(Roughly) Daily

“Water sustains all”*…

… that includes the massive data centers on which our on-line lives are increasingly dependent… which could be problematic…

Drought conditions are worsening in the U.S., and that is having an outsized impact on the real estate that houses the internet.

Data centers generate massive amounts of heat through their servers because of the enormous amount of power they use. Water is the cheapest and most common method used to cool the centers.

In just one day, the average data center could use 300,000 gallons of water to cool itself — the same water consumption as 100,000 homes, according to researchers at Virginia Tech who also estimated that one in five data centers draws water from stressed watersheds mostly in the west.

“There is, without a doubt, risk if you’re dependent on water,” said Kyle Myers, vice president of environmental health, safety & sustainability at CyrusOne, which owns and operates over 40 data centers in North America, Europe, and South America. “These data centers are set up to operate 20 years, so what is it going to look like in 2040 here, right?”…

Data centers are scrambling to find sustainable solutions: “Microsoft, Meta and others face rising drought risk to their data centers,” from @CNBCtech.

See also: “The Secret Cost of Google’s Data Centers: Billions of Gallons of Water to Cool Servers” (source of the image above).

* Thales of Miletus

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As we contemplate conservation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1910 that French chemist, engineer, and inventor Georges Claude switched on the first public display of neon lights– two large (39 foot long), bright red neon tubes– at the Paris Motor Show.  Over the next decade, Claude lit much of Paris.  Neon came to America in 1923 when Earl Anthony purchased signage from Claude, then transported it to Los Angeles, where Anthony installed it at his Packard dealership… and (literally) stopped traffic.

Claude in his lab, 1913  source

While the market for neon lighting in outdoor advertising signage has declined since the mid twentieth century (in many instances replaced by flexible LEDs, which use less electricity), in recent decades neon lighting has been used consciously in art, both in individual objects and integrated into architecture (or as below, landscape).

Long Now Foundation Fellow Alicia Eggert‘s neon piece: more details

Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 3, 2022 at 1:00 am

“There are no private lives. This a most important aspect of modern life.”*…

The idea that China gives every citizen a “social credit score” continues to capture the horrified imagination of many. But it is more bogeyman than reality. Instead, we should be worrying about other, more invasive surveillance practices – and not just in China, argues MERICS analyst Vincent Brussee

“What if every action that you took in your life was recorded in a score like it was a video game?” … “If your score drops to 950, you will be subject to re-education.” … “It is the beginning of slavery, complete control, and the disappearance of all freedoms … In China, they call it social credit.” These are just some of the statements made in parliamentary debates in Europe and online commentaries about China’s Social Credit System. Given the vehemence of these views, and the attention they attract, it must have come as a real headscratcher to many when China recently pledged that would ban the use of AI for social scoring.  

So, what are the facts relating to China’s Social Credit System (SoCS)? First, a system does exist, but it is very different from what is imagined by many critics outside China. The biggest disconnect is around the notion of scores. Some commentators seem to imagine that a magic algorithm draws from AI cameras and internet surveillance all over the country to calculate a score that determines everyone’s place in society. In reality, the SoCS is not the techno-dystopian nightmare we fear: it is lowly digitalized, highly fragmented, and primarily focuses on businesses. Most importantly, such a score simply does not exist.

… this does not mean that the SoCS is benign. It also does not imply that China’s broader surveillance apparatus is a myth – quite to the contrary. However, public debates typically do not focus on these aspects. Rather, the interest in the system often stems from broader anxieties about digital technologies, as reflected in the UN pledge and similar actions taken by other countries. Often, the SoCS is merely invoked as a metaphor: either to depict some technological threat at home or to portray a techno-dystopian China. 

This is symptomatic of a tendency to see China not as a real place with real people, but as an abstract “negative opposite” of “us.” While our discussions on tech in China remain overshadowed by largely fictional scoring, we ignore real threats of surveillance to exactly those people in China. And when we use the SoCS to invoke the image of a technological threat at home, we lose sight of potentially acute technological threats much closer to reality. 

In both cases, the real losers are the people that those making the claims say they want to protect…

More at “China’s social credit score – untangling myth from reality,” from @Vincent_WDB at @merics_eu.

See also: “China just announced a new social credit law. Here’s what it means- The West has largely gotten China’s social credit system wrong. But draft legislation introduced in November offers a more accurate picture of the reality,” in @techreview.

[Image above: source]

* Philip K. Dick, who also said “There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”

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As we ponder the panopticon, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi, working inside an enormous tent on a squash court under the stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, achieved the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction… laying the foundation for the atomic bomb and later, nuclear power generation– that’s to say, inaugurating the Atomic Age.

“…the Italian Navigator has just landed in the New World…”
– Coded telephone message confirming first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942.

Illustration depicting the scene on Dec. 2, 1942 (Photo copyright of Chicago Historical Society) source

Indeed, exactly 15 years later, on this date in 1957, the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, reached criticality; the first power was produced 16 days later, after engineers integrated the generator into the distribution grid of Duquesne Light Company.

 source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 2, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Fortune favors the brave”*…

Cryptonauts

History is filled with almosts. With those who almost adventured, who almost achieved, but ultimately, for them it proved to be too much. Then, there are others. The ones who embrace the moment, and commit. And in these moments of truth . . . they calm their minds and steel their nerves with four simple words that have been whispered by the intrepid since the time of the Romans. Fortune favours the brave.

Adam Tooze been mulling these lines ever since he first saw the commercial for crypto.com done by Matt Damon during a football game back in the autumn of 2021:

Now he unpacks the backstory…

The phrase “fortune favors the brave” is generally attributed to Pliny the Elder, the obsessive scholar and Roman Fleet commander. He uttered it on the fateful night of August 24 79 AD when the volcano Vesuvius erupted and buried Herculaneum and Pompeii. As recalled 25 years later, at the request of Tacitus, by his nephew Pliny the Younger, Pliny the Elder ignored the advice of his helmsman and steered directly towards the eruption, hoping to pull off a famous rescue. Instead, he was overwhelmed, lost control of the situation and finally, in ridiculous circumstances, succumbed to the fumes, becoming one of the thousands of casualties…

You might say that evoking Pliny’s famous phrase was more apt than Damon or crypto.com realized.

But Vesuvius does not belong only to the classical tradition. In the 18th century, the volcano would become one of the quintessential sites of the romantic sublime…

A fascinating “close read” of an influential TV spot, its intellectual antecedents, and its (intended and unintended) message: “Fortune Favors the Brave: the making of crypto ideology, Vesuvius, and the romantic sublime,” from @adam_tooze.

* Pliny the Younger, “quoting” Pliny the Elder

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As we iron out the irony, we might recall that, on this date in 2008, the Dow Jones Average fell 8%, continuing a slide that had begun with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other smaller financial firms. The DJI was at 8,149.09, roughly the midpoint (in both timing) of the sub-prime lending crisis and the Dow’s 54% fall to 6,469.95 (in March, 2009) from its peak of 14,164 on October 9, 2007. The recovery, of course, took much longer.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 1, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”*…

… but maybe not as hard as it once was. While multi-agent artificial intelligence was first used in the sixties, advances in technology have made it an extremely sophisticated modeling– and prediction– tool. As Derek Beres explains, it can be a powerfully-accurate prediction engine… and it can potentially also be an equally powerful tool for manipulation…

The debate over free will is ancient, yet data don’t lie — and we have been giving tech companies access to our deepest secrets… We like to believe we’re not predictable, but that’s simply not true…

Multi-agent artificial intelligence (MAAI) is predictive modeling at its most advanced. It has been used for years to create digital societies that mimic real ones with stunningly accurate results. In an age of big data, there exists more information about our habits — political, social, fiscal — than ever before. As we feed them information on a daily basis, their ability to predict the future is getting better.

[And] given the current political climate around the planet… MAAI will most certainly be put to insidious means. With in-depth knowledge comes plenty of opportunities for exploitation and manipulation, no deepfake required. The intelligence might be artificial, but the target audience most certainly is not…

Move over deepfakes; multi-agent artificial intelligence is poised to manipulate your mind: “Can AI simulations predict the future?,” from @derekberes at @bigthink.

[Image above: source]

* Niels Bohr

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As we analyze augury, we might note that today is National Computer Security Day. It was inaugurated by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in 1988, shortly after an attack on ARPANET (the forerunner of the internet as we know it) that damaged several of the connected machines. Meant to call attention to the need for constant need for attention to security, it’s a great day to change all of one’s passwords.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 30, 2022 at 1:00 am

“My fake plants died because I didn’t pretend to water them”*…

Your correspondent treasures Wikipedia, and uses it often. But as Marco Silva points out, it has its vulnerabilities…

“I read through Wikipedia a lot when I’m bored in class,” says Adam, aged 15, who studies photography and ICT at a school in Kent. One day last July, one of his teachers mentioned the online encyclopaedia’s entry about Alan MacMasters, who it said was a Scottish scientist from the late 1800s and had invented “the first electric bread toaster”.

At the top of the page was a picture of a man with a pronounced quiff and long sideburns, gazing contemplatively into the distance – apparently a relic of the 19th Century, the photograph appeared to have been torn at the bottom.

But Adam was suspicious. “It didn’t look like a normal photo,” he tells me. “It looked like it was edited.”

After he went home, he decided to post about his suspicions on a forum devoted to Wikipedia vandalism.

Until recently, if you had searched for “Alan MacMasters” on Wikipedia, you would have found the same article that Adam did. And who would have doubted it?

After all, like most Wikipedia articles, this one was peppered with references: news articles, books and websites that supposedly provided evidence of MacMasters’ life and legacy. As a result, lots of people accepted that MacMasters had been real.

More than a dozen books, published in various languages, named him as the inventor of the toaster. And, until recently, even the Scottish government’s Brand Scotland website listed the electric toaster as an example of the nation’s “innovative and inventive spirit”…

All the while, as the world got to know the supposed Scottish inventor, there was someone in London who could not avoid a smirk as the name “Alan MacMasters” popped up – again and again – on his screen…

For more than a decade, a prankster spun a web of deception about the inventor of the electric toaster: “Alan MacMasters: How the great online toaster hoax was exposed,” from @MarcoLSilva at @BBCNews.

* Mitch Hedberg

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As we consider the source’s source, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Atari introduced its first product, Pong, which became the world’s first commercially successful video game. Indeed, Pong sparked the beginning of the video game industry, and positioned Atari as its leader (in both arcade and home video gaming) through the early 1980s.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 29, 2022 at 1:00 am

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