Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is Technology offering Transparency...or Spying on us?

A look at how technology enables greater transparency...but not always both ways:

Google Goggles... or Project Glass... is finally announced.  See the official preview... and an amusing satire. These futuristic Goggles would project information directly in your field of vision, offering updates on the time, weather, map directions, road closures, upcoming appointments, names of colleagues, buildings, etc. You will be able to leave memos to yourself, send email to friends, read restaurant reviews and take/share photos or video (but can you do all this while walking?). Of course this is just scratching the surface (so to speak).  I portray this technology taken thirty years into the future (including solutions to the "walking problem), so stay tuned in just three months for a glimpse of where it will all lead. in Existence.  Or see it presaged, back in in ‘89, in Earth.

Ah, but is two-way vision always a good thing? At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), Smart unveiled a new Smart TV that demonstrated how the seamless integration of sensors, built-in cameras and microphones enabled “smart” features such as gesture control, voice commands and all kinds of interactive and connectivity.  But this Smart TV can also turn into a spy within your home, reporting without your knowledge.  There is no indication as to whether the camera and audio mics are on. You can point the camera toward the ceiling ... but there is no easy way to physically disconnect the mic to ensure that it is not picking up your voice when you don’t intend it to. Will your Smart TV soon be spying on you? Onward Orwell!

Navizon’s Indoor Triangulation System allows anyone carrying a WiFi-equipped smartphone, iPad or notebook computer to be tracked (inside as well as outdoors) without their knowledge or consent -- and with no option to opt out. This Buddy Radar enables locating shoppers in a mall, doctors in a hospital, clients in a convention hall…or lost children in a crowd. If this bothers you --- then disable WiFi on your devices when you’re not using it. Not a convenient solution.

And there’s corporate surveillance: Dunkin Donuts installed an employee monitoring system that monitors  their staff with video cameras and tracks every punch of the cash register. The result: a drop in employee thefts by 13%.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, tells internet users they should demand their personal data from giants such as Facebook and Google:  "One of the issues of social networking silos is that they have the data and I don't … There are no programs that I can run on my computer which allow me to use all the data in each of the social networking systems that I use plus all the data in my calendar plus in my running map site, plus the data in my little fitness gadget and so on to really provide an excellent support to me."

I must agree.  The really frustrating thing is not that elites will know about me.  That's inevitable.  But what is dangerous as hell is their reluctance to let us have full access to our own information... or reciprocal information about them.

==Transparency in Science==

Scientists are not immune to bias, and they should be transparent about the sources of their funding. The director of the US National Institutes of Health called for a  compulsory online registry of researchers' interests as a condition of federal funding. "The public may not always understand the intricacies of rigorous science, but most individuals quickly grasp the concept of bias." Nothing came of this proposal. Each university should have a publicly searchable database of academics' external sources of money. And that's fine, so far... but where does this simply become a way to bully scientists, making them look over their shoulders with every step?

If we scientists do have to set this example of transparent accountability, then can we at least have back a little respect?  And start seeing Wall Street follow suit?

 == Dire news on the medical front==

Up to a third of what the U.S. spends on medical care may be wasted, in large part because of over-testing and over treatment.  Now a major panel has cited nine procedures that doctors should resort to far less often.    Fascinating article.

One of the most highly-valued contributors to this blog’s comment community, an emergency room physician, reports,  “We stand on the brink of the post antibiotic era.” One of the worst antibiotic-resistant staph infection strains called cMSRA, which can penetrate even healthy, intact skin, has just learned to defy the last defensive drug that physicians could use without fearing major consequences to children or the allergy-prone.

This is not a good time to back off from science.  In the 1950s, the most popular man in the United States was Jonas Salk.  Today, most Americans have never heard of him, and nut-jobs on both the left and right rail against vaccination and the Medical Establishment.  It seems we get what we deserve.

== Science & Tech Potpourri ==

Experiments are finally moving ahead with solar updraft power towers... of a kind that I mentioned long ago in Earth. These systems use a very large surrounding “greenhouse” - many square km of clear plastic or glass - that heats air to flow up a tall chimney while driving generators.  Efficiency is much lower than solar thermal, but start-up simplicity and load balancing are attractive, as is mixed use of the land below the sheeting.

==On the Lighter side==

Examples of my Uplift meme used in modern humor.

Terry Bisson’s classic, hilarious little story about why we may not have been contacted. “They’re Made of Meat” has been produced for a lovely, ironic radio show.

The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers team smashed its own world record for largest Rube Goldberg machine with a 300-step behemoth that flawlessly accomplished the simple task of blowing up and popping a balloon.

== And finally...  A Sober Thought on Pop Culture ==

Stooge alert!  (woop, woop, woop!)  Like most American males, and all American kids (something happens to women, I guess) I love the Three Stooges.  I haven’t seen the new movie.  I hope it’s good, though even if it’s great I expect my wife to get her year’s quota of eye-rolling exercise!

Now, let me stand up for this in philosophical terms.  The best of the old scenes weren’t the plain hitting. That was always lame. No, it was those stunning metaphysical contemplations of the inherent, hopeless irony of existence.  In other words... art!  In that art  connects the viewer directly to life's inherent poignancy without words or persuasion.

Take some of the most perplexingly ironic-tragic stooge situational dilemmas, like the boys using Curly as a battering ram to punch through a brick wall, then trying to pry him back out with a crowbar. Oh, the expressions on his face, as the crowbar hook moved back and forth in front of him, preparing to strike like a cobra... or like implacable fate. He is hypnotized, transfixed, the way all of us have been, at various train-wreck moments of "real" life.

Nothing better distilled for me the inherent unfairness of the universe... or the absolute impossibility of human beings being able to think our way out of this puzzling quandary called life - the game that you simply cannot win.  And yet the boys never stopped trying. Persevering. Coming up with one "hey, let's try this!" hopeless gambit after another. And sometimes something brilliantly stupid - or stupidly brilliant - actually worked!  And you came away thinking... maybe I should keep trying, too.

I confess, that philosophical depth may just be rationalizing away what’s really no more than Neanderthal immaturity.  (See the “laughter scene” in the amazing paleolithic film QUEST FOR FIRE.) So? Nevertheless, I made my Tymbrimi and Tytlal characters big stooge fans, and for reasons that they found wholly adequate!

Ever see the Stooge flick in which they made fun of Hitler, a full year before Charlie Chaplin started THE GREAT DICTATOR?  Oh, they had guts too.

Final note.  It is a tragedy that we never had a four stooges film, with brothers Curly Howard and Moe Howard sharing the screen with both Larry Fine and the other brother, Shemp Howard.  I consider Shemp to have been a comic genius of the first order and always enjoy him immensely. I hate the fact that he is excluded from Stooge Festivals on TV. History and fans are unkind to him because we compare him to Curly, who was a force of nature - akin to gravity or electromagnetism.

Oh, never forget that the greatest city in the world -- fittingly the home of Wall Street, where stooge-like intelligence and antics are the norm -- was pre-named, as if precognitively, for one of Curly's most perceptive lines. Nyuck Nyuck.

Whether the new film is a fitting tribute or (most likely) a travesty, still carry the deeper lesson with you, every day. Persevere you knuckleheads, numbskulls and dollfaces. A civilization that can produce such art should be able to achieve anything.


Stefan Jones said...

I think the only reasonable answer to the title question is . . . "Yes!"

How much and how intrusive the spying is, and how deep and effective the transparency is, depends on laws and policy choices.

Shamefully, and with long-ranging consequences, these issues are barely on the public radar.

Michael C. Rush said...

>It seems we get what we deserve.

What, idiot neighbors?

David Brin said...

-The third TEDx Del Mar event on Envisioning
Transhumanity will be held this coming April 29th at the Price Theater at U.C.S.D. north of San DIego.

I'll be one of the speakers.

The tickets have just been made available for purchase at the U.C.S.D. box office. A limited amount of free tickets will be made available to students and faculty. More information can be found on the website.

Craig Comments said...

Transparency and spying issues. I am curious as to why - and I agree with you completely about transparency and the problem of those who have the ability to spy on us - you have the Revolver on your site showing where everyone is that is looking at your Blog. Somewhere, someone must have a lot of information, OR the ability to download a lot of information from our computers, to be able to track the location of everyone on the site. In one sense I think it is neat to see the Revolver, and on another level I find it scary.


Jumper said...

There is a dongle one can purchase and plug in to one's smart phone which becomes a universal IR remote control for TVs, sound systems, and 120V relays (granted those are specialty items) which obviates the need for "smart" TVs.

One might think the various internet companies intent on spying on us to fine-tune their advertising might realize that if the middle class is destroyed, we won't be buying a damned thing from them: we will be too broke.

Hey, internet spy people: go spy on Goldman Sachs, they got all my money. That goes double for the CIA.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

You share that appreciation of "The Three Stooges" with Canadian comics writer/artist Dave Sim, who made a case within the "Cerebus" comic book for the Stooges as a force of nature.

Me, personally, I never did dig them, even as a kid. And yes, I know that that's heresy for an American male to say, but so be it.

Nonetheless, I think I can predict that the new movie will suck. This has nothing to do with whether or not one likes the original Three Stooges. It has to do with the way ALL of the more recent movie re-imaginings of older movies and tv shows are being done these days: taking the most superficial elements of the original and making them into in-jokes that the actors share with the audience: "Yeah, we know what we're doing here on screen is lame." Inevitably, the Stooges will be juxtaposed with the "real world" to demonstrate how poorly they fare in the sort of sappy, sentimental comedy which has to be the plot of EVERY Hollywood movie these days.

If I seem to rush to judgement because I have not yet seen THIS particualar 21st century remake, I place the following into evidence for the prosecution (in no particular order):

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jim Carrey version)
Horton Hears a Who
The Wild Wild West
The Brady Bunch
Yogi Bear
Land of the Lost
The Stepford Wives (2004 version)
Charlie's Angels
George of the Jungle

Given another hour, I'm sure I could expand the list. Can anyone name even ONE 21st century remake of an old movie or tv show that DOESN'T have disappointment purposely written into the design?

Tim H. said...

Thanks for the stooge reference, did you catch the segment about them on CBS Sunday morning last week?

Tony Fisk said...

@larryhart I thought the startrek reboot was pretty effective (even cheekily taking elements of the last tng movie plot and doing them right)

Still, that would be an exception.

LarryHart said...


I can't speak for the new Star Trek, having not seen it. Still, I've heard enough to think that the new Kirk engages in the sort of "I'm making fun of the premises of the show" nod/winks to the audience that I was talking about.

Even granting you your exception, the handling of a sci-fi series would not seem to be as much an indicator of how the slapstick comedy Three Stooges would be handled.

I see I didn't even include the new Muppets movie in my original list. That was the quintessential example of what I'm talking about: the entire theme of the movie seemed to be "Time has passed this concept by so much that bringing them back is pointless!" And it makes you sit through 90 minutes in order to hammer home the point that "This movie is nothing more than a waste of your time."

I expect nothing less from "The Three Stooges". And again, this has nothing to do with my own opinion of the original Stooges. I would expect such a thing to be MORE of a disappointment to true Stooges fans, not less of one.

Unknown said...

remember "nyuck nyuck" is filthy in Tanktonese!

Corey said...

Peripherally related to the comments on issues cropping up in the scientific establishment, the NYTimes just published what I found to be a somewhat disturbing article on a massive increase in the number of retracted papers in high-profile journals, and the pressures of an increasingly bad atmosphere for scientists to work in that seems to be causing it

David Brin said...

Craig, I have the revolving globe, showing general visitor locales, for two reasons. Because it is interesting... and to keep folks aware of how exposed we all are. Are you less exposed if I remove the gimmick? No you are not. Which is my point about knowing. And looking back.

Larryhart if you want to see a very strange film that makes you cringe and defies expectations and then makes you cringe a bit more, see Film Geek. Some funny moments too.

"Can anyone name even ONE 21st century remake of an old movie or tv show that DOESN'T have disappointment purposely written into the design?"

Get Smart --- astonished me. It was witty and funny and fun and fresh, start to end. (Not great art, but fully up to the level of the original.

I thought the Wild Wild West was very very lame... but its features were 100% in line with the original. Pacing, styling, brand of humor. Utterly faithful.

Don't get me wrong. Your list is depressing and could be extended ad infinitum. I could not finish the new CONAN which didn't hold a candle to the perfect original. Hollywood today has no guts. And doesn't reward guts when it appears.

If there were a "difficulty factor" in the Oscars voting, Inception would have easily won. Should have

locumranch said...

The Stooges have a timeless appeal because their 'schtick' is based on the cultural truism that all means of societal control are essentially violent or 'bullying' in nature:

"Do what I say or I shame, poke, humiliate or whack you with hammer".

And, when confronted with this cultural truism -- a truism which applies to even the most 'PC' environment -- the human response is either to laugh or cry because laughter represents a psychological coping mechanism (displacement) and crying represents decompensation.

On a side note, does anyone else here notice the ironic parallels between the antibiotic and fossil fuel scare?

(1) Both items are uniquely responsible for our current levels of medical & technological development;

(2) Both items are 'scientific', providing human society with unprecedented levels of health, comfort and life expectancy;

(3) Both items have created new problems & complications which can only be resolved by either the retreat from or the more aggressive pursuit of technology; and

(4) Those who choose to isolate the technological cause from its inevitable complication commit a grave oversimplification along the lines of South Park's Mr. Mackey who says that:

"Antibiotics, technology & society are all BAD, um-kay, because they have all caused global warming, bullying & cMRSA".

Check on the new(er) South Park episode on 'Bullying'. Um-kay?


Atomsmith said...


I liked the 2007 remake of Sleuth, directed by Kenneth Branagh.

The only nod to the original (that I could detect) was in the casting: in the original Michael Caine played the younger of the two main characters (opposite Lawrence Olivier), and in the remake he plays the older (opposite Jude Law).

Atomsmith said...

er... Laurence Olivier...

David Brin said...

Don't forget, part of the appeal of the Marx Bros and the Howard Bros (stooges) was sticking it to stodgy authority.

The Marx's always got away with it. The Stooges almost never did. The Marxes were a wish fantasy. The Stooges were ironic tragedy.


onward to next posting

Jonathan S. said...

I think I bypassed the thing that was hiding the security code from me, by linking to the site through Dr. Brin's Twitter presence. See, Twitter isn't entirely useless!

Wanted to speak to remakes. I find the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica to be so incredibly superior to the original, in concept, acting, and respect for the laws of physics (check out the attack on the Regeneration Ship in the Season 4 opener, for instance), as to be barely recognizable as its descendant.

And the Abrams reboot of Star Trek was, I think, done with a fair degree of fidelity, except that at the end, I would have shown Kirk being given early graduation for what he did, then a montage of him reporting to duty on various ships at rapidly-rising ranks, until finally being reunited with everyone else on the bridge of the Enterprise. Mind you, I understand why it ended the way it did - I just would have liked more of a nod to the idea that you had to at least pretend to serve in Starfleet before being given command of a Constitution-class heavy cruiser. Overall, though, Pine's performance as Kirk didn't include a lot of winks or nods - it's just that his performance was almost exactly what Bill Shatner would have done at his age. Similarly, Zachary Quinto seems almost a clone of young Leonard Nimoy. And while Karl Urban doesn't look much like DeForest Kelley, he does sound and act much like him...

I will give you Scotty. Simon Pegg's version of Montgomery Scott doesn't seem like the sort of guy who'd welcome having shore leave denied so he could catch up on technical journals. However, maybe that's an interest that developed later in the original Scotty's timeline, and may be bypassed entirely in the new one.

Tony Fisk said...

Young Scotty's fun and insightful (*Do* they have sandwiches in TNG future? As for shore leave, well, he'd already have his hands on the nacelles *he* wants!) ... also I'm not sure what Chekov's doing here (he was a junior rating) but that's something I'm willing to overlook.

But, hey! We get a literally kick-Kirk-ass Uhura! (and an insight into that Kobayashi Maru incident!)

Paul451 said...

"And there's corporate surveillance: Dunkin Donuts installed an employee monitoring system that monitors their staff with video cameras and tracks every punch of the cash register. The result: a drop in employee thefts by 13%."

100% surveillance leads to a puny 13% drop in thefts? That's kinda pathetic.

Re: Smart TV.

Camera on my netbook doesn't have an activation LED. So there's no way to know if it's turned on. Bugs me whenever I remember.

Carl M. said...

Starsky and Hutch with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Far better than the original.

The James Bond reboot with Daniel Craig was quite excellent -- at least Casino Royale. Haven't seen the next one yet.

I thought the Brady Bunch reboot was kind of fun, actually.

Star Trek, on the other hand, was pure blasphemy, and utterly stupid.

bobsandiego said...

Dr Brin beat me to the Get Smart (2008, but it was a remake that had respect and reverence of the source material. Star Trek as a frnachised had been killed by the dunderheads place in charge. (Really? Luddite SF, really?) JJ did not revivfy Star Trek as much as her performed a D&D reincarnincation upon it. As to the Stooges, I was never a fan, not even as a boy. My tastes ran to Abbot and Costello, or Buster Keaton for physical humar that was based upton the character being an idiot.
Privacy is a concept that is rapidly going to vanish. Two egnerations from now people won;t understand how we lived anymore than we as Americans understand bending knees to lords who are 'our betters.' I once used this as an asepct of a navel I worte, but it was utter crap and I'm ashamed I showed it to anyone.
A game fo Thrones Us Election crossover piece:

bobsandiego said...

@ Carl M
Casino Royale (2006) was a pretty good reboot, but it also was a pretty good adaptation. The second half of the movie, from the time Bond arrives at the Casino until the scenes away from the Casino are very much the original novel. The book was about Bond falling for Vespa, and then learning she was there to betray him the whole time, making him into the heartless bastard he is until On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The jokes and puns where an invention of the films - bah!

ThoughtCriminal said...

Shemp, Moe, Larry and Curly did all appear in one short together: "Hold that Lion" (1947). Curly had a non-speaking cameo as a passenger on a train. IMO Shemp was underated.