TECHNOLOGY

DIGITAL POWER AND ITS DISCONTENTS AN EDGE SPECIAL EVENT!

PUBLISHED BY EDGE, FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG, LA STAMPA
[4.11.10]

The dreams of network utopians vs. the realists. Is the Internet is a medium of emancipation and of revolution — or a tool of control and repression? Did Twitter and Facebook have stoke the flames of rebellion in Iran, or did they help theauthorities unmask the rebels? — Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung


Evgeny Morozov                                                                    Clay Shirky  

There is certainly a lot of excitement within governments — both democratic and authoritarian ones — about using the Internet to advance their political agendas, both at home and abroad. The kind of assumptions that politicians need in order to decide their policies all have to come from somewhere. And much of what has been said about the Internet in the past seems intellectually invalid today.
Evgeny Morozov

The Burmese example of communications use during their political struggle, followed by panicked shutdown, or the Ukrainian example from the Orange Revolution, or the successful Moldovan protests of last year, suggest to me that conditions under which a public that can self-identify and self-synchronize, even among a relatively small elite, is in fact a threat to the state. ... This is one of the things I want to understand about your videos, because while you and I are not polar opposites, we obviously have very different points of view about this. Do you believe that the synchronizing effect among a politically engaged public is (a) possible, and, (b) political, and if it is, what should the U.S. reaction to that be?
Clay Shirky

Introduction
By John Brockman:

Recently, I invited Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky, both frequent Edge contributors, to sit down for a debate on the subjects of dictators, democracy, Twitter revolutionaries, and the role of the Internet and social software in political lives of people living under authoritarian regimes.

The profound dislocations and disruptions wrought by the Internet are subjects that invite serious thinking. "You very quickly get this kind of vertigo", says Shirky, "where you think you're asking a question about Twitter, and suddenly you realize you're asking a question about, say, Hayek."

What we are exploring here is a very recent phenomena. We have to start somewhere. As Wallace Stevens wrote in his poem "Life on a Battleship:"

We approach a society
Without a society.

The questions being asked in this conversation are for the most part coming from thinkers who are not situated in traditional academic disciplines and whose authority is not derived from institutional affiliations. This is a crowd of maverick intellectuals. In addition to Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky, participants in the ongoing Edge discussion include David Gelernter, George Dyson, Nicholas Carr,Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, Yochai Benkler, Douglas Rushkoff, and Charles Leadbeater. Only Gelernter (Yale), Benkler (Harvard), Shirky (NYU), hold academic positions.

Perhaps one reason there are so few thinkers from the psychology, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy departments of our major universities contributing to this conversation is that communications theory has long been deemed to be a low-prestige discipline among academics. The best people are likely to be found outside academia.

I am glad Morozov and Shirky are on the case. This is important. I challenge others to get involved.

As the contributor of a number of original pieces, Shirky is well known to readers of Edge and needs no introduction. This debate was my first opportunity to meet Morozov, whose writing, in just the past few weeks, has been featured in newspapers around the world, Prospect, to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, to  The Wall Street Journal.

Morozov's readers may be surprised to find out that this powerful new voice grew up in a small salt-mining town in Belarus founded by the Soviets to exploit the rich potassium deposits for export markets. Having won a national scholarship from George Soros's Open Society Institute, Morozov left Belarus for Bulgaria, where he completed a degree at the American University of Bulgaria. After a brief sojourn in Berlin and a few years working for a Prague-based tech non-profit, he is now a fellow at Georgetown and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy Magazine.

Versions of this piece are being published by Edge, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and La Stampa.More foreign language editions to come.

-JB

EVGENY MOROZOV, a commentator on the political implications of the Internet, is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy and runs the magazine's influential and widely-quoted "Net Effect" blog about the Internet's impact on global politics. He is currently a Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University's E.A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Evgeny Morozov's Edge Bio Page

CLAY SHIRKY, who coined the phrase "social software" in 2002, divides his time between consulting, teaching, and writing on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He is an adjunct professor in NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he teaches courses on the interrelated effects of social and technological network topology — how our networks shape culture and vice-versa. He is the author of Here Comes Everybody. Clay Shirky's Edge Bio Page

Reality Club: Jaron Lanier, Douglas Rushkoff, George Dyson, Nicholas Carr, Rebecca Mackinnon

 

TIME TO START TAKING THE INTERNET SERIOUSLY

[3.3.10]

In short: it's time to think about the Internet instead of just letting it happen.

INTRODUCTION: OUR ALGORITHMIC CULTURE
By John Brockman

Edge was in Munich in January for DLD 2010 and an Edge/DLD event entitled "Informavore" —  a discussion featuring Frank Schirrmacher, Editor of the Feuilleton and Co-Publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Andrian Kreye, Feuilleton Editor of Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich; and Yale computer science visionary David Gelernter, who, in his 1991 book Mirror Worlds presented what's now called "cloud computing."

The intent of the panel was to discuss — for the benefit of a German audience — the import of the recent Frank Schirrmacher interview on Edge entitled "The Age of the Informavore." David Gelernter, who predicted the Web, and who first presented the idea of "the cloud", was the scientist on the panel along with Schirrmacher and Kreye, Feuilleton editors of the two leading German national newspapers, both distinguished intellectuals.

As a result of the panel, Schirrmacher has commissioned Gelernter to write a regular column for FAZ, which was inaugurated with this essay, published by FAZ in a German translation on March 1st ("Der Mann, der das 'World Wide Web' erst möglich gemacht hat.")

Those of us involved in communicating ideas need to re-think the Internet. Here at Edge, we are not immune to such considerations. We have to ask if we're kidding ourselves by publishing 10,000+ word pieces to be read by people who are limiting themselves to 3" ideas, i.e. the width of the screen of their iPhones and Blackberries.

Many of the people that desperately need to know, don't even know that they don't know. Book publishers, confronted by the innovation of technology companies, are in a state of panic. Instead of embracing the new digital reading devices as an exciting opportunity, the default response is to disadvantage authors. Television and cable networks are dumbfounded by the move of younger people to watch TV on their computers or cell-phones. Newspapers and magazine publishers continue to see their advertising model crumble and have no response other than buyouts.

Take a look at the photos from the recent Edge annual dinner and you will find the people who are re-writing global culture, and also changing your business, and, your head. What do Evan Williams (Twitter)Larry Page (Google)Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web Consortium), Sergey Brin (Google), Bill Joy (Sun)Salar Kamangar (Google), Keith Coleman (Google Gmail)Marissa Mayer (Google), Lori Park (Google),W. Daniel Hillis (Applied Minds)Nathan Myhrvold (Intellectual Ventures)Dave Morin (formerly Facebook), Michael Tchao (Apple iPad), Tony Fadell (Apple/iPod)Jeff Skoll (formerly eBay), Chad Hurley (YouTube)Bill Gates (Microsoft)Jeff Bezos (Amazon) have in common? All are software engineers or scientists.

So what's the point? It's a culture. Call it the algorithmic culture. To get it, you need to be part of it, you need to come out of it. Otherwise, you spend the rest of your life dancing to the tune of other people's code. Just look at Europe where the idea of competition in the Internet space appears to focus on litigation, legislation, regulation, and criminalization.

Gelernter writes:

The Internet is no topic like cellphones or videogame platforms or artificial intelligence; it's a topic like education. It's that big. Therefore beware: to become a teacher, master some topic you can teach; don't go to Education School and master nothing. To work on the Internet, master some part of the Internet: engineering, software, computer science, communication theory; economics or business; literature or design. Don't go to Internet School and master nothing. There are brilliant, admirable people at Internet institutes. But if these institutes have the same effect on the Internet that education schools have had on education, they will be a disaster.

It is just about 10 years since Edge and FAZ co-published Gelernter's June, 2000 manifesto, "A Second Coming", which was widely read and debated. I expect nothing less for this powerful and provocative piece by one of the leading visionaries of the cybersphere. I welcome comments and look forward to a rich Reality Club discussion.

-JB

CLOUD CULTURE: THE PROMISE AND THE THREAT

[2.1.10]

...A third threat comes from the new media moguls, the cloud capitalists: Facebook, Apple, Google, Salesforce, Twitter, who will seek to make money by creating and managing clouds for us.

These cloud capitalists are the new powers behind global cultural relations. Their rise has sparked an increasingly vicious civil war with the media old guard led by Rupert Murdoch. This battle between old and new media powers however has distracted attention from the question of how these companies will organise cloud culture on our behalf. Elements of their business models resemble traditional public services: Google's work with a consortium of libraries around the world to digitise books that are out of copyright; ITunes U provides thousands of models of course material for free. However these companies are also businesses: they will want to organise the cloud to make money. By the end of the decade Google will have unprecedented control over literary culture, past, present and future. Leave aside issues of trust, privacy and security, commercial providers of cloud services will have strong incentives to manage their users to maximise revenues and so to discourage them from roaming from one service to another. ...

Introduction

By John Brockman

In 1991, David Gelernter, in his book Mirror Worlds, forecast the Web and laid the groundworlk for what is now becomeing known as Cloud Computing. Ten years ago Edge published David Gelernter's now-famous "The Second Coming: A Manifesto", and followed up in 2009 with "Lord of the Cloud: John Markoff and Clay Shirky talk to David Gelernter'". The Cloud is now front and center in public consciousness. A recent trip to Europe for a related EDGE-DLD event featuring Gelernter and the Feuilleton editors of Germany's two leading national newspapers, showed that the European views on the subject are in many ways quite different than those in the news, the blogs, and twttersphere in the US.

Innovation consultant Charles Leadbeater represents the European view. He was commissioned by Counterpoint, the think tank of the British Council to write a position paper entitled "Cloud Culture: the future of global cultural relations" (publication by the British Council on February 8th). The following Edge essay is adapted from that document.

 

—JB

THE AGE OF THE INFORMAVORE

[10.25.09]

We are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. And you encounter this not only in a theoretical way, but when you meet people, when suddenly people start forgetting things, when suddenly people depend on their gadgets, and other stuff, to remember certain things. This is the beginning, its just an experience. But if you think about it and you think about your own behavior, you suddenly realize that something fundamental is going on. There is one comment on Edge which I love, which is in Daniel Dennett's response to the 2007 annual question, in which he said that we have a population explosion of ideas, but not enough brains to cover them.

(*The term informavore characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food.)

THE REALITY CLUB: Daniel Kahneman, George Dyson, Jaron Lanier, Nick Bilton, Nick Carr, Douglas Rushkoff, Jesse Dylan, Virginia Heffernan, Gerd Gigerenzer, John Perry Barlow, Steven Pinker, John Bargh, George Dyson, Annalena McAfee, John Brockman, David Gelernter, Evgeny Morozov


Introduction

By John Brockman

The most significant intellectual development of the first decade of the 21st Century is that concepts of information and computation have infiltrated a wide range of sciences, from physics and cosmology, to cognitive psychology, to evolutionary biology, to genetic engineering. Such innovations as the binary code, the bit, and the algorithm have been applied in ways that reach far beyond the programming of computers, and are being used to understand such mysteries as the origins of the universe, the operation of the human body, and the working of the mind.

Enter Frank Schirrmacher, Editorial Director the editorial staff of the FAZ Feuilleton, a supplement of the FAZ on the arts and sciences. He is also one of the five publishers of the newspaper, responsible for the Feuilleton, and he has actively expanded science coverage in this section. He has been referred to as Germany's "Culture Czar", which may seem over the top, but his cultural influence is undeniable. He can, and does, begin national discussions on topics and ideas that interest him, such as genomic research, neuroscience, aging, and, in this regard, he has the ability to reshape the national consciousness.

I can provide a first-hand account of "the Schirrmacher treatment".

In May of 2000, he published a manifesto in FAZ, a call-to arms,entitled "Wake-Up Call for Europe Tech", in which he called for Europe to adopt the ideas of the third culture. His goal: to change the culture of the newspaper and to begin a process of change in Germany and Europe. "Europe should be more than just a source for the software of ego crisis, loss of identity, despair, and Western melancholy," he wrote. We should be helping write the code for tomorrow."

The Manifesto, and Schirrmacher's publishing program, was a departure for FAZ which has a somewhat conservative profile, and it was widely covered in the German press and made waves in intellectual circles. And a decade later, the national conversation continues. (See this week's Stuttargarter Zeitung).

Within weeks following publication of his manifesto, Schirrmacher began publishing articles by notable third culture thinkers such as Bill Joy, Ray Kurzweil, V.S. RamachandranPatrick Bateson, James Watson, Craig VenterDavid Gelernter, among others. Soon after, he devoted an entire edition of the Feuilleton to a printout the Human Genome code published by Craig Venter, which caused a sensation in Germany.

Then came 9/11. And everything changed. Schirrmacher was on to the next story.

I hadn't heard from him in a while when in July he emailed me from Vietnam. He was thinking about, and researching, ideas concerning the effect of new information technologies on human knowledge, on how the Internet is modifying our cognitive structures, on how we can begin the understand the cultural changes happening in today's technology/knowledge interface. He asked for my help regarding questions he had for George DysonDanny HillisRichard Thaler, and Larry Page.

With Schirrmacher, once he's obsessed with an idea to which you may happen to be connected, expect to be kept very busy. Dozens of emails went back and forth until, finally, I caught up with him in person in October for a conversation in his Frankfurt office.

So, what are the questions Schirrmacher is asking himself?

He is interested in George Dyson's comment "What if the price of machines that think is people who don't?" He is looking at how the modification of our cognitive structures is a process that eventually blends machines and humans in a deeper way, more than any human-computer interface could possibly achieve. He's also fascinated in an idea presented a decade ago by Danny Hillis: "In the long run, the Internet will arrive at a much richer infrastructure, in which ideas can potentially evolve outside of human minds."

We discussed his notion that computer platforms can be seen as socio-biological systems which repeat three of the major concepts of the 19th century on an individual level: Taylorism (multitasking), Marxism (free content and copyright) and Darwinism (search algorithm and information foraging). "The Darwinian perspective is the most interesting," he says. "Information being an advantage for the informarvores and software that codes it with cues from foraging habits of the prehistoric man".

 —JB

[ED. NOTE: The conversation was in English, Schirrmacher's second language. Rather than edit the piece for grammar, and risk losing the spontaneity of the conversation, I present it here — for the most part — verbatim.]

FRANK SCHIRRMACHER is a an influential German journalist, essayist, best-selling author, and since 1994 co-publisher of the leading national German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), where he is Editor of the Feuilleton, cultural and science pages of the paper. He is the author of the Das Methusalem-Komplott (The Methusaleh Conspiracy), a book, published in 14 languages selling more than one million copies in Germany, on that country's aging society; and Payback: Warum wir im Informationszeitalter gezwungen sind zu tun, was wir nicht tun wollen, und wie wir die Kontrolle über unser Denken zurückgewinnen (Payback: Why in the Information Age we are forced to do what we do not want to do and how we can recover control over our thinking, November, Karl Blessing Verlag).

Frank Schirrmacher's Edge Bio Page


THE AGE OF THE INFORMAVORE

Topic: 

  • TECHNOLOGY
https://vimeo.com/82233053

"We are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. And you encounter this not only in a theoretical way, but when you meet people, when suddenly people start forgetting things, when suddenly people depend on their gadgets, and other stuff, to remember certain things. This is the beginning, its just an experience. But if you think about it and you think about your own behavior, you suddenly realize that something fundamental is going on.

DOES TECHNOLOGY EVOLVE?

[9.21.09]

 

The two legs of the Theory of Evolution that are in technology, are not at all Darwinian. They are quite different. They are that certain existing building blocks are combined and re-combined to form new building-block technologies; and every so often technologies get used to capture novel, newly discovered phenomena, and encapsulate those and get further building blocks. As with Darwin, most new technologies that come into being are only useful for their own purpose and don't form other building blocks, but occasionally some do.

 

 

 

W. BRIAN ARTHUR, is External Professor Citibank Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and one of the pioneers of the new science of complexity. His main interests are technology, and the economics of high technology. He is the author of the recently published The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. 

W. Brian Arthur's Edge Bio Page


[16:08 minutes]

DOES TECHNOLOGY EVOLVE?

Topic: 

  • TECHNOLOGY
http://vimeo.com/82231745

"The two legs of the Theory of Evolution that are in technology, are not at all Darwinian. They are quite different. They are that certain existing building blocks are combined and re-combined to form new building-block technologies; and every so often technologies get used to capture novel, newly discovered phenomena, and encapsulate those and get further building blocks. As with Darwin, most new technologies that come into being are only useful for their own purpose and don't form other building blocks, but occasionally some do."

WE ARE AS GODS AND HAVE TO GET GOOD AT IT

Stewart Brand Talks About His Ecopragmatist Manifesto
[8.18.09]

 

The shift that has happened in 40 years which mainly has to do with climate change. Forty years ago, I could say in the Whole Earth Catalog, "we are as gods, we might as well get good at it". Photographs of earth from space had that god-like perspective.

What I'm saying now is we are as gods and have to get good at it. Necessity comes from climate change, potentially disastrous for civilization. The planet will be okay, life will be okay. We will lose vast quantities of species, probably lose the rain forests if the climate keeps heating up. So it's a global issue, a global phenomenon. It doesn't happen in just one area. The planetary perspective now is not just aesthetic. It's not just perspective. It's actually a world-sized problem that will take world sized solutions that involves forms of governance we don't have yet. It involves technologies we are just glimpsing. It involves what ecologists call ecosystem engineering. Beavers do it, earthworms do it. They don't usually do it at a planetary scale. We have to do it at a planetary scale. A lot of sentiments and aesthetics of the environmental movement stand in the way of that.

Introduction

By John Brockman

I met Stewart Brand in 1965 at the USCO Church in Garnerville, NY, the home of a group of artists and poets who pioneered multimedia art, and who worked closely with Marshall McLuhan, giving joint presentations of a MclLuhan lecture coupled with an USCO performance for college audiences.

Brand and I hit it off immediately, partly because at the time had both recently finished our active duty in the military and I recall we both happened to show up that day wearing some semblance of our Army jackets. Thus began a lively conversation that has been continuous over the past 44 years.

At the time he was wearing a button that said "America Needs Indians". He was with his then-wife Lois, a mathematician, and an American Indian. A year or two later he wore a button that said, "Why Haven't We Seen A Picture of the Whole Earth?" This was remedied in 1969 when Apollo landed on the moon. I remember sitting on the floor in my living room on a sunny afternoon. Sunshine was streaming through the window, the time on the clock on top of the television set was 3:00 pm. The television screen showed a live photograph of the whole earth ... night and day at the same time.

It was a powerful moment: the understanding that there was a whole Earth and that it is always night and day at the same time. The images streaming back from the moon allowed us to step back from Earth, to objectify it, and create the mental space where we could begin to think about it and talk about it as an ecological system. This was the beginning of "the environment".

Brand's Whole Earth Catalog, published in 1968 was a key element in the beginning of environmentalism. He has been an influential voice in the conversation for forty years, but the world has changed and he is not one to get stuck holding on to ideas that are no longer viable.

In fact, in writing about a cultrually iconic figure such as Brand, it's easy to get caught up in the past — the Merry Pranksters, the hippies, The Whole East Catalog, the personal computer, The Well (one of the pioneering online communities, etc.) But that's not where he lives.

These days, he's advocating a science-based "whole Earth discipline" to tackle the global problem of climate change. Standing in the way: the Luddite attitudes of the leaders and the rank and file of the very environmentalist movement he helped to create and inspire, who in their opposition to GMO foods, engineering, nuclear power, and the like, he characterizes as being anti-science, and anti-intellectual, with a tendency to place ideology over pragmatism. His message to this crowd: "you're harmful"; it's time for "ecopragmatism".

 — JB

STEWART BRAND is cofounder and co-chairman of The Long Now Foundation. He is the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, cofounder of The Well, and cofounder of Global Business Network.

He is the original editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, (Winner of the National Book Award). His latest book is Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto(forthcoming, October 15th.)

Stewart Brand's Edge Bio Page

WE ARE AS GODS AND HAVE TO GET GOOD AT IT

Topic: 

  • TECHNOLOGY
http://vimeo.com/80908223

"What I'm saying now is we are as gods and have to get good at it. Necessity comes from climate change, potentially disastrous for civilization. The planet will be okay, life will be okay. We will lose vast quantities of species, probably lose the rain forests if the climate keeps heating up. So it's a global issue, a global phenomenon. It doesn't happen in just one area. The planetary perspective now is not just aesthetic. It's not just perspective. It's actually a world-sized problem that will take world sized solutions that involves forms of governance we don't have yet.

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