Last month I wrote about talks. This month I’m back on content, looking into interactive books. We have usable tablet PCs and e-readers scattered across almost every household (we have four!), but most of the fiction that I read on them is exactly like the fiction I read in a book. I want more. Continue reading Interactive Storytelling
Via Hack-A-Day, the oddballs at Backyard Brains demonstrate a prototype technoexoskeletal assembly for the remote control of insect pests on the move. Shorter version: RoboRoach!
The most basic linguistic approach uses specific search words to find and sort relevant documents. More advanced programs filter documents through a large web of word and phrase definitions. A user who types “dog” will also find documents that mention “man’s best friend” and even the notion of a “walk.”
The sociological approach adds an inferential layer of analysis, mimicking the deductive powers of a human Sherlock Holmes. Engineers and linguists at Cataphora, an information-sifting company based in Silicon Valley, have their software mine documents for the activities and interactions of people — who did what when, and who talks to whom. The software seeks to visualize chains of events. It identifies discussions that might have taken place across e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls.
Then the computer pounces, so to speak, capturing “digital anomalies” that white-collar criminals often create in trying to hide their activities.
For example, it finds “call me” moments — those incidents when an employee decides to hide a particular action by having a private conversation. This usually involves switching media, perhaps from an e-mail conversation to instant messaging, telephone or even a face-to-face encounter.
I should probably stop being so publicly disparaging about the legal industries, really, lest these expert systems crawl all my online witterings and decide to set me up for a fall…
Here’s another interesting peripheral nugget from the HBGary Federal fallout, courtesy some pseudonymous and doubtless unpaid person on HuffPo who’s been digging through the Anonymous email dump:
As I also mentioned yesterday, in some of the emails, HB Gary people are talking about creating “personas”, what we would call sockpuppets. This is not new. PR firms have been using fake “people” to promote products and other things for a while now, both online and even in bars and coffee houses.
But for a defense contractor with ties to the federal government, Hunton & Williams, DOD, NSA, and the CIA – whose enemies are labor unions, progressive organizations, journalists, and progressive bloggers, a persona apparently goes far beyond creating a mere sockpuppet.
According to an embedded MS Word document found in one of the HB Gary emails, it involves creating an army of sockpuppets, with sophisticated “persona management” software that allows a small team of only a few people to appear to be many, while keeping the personas from accidentally cross-contaminating each other. Then, to top it off, the team can actually automate some functions so one persona can appear to be an entire Brooks Brothers riot online.
Cue lots of what I’m coming to recognise as the default tone of US leftists, namely “embattled panic”:
I wanted to make this clear because it is in the interests of government and propagandists, and anyone else who wants this story to go away to try and blow all this off as one little company who wrote a proposal no one even read and who isn’t even competent enough to protect its own servers so no one should pay any attention at all to what they were up to.
That is the narrative being spun, even here on this site, and it is entirely fictitious.
We are under attack. And the attackers are damn good at what they do. Pretending they’re not, or that this isn’t happening isn’t going to make it better.
Sunlight as best disinfectant… well, we can hope so, anyway. This chap (or chapess) seems to have missed a chance to deconstruct his own metanarrative at the same time (paint yourself as a footsoldier in the trenches, and you’ll hear the whistle of shells pretty quickly), but that’s a hard gig to play for anyone who’s only just realised that the kraken are battling beneath the waves.
Or maybe I’m just getting hardened to these revelations through overexposure; my first reaction to reading that piece was “what took them so long?” Given that the FBI is cheerfully making public requests to Congress for backdoor access to a whole raft of social media tools, one can assume that they’ve got a fair few already, and would like them enshrined in a framework of legality so they can use them properly…
When military hardware and software IP disputes meet: via Slashdot we hear of a pending lawsuit that may ground the CIA’s favourite toys, the Predator drones. In a nutshell, a small software firm called IISi alleges that some of their proprietary software was pirated by another firm, Netezza, who then sold it on to a government client which was revealed by further presentations of evidence to be none other than the Central Intelligence Agency. Plenty of grim irony in there, even before you factor in the allegations from IISi that the hacked software may render the drone targeting systems inaccurate to the tune of plus-or-minus forty feet. So it’s not all bad news for the CIA: at least they can start blaming collateral damage on shoddy outsourcing.
In other drone news, Chairman Bruce draws our attention to Taiwan, whose ministry of defense confirms that it is developing UAV designs of its own. We can assume that, in the grand tradition of Taiwanese electronics products, these will be cheap-and-cheerful alternatives to the more respectable brands of the Western military-industrial complex, ideal for tin-pot totalitarians and networked non-geographical political entities working to tight budgets. Hell only knows where they’ll get the software from, though.
I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before (as it’s an idea I predicted in rudimentary form for an article in Focus back in 2007, and I’m hardly at the cutting edge of web software thinking), but the Facebook privacy backlash has prompted a small gang of geeks to build an open-source distributed social network platform that gives you back full control over your personal data [via MetaFilter].
Diaspora is intended to be installed on a webserver, with every installation serving as a node in a peer-to-peer network – a complete reversal of the centralised model that Facebook and similar systems currently work on. Most of the current objections I’m seeing hinge on the fact that the majority of SocNet users don’t yet have their own server and domain name, and aren’t technologically able to maintain one themselves: the former is a matter of cost, and the price of webhosting is falling constantly; the latter is a matter of demand, and the turnkey installation scripts for software like WordPress which are available from many bargain basement hosting outfits suggests that, if the demand increases, the barriers to entry will lower rapidly.
That said, not everyone cares about their privacy online. Whether that matters or not is a debate for another time, but while the situation persists, the free-to-use no-technological-hassle SocNets will always have the upper hand in the casual user sphere. If Diaspora is to succeed, it’ll have to demonstrate tangible advantages over the competition in addition to the more abstract USP plus-points of enhanced privacy.
Fingers crossed… although, as science fiction fans, I think we should all get behind a piece of software that shares a name with a Greg Egan novel. 😉