(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘history of technology

“Speed is carrying us along, but we have yet to master it”*…

Kitchen #26 (2021) by Samuel Richardson

A call to contemplate the potential negative effects of internet technology along with its promise…

Conversations about technology tend to be dominated by an optimistic faith in technological progress, and headlines about new technologies tend to be peppered with deterministic language assuring readers of all the wonderful things these nascent technologies “will” do once they arrive. There is endless encouragement to think about all of the exciting benefits to be enjoyed if everything goes right, but significantly less attention is usually paid to the ways things might go spectacularly wrong.

In the estimation of philosopher Paul Virilio, the refusal to seriously contemplate the chance of failure can have calamitous effects. As he evocatively put it in 1997’s Open Sky, “Unless we are deliberately forgetting the invention of the shipwreck in the invention of the ship or the rail accident in the advent of the train, we need to examine the hidden face of new technologies, before that face reveals itself in spite of us.” Virilio’s formulation is a reminder that along with new technologies come new types of dangerous technological failures. It may seem obvious today that there had never been a car crash before the car was invented, but what future wrecks are being overlooked today amidst the excited chatter about AI, the metaverse, and all things crypto?

Virilio’s attention to accidents is a provocation to look at technology differently. To foreground the dangers instead of the benefits, and to see ourselves as the potential victims instead of as the smiling beneficiaries. As he put it in Pure War, first published in 1983, “Every technology produces, provokes, programs a specific accident.” Thus, the challenge becomes looking for the “accident” behind the technophilic light show — and what’s more, to find it before the wreckage starts to pile up. 

Undoubtedly, this is not the most enjoyable way to look at technology. It is far more fun to envision yourself enjoying the perfect meal prepared for you by your AI butler than to imagine yourself caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare after the AI system denies your loan application. Nevertheless, if Virilio was right to observe that “the invention of the highway was the invention of 300 cars colliding in five minutes,” it would be wise to start thinking seriously about the crashes that await us as we accelerate down the information superhighway… 

The work of Paul Virilio urges us to ask: What future disasters inhere in today’s technologies? “Inventing the Shipwreck” from Zachary Loeb (@libshipwreck) in @_reallifemag. Eminently worth reading in full.

For a look at those who don’t just brush aside Virilio’s caution, but actively embrace speed and the chaos that it can cause:

Accelerationism holds that the modern, Western democratic state is so mired in corruption and ineptitude that true patriots should instigate a violent insurrection to hasten its destruction to allow a new, white-dominated order to emerge. Indeed, some of the foremost exponents of accelerationism today were at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. They included: the Oath Keepers, whose grab-bag ideology states that “paranoid anti-federalism envision[s] a restoration of ‘self-government’ and ‘natural rights’;” QAnon adherents, who remain convinced that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that former President Donald Trump was thwarted from saving the world from a Satan-worshipping pedophilia ring run by Democrats, Jews, and other agents of the deep state; and, of course, Trump’s own die-hard “Stop the Steal” minions, who, against all reason and legal proof, seek to restore the former president to office.

The objective of accelerationism is to foment divisiveness and polarization that will induce the collapse of the existing order and spark a second civil war…

Read the full piece: “A Year After January 6, Is Accelerationism the New Terrorist Threat?

* Paul Virilio

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As we practice prudence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1854 that Anthony Fass, a Philadelphia piano maker, was awarded the first U.S. patent (#11062) for an accordion.  (An older patent existed in Europe, issued in Vienna in 1829 to Cyrill Demian.)

“Music helps set a romantic mood. Imagine her surprise when you say, ‘We don’t need a stereo – I have an accordion’.”  – Martin Mull

“A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn’t.”  – Tom Waits

accordion_patent

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic”*…

In the 1930s, ATT was rolling out dial phones to the American public…

This short subject newsreel was shown in movie theaters the week before a town’s or region’s telephone exchange was to be converted to dial service. It’s extremely short—a little over a minute, like a PSA. The film concisely explains how to use a dial telephone, including how to dial, how to recognize dial tone, and how to recognize a busy signal…

For a look into the then-future (the now present), fast forward just over 50 years, to the early 90s and to ATT’s predictions…

More in ATT Tech Channel.

[TotH to @BoingBoing for a pointer to the first video]

* Arthur C. Clarke (a 1976 interview with whom is in the Tech Channel trove)

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As we ponder progress, we might send , ATT-related birthday greetings to Robert Woodrow Wilson; he was born on this date in 1936.  An astronomer, he detected– with Bell Labs colleague Arno Penzias– cosmic microwave background radiation: “relic radiation”– that’s to say, the “sound “– of the Big Bang…. familiar to those of old enough to remember watching an old-fashioned television after the test pattern was gone (when there was no broadcast signal received): the “fuzz” we saw and the static-y sounds we heard, were the “relic radiation” being picked up.

Their 1964 discovery earned them the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics.

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“In the attempt to make scientific discoveries, every problem is an opportunity and the more difficult the problem, the greater will be the importance of its solution”*…

(Roughly) Daily is headed into its traditional Holiday hibernation; regular service will begin again very early in the New Year.

It seems appropriate (especially given the travails of this past year) to end the year on a positive and optimistic note, with a post celebrating an extraordinary accomplishment– Science magazine‘s (thus, the AAAS‘) “Breakthrough of the Year” for 2021…

In his 1972 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, American biochemist Christian Anfinsen laid out a vision: One day it would be possible, he said, to predict the 3D structure of any protein merely from its sequence of amino acid building blocks. With hundreds of thousands of proteins in the human body alone, such an advance would have vast applications, offering insights into basic biology and revealing promising new drug targets. Now, after nearly 50 years, researchers have shown that artificial intelligence (AI)-driven software can churn out accurate protein structures by the thousands—an advance that realizes Anfinsen’s dream and is Science’s 2021 Breakthrough of the Year.

AI-powered predictions show proteins finding their shapes: the full story: “Protein structures for all.”

And read Nature‘s profile of the scientist behind the breakthrough: “John Jumper: Protein predictor.”

* E. O. Wilson

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As we celebrate science, we might send well-connected birthday greetings to Robert Elliot Kahn; he was born on this date in 1938. An electrical engineer and computer scientist, he and his co-creator, Vint Cerf, first proposed the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), the fundamental communication protocols at the heart of the Internet. Later, he and Vint, along with fellow computer scientists Lawrence Roberts, Paul Baran, and Leonard Kleinrock, built the ARPANET, the first network to successfully link computers around the country.

Kahn has won the Turing Award, the National Medal of Technology, and the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, among many, many other awards and honors.

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“Reality is frequently inaccurate”*…

Machine learning and what it may teach us about reality…

Our latest paradigmatic technology, machine learning, may be revealing the everyday world as more accidental than rule-governed. If so, it will be because machine learning gains its epistemological power from its freedom from the sort of generalisations that we humans can understand or apply.

The opacity of machine learning systems raises serious concerns about their trustworthiness and their tendency towards bias. But the brute fact that they work could be bringing us to a new understanding and experience of what the world is and our role in it…

The world is a black box full of extreme specificity: it might be predictable but that doesn’t mean it is understandable: “Learn from Machine Learning,” by David Weinberger (@dweinberger) in @aeonmag.

(image above: source)

* Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

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As ruminate on the real, we might send carefully-computed birthday greetings to Grace Brewster Murray Hopper.  A seminal computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, “Amazing Grace” (as she was known to many in her field) was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer (in 1944), invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, and was one of the leaders in popularizing the concept of machine-independent programming languages– which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages.

Hopper also found and documented the first computer “bug” (in 1947).

She has both a ship (the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper) and a super-computer (the Cray XE6 “Hopper” at NERSC) named in her honor.

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“His way had therefore come full circle, or rather had taken the form of an ellipse or a spiral”*…

Simply elaborate, elaborately simple…

Christ gazes out of the page dolefully, head canted and haloed. He seems to float, disembodied, between our world and the next. And, at first, we could step back in sympathy, shocked by the blood that drips like teardrops from those baleful thorns. But something else soon catches light. It might be the ringed texture of his eyeshine or that fingerprint whorl on the nose’s tip. Then we notice the print’s corners, where curves recede as waves do from a skipping stone. It can’t be, we think — but it is. This image was made with a single line…

The full story at: “An Iconic Line: Claude Mellan’s The Sudarium of Saint Veronica (1649),” from @PublicDomainRev.

* Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

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As we’re tempted to trace, we might recall that it was on this date in 1850 that photographer Frederick Langenheim was issued U.S. Patent #7,784 for “Improvement in photographic pictures on glass,” a process of rendering photographic images on glass plates– magic lantern slides.

Prior to 1850, most magic lantern slides were hand-painted on glass, or created using a transfer method to reproduce many copies of a single etching or print; the development of photographic slides created entirely new uses for the magic lantern, from university lectures to amateur family photo shows… to “Coming Attractions” advertisements in theaters in the silent film era.

Lang

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