Society & culture
Does reality need augmenting?
Google Glass is a project aimed at eventually replacing smart mobile devices with wearable computers. Its current guise is a pair of glasses featuring an augmented reality display that, in theory, makes real life more efficient and exciting. If you use a simple smart phone with GPS you will have already partially experienced the shape of things to come - being able to see where you and other things are. Google Goggles is another step in this direction, being an image recognition system for use on portable devices.
This sounds great. In the future you will be able to access overlays of additional data about where you are, whom you are with or what you are looking at. You will be able to seamlessly mesh the physical world with a layer of enhancing information that will make you more informed, safer and perhaps happier. But remember that, like Facebook, Google’s business model is ad driven. This means the technology is being designed by profit-seeking organisations that may sell your physical presence and even your state of mind to other profit-seeking organisations.
In theory this means that everything you do, everywhere you go and everything you buy will be visible to advertisers keen to sell you something. It will make CCTV cameras and store loyalty cards quaint in comparison. More worryingly, far from enhancing reality, such technology could go some way to distorting or even removing parts of it.
For example, augmented reality might remove, or at least block, sidestep or distract us from seeing things that someone else decides we should not see – perhaps something with no direct or measureable value. This could mean ‘removing’ a business or public space that is not willing or able to pay to be enhanced. It could even distract us from someone in need, such as a homeless person in the street in front of us.
In short, there are physical things that are unlikely to catch the eye of the augmenting engineers or seem worthless to a profit-seeking corporation. Maybe this is not an issue. We can always turn the augmented reality off after all. More practically, though, we should start a debate about the role of technology that sets out to show us or dictate reality. What do we want it to do and what, exactly, do we want it for?
Ref: Prospect (UK) December 2012, ‘Reality is not enough’, by C. Rosen. www.prospectmagazine.co.uk
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Search words: Augmented reality, reality, Google
Trend tags: Virtual reality, augmented reality
A form of modern madness is gripping society but many of us are too busy texting and sending status updates to notice. The assertion that the internet is having a deleterious effect on people’s minds has been around for decades, but serious peer-reviewed studies are now starting to emerge. They show the internet, and use of social media and mobiles in particular, are indeed making us dumber, lonelier, more anxious and more prone to OCD and ADH in many instances.
The digital shift is hard to ignore. In the UK the average adult spends 8 hours per day looking at a screen. That’s more time than spent doing any other activity, including sleeping. UK adolescents spend around 6 hours per day connected to a screen and 10-11 years olds in the UK have access to an average of 5 screens at home.
Texting in particular has become an obsession. In the UK, the average adult sends and receives around 400 texts per month, double the number in 2007. With UK teens it's a whopping 3,700 texts per month. The internet, it seems, is not simply another medium or distribution network: it is actively rewiring our brains and displacing sleep, face-to-face communication and physical exercise.
Peter Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour at UCLA says the modern computer is akin to “electronic cocaine’”, fuelling mania followed by periods of depression. Larry Rosen, a California psychologist and author of iDisorder goes even further, saying the internet: “encourages and even promotes insanity”. It can certainly lead to addiction. According to Elias Aboujaoude, at Stanford University, around 1 in 8 people are addicted and authorities in China, South Korea and Taiwan have started to talk in terms of a national health crisis.
In the UK it is now normal to answer a mobile device in social situations that would have been unheard of ten or 15 years ago. According to Ofcom, 51% of adults and 65% of teens say they will answer a smartphone while socialising and 23% of adults and 33% of teens will answer during mealtimes - 27% of adults and 47% of teens will even answer in the toilet.
Why do we do it? The answer is short-term reward. When we get a message, we receive a small squirt of dopamine in the brain and this is highly pleasurable, even addictive. Indeed, if you look at the brains of heavy users you can actually see where the brain has been rewired in ways that are strikingly similar to the brains of heavy drug users and alcoholics.
As a consequence, we are becoming more impulsive, our attention spans are shortening and we a number of mood disorders are emerging. A study by researchers at Tel Aviv University has even found linkages with psychotic disorders.
Even more worrying is the effect on children. In research for her book Alone Together, MIT professor of Social Studies and Technology, Sherry Turkle, found parents had become unavailable to their children in profound ways due to heavy mobile use. She has seen mothers breastfeeding babies while texting. This may seem innocent but, if the subject of texts is stressful, the mother’s stress is passed on to the infant, who will interpret the anxiety as coming from the mother.
So why aren’t more people switching off, or at least balancing their use of mobile devices and online environments? The answer, at the moment, is probably because we do not even recognise this as a problem, let alone an addiction. We are all in collective denial and will remain so until the effects become too obvious for us to ignore.
Ref: Sunday Times (UK) 15 July 2012, ‘The digital obsession that’s driving us iCrazy’ by T. Dokoupil. www.sundaytimes.co.uk. See also Guardian (UK) 22 January 2011, ‘Social networking under fresh attack as tide of cyber-scepticism sweeps US’ by P.Harris.
See also iDisorder by Larry Rosen, Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein, Cyberia by James Harkin, The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov, Future Minds by Richard Watson and Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers.
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Search Words: Internet, mobile computing, social media, isolation
Trend tags: Connectivity
It is becoming conventional wisdom, among older generations, that younger generations have an inflated sense of their importance. This is most likely because parents, educators and society have, for some time, been telling children they are “special”, but is this true?
Evidence to support the narcissism thesis includes the American Freshman Study, which quizzes 9 million college students every year. Its findings claim levels of self-confidence have indeed risen markedly in recent years, with 52% of the latest research cohort (2009) stating they have a higher than average level of self-confidence versus 30% in 1966. Moreover, this group rates highly its intellectual ability, public speaking skills and leadership qualities, 50% higher than the class of ’66. Another study, by Jean Twinge at San Diego State University, claims narcissism levels among US college students have doubled since the early 1980s.
Why might this be so? One explanation is the prevalence, since the early 1980s especially, of a child-rearing philosophy that over-emphasises self-esteem. Other explanations include the cult of celebrity, championed by, among others, a youth-centric media and the exhibitionist echo-chamber that is the internet and easy credit, which allow instant rather than deferred gratification. There is also the argument that technology that was once communal is becoming increasingly personalised and this creates more of a focus on the self.
Is this an issue? Yes, because narcissists can be intolerant of criticism and more likely to cheat and become aggressive. When unrealistic expectations crash up against limited opportunities, for example, created by an economic downturn, the result can be depression. This may explain the fact that 1 in 9 Americans aged 12 and over now regularly takes antidepressants, which is a quadrupling since the late 1980s.
Studies may not be comparing like with like. Comparing findings from 1966 with those from 2009 isn't easy, not least because of the expansion of university education. Furthermore, another study of 400,000 US high-school students since 1976 has found no marked increase in self-esteem, so perhaps the argument that younger people are more ego-centric is simply because the old like to find fault with the young.
Part of the problem is, inevitably, definition. Most interesting is the theory put forward by Roy Baumeister at Florida State University in Tallahassee that people with very high self-esteem are more vulnerable during tough times whereas those with lower self-esteem are more resilient overall. In short, high self-esteem could be unstable.
The trick, it seems, is to instil in individuals willpower, resilience and perseverance rather than self-esteem. These types of individuals learn to control immediate impulses, can be told “no” and are tenacious in the face of adversity.
Ref: New Scientist (UK) 28 April 2012, ‘All About Me’ by L. Spinney. www.newscientist.com
See also Generation Me by Jean Twinge and The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twinge and Keith Campbell.
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Search words: Self-esteem
Trend tags: Narcissism
Thinking spaces versus talking shops
Literary festivals, especially idea festivals, are everywhere. There is the ubiquitous TED franchise (past its sell-by date according to some), WWW (TED founder Richard Saul Wurman’s more spontaneous alternative, say others), Davos, Sun Valley Retreat, Renaissance Weekends, IQ Squared, The School of Life, South by South West, Pop Tech and Techonomy to name a few. More interesting, perhaps, are grassroots philosophy cafes, philosophy in pubs and the ‘idea tents’ sprouting at music festivals such as Latitude and Bestival.
The idea of discussing ideas is clearly nothing new and goes back to at least fifth century Athens, but why are such events growing in popularity now?
The broadcaster, Melvyn Bragg, puts it down to the rise of mass intelligence created by expansion of university education, but we don’t quite agree. A better explanation, also Bragg’s, is the trend for using part of our leisure time for intellectual pursuits. Informal adult learning is certainly flourishing, but the real driver might be that we live in a time of existential angst. It is probably no coincidence these events are flourishing at a time of widespread economic and moral crisis.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt are rife and we no longer trust the ruling elite, be it politicians, judges, business leaders or the church, to know what is best for us. And we don’t trust the media to tell us either. Therefore we are embarking on a journey of debate to find out for ourselves what is going on and what we should do about it. Witness, for example, the 4+ million views of Harvard Professor, Michael Sandel’s lectures on justice on YouTube. Even the Occupy Movement might support the argument that something is deeply wrong and we need to talk among ourselves to figure out what to do about it.
On the other hand, perhaps this ‘revival’ of thinking is a sham. These festivals and events are, at their heart, just talking shops where people are more interested in being heard than in listening. The movement, if one can call it that, is also confused about what its goal is and is even less certain about how to move from ideas to action. Maybe that’s the whole point of philosophy: there never is an answer.
Ref: Financial Times (UK) 1 June–July 30, 2012, ‘We think, therefore we are’, by J. Evans. www.ft.com. See also, FT (UK) 29-30 September 2012, ‘Life After TED ’ by A. Dembosky.
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Search words: Ideas, idea festivals
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Love is a drug
In the midst of frantic emails and rushed meetings it’s easy to forget we are animals at heart. As animals, we have hardly changed over thousands of years. Yet we find ourselves in a world of our making that is far removed from that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In other words, the world around us has changed profoundly, but we are still largely stuck with the psychological habits and hubris of cave men and women. One case in point is mating and, more specifically, marriage.
Thanks to modern medical marvels we have managed to more than double the human lifespan. Historically, keeping alive was job number one for most people and we only reached the age of 35 on average. Relationships and pair bonding were therefore an urgent biological imperative, which usually ended with one or the other partner dying. Given a lifespan of 35, around 50% of relationships would have come to an end within 15 years due to death.
This is interesting because, in modern society, most marriages last for a similar time – 11 years. So perhaps we were not designed to survive long-lasting relationships. Nevertheless, making marriages last longer seems like a good idea, not least because longer-lasting relationships tend to create greater physical and mental wellbeing. They also cost society and the taxpayer considerably less in everything from healthcare to housing.
So what’s to be done? One answer might stem from neurobiology. For instance, a study looking at the mating habits of monogamous prairie voles (Microtus orchrogaster) versus polygamous voles (Microtus montanus) found receptors for certain hormones are distributed differently across the two types of vole. In one experiment, putting a receptor gene from a faithful vole into the brain of a promiscuous relative resulted in a marked change of behaviour. The adulterous wandering vole became faithful and monogamous.
We may well ask if a chemical fix might stop human marriages from falling apart, or at least make them last much longer. What if, for example, you could buy a nasal spray over the counter, which encouraged trusting behaviour or could make couples talk to each other more? What if it were possible to extend the romantic phase of a relationship by popping a pill or stop someone from straying elsewhere with an injection or a patch? It sounds fanciful, but it’s not. We already modify the behaviour of sexual offenders chemically, so why not use better knowledge of the chemical composition of love to bring people closer together for longer?
Trust me, this will one day be possible but whether societies will allow it is another kettle of piranhas. For example, would neuro-enhancement or chemical modification make a relationship inauthentic? Could people become addicted to love and could chemically augmented relationships imprison individuals, even children, in bad relationships? Some people might argue that drink and drugs do this already, but in theory better ‘love drugs’ could release us from the shackles of our biological past and make us all more loving, trusting and happy. You pop your pills and take your choice.
Ref: New Scientist (UK) 12 May 2012, ‘ Engineering love’ by J. Savulescu and A. Sandberg. www.newscientist.com
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Search words: Marriage, relationships, love
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Rise of the gambling machines
Around 1% of the UK population is addicted to gambling according to an investigation by the UK television programme, Panorama. This number could rise substantially due to the increasing availability of so-called fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). These terminals typically play blackjack or roulette and appear to be highly addictive, not only for customers, but for staff too.
For example, when one betting shop manager introduced a training programme to show staff how to use the terminals he noticed a significant uplift in problem gambling among his own staff. The problem goes beyond betting shops. The ubiquity of advertisements for online and mobile gaming sites, typically sports betting or bingo, is troubling because of the ease with which people can now gamble at home, at work or anywhere in between. Don’t think children can’t access these sites, because they can and do.
Why are people using these machines? One reason is undoubtedly availability and convenience. We should also consider that many of these machines could be deliberately designed to be addictive, which is easier to do than many might think. After all, if World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Facebook and Twitter can become addictive, why not a digital fruit machine or an online poker table? Another reason is boredom. If you don't have a job, or you have one that is low-paid and meaningless, then the digital thrill of chasing money may be irresistible. On a darker note, if life is becoming bleaker and more uncertain, people may feel more need to lose themselves in the fantasy and comfort of winning for a while to numb the pain of reality.
Ref: The Independent (UK) 5 November 2012, ‘Rise of the machines: the new gambling addiction’ by M. Hickman. www.independent.co.uk
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Search words: Gambling, addiction
Trend tags: Digitalisation
Japan, particularly Tokyo, is often cited as offering visitors a glimpse of the future – a bright tomorrow filled with robots, skyscrapers and neon lights. But in some ways it also looks dark and dysfunctional, where traditional certainties are rapidly vanishing. This is due to three factors: high levels of government debt; low economic growth and a rapidly aging population, which are combing to create a cultural and political tsunami.
In the early 1990s when Japan first lost its status as a poster child for economic growth, government debt was 60% of GDP. Today the figure is a staggering 230%. Meanwhile, the number of people of working age in Japan is falling fast, so tax revenues to support those without a job and the retired are shrinking fast too. Today around 25% of the Japanese population is aged 65+. By 2025 this will be around 30% and by 2050 it could be 36%.
A key implication of this is the slow realisation that younger generations will not live nearly as well as previous generations. In particular, security, support and certainty will evaporate for many. More worrying for societal cohesion is the fact that Japanese society is polarising between those with and those without. Currently around two-thirds of the Japanese workforce is permanently and profitably employed by major firms, but around 35% are temporary or part-time workers with little or no long-term security or benefits. Furthermore, in Japanese society there is almost no prospect of moving from one group to the other due to the way major Japanese firms recruit.
One consequence of this is the number of 20, 30 and 40-somethings living at home with their parents. Japan may even become the first developed country in the world in which large numbers of people retire or reach non-working age without ever having left the parental home. For example, the number of 35-44 year-olds living with their parents in Japan has grown 300% since 1990 to 16%. The main reason for this is financial, but it’s also due to unrealistic expectations.
Many young Japanese are waiting in vain for dream jobs, or celebrity. Similarly, one of the reasons for the low birth rate in Japan is that, while many young adults still aspire to family life, 70% of Japanese women expect their men should earn at least 4 million yen a year (31,200 GBP) before they get married. Unfortunately, about 75% of young unmarried Japanese men do not earn this. Then again, perhaps the low birth rate results from a generation that is too pessimistic to reproduce.
Many of these factors are particularly Japanese, but Japan is in many ways an early warning sign of what is to come for other countries too. Especially the way in which younger generations have expectations that are out of step with reality. Especially the way that debt is growing to unsustainable levels, economic growth is low and societies are rapidly aging. This applies especially to Europe, but even South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and China have workforces that are aging rapidly and this could impact negatively on economic growth.
Unfortunately, younger generations, and democratic institutions, especially governments, may be unable to produce the scale of change that is required until it is too late, not least because greying constituencies may block policies that are not old age friendly. This could result in high degrees of anxiety and unhappiness among younger people or even more autocratic styles of government, desperate to keep a lid on social and especially generational polarisation.
Ref: Prospect (UK) December 2012, ‘Generation J’ by A, Davis. www.prospectmagazine.co.uk See also: Financial Times 7-8 July 2012, Youth of the Ice Age’ by D. Pilling www.ft.com and Sunday Times (UK) 14 October 2012, ‘Talking about our generation’ by F. Angelini. www.sundaytimes.co.uk
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Search words: Japan, jobs, unemployment, anxiety
So much communication without real connection
According to Ziyad Marar, writer of Intimacy, we are looking in all the wrong places for intimacy and trying too hard to find it. Thanks to social media, we have lost all the possibilities for intimacy – the face-to-face language of body, attitude, words and feelings. He says intimacy demands a sense of reciprocity, conspiracy, heightened emotion, and kindness. Instead we go looking for romance, sex, or yet another network of friends on Facebook.
Marar defines intimacy as a world-excluding “moment of feeling uniquely understood”, where you feel an almost conspiratorial “knowledge of one another”. You can’t necessarily find it by booking a candlelit meal on Valentine’s Day or by buying your partner flowers. In fact, “you can’t really be intimate with someone unless they have the power to hurt you”. He refers to social media as “anti-social” media, precisely because it provides the opposite of intimacy – a communication mediated through screens, with very little opportunity for real connection.
Contemporary culture is full of movies with fake intimacy, like Hope Springs, but there are a few that provide a glimpse of real intimacy. Marar refers to Lost in Translation, which showed a connection between the two characters that fell short of sexual, but was truly shared. He also refers to Saving Private Ryan (intimacy between two soldiers before one killed the other). It would be interesting to go beyond American movies for examples of intimacy, as other cultures could express intimacy in different or more subtle ways.
A South Korean app, called “Between”, is for couples who value their privacy and do not want to be seen on social networks. It lets couples share photographs and special memories and chat in real time and, since November 2011, 560,000 Koreans and 200,000 users in China, Japan and North America, have gone for it. We wonder why couples would need their own social network when they can simply see each other! Opportunities for affairs, perhaps.
Intimacy, like happiness, seems to be something you stumble over rather than something you set out to find. Marriages can even work without intimacy. But once you experience intimacy with another person, it may change your expectations of people in other relationships. Intimacy, like love, can hurt. But it meets a very deep need for connection that computers cannot.
Ref: The Daily Telegraph, 6 October 2012, So near, yet so far. E Grice. www.telegraph.co.uk
The Economist, 19 May 2012, Two’s company. Anon. www.economist.com
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Search words: intimacy, romance, sex, Facebook, Hope Springs, face-to-face, anti-social media, weak ties, Valentine’s Day, Hallmark Cards, Lost in Translation, connection, South Korea, VCNC, “Between”, social networking, privacy, advertising, swingers.
Intimacy, by Ziyad Marar, Acumen Publishing, 2012.
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Why data have more crunch these days
Before an election, pundits spend disproportionate time trying to predict who is going to win and often their methods are no more than feeling or gut reaction. Into this ring came Nate Silver, a nerdy data cruncher, who managed to predict not only Obama’s win in late 2012, but the correct result in all 50 states. He used Bayesian theory, which uses conditional probabilities to predict results (around since the early 1700s) and data aggregation, but his secret was in the way he weighted the data and assessed any biases.
Opponents of data crunching say it is impossible to measure feelings with numbers but they may just be expressing what appears to be media-fuelled anti-science sentiment. Silver says numbers, even with their imperfections, are a lot more reliable than people’s hunches about who will win. For example, we always tend to overweight new information.
His book, The Signal and the Noise, says we are good at predicting the weather, bad at predicting share prices, bad (though we think we are good) at predicting the economy, and bad at predicting terrorist attacks. He sees value in bringing his approach to areas with plenty of data but little competition, such as economic news and local government.
Silver offers a symbol of a deeper trend in science: we used to come up with theories and then look for data that accepted or refuted them, but now we have so much data we can analyse them and look for patterns that offer new theories.
The internet is a fine example of that because 2 billion people use it and companies that do not analyse their website data are wasting valuable opportunities. Data analysis has already been used in sport, particularly baseball, in finance (though not always successfully), and in medicine (researchers recently sequenced the genome of an outbreak of MRSA in a UK hospital and stopped its spread).
It seems every piece of data tells a story and, if Silver is the new crystal gazer, people who make predictions had better make sure they bone up on statistics and probabilities. As NASA says: “In God we trust; all others bring data”.
Ref: The Observer, 18 November 2012, It’s the numbers, stupid. Cadwalladr, C. www.observer.co.uk
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Search words: pundit, US election, Nate Silver, nerd, algorithm, prediction, Bayesian theory, anti-science, geek, bias.
The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, Allen Lane, 2012.
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A small stand against Big Data
Do Not Call telephone lists seem archaic now, but it’s arguable how much difference they made. The rise of Do Not Track, which stops third party websites from tracking your movements on the internet, will no doubt navigate the same path between your privacy and business as usual. As one commentator said, privacy is a consumer business in the US but a fundamental rights issue in Europe.
One example is Street View, which many would consider an excellent Google product because it lets your mouse do the walking. But when it was discovered that Google picked up unencrypted data (emails, photographs etc) from wireless networks as well, it became a privacy nightmare.
The Federal Trade Commission in the US, keeps an eye on companies to see that they honour their privacy policies and do not share information as stated, but it has no power to assess penalties for violations. Its chairman, Jon Leibowitz, says recent developments and legislative proposals “provide the impetus” towards protecting privacy, but recognises more needs to be done on Do Not Track.
The website, http://donottrack.us, shows you how to set your browser so third party companies (whose sites you do not visit) cannot track your movements. Even so, users still have to make the choice between remaining visible, working to project a chosen image, or leaving the web. The choice to switch it off seems untenable, as it becomes increasingly difficult to do what society requires offline.
Ref: The New York Times, 3 June 2012, Finding privacy on the tell-all web. C DiGangai. www.nyt.com
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Search words: Big Data, Google, Street View, online privacy, Federal Trade Commission, right, business, data protection, Do Not Track, harvest.
Trend tags: Privacy
Big Tech is just like Big Finance
One by one, the Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, have turned out to be just like any other big company with a monopoly. Why are we surprised? The bosses of New Tech seemed young, friendly, open and sharing – they weren’t wearing suits with their running shoes. But they turned out to be motivated by profit just like any other company with too much power.
Examples of corporate greed and boundary-overstepping are many. Google’s Street View cameras picking up your private, unencrypted data, are only one example. Our last issue of What’s Next, carried the story, Why Facebook’s in your face. From tracking your activity after you’ve logged out, to updating your profile with what you have just bought online, to sharing user data with third parties, Facebook certainly looked less than social. Now small investors are suing them for failing to let them know business was slowing before their float on the stockmarket (whose greed this time?). Apple is under fire for using Chinese manufacturers with undesirable work practices and its plans to introduce an even more invasive version of Street View.
Even if privacy and monopoly is not your concern, these three companies pay almost no tax – and it’s legal. In Britain, Google paid 1.2 million pounds tax on sales of 2.2 billion pounds, Facebook paid 397,000 pounds tax (compared to its market cap of $US60 billion) and Apple put two thirds of its US110 billion cash overseas to avoid US tax. This should be enough to upset anybody who pays normal rates of tax.
So are tech companies the new corporate villains? And if so, what are you going to do about it? As always, the solution is up to the user, because the usual bureaucratic attempts to curb big companies rarely do more than give a slap on the wrist (eg, $US25,000 fine to Google by the FTC). But if you were to stop using Google, Apple and Facebook, life as you know it would be unrecognisable. It is one of the challenges of life today to find a way of living that doesn’t line some corporation’s pockets with your cash.
Ref: The Sunday Times, 17 June 2012, How Google turned evil (and Apple and Facebook aren’t much better). J Arlidge. thesundaytimes.co.uk/news
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Search words: Google, Facebook, Apple, Information Commissioner’s Office, Street View, data protection, privacy, digital footprint, monopoly, tax avoidance, “bill of rights”, Do Not Track, myID.com.
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Spotting bad chatterbots
Many companies are starting to use chatbots on their websites so you feel as if you are ‘talking’ to someone knowledgeable about their goods or services. Just as they add the friendly touch, they also give criminals an opportunity to fleece the customers. Some chatbots build rapport and then ask customers for their account information.
It is just another example of how anonymity can be dangerous in the virtual world. The FBI has already investigated casinos based in Second Life, so presumably the same opportunities for crime arise in a virtual as in a physical world.
One multinational defence firm has a patent that matches a person’s real biometrics with their 3D avatar. One US university is developing artificial biometrics or ‘artimetrics’ that can identify non-biological avatars, robots and chatbots. Researchers are feeding text from chatbots into software and discovering that bad bots use particular language or have signature features. This makes them easier to identify.
Curiously (or perhaps not), avatars often resemble their owners, so face recognition technology could be used to identify a person from their avatar and then track them in both worlds.
One biometrics specialist claims this is unnecessary if avatars were provided with unique identifiers, much as products are identified with a barcode. The old adage about not talking to strangers seems very archaic in the brave new world of chatterbots but perhaps it still holds true.
Ref: New Scientist, 7 April 2012, Catch me if you can. J Aron. www.newscientist.com
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Search words: avatar, virtual world, Second Life, biometrics, artificial biometrics – artimetrics, chatbots, Linden Labs, facial recognition, algorithm, identifier.
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