Category Archives: Just for fun

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2015 Maine Winter Hackathon and Adventure Club

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Private drones

Private droneIt’s becoming easy; we’re on the cusp. Soon, you will be able to assemble or buy a private drone that can go anywhere, record video, deliver a payload, retrieve a thing, whatever. Land, sea, and sky. Automated surveillance systems can be easy to control. Can you click on a spot on a map? That’s pretty much all you need.

How do we respond as a society when anyone can spy or kill as easily as clicking an app? How do you trace an attack that is delivered from the sky from anyone anywhere? How do you handle alibis when you can schedule a crime with cron?

I don’t know the answer, but it’s a continuation of a long trend toward putting more lethal power into more hands. I hope some smart people are thinking well about this.

Somehow, I don’t think a drone shield is going to be enough.

No Brain Required

I was watching a PBS special on how plants, through their roots, compete with other species and sometimes support their own relatives. The narrator and some of the scientists hinted at plant cognition and asked the viewer how plants think. Observing analogous dynamics in software, it’s clear that there is no brain or thinking required.

These types of behaviors can have local (cellular) controls and do not require central planning. Coordination emerges from the cells’ common responses. All plant roots produce chemicals and these chemicals can promote or inhibit growth, trigger other chemicals, etc.

This leads me to point out another widespread misunderstanding or miscommunication about how human behavior. A lot of what we do is conditioned or innate, and does not require or use the brain. Our bodies have nervous tissue throughout, and muscle stimulation originates all over the nervous system. The brain gets too much credit for the complex system of cells that in many cases are doing their own thinking in their own simplistic way.


Anticipating the Singularity

If you don’t know about the singularity, here is some background and context.

I love Ray Kurzweil.  I saw him once in a diner but I’ve never met him. I feel like I know him, though, and have benefitted so much from his published work.

However, I’m confused by this update on his new job with Google.  Maybe he is simplifying for the interview, but his focus on language seemed off target.  I also believe in Marvin Minsky’s “Society of Mind“, and see language as a small piece of the big picture.

I think the information architecture (how concepts are defined and connected) is much more important, and distinct from the language used to represent it.  In other words, the reality is distinct from the words used to describe it.  If you are a programmer, you might draw an analogy to the MVC framework, where the Model is the information architecture and the View is the language.  If you are bilingual, you feel this.

If Kurzweil and his team focus on language, I hope they do so merely as an interface.  They can look through the lens of language to build the AI, and users will use language to interact.  But language seems like just an interface to the actual interesting work to be done building the singularity.

Maybe this is what he meant.  It probably is.

Google is on the wrong side of the Real Name War

Google is requiring that G+ customers use their real names.

A vocal group has been fighting this requirement in a growing protest known as “Nymwars“.

Google’s requirement is based on their plan to use G+ as an identity service while the nymwarriors demand that real identities are sometimes used by oppressive regimes to stifle free speech and track political activists.

Google’s position violates the “Don’t be evil” code.  It also ignores an important market demand: profile management.  G+ should allow real people with real names to create public profiles of any nickname they like.  These nicknames would be persistently attached to the account, and bad behavior could remain accountable, but real people could remain anonymous to the public to avoid retribution or political oppression.

It’s usually a good idea to give users what they want, and in this case, Google could use this opportunity to become a new kind of identity provider: one that supports private links between private citizens and their public profiles.

Visual overlay will be very cool

I’m not making any forecasts about when this is going to happen, but visual overlay will be very cool.

We will still see the world as it is, of course.  But we will be able to add layers.  Layers can give us information like the ratings of a restaurant we see or night vision or heat vision, or little flying arrows showing the direction and speed of the wind.  Layers can also give us controls like interacting with vending machines or unlocking your car, or saving a good bottle of wine.

It will be very cool.

Things have changed since I wrote about this in 2002, but I wasn’t completely wrong: The Etherface

Wikipedia anything you see.  Add people you meet to your contact list with context.  Users generate content.  API lets developers add controls.