Tagbig data

If You Plug Twitter Into a Digital Avatar, Can You Live Forever?

New article from me at Wired:

In one episode of Black Mirror — the British television series that explores the near future of technology with an edginess reminiscent of The Twilight Zone — a woman’s husband dies, and she replaces him with a robot.

This walking automaton looks like him and talks like him, and it even acts like him, after plugging into his Twitter account and analyzing every tweet he ever sent.

Yes, that’s a far cry from reality, but it’s not as far as you might think. With an online service called Lifenaut, an operation called the Terasem Movement Foundation offers a means of digitally cloning yourself through a series of personality tests and data from your social media profiles. The idea is to create an online version of you that can live forever, a digital avatar that even future generations can talk to and interact with. Eventually, Terasem wants to transform these avatars into walking, talking robots — just like on Black Mirror. And today, it provides a more primitive version, for free. [...]

But Dale Carrico, a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley, is skeptical. To say the least. He says that the folks at Terasem and other “transhumanists” — those who believe the human body can be radically enhanced or even transcended entirely through technology — are pursing pipe dreams. He doesn’t even give them create for trying. “The trying is evidence only of the depth of their misunderstanding, not of their worthy diligence,” he says. Simply put, an avatar isn’t a person — in any meaningful sense.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: If You Plug Twitter Into a Digital Avatar, Can You Live Forever?

My avatar is embedded in the story so you can chat with it.

Change.org Isn’t a Non-Profit, and It’s Selling Your E-Mail Address to Fundraisers

My latest for Wired:

What many people fail to realize is that Change.org isn’t a non-profit organization. Though anyone can set up a petition for free, the company makes an awful lot of money from all the data it collects about its online petitions and the people who sign them. It’s not just a path to The People. It’s a Google-like Big Data play.

In amassing data from its 45 million users and the 660,000 petitions they’ve created and signed, the company has unprecedented insight into the habits of online activists. If you sign one animal rights petition, the company says, you’re 2.29 times more likely to sign a criminal justice petition. And if you sign a criminal justice petition, you’re 6.3 times more likely to sign an economic justice petition. And 4.4 times more likely to sign an immigrant rights petition. And four times more likely to sign an education petition. And so on.

Change.org uses this data to serve you petitions you’re more likely to be interested in. And, in many cases, it also uses the stuff as a way of pairing you with paying sponsors you’re more likely to give money to.

It’s an intriguing business, and as it turns out, a rather lucrative one. But for some, it also toes an ethical line. “We’ve sort of created an email industrial complex where we’ll do anything to get people’s email address,” says Clay Johnson, a Presidential Innovation Fellow who, in 2004, co-founded Blue State Digital, a for-profit consulting company that helped develop the Obama campaign’s finely targeted fundraising system.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Meet Change.org, the Google of Modern Politics

The Corporation Who Would Be King

Some design fiction from Tim Maly, who wrote that thing about corporations being bad AI:

“…if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election…”
-Montana Bill Would Give Corporations The Right To Vote by Ian Millhiser for Thinkprogress

A broader version of this law passes, leading to an explosion of algorithmic corporations owning nominal fractions of land to meet the real property requirement.

Eventually, the corporate hordes overrun their human voter counterparts. A ballot measure is introduced allowing corporations to stand for election. It passes. Now, their dark work begins.

Full Story: Quiet Babylon: The Corporation Who Would be King

Meteorologists: The Original Data Scientists?

Rock star data scientist Nate Silver wrote a long article on meteorology for the New York Times:

Why are weather forecasters succeeding when other predictors fail? It’s because long ago they came to accept the imperfections in their knowledge. That helped them understand that even the most sophisticated computers, combing through seemingly limitless data, are painfully ill equipped to predict something as dynamic as weather all by themselves. So as fields like economics began relying more on Big Data, meteorologists recognized that data on its own isn’t enough.

The New York Times: The Weatherman Is Not a Moron

(via Abe)

DARPA Wants to Master the Neuroscience of Narrative

Once scientists have perfected the science of how stories affect our neurochemistry, they will develop tools to “detect narrative influence.” These tools will enable “prevention of negative behavioral outcomes … and generation of positive behavioral outcomes, such as building trust.” In other words, the tools will be used to detect who’s been controlled by subversive ideologies, better allowing the military to drown out that message and win people onto their side.

Danger Room: Darpa Wants to Master the Science of Propaganda

A couple years ago I would have dismissed this, but data scientists are getting closer to being able to pull this sort of thing off. I’d still say this is years off, but it’s edging closer to the realm of possibility.

Look, for instance, at how semantic analysis is affecting the legal profession and how many high-end, professional jobs are being replaced by robots.

See also:

The Rise of Predictive Policing

The Rise of Predictive Policing: Police Using Statistics to Predict Crime

The Minority Report

The Department of Homeland security is field testing a system that will attempt to predict which passengers on an airline are planning terrorist activity, according to Nature. The system, called Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) looks at a number of factors, including your pulse, the steadiness of your gaze and the way you walk and calculates the probability that you’re planning to commit a crime. It’s a bit like a polygraph, but it doesn’t require subjects to be connecting to a polygraph.

DHS claims that the system is 70% effective in lab tests.

Nature: Terrorist ‘pre-crime’ detector field tested in United States

But DHS isn’t the only law enforcement agency looking to statistic modeling to predict crime. Earlier this year Slate ran a story on how police departments, including the LAPD and Chicago PD, are researching predictive policing. This projects aren’t about predicting the actions of one individual, Minority Report style, but instead are designed to help decide how best to allocate police resources.

Slate: Can police really predict crime before it happens?.

Good News for Data Geeks, Bad News for Everyone Else

not hiring

I have a new piece on the dismal impact of information technology on the workforce at ReadWriteWeb:

Last week we told you that enterprises are investing more into business intelligence and analytics initiatives. This week there’s more good news for professionals in this area: according to KDNuggets, salaries are rising for analytics and data mining professionals.

Based on a poll with approximately 250 respondents, KDNuggets found that salaries are up from its 2010 poll in North America, Western Europe, Asia and Latin America. (There is no mention of Eastern Europe, Africa or Antarctica.)

It’s a good time to be a geek, particularly one with a background in statistics, analytics and data mining. But a bad time to be almost any other type of worker.

For example, The New York Times reported on software that can process legal documents at a fraction of the cost of hiring lawyers and paralegals:

“Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.”

That’s good news for the people who develop that software. But for people in the legal profession? Not so much.

ReadWriteWeb: Good News for Data Geeks, Bad News for Everyone Else

Supplemental reading:

Paul Krugman: Degrees and Dollars

Paul Krugman: Autor! Autor!

Krugman, again, on the same issue back in 1996

And, less dreary but probably less realistic:

Jobs 2.0: Data-centric Jobs for Generation Y

Photo by Daniel Lobo

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