How to fix Facebook

The NYT asked nine experts how to “fix” facebook. Kevin Kelly (my favorite tech guru) offered the following suggestion:

“Facebook should reduce anonymity by requiring real verification of real names for real people, with the aim of having 100 percent of individuals verified.”

“Companies would need additional levels of verification, and should have a label and scrutiny different from those of people. (Whistle-blowers and dissidents might need to use a different platform.)”

“Facebook could also offer an optional filter that would keep any post (or share) of an unverified account from showing up. I’d use that filter.”

What Mongolian Nomads Teach Us About the Digital Future

“I think we’ll cruise through the future with empty pockets. I won’t need to carry my phone because I should be able to lift up any screen anywhere and have it immediately became my tool, my screen. It recognizes me from my face, voice, heartbeat, and transforms itself into my phone interface. When I am done, I leave that screen where it was. To read a book I pick up any screen. To travel, I pick any car. To use a power tool, I summon it online and it’s in my hand within 30 minutes. And when I travel, why should I drag clothes around? In a nomadix future, the hotel or Airbnb will provide my favorite clothes when I arrive and recycle them when I depart. The environment, if it is rich and well-cared for and understood, shall provide.”

“They get a signal from the air, energy from the sun, and a motorcycle from China. And they can still pack up and move everything in a hour.”

Kevin Kelly writing in Wired

The Rise of Exotropy

The following passage is from Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants.

Most hydrogen atoms were born at the beginning of time. They are as old as time itself. They were created in the fires of the big bang and dispersed into the universe as a uniform warm mist. Thereafter, each atom has been on a lonely journey. When a hydrogen atom drifts in the unconsciousness of deep space, hundreds of kilometers from another atom, it is hardly much more active than the vacuum surrounding it. Time is meaningless without change, and in the vast reaches of space that fill 99.99 percent of the universe, there is little change.

After billions of years, a hydrogen atom might be swept up by the currents of gravity radiating from a congealing galaxy. With the dimmest hint of time and change it slowly drifts in a steady direction toward other stuff. Another billion years later it bumps into the first bit of matter it has ever encountered, After millions of years it meets the second. In time it meets another of its kind, a hydrogen atom. They drift together in mild attraction until aeons later they meet an oxygen atom. Suddenly something weird happens. In a flash of heat they clump together as one later molecule. Maybe they get sucked into the atmosphere circulation of a planet. Under this marriage, they are caught in great cycles of change. Rapidly the molecule is carried up and then rained down into a crowded pool of other jostling atoms. In the company of uncountable numbers of other water molecules it travels this circuit around and around for millions of years, from crammed pools to expansive clouds and back. One day, in a stroke of luck, the water molecule is captured by a chain of unusually active carbons in one pool. Its path is once again accelerated. It spins around in a simple loop, assisting the travel of carbon chains. It enjoys speed, movement, and change such as would not be possible in the comatose recesses of space. The carbon chain is stolen by another chain and reassembled many times until the hydrogen finds itself in a cell constantly rearranging its relations and bonds with other molecules. Now it hardly ever stops changing, never stops interacting.

Our extended self

I’m rereading Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

“If I re-google my own email (stored in a cloud) to find out what I said (which I do) or rely on the cloud for my memory, where does my “I” end and the cloud start? If all the images of my life, and all the snippets of my interests, and all of my notes and all my chitchat with friends, and all my choices, and all my recommendations, and all my thoughts, and all my wishes — if all this is sitting somewhere, but nowhere in particular, it changes how I think of myself. […] The cloud is our extended soul. Or, if you prefer, our extended self.”

My relationship with the cloud has changed how I think about who or what I am. The best example of that is my fetish for saving excerpts from my favorite books in Google Docs. A few of those ideas might have stuck in the mush between my ears but not many.

Today I can open up Google Docs, enter a word or phrase (consciousness, self, universe, time, reality, media, etc) and instantly pull up every instance of that in every book or article I’ve read (and saved). And, increasingly, I’m linking these excerpts (someday Google will do that for me if I want).

Like Mr. Kelly, it doesn’t feel like Google et al are (is?) replacing my memory or intelligence so much as expanding and enhancing it.

New tests for AI

Kevin Kelly points to a list of new tests for AI (now that it’s whupped human champs of chess, Jeopardy and Go. A few of my favorites below. I hope I live to see some of these. Such intelligence will have no patience for putting human morons in charge of anything important.

9. Take a written passage and output a recording that can’t be distinguished from a voice actor, by an expert listener.

18. Fold laundry as well and as fast as the median human clothing store employee.

26. Write an essay for a high-school history class that would receive high grades and pass plagiarism detectors. For example answer a question like ‘How did the whaling industry affect the industrial revolution?’

27. Compose a song that is good enough to reach the US Top 40. The system should output the complete song as an audio file.

28. Produce a song that is indistinguishable from a new song by a particular artist, e.g. a song that experienced listeners can’t distinguish from a new song by Taylor Swift.

29. Write a novel or short story good enough to make it to the New York Times best-seller list.

31. Play poker well enough to win the World Series of Poker.

A new mind for an old species

“Technology and life must share some fundamental essence. … However you define life, its essence does not reside in material forms like DNA, tissue, or flesh, but in the intangible organization of the energy and information contained in those material forms. Both life and technology seem to be based on immaterial flows of information.” (What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly)

“Humanity is developing a sort of global eyesight as millions of video cameras on satellites, desktops, and street corners are connected to the Internet. In your lifetime it will be possible to see almost anything on the planet from any computer. And society’s intelligence is merging over the Internet, creating, in effect, a global mind that can do vastly more than any individual mind. Eventually everything that is known by one person will be available to all. A decision can be made by the collective mind of humanity and instantly communicated to the body of society.” (God’s Debris, Scott Adams, 2004)

“All information will come in by super-realistic television and other electronic devices as yet in the planning stage or barely imagined. In one way this will enable the individual to extend himself anywhere without moving his body— even to distant regions of space. But this will be a new kind of individual— an individual with a colossal external nervous system reaching out and out into infinity. And this electronic nervous system will be so interconnected that all individuals plugged in will tend to share the same thoughts, the same feelings, and the same experiences. […] If all this ends with the human race leaving no more trace of itself in the universe than a system of electronic patterns, why should that trouble us? For that is exactly what we are now!” (The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts,1989)

“This very large thing (the net) provides a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall, planetary scope) and a new mind for an old species. It is the Beginning. […] At its core 7 billion humans, soon to be 9 billion, are quickly cloaking themselves with an always-on layer of connectivity that comes close to directly linking their brains to each other. […] By the year 2025 every person alive — that is, 100 percent of the planet’s inhabitants — will have access to this platform via some almost-free device. Everyone will be on it. Or in it. Or, simply, everyone will be it.” (The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly)

You are being tracked

“This list, instead, tallies the kind of tracking an average person might encounter on an ordinary day in the United States. Each example has been sourced officially or from a major publication.” [The 24 ways we’re tracked on a regular basis.]

  • Car movements — Every car since 2006 contains a chip that records your speed, braking, turns, mileage, accidents whenever you start your car.
  • Highway traffic — Cameras on poles and sensors buried in highway record the location of cars by license plates and fast-track badges. Sev enty million plates are recorded each month.
  • Ride-share taxis — Uber, Lyft, and other decentralized rides record your trips.
  • Long-distance travel — Your travel itinerary for air flights and trains is recorded.
  • Drone surveillance — Along U.S. borders, Predator drones monitor and record outdoor activities.
  • Postal mail — The exterior of every piece of paper mail you send or receive is scanned and digitized.
  • Utilities — Your power and water usage patterns are kept by utilities. (Garbage is not cataloged, yet.)
  • Cell phone location and call logs — Where, when, and who you call (meta- data) is stored for months. Some phone carriers routinely store the contents of calls and messages for days to years.
  • Civic cameras — Cameras record your activities 24/7 in most city down towns in the U.S.
  • Commercial and private spaces — Today 68 percent of public employers, 59 percent of private employers, 98 percent of banks, 64 percent of public schools, and 16 percent of homeowners live or work under cameras.
  • Smart home — Smart thermostats (like Nest) detect your presence and behavior patterns and transmit these to the cloud. Smart electrical outlets (like Belkin) monitor power consumption and usage times shared to the cloud.
  • Home surveillance — Installed video cameras document your activity inside and outside the home, stored on cloud servers.
  • Interactive devices — Your voice commands and messages from phones (Siri, Now, Cortana), consoles (Kinect), smart TVs, and ambient micro phones (Amazon Echo) are recorded and processed on the cloud.
  • Grocery loyalty cards — Supermarkets track which items you purchase and when.
    E- retailers — Retailers like Amazon track not only what you purchase, but what you look at and even think about buying.
  • IRS — Tracks your financial situation all your life.
  • Credit cards — Of course, every purchase is tracked. Also mined deeply with sophisticated AI for patterns that reveal your personality, ethnic ity, idiosyncrasies, politics, and preferences.
  • E-wallets and e-banks — Aggregators like Mint track your entire financial situation from loans, mortgages, and investments. Wallets like Square and PayPal track all purchases.
  • Photo face recognition — Facebook and Google can identify (tag) you in pictures taken by others posted on the web. The location of pictures can identify your location history.
  • Web activities — Web advertising cookies track your movements across the web. More than 80% of the top thousand sites employ web cookies that follow you wherever you go on the web. Through agree ments with ad networks, even sites you did not visit can get informa tion about your viewing history.
  • Social media — Can identify family members, friends, and friends of friends. Can identify and track your former employers and your cur rent work mates. And how you spend your free time.
  • Search browsers — By default Google saves every question you’ve ever asked forever.
  • Streaming services — What movies (Netflix), music (Spotify), video (You Tube) you consume and when, and what you rate them. This includes cable companies; your watching history is recorded.
  • Book reading — Public libraries record your borrowings for about a month. Amazon records book purchases forever. Kindle monitors your reading patterns on ebooks — where you are in the book, how long you take to read each page, where you stop.

“It is shockingly easy to imagine what power would accrue to any agency that could integrate all these streams. The fear of Big Brother stems directly from how technically easy it would be to stitch these together. At the moment, however, most of these streams are independent. Their bits are not integrated and correlated.”

Excerpts from Kelly’s The Inevitable.

The Inevitable

inevitable“Thousands of years from now, when historians review the past, our ancient time here at the beginning of the third millennium will be seen as an amazing moment. This is the time when inhabitants of this planet first linked themselves together into one very large thing. Later the very large thing would become even larger, but you and I are alive at the moment when it first awoke. Future people will envy us, wishing they could have witnessed the birth we saw.”

“This very large thing (the net) provides a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall, planetary scope) and a new mind for an old species. It is the Beginning. […] At its core 7 billion humans, soon to be 9 billion, are quickly cloaking themselves with an always-on layer of connectivity that comes close to directly linking their brains to each other. […] By the year 2025 every person alive — that is, 100 percent of the planet’s inhabitants — will have access to this platform via some almost-free device. Everyone will be on it. Or in it. Or, simply, everyone will be it.”

While reading Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable, I underlined passages so I could post them here for future reference. I do this with each book I read. I’m not going to do that for this book because my highlights filled 11 pages but you can find them here.

Physicists to test if universe a computer simulation

Three of my favorite Smart People (Kevin Kelly, Ray Kurzweil and Scott Adams) have convinced me there will be a post-human stage in our evolution. And Scott Adams makes a compelling (to me) case for the computer simulation theory.

“The theory basically goes that any civilisation which could evolve to a ‘post-human’ stage would almost certainly learn to run simulations on the scale of a universe. And that given the size of reality – billions of worlds, around billions of suns – it is fairly likely that if this is possible, it has already happened. And if it has? Well, then the statistical likelihood is that we’re located somewhere in that chain of simulations within simulations. The alternative – that we’re the first civilisation, in the first universe – is virtually absurd.”

Before you dismiss this theory, compare it to this popular creation narrative:

“It is made up of two parts, roughly equivalent to the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. In the first part, Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3, Elohim, the generic Hebrew word for God, creates the world in six days, then rests on, blesses and sanctifies the seventh day. God creates by spoken command (“Let there be…”), suggesting a comparison with a king, who has only to speak for things to happen, and names the elements of the cosmos as he creates them, in keeping with the common ancient concept that things did not really exist until they had been named. In the second, Genesis 2:4–24, Yahweh, the personal name of God, shapes the first man from dust, places him in the Garden of Eden, and breathes his own breath into the man who thus becomes נֶפֶש nephesh, a living being; man shares nephesh with all creatures, but only of man is this life-giving act of God described. The man names the animals, signifying his authority within God’s creation, and God creates the first woman, Eve, from the man’s body.”