs will be done much better by computers. How will that change society? How will that change business? What impacts does that have for science, actually? 


A UNIVERSE OF SELF-REPLICATING CODE

Topic: 

  • TECHNOLOGY
https://vimeo.com/82232895

"We're missing a tremendous opportunity. We're asleep at the switch because it's not a metaphor. In 1945 we actually did create a new universe. This is a universe of numbers with a life of their own, that we only see in terms of what those numbers can do for us. Can they record this interview? Can they play our music? Can they order our books on Amazon? If you cross the mirror in the other direction, there really is a universe of self-reproducing digital code. When I last checked, it was growing by five trillion bits per second. And that's not just a metaphor for something else.

A UNIVERSE OF SELF-REPLICATING CODE

[3.26.12]

"What we're missing now, on another level, is not just biology, but cosmology. People treat the digital universe as some sort of metaphor, just a cute word for all these products. The universe of Apple, the universe of Google, the universe of Facebook, that these collectively constitute the digital universe, and we can only see it in human terms and what does this do for us?

"We're missing a tremendous opportunity. We're asleep at the switch because it's not a metaphor. In 1945 we actually did create a new universe. This is a universe of numbers with a life of their own, that we only see in terms of what those numbers can do for us. Can they record this interview? Can they play our music? Can they order our books on Amazon? If you cross the mirror in the other direction, there really is a universe of self-reproducing digital code. When I last checked, it was growing by five trillion bits per second. And that's not just a metaphor for something else. It actually is. It's a physical reality."

GEORGE DYSON is a Science Historian; Author, Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe; Darwin Among the Machines.


Introduction

In June of 1998, Edge published two pieces in an attempt to get at the big issues behind the news in the technology world: the then current Microsoft-Justice Department litigation. "Code" was a conversation between science historian and third culture thinker George Dyson and myself. Dyson argued that "turning this into a political issue-Government versus Microsoft-is diverting attention from something much more significant: the growth of multi-cellular forms of organization on the Net. ... The development of multi-cellular operating systems is a separate issue from the question of whether what Microsoft does is fair or legal in a business sense".

"The analogy with biological organisms is highly tenuous—as Edge readers will be flooding your inbox to point out. It's just the beginnings of something, in a faintly metazoan sense. The operating system used to be the system that operated a computer. Now it is becoming something else."

"Now, there are moves afoot to get the same code-Windows, or Windows CE, or Windows NT or whatever, not to mention underlying protocols-running everywhere. Running on your desktop, running on your network, running in your car, running in your toaster, running on the credit card you have in your wallet-it's all going to run this same code. And if it's not Windows it'll be something else. The thing is, it's happening. Which is very much what's gone on in the world of biology. In biology there is one operating system, and it's the one we're stuck with-the DNA/RNA operating system. All living organisms, with very rare exceptions, run that same system. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but ..."

This was followed by "Code II", a debate between complexity researcher J. Doyne Farmer of the SantaFe Institute, and computer scientist Charles Simonyi, the chief software architect at Microsoft which addressed subjects such as monopoly as well as the effect of corporate control of society's replication machinery for ideas. 

What has changed in the past fourteen years is that the analogy with biological organisms is no longer highly tenuous. In fact, this conversation is at the forefront of some of the most interesting intellectual conversations today. I am pleased to note that in this regard, Edge is leading the way. And, in this regard, nobody is thinking about these issues more deeply than George Dyson. 

For a rich background on these topics, revisit the following Edge Features, Seminars, and Master Classes and browse through the videos and texts...

"Rethinking "Out of Africa": A Conversation with Christopher Stringer (2011)
"A Short Course In Synthetic Genomics", The Edge Master Class with George Church & Craig Venter (2009)
"Eat Me Before I Eat You! A New Foe For Bad Bugs": A Conversation with Kary Mullis (2010)
"Mapping The Neanderthal Genome" A Conversation with Svante Pääbo (2009)
"Engineering Biology": A Conversation with Drew Endy (2008)
"Life: A Gene-Centric View" A Conversation in Munich with Craig Venter & Raichard Dawkins (2008)
"Ants Have Algorithms": A Talk with Ian Couzin (2008)
"Life: What A Concept", The Edge Seminar, Freeman Dyson, J. Craig Venter, George Church, Dimitar Sasselov, Seth Lloyd, Robert Shapiro (2007)
"Code II" J. Doyne Farmer v. Charles Simonyi (1998)

John Brockman

GEORGE DYSON is a Science Historian; Author, Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe; Darwin Among the Machines.

George Dyson's Edge Bio Page

THE REALITY CLUB:  Stewart Brand, Nicholas Carr, George Dyson


George Dyson's Edge Bio Page

Code Is Law

[11.7.11]

The Staatstrojaner (literally "state trojan", colloquial German term for the government malware) whose self-destruct function obviously failed, was discovered, reverse-engineered and analyzed by Chaos Computer Club hackers. The findings, if the CCC's analysis is correct, are conclusive and alarming: The government surveillance software not only contains illegal functionality, it also appears to be so significantly flawed, that anyone who can encrypt the key can also hack all similar versions and control them remotely. Should evidence captured this way have any legitimacy in a court of law? And, first and foremost: What does it mean when, as demonstrated by the CCC, anyone that knows the IP address of the infected computer can install fake "evidence" without leaving so much as a trace or little chance of acquittal?... 

But there's more: Computers are not only instruments of communication, they are instruments of thought. A series of screenshots taken every second (forwarded to the United States and from there back to Germany) of someone creating a text – never emails or digital monologues – shadows the thought process itself. What is happening here makes your hair stand on end.

Introduction
by John Brockman

Every few years Frank Schirrmacher, co-publisher and Feuilleton editor of the German national newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, startles Germany with an audacious piece of publishing. Last month, he devoted the entire of the Sunday Feuilleton to an expose that included page after page of malware software code reverse-engineered by computer hackers from "the Staatstrojaner surveillance program" code that the German government has been illegally inserting into users' computer system. "The findings are alarming," notes FAZ. "The trojan can read our thoughts and remote control our computers." 

Such trojan-horse key-logging software, known as a RAT (remote administration tool) is hardly new. The FBI, supposedly with legal search warrants, has been doing this since at least 2000.  In 2009, John Markoff broke the story in The New York Times about "Ghostnet", a vast electronic spying operation that infiltrated computers and stole documents from hundreds of government and private offices in 103 countries. The system was controlled from computers based almost exclusively on a Chinese offshore island, although there was no conclusive evidence that the Chinese government was involved. Adding to the still unsolved mystery is the fact that the only major country not a victim of the infiltration was the United States.

What is unique in the case of German State Trojan horse is that the center-right national newspaper, with the aid of the German hacker community, has caught the government red-handed in the illegal activity of spying on, and as some might say, controlling their own citizens. 

So here we are, a month away from celebrating the centenary of Alan Turing, the man who is identified with the idea of computation itself, and what do we have?

"I think it is an amazing piece that opens entire 55-gallon drums of worms," says George Dyson, author of the forthcoming Turing's Cathedral, a history of the birth of the digital age. "It reminds me of the scene in The Lives of Others where you get to see inside the Stazi's secret bunker that held the thousands of glass jars with the captured scent of all suspicious people—and you know this is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you imagine what's going on in China, or the USA? Not just "reading our thoughts" but, as we do more and more of our thinking with our devices, getting closer and closer to writing our thoughts as well.  Do we want to continue to live in a world where we're completely comfortable with cameras everywhere, all the time, and all our e-mail is retrievable forever? It's becoming the new normal now and Schirrmacher's piece is a wake up call." 

While most of the Turing Centenary celebrations already in the works will no doubt paint a rosy picture of the impact of the computational idea, Schirrmacher reminds us of a much darker side to what Turing has wrought. There's more to consider—much more—than Steve Jobs's personality, Facebook privacy settings, Arab springs, Google search algorithms, Amazon ebook pricing, Twitter revolutions, smartphone patent wars.

Click here to download the English-language pdf of the FAZ Feuilleton edition.

Comments?

— JB

Conversation: John Markoff, Douglas Rushkoff, Clay Shirky, Nicholas Carr, Evgeny Morozov


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