This week Chris Dancy, Alex Williams and I talk with Jen Fong-Adwent, CEO of the weird new chat app Meatspace. Here’s an exceprt where she explains the origins of the service:
It was actually just an experiment between a colleague and I because she was doing a GIF library with WebRTC for the camera on your browser, and I have been doing chat experiments for a few years now. A lot of mixed media embedded interactions. Basically, experiments with social interaction and very limited forums with very limited effort by the user.
This was the first time around May when I just said hey, you think if you pressed enter and it recorded a few frames of your face as you were reacting as you were typing, we can do that and then my colleague so it was like, yeah, I fixed this. So, we did it and like 2 days we scrapped something together and we played with it internally and then it became public when I spoke in October at Portland and that was when it blew up and it went [unclear 0:02:29] Reddit, everywhere, and there was a lot of people that showed up like the first couple of days and there was a joke that it shut down Silicon Valley because everyone was just so mesmerized by all the GIFs of all these faces and some people were very famous and some people were just normal people. Some people weren’t even tech. It was pretty crazy.
Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Episode 25 – Meatspace and the Organic Ephemeral Marketplace
I’ve blogged before about Dartmouth College research finding that correcting people’s incorrect beliefs with facts can backfire. Now the same group has confirmed their previous work, this time testing various pro-vaccination messages.
Mother Jones reports:
The paper tested the effectiveness of four separate pro-vaccine messages, three of which were based very closely on how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself talks about vaccines. The results can only be called grim: Not a single one of the messages was successful when it came to increasing parents’ professed intent to vaccinate their children. And in several cases the messages actually backfired, either increasing the ill-founded belief that vaccines cause autism or even, in one case, apparently reducing parents’ intent to vaccinate.
The study, by political scientist Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College* and three colleagues, adds to a large body of frustrating research on how hard it is to correct false information and get people to accept indisputable facts. Nyhan and one of his coauthors, Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, are actually the coauthors of a much discussed previous study showing that when politically conservative test subjects read a fake newspaper article containing a quotation of George W. Bush asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, followed by a factual correction stating that this was not actually true, they believed Bush’s falsehood more strongly afterwards—an outcome that Nyhan and Reifler dubbed a “backfire effect.”
Full Story: Mother Jones: Study: You Can’t Change an Anti-Vaxxer’s Mind
Why Facts Backfire
Why we believe lies, even when we learn the truth
Reason Is Used for Justification, Not to Determine Truth
Luba Vangelova reports on a group that believes it may be better to introduce certain elements of, say, calculus to young kids before more route ideas like multiplication tables:
Finding an appropriate path hinges on appreciating an often-overlooked fact—that “the complexity of the idea and the difficulty of doing it are separate, independent dimensions,” she says. “Unfortunately a lot of what little children are offered is simple but hard—primitive ideas that are hard for humans to implement,” because they readily tax the limits of working memory, attention, precision and other cognitive functions. Examples of activities that fall into the “simple but hard” quadrant: Building a trench with a spoon (a military punishment that involves many small, repetitive tasks, akin to doing 100 two-digit addition problems on a typical worksheet, as Droujkova points out), or memorizing multiplication tables as individual facts rather than patterns.
Far better, she says, to start by creating rich and social mathematical experiences that are complex (allowing them to be taken in many different directions) yet easy (making them conducive to immediate play). Activities that fall into this quadrant: building a house with LEGO blocks, doing origami or snowflake cut-outs, or using a pretend “function box” that transforms objects (and can also be used in combination with a second machine to compose functions, or backwards to invert a function, and so on).
“You can take any branch of mathematics and find things that are both complex and easy in it,” Droujkova says. “My quest, with several colleagues around the world, is to take the treasure of mathematics and find the accessible ways into all of it.”
Full Story: The Atlantic: 5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus
The book Moebius Noodles attempts to put these ideas into practice.
Punk Rock Mathematics
Hansel at Interpet This writes:
But this prevalence of torture that you see in otherwise very comparable shows is not limited to Fringe. It is everywhere in American entertainment now.
Everywhere you see it it promotes the lie that torture works. It does this very effectively. Because usually we, the audience, already know that the person being tortured has the information. They just will not give it up. In real life of course torture is not like that. In the hundreds of torture scenes that have been acted out in popular media only a handful show the victim making things up, and saying whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order that they stop torturing them. Which is the reason why torture is not a useful tool. The process would be: Torture someone, they tell you something, you double check that story, maybe torture the people they implicate, then you find it out that there story was incorrect, go back to torturing them. Just one round of that might take days or a weeks. Which would make for boring TV.
Full Story: Interpret This: The Rise and Rise of Television Torture
The politics of the man behind “24.”
Scalia: Fictional TV show justifies legal torture
Nathaniel Rich’s article on the de-extinction movement includes this letter by Stewart Brand to George Church and Edward O. Wilson:
Dear Ed and George . . .
The death of the last passenger pigeon in 1914 was an event that broke the public’s heart and persuaded everyone that extinction is the core of humanity’s relation with nature.
George, could we bring the bird back through genetic techniques? I recall chatting with Ed in front of a stuffed passenger pigeon at the Comparative Zoology Museum [at Harvard, where Wilson is a faculty emeritus], and I know of other stuffed birds at the Smithsonian and in Toronto, presumably replete with the requisite genes. Surely it would be easier than reviving the woolly mammoth, which you have espoused.
The environmental and conservation movements have mired themselves in a tragic view of life. The return of the passenger pigeon could shake them out of it — and invite them to embrace prudent biotechnology as a Green tool instead of menace in this century. . . . I would gladly set up a nonprofit to fund the passenger pigeon revival. . . .
Full Story: The New York Times: The Mammoth Cometh
The details of how it de-extinction would actually work are fascinating, and if you stick with the article long enough, it does include some criticism from mainstream biologists. For one thing, this isn’t really bringing back an old species so much as it easy creating a new species that is very close to the old. In fact, one environmental lawyer has already suggested that such species could be patentable.
This week on Mindful Cyborgs, Alex Williams, Chris Dancy and I talked about Hollywood’s obsession with “freakish AI killing off humanity or making love to it”:
We’re just becoming more and more intimate with our machines all the time and I think that’s where that fear of AI’s and that – that’s where those plots are coming from.
On the other hand, a lot of this stuff has been – a lot of these ideas have been around for a long time. I’ve just been reading some of Isaac Asimov’s old stories. I just read his first robot story, Robbie, and it’s all about a parent being afraid that her daughter is spending too much time with a robot companion, which you could totally transfer that to modern days; worried that my kid is spending too much time with her cell phone.
CD: Or on her Xbox, yeah. Insert Gadget X.
KF: Yeah. He also wrote a story – so Robbie was his first robot story. I think it was 1939. He also wrote a story in, I think, 1956 called The Last Question that was essentially a story about the singularity; about the hive mind, artificial intelligence thing that just lives in the – an alternative dimension of the galaxy after humans have become extinct, after humans have become immortal and then left their bodies and essentially just become some sort of thing. This is long before the word ‘singularity’ was on anyone’s lips. These fears and ideas and dreams have been with us for a long time.
Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Automation for the Entitled and the Impending Data Revolution
Kevin Drum writes:
The decline of union power is irreversible. Private-sector unions are all but dead, and public-sector unions are barely hanging on by their fingernails. That doesn’t mean liberals should give up on labor, or that labor should give up on organizing new industries. Of course they shouldn’t. It just means that as a broad-based force that provides a countervailing force against the power of the business community, labor’s day is over. Like it or not, liberals have to figure out something else to play that role.
Full Story: Mother Jones: Unions Are Dying. What Will Replace Them?
Drum doesn’t have any suggestions as to what that might be.
Two thoughts on this:
1) We need to disentangle the idea of labor from the idea of labor unions. Saying “unions are dead” shouldn’t mean the same thing as saying “labor is dead.”
2) One possible path forward is through professional organizations, as opposed to unions. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had some traction in this regard. The difference between a labor union and a professional organization may seem semantic at first blush, but there is a difference. Unions engage in both lobbying and collective bargaining in the work place. Professional organizations skip the collective bargaining, and stick with advocating policy. It can be easier, and more anonymous, to join a professional group. In the near future that could be an advantage.
Normcore—it was funny, but it also effectively captured the self-aware, stylized blandness I’d been noticing. Brad’s source for the term was the trend forecasting collective (and fellow artists) K-Hole. They had been using it in a slightly different sense, not to describe a particular look but a general attitude: embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for “difference” or “authenticity.” In fashion, though, this manifests itself in ardently ordinary clothes. Mall clothes. Blank clothes. The kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld, but transposed on a Cooper Union student with William Gibson glasses. [...]
K-HOLE describes normcore as a theory rather than a look; but in practice, the contemporary normcore styles I’ve seen have their clear aesthetic precedent in the nineties. The editorials in Hot and Cool look a lot like Corinne Day styling newcomer Kate Moss in Birkenstocks in 1990, or like Art Club 2000′s appropriation of madras from the Gap, like grunge-lite and Calvin Klein minimalism. But while (in their original incarnation) those styles reflected anxiety around “selling out,” today’s version is more ambivalent toward its market reality. Normcore isn’t about rebelling against or giving into the status quo; it’s about letting go of the need to look distinctive, to make time for something new.
Full Story: New York Magazine: Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They’re One in 7 Billion
A simpler explanation is that this stuff is just the latest uncool thing that hipsters have made hip, and that the 90s are the new 80s.
(Though my own typical ensemble of a plain black t-shirt, bootcut blue jeans, black Vans slips and black Marmot rain jacket could easily be described normcore, and I justify it much the way the people interviewed for the story do)
(via Nathan Jurgenson)
Evgeny Morozov writes:
We must subject social media to the kind of scrutiny that has been applied to the design of gambling machines in Las Vegas casinos. As Natasha Dow Schüll shows in her excellent book Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, while casino operators want us to think that addiction is the result of our moral failings or some biological imbalance, they themselves are to blame for designing gambling machines in a way that feeds addiction. With social media—much like with gambling machines or fast food—our addiction is manufactured, not natural.
In other words, why we disconnect matters: We can continue in today’s mode of treating disconnection as a way to recharge and regain productivity, or we can view it as a way to sabotage the addiction tactics of the acceleration-distraction complex that is Silicon Valley.
Full Story: The Mindfulness Racket: The evangelists of unplugging might just have another agenda
The idea of disconnecting as subversive activity reminds me of Hakim Bey’s Immediatism.
Gentrification protesters crash Google talk on corporate mindfulness
For Silicon Valley, Meditation Is About Getting Ahead, Not Inner Peace
Contemplative Computing: Lessons From Monks About Designing The Technologies Of The Future
Glenn Greenwald reports on more documents from Edward Snowden’s cache, this batch on how GCHQ uses online deception and other tactics to discredit hacktivists and possibly other political activists:
Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums. [...]
Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation. Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.
Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).
Full Story: The Intercept: How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations
What’s more, the GCHQ admit in one of the docs that this activity has nothing to do with terrorism or even national security.
Obama advisor suggests “cognitive infiltration”
DARPA Looks to “Counteract” Propaganda in Social Networks