Dirk Knemeyer

Online: Harassment, Voting & the Future, January 5, 2017

Censoring online harassment hard as well, because that goes right in the face of free speech, and free speech is arguably the most important tenant of the US constitution. Of the rules that govern the United States. What constitutes harassment, when is someone being harassed. One of the most important parts of a free speech policy is the you know, someone, I’ll butcher the quote but, “You may hate what someone is saying, but you’ll defend to your death their right to say it.” So, that is inherently defending the ugliest of speech, the most hurtful of speech. Particularly now that we’re in a social environment where there is hyper sensitivity to anything that comes from one person’s mouth or behaviour and how that’s taken by others, and is translated into hurt, it’s really nettlesome.

The trends are certainly tipping towards what you’re suggesting, however I think Donald Trump’s Presidency and the Republican control of the government will probably ensure that nothing is happening soon. Because, most of the people who are like oh you know, sort of, “F PC,” kind of thing, those are all on the right and the right is in control. We’re probably not going to see anything soon from a legislative perspective, but certainly from social perspective there’s been a huge swing left towards, I think even hyper sensitivity and to the point of not having a sensible filter of let’s not be bruised by every little indirect thing that wasn’t intended for us and has little to do with us.

I don’t know what’s going to happen on the legal side. I’ve said a lot of times on this show before that all of us should expect that anything we are creating digitally on a networked device, is out in the wild. Is known by other people. Is stored somewhere where if we become a politician in the future, it is going to resurface and it is going to shiv us in the back. You just need to take that for granted, and if you’re not taking it for granted, if you’re saying you’re going to be fine or it’s not happening, then you’re being really unfortunately naive and you’re going to be hurt by that at some point.

If the current hegemony keeps marching forward then online voting certainly will happen. It probably isn’t soon. Again, with the US political, and most of my comments on this show are directed towards the US, it’s the culture I’m in it’s the culture I know. With the recent US political changes, it certainly isn’t going to happen for the next four to eight years. Even after that you know who knows, it’s not something that would happen very quickly certainly. As time moves forward on the current path, we’re getting more and more integrated into our machines. I was just reading something else, something recently, that sort of full mind-machine interface integration is less than a decade away, I think that was from the head of robotics at MIT. In that world, simply a lot of things that right now we have to move in physical space to achieve we’re not going to have to move in physical space to achieve anymore. Voting is sort of a clear and obvious example of something that will fall into that.

Now, the other way all of this could go of course is, there’s uncertainty in terms of the effects of global warming, who knows what’s going to happen geo-politically at a macro level. It is not a done deal that technology is going to continue to advance and we’re going to continue heading towards the singularity, to use that particular theory of it. There are things that could happen that definitely that stop that march, and that turns things around or make us manifest in more analog and what some people might even say backward ways. I don’t expect that to happen, but there’s a real chance that that could happen.

With some of the things that are happening around the world, and just our ability and our meaning, sort of an individual human in the generic to impact major damage to other people and to countries and potentially to the whole world. We’ll have to see, but voting will really I think fall out of “does technology keep progressing in the way that is, or are there nasty things happening to civilization that slow the whole boat down in which the last thing we’re going to be worried about at that point is voting online?”.


A Gentler Future for Knowledge Work,

The French law really struck a personal note for me. The reason for that is when I was younger, it’s less over the last few years, but when I was younger I was basically working 17 hours a day.

I would be spending a little bit of the time with family, but even when I’m there the email’s going and if something important comes in I’m going to respond to it. There’s someone who I worked with for a long time, worked very closely, and certainly email was a big part of our communication. Probably more so for me, I’ve always been a heavy email-er, I’m introverted, it just email as a medium suits me pretty well. There came a point his wife wrote me and said, “Dirk, you can’t send emails on the weekend anymore.” She said, “All weekend emails flow in from you with all these big initiatives, requests, things to do, and my husband gets more and more stressed. More and more anxious. More and more unhappy, because your emails keep coming in.” She said, “You just, you just can’t do it anymore.”

I was in my 30s at that point and so you know I had been emailing my way, which is 24/7 essentially for many years. Just oblivious to the possibility that for another person, that flow of communication in certain times, in certain volumes, would be a negative. Would be something that had a deleterious effect on them, because at that phase of my life I was just sort of wired to be always working, always going, it wasn’t, it may have been subconsciously and internally stressful for me in ways I wasn’t in touch with. Consciously when emails would come in I didn’t feel stress, I just attacked them, I just took them, I just went right to them. The metaphor I’ve used for email is tennis. It’s like playing tennis. I would run around the court making sure the balls were always in the other people’s court, basically.

Fast forward now to today, and France is identifying the fact that email, receiving email, feeling the compulsion to respond to email, the requests that email may contain that spur someone to other action at certain times, in certain proportions, isn’t good for you. It’s unhealthy in ways large or small. I think that’s an important recognition. I don’t think that the French law, you know, you said the sort of- we don’t know yet, is it just one little thing, is it visionary. It’s probably one little thing. France has been a trailblazer in affecting labor law that basically no-one else adopts, right? France famously did the 30 hour work week I don’t know how many years ago, but sometime this decade. You know, nobody else is doing that, or maybe there’s a few small countries. But, the main pillars of the economy certainly are not. They’re going by the old rules, and the old modes.

I’m happy that this law is sort of making us think more about the impacts of modern technology on human life. First world life to make it more specific. But, I don’t think that this law in and of itself is going to amount to a sea-change of any sort.

I think things are going to get on differently now then in the earlier industrial revolution and there’s a few reasons why. Number one is at that time, the worst part of your life was work. You would go in, you’d lose fingers, you wouldn’t be able to sleep, it was human slavery, human torture, human- I mean it was really, the worst part of your life was the work experience. Now, the worst part of your life is not the work experience. So yeah I know, using email as the example, it can be stressful to get email at night. It can be stressful to get email on vacation, on the weekend, yadda, yadda, yadda. But, that’s not the worst part of our lives. The worst part of our lives is not the work part, it’s the life part. It’s the fact that we’re addicted to sugar. It’s the fact that we’re addicted to salt. It’s the fact that we are addicted to the call of the new. It’s the fact that we are in this broken capitalist paradigm that makes us fat, that makes us inattentive, that makes us feel unfulfilled.

There were enormous reasons why the industrial revolution needed to be reformed, and the inhumanity of work needed to be brought more in line with what’s appropriate. But, it’s so much farther down the list now. The issues we have, or rather some of the personal things that I said, or some of the more systemic things around global warming. Like, the fact that email stresses us out is just not a big deal on the list, whereas child labor laws and some of the things that didn’t exist over a 100 years ago, like the absence of those, were more sort of at the fulcrum of what was wrong with civilization.

The things that are wrong with civilization now are really far removed from the plight of the digital worker. Which, is not to say that those aren’t negative things, but it’s going to be a lot harder to coalesce around that as the rallying cry in this environment of plenty, and where the real issues and the real things that are killing us are happening at a very different level.

When I walk into a store, they have a sensor that records the person walked into the store; is that inclusive in my data? When I’m out on the street there are cameras filming, and some of them can make out my face and could come in tight on my face, and that’s data out there. Is that my data? To me that’s the trickiest, because it requires a crisp definition of what, quote unquote, your data is. I haven’t seen a good thesis for what that should be, and I think getting to the bottom of it is going to be tricky.

 


Twitter, Business Models & Information Overload, December 8, 2016

At some point, Twitter will get acquired. There’s too much money to be lost to not sell for at least something well below what they hoped and their investors were driving for. Business model, they haven’t found it yet. I’m not seeing an obvious business model in the current sort of Internet technologies stack for Twitter. I mean, look, there’s theoretical business models. They have a business model now, quote-unquote “business model,” with promoted tweets and other rubbish, which is following sort of the old-school commercial approach to attempting to monetize. That is a business model, but it’s not a very successful one.

The question is how will Internet technologies evolve in the years ahead and how could that meta-platform and the platforms within it better enable a product like Twitter based on ease of use, free information, network effects, access to celebrity, among others, not just celebrities, of course, for that to be brought together in a way that it can make money. Right now it can’t, because they’ve given it away for free. Maybe they had to give it away for free in this environment. The reality is if now they yanked it, somebody else would give it away for free. Even if you can’t find a business model around it, the power of the platform is immense. The fact that we are all essentially directly connected to everyone else, except for the very few who don’t opt for Twitter at all, even though they’re famous and would benefit from it or the people who are unknown and not sort of relevant to a networked effects conversation at that level. I mean, we’re connected to everyone, within those exceptions.

Super powerful. Super valuable in non-capitalist ways, but not super valuable relative to the investment, relative to the expectation, relative to the scale of their burn within a normal business structure.

I’m sort of a late Twitter user. I wouldn’t say I really enjoy it, but I do see the value in it. Do we need the news in the way that the news has become accepted as a thing in our lives? Do we need to know that that plane was coming down? Do we need to know that that plane landed on the Hudson River at all? Much less, do we need to know that that plane landed on the Hudson River two minutes within it actually happening? Certainly, the latter is completely unnecessary. I mean, that’s first-world privilege at the max. I would say even the other isn’t necessary. We don’t need that bit of news. That news is not relevant to us. I mean, there are some people in Manhattan or in places where the plane was coming, destinations, very specific people, but for our nation of 300 million-plus people or let’s take the whole world, six billion or whatever the number is now as it continues to spiral upwards, totally unnecessary to know that there was this plane accident on the Hudson River at that time, that it ever happened. It’s unnecessary.

We’ve become conditioned to thinking that all of this stuff is necessary. Oh my god, there’s a child in a well in Guatemala. Oh my god, this, oh my god, that. 99% of what we get on the news we don’t need and, you could argue, is bad for us in a number of different psychological ways. The sort of meta question over all of this Twitter stuff is this urgency, this notion of how it fits into some view of news in the global world, even relevant? I think no. I think that we’ve been taught it is, we’ve conditioned to it being, but my life would be better if I stopped hearing about the person who sawed somebody’s head off on a bus in Africa or all the crazy rubbish. I mean, it just makes me sad and depressed and fearful and suspicious. It’s not good at all. I don’t know, it’s not good at all.

 


Truth, Omission, Sovereignty & Capitalism, December 1, 2016

As I’ve grown older and thought about the world a lot from a philosophical perspective, I’m less convinced, than ever that there’s such a thing as truth or objective truth, that it’s all perceptual. It’s all just I am a specific person with very uniquely specific context, you are a person with uniquely specific context and the reality is a consequence of that context and of who and where we are.

The point that I want to make with that is I’ve taken that to also then think about what is lying right? Because if you say there is no truth, lying becomes an interesting concept as well. A lot of the things that are “lying” are what we would say is lying by omission. What’s a good example? Obviously not a real one but I know that I robbed a bank and I don’t tell my wife, right? Most people would say, “Well, you were lying, you didn’t say you robbed a bank?”

Well no, I made a choice not to include that information in the things that I said. What Mark is saying is “Hey, some of the things out there is okay even though there are some things that have been omitted basically and are not available.” I think it depends on what you think about lying and think about the question of, as a person, Jon, as you and I talk, as we have lunch, we had lunch together today, during that lunch I’m going to choose to tell you about certain things and choose to not tell you about other things.

Most of the things I don’t tell you about I’ve made some editorial decision because I think it’s not relevant. You won’t be interested in it you don’t need to hear it. There are some things that perhaps I made a choice not to say because I would be embarrassed or I think you would think badly of me. There’s lots of sort of decision points that get me to these are things that actually came out of my mouth while we were having lunch.

Historically, it’s almost just a gut check thing. When I say, “Hey, I didn’t tell my wife that I robbed a bank.” Somebody says, “Oh Jesus, I mean that’s a lie.” On the other hand, if I say, “Yeah, I didn’t, I didn’t tell my wife that um I put ketchup on my hot dog.” Nobody is going to consider that a lie right? Yet, they are really the same thing. They are me making some editorial choice of what I think is relevant to the other person or not.

From my perspective, it’s all lying in the way that we use lying as a filter for editing, right? There are some that are socially acceptable and some that are not, but it’s total gut check. It’s total lick your finger and put it in the air and whatever way you feel that the wind is blowing. This is very roundabout but now bringing it to Mark Zuckerberg’s contention, he’s saying, “Hey, having the platform there and having some amount of information that a big brother of some kind is restricting people from seeing, that, I’m sure for many of us with more liberal sensibilities, that’s going to get us upset. It flies against what we’ve been taught and what we believe.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s … I may not like it, I may wish the world wasn’t that way but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal in reality because there’s editing going on all over the place and we’re mad because it’s some apparatus of the Chinese government as opposed to it’s just Bob on Facebook who happened to put this thing up or that thing up. I get why people are conceptually upset by it but I think it’s really philosophically idealistic as opposed to practical.

We’re getting this mixed bag at best of information because there’s individuals and companies that are incentivized to send us whatever will make them the most money. At the end of the day so much comes down to capitalism.

With Facebook, with this example, the whole reason that Facebook exists, whether we like it or not, and honestly, I don’t like it, I’m anti-capitalist big time, but the reason Facebook exists is to maximize shareholder value. In the context of maximizing shareholder value, there’s no question what they should be doing. They should be trying to get into the Chinese market, monetizing that market, and making more money for the people who own those shares of stock.

Do I wish the world was not that way? I do. Is the world that way? It is. As such, Facebook are going to Facebook. If you have a problem, it’s at the level of capitalism. It shouldn’t be at the level of Facebook. Facebook is just participating in this broken freaking system. The other big pillar to look at from the standpoint of Facebook in China, is the notion of national sovereignty and national governments.

We liberal United States may not believe in the censorship, in the things that are going on in China. That may offend our sensibilities but China is a sovereign nation and unless we’re going to send in the troops and the bombs and it’s so important that everyone have the access that we’re going to conquer that nation, we have to respect what’s happening there to some degree.

There’s a lot of things happening there that don’t make me happy, that I wish we were in Utopia. I wish I could go there and wave my finger and have it go away but it doesn’t work that way. We are in a global environment with different nations, each of which have different beliefs. I think a lot of the Chinese beliefs are wrong. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t think I am but maybe I’m wrong.

Their nation, they can make their own decisions and rules and set that stuff up and look, do we want to be the policemen of the world or not? Now we’re really getting into … I’m talking about the United States here. We’re really getting into a bigger swath of things. It creates untold issues when we try and go in benevolently and impose our will, impose our values, impose our rule over other people, other nations.

To me this is all a big to-do about nothing. It’s funny, I’m so liberal and yet I’m always hammering liberals but it’s true. Its’ all of this liberal angst for things that we shouldn’t be angsty about. If we’re angsty about anything, it should be freaking capitalism, right? If we’re angsty about anything it should be that there’s not a one-world government that is driven by liberal principles and holistic long-reaching thinking. Those are the things to be mad about, but the fact that some company is working within the system, in the rules of the system the way it’s set up and engaging with a sovereign nation in ways that make me feel a little bit icky, but it’s just the freaking system. If you hate the system, let’s attack the system but for all the liberals to be up in arms about Facebook and standing on their soapboxes, I don’t have much respect for it to be honest.


Power, Transparency, & Truth, November 18, 2016

No, we’re not interested in total transparency because we have created these myths and legends around reality that simply aren’t true. The fact is the human fight for power at scale is ugly. It’s ugly. If you are trying to be the leader of a nation, of hundreds of millions of people, that is not going to be a fair fight. It wasn’t in 1790’s when the first U.S. presidents were being elected, and it isn’t today at the much larger scale. The people in power want to keep power. The people going for the power will do whatever they can to get the power. From a more primitive viewpoint, I would take the position of saying, “They should,” right? I mean, the stakes are high. If you’re the president of the United States you can do a lot. A lot to the world, a lot to your personal and family’s financial position, a lot to forwarding the beliefs that you have. Look, I mean we can’t … I don’t know that we can culturally approve dirty dealings, and fighting, and so forth.

Those things are going to happen. Unless the transparency is so bright that there’s no dark corners in which we can plot, and scheme, and do underhanded things. I take for granted the democratic national apparatus is trying to knock out Bernie Sanders, the outside upstart as they change the system and help Hillary Clinton, the ultimate insider. To carry on with the propaganda messages from the campaign. Don’t kid yourself, I mean Republicans are doing the exact same thing, the exact same thing. Different people, different agendas, different power sources, but everybody’s doing it. It’s sort of ridiculous when either party, from my perspective, is exposed and call out on it that we have this sort of Victorian moral shock about what’s going. Of course it’s going on. If you think Bernie Sander’s was getting a fair shake, you don’t understand how the world works. Point blank. Yeah, going on a little bit different direction with the WikiLeaks stuff, the people, liberals, we’re aghast that the Russian government would influence U.S. elections. “Oh my God, Trump is in Cahoots with the Russians.” Shock … first of all, do I think Trump is in cahoots with the Russians? I don’t. Is it possible? I guess, but I don’t think so. What is possible is that major nations influence the internal workings of other major nations all the time.

The U.S. has influenced, and it’s a known fact that the U.S. has influenced elections in a variety of nations. In the Americas, in other places in the world many times in the history of this nation. Again, there’s this shock, “The Russian nation is influencing our …” of course. There’s this whole espionage layer to how major nation states interact with each other, and the Russians are going to be taking advantage of those tools as we do. When, in this case the Democratic party, the supporters of Hillary Clinton, however we want to bucket them, are the victims of it. Again, the Victorian moral outrage goes up.

Come on people, I mean this is the world. This is power at scale, it’s just the way it is.

To me this is not a Facebook issue, it’s an internet issue, right? We do have the New York Times, or any number of editorially curated organizations that have … I don’t even want to say a higher level of credibility because there’s other issues, but some semblance of editorial guidance. The ability to project, we as consumers to project a level of trust that approximates what things used to be like in the print days, in the old media days. Now, they’re still making errors are all over the place, making retractions, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The internet at large, the technologies, whether it be social networking technology, or Wiki technology, or whatever the different online communication technologies are have done a very poor job at editing, at having that layer of authentication. Wikipedia’s a good example of it. Wikipedia is actually quite well edited as these things go. As a relatively heavy Wikipedia user, I’ve found a number of errors. They are generally of the trickster variety, right? A little bit of a tangent, but to frame just how sort of insidious this is. My father was a big fan of boxing, so one of the things he and I would do together was watch some boxing. I was a big fan of the boxer Lennox Lewis, a British guy.

During Lennox’s career there was a fellow he fought named Henry Akinwande, who for a brief time was the number one contender, the next big thing. Then Lennox Lewis beat him, and that ended. For whatever reason I’m jumping around on one of my Wikipedia jumps where I’m reading about lots of different things. I end up on Henry Akinwande’s page, and in his little biography there’s a few sentences talking about this key fight he had against some boxer I had never heard of. It just stunk a little, the way it was written. I researched, and there was no boxer of the name that the Wikipedia page Akinwande fought. As I researched more it was some trickster who had just put himself into the narrative of Henry Akinwande. He had this big key fight in the career of this boxer, so I edited it out.

It was up there for a long time before I saw it. I identified it, I edited it. That kind of stuff is all over Wikipedia. Wikipedia has a tremendous, to the point of almost fascist editorial process to keep things clean and keep things out. That’s sort of at the most extreme case of how editing is being handled in sort of the open transparent web.

Companies like Facebook and those sort of technologies have absolutely none of that. If you have a trickster who’s on Facebook, who’s doing things, there’s not people catching it. Additionally, and I think crucially, we have to think about use cases and what people are doing on the web. When people go onto Wikipedia, for the most part people are going there to learn. It’s not a place where you’re rewarded for being a trickster. This guy probably thought it was really funny putting that thing about fighting Akinwande, but it was meaningless in the big picture of things.

However, on Facebook if you can put a fake story out there that forwards a political agenda that you have and it takes off, not only are you having real impact on pervading your political agenda into society, but you’re also getting social reinforcement feedback. You’re getting liked, and up voted, and you’re becoming more important in the culture. That’s not great, and it’s rewarded by Facebook and by the very behaviors. You don’t go on Facebook to learn, I don’t think. It’s a social kind of learning-ish I guess. You’re going on there to connect, to amplify, to blow off steam, to do human emotional things that often can be negative, or not well thought.

The design of Facebook allows those things to take off, and be treated as truth, and build on a lot of social dynamics, even getting into sort of crowd … the sort of thing that leads to riots and that kind of crowd behavior. To me it’s not a Facebook issue … it is a Facebook issue as far as it’s an issue for everyone on the internet who hasn’t solved it well, which is pretty much everyone. I don’t think it’s native to Facebook, it’s just the size of Facebook, and the influence of Facebook allows it to have more of an impact.

How much those things impacted our election, I’m not qualified to answer. I mean maybe we should be upset with Facebook about it, but to treat it like this is some problem that Facebook has created. It’s just kind of Facebook participating in this Zeitgeist of openness, transparency, freedom of information, not oppressing it or holding things that has led to that. That’s an internet problem.

There’s this ideal that “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, of voting for the best person. It’s all bullshit. I mean, at the end of the day in our current system, the way we’re structured now. The democrats can get 40 something percent, the republicans getting 40 something percent. It doesn’t matter if the republican, or the democrat, I don’t think … although I think the criteria are probably different. Let’s use the concrete example we have with Donald Trump. The republican goes out there, says a lot of ridiculous things. Says a lot of things, like if you look at one of the big voting blocks within a Republican party, their conservative right is talking about these very immoral things those people should be horrified by. They’re going in a Republican camp for other reasons regardless of the specifics of that candidate.

Politics, there’s this sheen of truth, idealism … I know I sound really cynical today but I think these things are true. It’s all shit, right? It’s all crap. People are just voting for their thing. Whatever that trigger is. The gun side, the abortion side, whatever it is, the candidate can go out there and be a total zero and they’re going to put their vote in that camp. On the Democratic side, we could I think also come up with very unflattering examples of the candidate. Maybe we could even do it with Hillary Clinton if we step back and thought about it and tried, but who really in some sort of objective humanistic way isn’t a great person, isn’t a great candidate. Same things that shouldn’t be appealing to that base, but at the end of the day they’re going to tick the box, whether it be for one reason or another.

That’s also part of it. On Facebook it’s not about truth, it’s not about, “Oh, I’m trying to learn something, I’m trying to.” It’s, “I have this agenda, I’m slashing away at it.” It’s people with agendas pushing it up, and other people share the agenda. They don’t care if it’s true or not, they’re like, “Ah, Ah, Ah,” you know? Then it takes off. A lot of this, it comes back to human nature and it comes back to really understanding … I think we just need to be more honest about what we are as an animal, as a species, and operating in more honest ways. I think a lot of this is just, it’s just dishonesty.

Truth, nobody cares about truth, people just want it their way. We’re big, spoiled, tantruming children at the end of the day. We try and act like we’re these wise, smart, considerate people but we’re not. I mean we’re checking our box every damn time no matter what, and this election just proves it.

 


Design Challenges for AI & Sensor Technologies, November 4, 2016

I think that the imagination runs wilder than the reality. I mean, one of the things like with the health room that we talk about is the possibility, for example, collecting specimens in the drain in the shower, right? I mean, then evaluating those. Well, if there’s sensors in the drain of the shower, how do those sensors get cleaned, right? It’s very exciting to imagine sensors, sensors, sensors in all of these different places but how are they maintained? How do they continue to function? Once you have this distributed network of devices, essentially, all over the place, as different devices in that ecosystem fail, how does that impact the effectiveness of the ecosystem?

It’s neat, and it’s especially neat in theory, like when you talk about, “Oh, it’s so cool, all these different things that can happen,” but in reality, we live in a world governed by the rules of physics and there are requirements, whether they be in terms of power, whether they be in terms of cleanliness from the standpoint of having an electronic device able to function in the intended way, despite being in odd circumstances as well as people’s just tolerance of interest for everything that can happen. It’s interesting, nanotechnology in general is interesting. I mean, smaller means accessibility, smaller means there are more things that you can do, but the potential of nanosensors in the short term, I don’t know. I think it might start to get more interesting in the medium and long term when some of the other related enabling technologies are improved, such as batteries, for example.

Artificial intelligence is the plumbing of our digital future so that’s just the reality, and so now we’re watching and adapting as we see the quality of artificial intelligence increase, so that it is increasingly able to permeate and to influence. Again, it’s going to be slower than we think in a lot of ways, but it is what our digital future will be built around.

It’s just so far away, and again, I’ll use Siri and Alexa as two examples of that. I mean, these are products that have a lot of money from big corporations put behind them, and are designed for consumer use. I find them both to be garbage, and this is years after they’ve been released and had the chance to be optimized, and how far away are those products from being wonderful? It’s years. It’s not decades, but it’s years. We’re just not there yet. It’s clumsy, it’s clunky, but it’s not there.

There are individuals for whom the novelty and the fun of exploring those technologies and growing with them is part of it. I want to live my life. For me, the technology allows me to live my life better, and as soon as you’re clumsy and clunky and stupid, you’re making me live my life worse. It’s just two different ways of looking at it but from a money making standpoint, people better treat me as their consumer as opposed to you. Because it’s my seeing it as good enough for my life, is it at a point where it could go mainstream, whereas you definitely are on that bleeding edge of tech geeks.

 


Internet Security & Behavioural Dysfunction, October 27, 2016

When I do have internet outages, I will tell you, it makes me feel like a comedy character in a dystopian sci-fi show. Which is to say, I’m there just like, “Start working, start working, start working.” It’s not like, you know I go home, “Okay, let me go and read some poetry now,” right? I don’t have this normal flexible response. I’m just like this automaton like, “I need you to start working again. I need you to start working again. I need you to start working again.” Which always makes me feel a little bit self aware, but it doesn’t change my behavior. This may be apropos of nothing, but I think the loss of the internet, I’ll just speak for myself personally, is pretty crucial at this point.

It’s always-on, and it’s immediate. Which is to say more than just being on. Whenever we want something it just immediately appears. It’s not like we make a request, the request goes away for a while, and then something comes back to us when it’s ready, right? It’s just always ready.

If you think about in the physical world, how do you protect against viruses? How do you protect against diseases? You need a safe room. You need to go in a place that’s totally cut off from the bad environment and the good environment, and you need to detox. Then you need to take that detox into the good environment, right? Internet is always on. It’s always in and out, and in and out, and in and out. There isn’t that notion, really, of the safe room. The safe room is required, I believe, to make things truly safe. To make things really … To have a chance even to make things bulletproof from hackers. That would by definition require not immediacy in response. It would require things being held up. Being taken into an environment where they could be scrubbed and cleaned and washed. In a world of AI, that starts to become more possible from a speed perspective. Maybe to solve it, there’s a lag in our relationship between sending requests out and getting the information. Getting the transaction back. That would be weird to deal with, right?

My perception is that a service like Netflix could be relatively immune from that. The virtue of that is it is streaming a chunk of information at you, right? If you assume that all Netflix engineers are not corrupt. If you assume there isn’t hacking going on inside the Netflix organization, they should be able to create a climate that is protected, basically. To take simple data requests from us that aren’t more sophisticated packets, then stream back this giant pipe of, “Here’s The Hunt for Red October.”

 


Historical Trends & The Future of Embeddables, September 1, 2016

it’s the nascent embeddable future coming to life. It’s an example of why embeddables are the way to go which is convenience, which is integrating the digital interaction into how we move through the world instead of through analog cars of the past or clunky smartphones of the present. I thought it was great that a student was doing it. So often it is the younger people who are seeing the opportunities and putting together solutions because they’re able to see the world from a frame of reference that’s more modern than older people whose frame of reference is just definitionally more dated.

Right now we’re in the clumsy, hacky, start of things. Eventually it will be very integrated and very custom. Our whole society has been shifting towards an acceptance of these things and I’ll talk about a few different things. One of them is frankly the existing, old school, analog tattoos. We’ve seen over the last 15-20 years those move from the realm of lower class/tough drunk guy on a bad night realm of society into many soccer moms running around with tattoos. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago. There’s been a huge social shift to mainstream acceptance of tattooing as something that is done by many parts of society, not just certain and generally more marginalized ones. The trend to tattooing is also a trend to a comfort level with body modification which is greasing the skids for the future for sure.

The other trend to talk about is plastic surgery. That one is not as mainstream as tattooing yet but there’s a lot of people who are really comfortable getting their boobs sliced open and having bags of jelly shoved in there, or who are really comfortable having their face chopped up in different ways to look younger or if it doesn’t work out well sometimes it doesn’t look younger. There’s definitely a segment of society that’s super comfortable with everything that goes with plastic surgery. Now we’ve got the digital stuff and the science catching up. The comfort level on that isn’t here yet but it’s going to come and there’s a few examples I’ll use.

One is it was in 2000 that I got lasik surgery. That’s a surgery where you are laid down on an operating table and your eyes are literally carved open and altered. If you had told me in 1990, ten years before, “Oh hey Dirk. There’s going to be this thing you’ll be able to do and they’ll carve your eyes open and you’ll be able to see better.” I would have said, “That’s gross. No way. I would never do that. That’s crazy talk.” In those ensuing ten years, as the technology changed, as the social acceptance changed my view on it changed and it reached a point where scientifically … I use scientifically as if it’s in a lab but this is in a more applied with what eye doctors are doing, they’re saying, “No. This is safe, it’s okay. You can come in and do it. It might be painful, there might be this side effect, that side effect, these bad things. But you’re going to be able to see well and it’s going to cost an affordable amount of money and not take very much time.” I’m like, “Sign me up. Let’s go for it.”

That’s an example of the impact that science has on our perceptions. Just in the last week I read two stories that made me very uncomfortable. One was about a face transplant. I’ve read about face transplants in the past. This one, and again it’s a little too gross so I didn’t’ click into the story, but it was about a firefighter or soldier or someone, and it showed in the little photo caption of the story this photo of this disfigured face, this photo of this face that looked like it was wearing an odd mask, to this third photo of this third face that looked slightly off. That was the face transplant for me. I didn’t want to go deeper into the story, wimpy little me but face transplants are a thing now. That story today is going to make me feel a little weird. At some point in the future I’ll meet someone with a face transplant. It’ll feel a lot less weird once it’s real and it’s a person and not just this thing that seems bizarre.

The other one I read this week was about hand transplants. A child had their hands transplanted, it was talking about how miraculous it is. How life has totally changed and how wonderful a hand transplant is. I’m reading this story and I’m looking down at my hand and I’m like, “I can’t imagine somebody else’s freaking hands on my body. Oh my goodness gracious, lock the front door,” but this is the evolution. Just like in 1990 I would have thought it was nuts to be strapped down and have my eyes cut and try and fix them. Ten years later I was like yeah let’s do it. Sign me up. Right now these things are seeming odd but I’m sure if I was burnt horribly and disfigured and was hideous to look at I might be interested in a face transplant even today. If it’s a necessity forcing it in. I’m trying to throw a lasso around all of these different trends from tattooing to plastic surgery to the beginnings of massive transplanting of the self with faces and hands to where embeddables are going.

It’s just inevitable. In the 2020s that will be the decade of a lot of things. It will be the decade of driverless cars and it will be the decade of embedded digital technology. Again, I’ve probably mentioned this on the show before but when I give talks now around anything in this direction I say to the audience, by 2030 I’m confident I’m going to be a cyborg and probably a lot of you are going to be too. You see their faces like, “No fucking way.” In 2025 it’s going to look a lot different.

The problem right now with embeddables and I think why embeddables seem scary to most is that the stories you read are clumsy. There was one last year about German teenagers who embedded lights into their hands. The lights that they embedded were these big chunky red lights and they had these big scars on their hands. I’m like, “Oh my god, it’s so intrusive and for what? So you can have this novelty thing.” After you’ve done it like the second time to a person you go, “Enough with the lights dude. I get it. It’s not cool anymore.” It’s all about the use cases. The use cases synthesizing with the social readiness, synthesizing with the right technology so it’s not overly intrusive relative to people’s tolerances to alter themselves.


Expansion of Individual Power to Harm, June 25, 2015

There’s a lot of power that each of us have as individuals. To hurt people or organizations would have very little to do with us. I mean let’s go back N thousand years, there was a time where the only way to hurt a person or an object in the environment was to be standing within arm’s reach of that thing and pummeling it in a personal way, either with your fists or with some kind of handheld object. Then through technology we have things like the bow and arrow, and on and on and on. And now we’ve created this virtual space which totally changes the rules, but we also have technology within it that can be mastered and learned by an individual but then to harm a scale like a country or the whole of the internet to a certain degree from a service disruption standpoint more so than a data breach standpoint.

But it’s a problem that’s not going to go away, the nature of computer science, the nature of computer security is such that an individual or particularly a group of individuals that are banded together officially or unofficially by a federal government or a federal group have the power to get into anything they want given enough time. And that’s the price that we pay, whether it be the U.S. government or individuals, for having our information on the internet. For engaging with this thing that is, by its very nature, global, virtual, and really hard to protect. It’s tough.