(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Internet

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”*…

But in what does the “continent”– our community– consist? Further to yesterday’s piece on Epicureanism, Noah Smith argues that the internet has changed what “community” means…

… I think the kind of communities we inhabit has simply changed. In the past, our communities were primarily horizontal — they were simply the people we lived close to on the surface of the Earth. Increasingly, though, new technology has enabled us to construct communities that I’ve decided to call vertical — groups of people united by identities, interests, and values rather than by physical proximity… for most of history, most of the people you interacted with most of the time were the people who lived near to you — your horizontal community.

Horizontal communities can often be stifling and repressive, because they impose community norms on people with a diverse array of occupations, temperaments, and backgrounds. Sinclair Lewis’ novel Main Street is a great depiction of the ever-present, crushing conformity pressure of small American towns in the 1910s. But that social pressure was nothing compared to the pogroms, inquisitions, and genocides that enforced religious, cultural, and racial homogeneity in many of the world’s horizontal communities — and which still do, in some parts of the world.

When the people around you pressure you to be the same as them, you can use exit, voice, or loyalty — you can knuckle under and conform, you can fight back and rebel, or you can simply leave and find some place that you fit in better. A lot of immigration to the U.S. was driven by misfits looking for communities where they didn’t stick out as much. In the latter half of the 20th century, Americans themselves sorted into different parts of the country in order to create pockets of local political homogeneity.

In fact, our use of the word “community” to describe racial, religious, and sexuality groups is probably a relic of an ugly pattern of history, in which minorities were forced to live in circumscribed, segregated areas — Chinatowns, ghettos, the Castro in San Francisco — either by law, or by mass violence that made them unwelcome elsewhere…

But then the internet came along, and everything changed. Suddenly we stopped being isolated and started being social again, through the windows of our laptop screens and phone screens. There was a whole world of human interaction waiting there for us — forums, social media feeds, chat apps, online games, and so on. Suddenly we were surrounded by people all the time — or at least, their written words, and perhaps once in a while their pictures or videos or voices.

Constant internet usage allowed us to organize a far greater percentage of our human interaction around vertical communities. It let us find the people we identified with and interact with them, rather than being forced to interact with whoever was close to us on the map. We could surround ourselves with other anime fans, or other Muslims, or other economists, or other trans people — and we did. What were once notional bonds of connection that existed mostly in our minds became Facebook groups and subreddits and loose networks of Twitter contacts. And those spaces developed their own norms, rules, customs, and institutions, because now, thanks to the internet, it was easy to do that…

The identity-based “communities” that people talk about are thus no longer simply shorthand for a notion of cultural or political affinity with distant people, or for a fading memory of segregated neighborhoods. They’re thriving online verticals — archipelagos of online spaces where people can go to talk about what it means to be gay, or Jewish, or Pakistani. And like the small towns of Sinclair Lewis’ day, these vertical communities have the ability to use social ostracism to punish those who deviate from consensus norms and political objectives.

At the same time, horizontal communities didn’t completely vanish. We still educate our children in physical space (more or less), meaning we still have to deal with other children’s parents in a local community. Local government policies rule many of the aspects of our lives that are still offline — food, public safety, housing, transport — and this means we have to go to city planning meetings and school board meetings and various other community forums to hash out our differences with people who don’t share our interests or our identities. We now live in a world where our communities exist in three dimensions — the familiar hodgepodge of local humanity in two dimensions, and our self-sorted online spaces in a third.

And this dichotomy presents an enormous challenge to our institutions… for now and for the foreseeable future, our public goods are provided locally, but our social interaction happens in the cloud. In theory, this could be a dangerous recipe…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Vertical Communities” from @Noahpinion.

* John Donne

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As we find our folks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933 that The Lone Ranger debuted on Detroit’s WXYZ radio station. Created and written by station-owner George Trendle and Fran Striker (who went on to create the Green Hornet and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon), they aimed create an American version of Zorro. Though (or perhaps because) they worked with no real knowledge of Texas in the period, their creation became an American icon, succeeding on radio, television, in comic books, film shorts, feature films, books, and newspaper strips.

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January 30, 2023 at 1:00 am

“There are only two different types of companies in the world: those that have been breached and know it and those that have been breached and don’t know it.”*…

Enrique Mendoza Tincopa (and here) with a visualization of what’s on offer on the dark web and what it costs…

Did you know that the internet you’re familiar with is only 10% of the total data that makes up the World Wide Web?

The rest of the web is hidden from plain sight, and requires special access to view. It’s known as the Deep Web, and nestled far down in the depths of it is a dark, sometimes dangerous place, known as the darknet, or Dark Web

Visual Capitalist

For a larger version, click here

And for a look at the research that underlies the graphic, click here.

What’s your personal information worth? “The Dark Web Price Index 2022,” from @DatavizAdventuR via @VisualCap.

(Image at top: source)

Ted Schlein

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As we harden our defenses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that arguments began in the case of United States vs. David LaMacchia, in which David LaMacchia stood accused of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud. He had allegedly operated the “Cynosure” bulletin board system (BBS) for six weeks, to hosting pirated software on Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) servers. Federal prosecutors didn’t directly charge LaMacchia with violating copyright statutes; rather they chose to charge him under a federal wire fraud statute that had been enacted in 1952 to prevent the use of telephone systems for interstate fraud. But the court ruled that as he had no commercial motive (he was not charging for the shared software), copyright violation could not be prosecuted under the wire fraud statute; LaMacchia was found not guilty– giving rise to what became known as “the LaMacchia loophole”… and spurring legislative action to try to close that gap.

Background documents from the case are here.

The MIT student paper, covering the case (source)

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November 18, 2022 at 1:00 am

“It’s going to be interesting to see how society deals with artificial intelligence”*…

Interesting, yes… and important. Stephanie Losi notes that “in some other fields, insufficient regulation and lax controls can lead to bad outcomes, but it can take years. With AI, insufficient regulation and lax controls could lead to bad outcomes extremely rapidly.” She offers a framework for thinking about the kinds of regulation we might need…

Recent advances in machine learning like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion show the strengths of artificial narrow intelligence. That means they perform specialized tasks instead of general, wide-ranging ones. Artificial narrow intelligence is often regarded as safer than a hypothetical artificial general intelligence (AGI), which could challenge or surpass human intelligence. 

But even within their narrow domains, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and similar models are already raising questions like, “What is real art?” And large language models like GPT-3 and CoPilot dangle the promise of intuitive software development sans the detailed syntax knowledge required for traditional programming. Disruption looms large—and imminent. 

One of the challenges of risk management is that technology innovation tends to outpace it. It’s less fun to structure a control framework than it is to walk on fresh snow, so breakthroughs happen and then risk management catches up. But with AI, preventive controls are especially important, because AI is so fast that detective and corrective controls might not have time to take effect. So, making sure controls do keep up with innovation might not be fun or flashy, but it’s vital. Regulation done right could increase the chance that the first (and possibly last) AGI created is not hostile as we would define that term.

In broad strokes, here are some aspects of a control framework for AI…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Possible Paths for AI Regulation.”

See also: “Can regulators keep up with AI in healthcare?” (source of the image above)

And as we ponder constructive constraints, we might keep in mind Gray Scott‘s (seemingly-contradictory) reminder: “The real question is, when will we draft an artificial intelligence bill of rights? What will that consist of? And who will get to decide that?”

Colin Angle

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As we practice prudence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that UNIX was released to the world. A multi-tasking, multi-user operating system, it was intitally developed at ATT for use within the Bell System. Unix systems are characterized by a modular design that is sometimes called the “Unix philosophy.” Early Unix developers were important in bringing the concepts of modularity and reusability into software engineering practice, spawning a “software tools” movement. Over time, the leading developers of Unix (and programs that ran on it) established a set of cultural norms for developing software, norms which became as important and influential as the technology of Unix itself– a key part of the Unix philosophy.

Unix’s interactivity made it a perfect medium for TCP/IP networking protocols were quickly implemented on the Unix versions widely used on relatively inexpensive computers, which contributed to the Internet explosion of worldwide real-time connectivity. Indeed, Unix was the medium for Arpanet, the forerunner of the internet-as we-know-it.

Ken Thompson (sitting) and Dennis Ritchie, principal developers of Unix, working together at a PDP-11 (source)

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November 3, 2022 at 1:00 am

“I get slightly obsessive about working in archives because you don’t know what you’re going to find. In fact, you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it.”*…

An update on that remarkable treasure, The Internet Archive

Within the walls of a beautiful former church in San Francisco’s Richmond district [the facade of which is pictured above], racks of computer servers hum and blink with activity. They contain the internet. Well, a very large amount of it.

The Internet Archive, a non-profit, has been collecting web pages since 1996 for its famed and beloved Wayback Machine. In 1997, the collection amounted to 2 terabytes of data. Colossal back then, you could fit it on a $50 thumb drive now.

Today, the archive’s founder Brewster Kahle tells me, the project is on the brink of surpassing 100 petabytes – approximately 50,000 times larger than in 1997. It contains more than 700bn web pages.

The work isn’t getting any easier. Websites today are highly dynamic, changing with every refresh. Walled gardens like Facebook are a source of great frustration to Kahle, who worries that much of the political activity that has taken place on the platform could be lost to history if not properly captured. In the name of privacy and security, Facebook (and others) make scraping difficult. News organisations’ paywalls (such as the FT’s) are also “problematic”, Kahle says. News archiving used to be taken extremely seriously, but changes in ownership or even just a site redesign can mean disappearing content. The technology journalist Kara Swisher recently lamented that some of her early work at The Wall Street Journal has “gone poof”, after the paper declined to sell the material to her several years ago…

A quarter of a century after it began collecting web pages, the Internet Archive is adapting to new challenges: “The ever-expanding job of preserving the internet’s backpages” (gift article) from @DaveLeeFT in the @FinancialTimes.

Antony Beevor

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As we celebrate collection, we might recall that it was on this date in 2001 that the Polaroid Corporation– best known for its instant film and cameras– filed for bankruptcy. Its employment had peaked in 1978 at 21,000; it revenues, in 1991 at $3 Billion.

Polaroid 80B Highlander instant camera made in the USA, circa 1959

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October 11, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse.”*…

Tim O’Reilly with a (customarily) wise assessment of an emerging new technology…

The metaphors we use to describe new technology constrain how we think about it, and, like an out-of-date map, often lead us astray. So it is with the metaverse. Some people seem to think of it as a kind of real estate, complete with land grabs and the attempt to bring traffic to whatever bit of virtual property they’ve created.

Seen through the lens of the real estate metaphor, the metaverse becomes a natural successor not just to Second Life but to the World Wide Web and to social media feeds, which can be thought of as a set of places (sites) to visit. Virtual Reality headsets will make these places more immersive, we imagine.

But what if, instead of thinking of the metaverse as a set of interconnected virtual places, we think of it as a communications medium? Using this metaphor, we see the metaverse as a continuation of a line that passes through messaging and email to “rendezvous”-type social apps like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and, for wide broadcast, Twitch + Discord. This is a progression from text to images to video, and from store-and-forward networks to real time (and, for broadcast, “stored time,” which is a useful way of thinking about recorded video), but in each case, the interactions are not place based but happening in the ether between two or more connected people. The occasion is more the point than the place…

Tim explains what he means– and what that could mean: “The Metaverse is not a place- it’s a communications medium,” @timoreilly in @radar.

* Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (the origination of the term “metaverse”)

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As we jack in, we might send well-connected birthday greetings to Paul Otlet; he was born on this date in 1868. An author, entrepreneur, lawyer, and peace activist, he is considered the father of information science. He created Universal Decimal Classification (which would later become a faceted classification) and was responsible for the development of an early information retrieval tool, the “Repertoire Bibliographique Universel” (RBU) which utilized 3×5 inch index cards, used commonly in library catalogs around the world (though now largely displaced by the advent of the online public access catalog or OPAC). Indeed, Otlet predicted the advent of the internet (though over-optimisitically imagined that it would appear in the 1930s).

For more of his remarkable story, see “Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.”

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August 23, 2022 at 1:00 am

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