All Posts

Posts
Video

Increasingly, our everyday lives are influenced by computing algorithms that we cannot see or control.

This is the somewhat alarmist but nonetheless grounded in truth statement by Kevin Slavin in his recent TED talk (shown in the embedded player to the right). It’s not just financial markets, but movie scripts, book recommendations and advertising selections… the online and media world is increasing using software algorithms to tailor itself to what a mathematical equation thinks we want.

I find one of the most alarming examples is Facebook’s algorithm to determine what warrants “top news”. Effectively, Facebook is deciding for you which of your many friends’ updates is most important. And the implications of that are quite scary.. What if a friend thinks you are not listening because Facebook filtered out their update? Or what if you miss an opportunity for a future romantic involvement because Facebook hides a party update from what it thinks is someone you don’t care about?

Increasingly in the future we are going to have to think carefully about what decisions we allow software to make for us, and what things we should keep full control of ourselves.

Watch the TED video here or embedded above, or read the BBC News article for more information.

Posts
Video

The sequel to Deus Ex, one of the top-ranked games of all time and a pioneer in the cyperpunk genre, is nearing release. The sequel paints a pretty bleak picture of human augmentation. But this live action trailer goes way beyond promoting a game; it’s nothing short of a short film on the consequences of human augmentation.

Watch the clip. Forget it’s a video game. How likely is this kind of thing in coming years?

Featured
Links
Posts
Video

You know that scene in Bladerunner where Harrison Ford uses a computer to zoom, refocus and travel in 3D space within a photograph? For years we’ve all thought that would be forever impossible, but new technology from Lytro suggests that this sort of thing may soon be possible.

Their forthcoming light field camera captures not just one perspective of a scene, but uses a lenticular array to capture the entire light field, meaning that the 3D space from which the light originated can be explored after the photo is taken – so you can change which part of the scene is in focus, generate 3D images or even peek “behind” foreground objects.

The Silicon Valley startup clearly faces technical and financial challenges to change their prototypes into an affordable consumer product – but the cat is out of the bag on the idea, and we can expect camera manufacturers to race to catch up and enter this brand new market. This is a disruptive technology with huge potential to change the way we think about photography. Soon we may have a completely new kind of camera, which can truly capture a moment in a way we never thought possible. Some are wondering if it will take the skill out of photography, while others are already speculating about what this might do to re-ignite 3D film-making.

Read more details at AllThingsDigital and try refocussing images for yourself in Lytro’s Picture Gallery.

Posts
Thumbnailed

One step away from lost privacy?

Cafe Couple (cc) by iFovea on Flickr

Imagine you’re out in town one day. You feel free and anonymous, so when the opportunity arises and you have an illicit cigarette, pop into a sex shop or have coffee with an ex, you assume no-one will know. But with technology that already exists today, this basic right to keep your actions secret could be gone. Here’s how it will happen: Read more »

Posts

Human 2.0 Holiday Highlights

What better way to ring in the New Year than to put your feet up and enjoy a few re-runs? Here are some of our most popular posts from the last year or so as well as a few you might have missed…

1. Posthumanity and digital superpowers

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdm1979uk/3607288494

We’ve been blogging about Human 2.0 for over two years now, but it was this April that we split off from Bitcurrent and launched this site. We kicked off with two launch posts… a high-level scene-setter called Welcome to posthumanity:

“We’re becoming a new species–one that can hack its own cognition and edit its own biology. We’re all getting an upgrade, like it or not. This is the most important subject of the century, but it’s still hiding in academia and science fiction. We hope to change that.”

Ten superpowers the Internet gave us

…and a look at some of the tangible ways in which the Internet gives us superpowers:

We may not realize it, but the Internet has given us superhuman abilities. Technology lets us to do things that were impossible 30 years ago – from speaking foreign languages and armchair travel to global messaging and virtual worlds. Welcome, Human 2.0, these are your superpowers.

2. It’s all about the data

Read more »

Audio
Featured
Posts
Thumbnailed

Can computers help us remember?

"Memory is full" (cc) by Rutger Middendorp

What if you could Google your own memories and recall details with perfect clarity? What if your iPhone could ensure you never forget to buy birthday gifts for the people you love? Can we trust our own recollections of past events? Will we all have digital assistants in the future?

These are just some of the questions discussed in this 30-minute audio interview with Sunil Vemuri. Sunil spent 2 years digitally recording his own life while he was a researcher at MIT, and went on to found reQall, a company whose product specializes in helping you remember what’s important as you go about your daily life, with a minimum of effort.

Click here to listen to the full MP3 interview. (Length 32:19, Size 31Mb).

Editor’s note: This interview was recorded back in March 2010, as the first episode in a regular Human 2.0 podcast series. Unfortunately, as Human 2.0 is made in our free time, we’ve had to put the podcast plans on hold for the time being. We’re publishing this as a one-off audio post, but watch this space as we may feature more audio content in the future!

Image (cc) by Rutger Middendorp on Flickr.

Featured
Posts
Video

Periodicity

I have a rather awkward subject to discuss. The last time I brought it up in mixed company, someone slapped me. But I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s worth discussing.

Natural language processing and semantic analysis allows us to extract sentiment from documents. Marketing organizations and community managers rely on tools from Scoutlabs, Radian6, and others that try to understand how online communities feel about their brands and products.

As we share more of our lives online, there’s more to analyze. Researchers from Northeastern University and Harvard University analyzed Twitter’s mood over the day. This kind of sentiment analysis can look at someone’s online messages and decide whether they’re angry or content, happy or sad. Given data over time, it can likely recognize patterns of mood, even cycles.

Such as those that occur every twenty-eight days.

(It’s at this point that my dinner companion launched a well-aimed palm at my somewhat scruffy chin.)
Read more »

Featured
Posts
Video

Understanding human behaviour is vital for good product design. But you can’t just ask people what they need, you have to observe them first-hand. iPods, eBay and TiVo exist because designers watched people, noticed a problem with current products, and designed a solution for a problem people didn’t even know they had.

At OXO Foods in the UK, researchers studied how people measure liquids while cooking, and noticed that most people need to bend down repeatedly to read the markings on the side of the container. None of them reported this as a problem when interviewed. So OXO designed a measuring jug(cup) which could be viewed from above (shown right). This is an example of the growing science of design ethnography – product design based on direct human observation.

How to measure human behaviour “in the wild”?

Observational studies are expensive to conduct, and sometimes distorted because you can’t always observe someone in their natural environment. Fortunately, computers now make it much easier to collect data from “real world” activities. Such data is invaluable – for product designers to better understand their users, and also for us to help us cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves. Read more »

Posts

Part four: digital classrooms demand a new kind of teacher

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

Tablet computing is the catalyst that can trigger a classroom revolution: the digital classroom, personalized learning, cheap access to content, and a transformation of how we learn. They promise a shift in education that puts the student, not the teacher, at the center of the learning experience. And tablets can capture and analyze everything about how someone learns.

In other words, tablets make teaching accountable, bringing to it the kind of clarity and can’t-argue-with-that science that has transformed online marketing. But as we saw yesterday, there are powerful forces terrified of what the harsh light of accountability will reveal, as we saw yesterday.

Tablets don’t just display, they collect

Tablets are the ultimate analytical tool. They collect copious amounts of data that can be analyzed, letting us crunch all aspects of a learning experience: What was read, touched, and heard; when and where that learning happened; what was read slowly and what was rushed through. Properly instrumented, a tablet is a window into how a student acquires knowledge. It’s the perfect sensor for educational analytics.

And analytics, as anyone who runs a website will tell you, mean accountability. As we saw yesterday, accountability is something that unions have resisted defiantly for decades.

Tablets, and the digital revolution they bring into the classroom, could radically change the way we learn, and with that, the fate of a society. But they’ll be fought every step of the way by teachers who fear for their jobs. If those teachers win, it’ll be another continent’s turn. So convinced of this was the producer of 2 Million Minutes that, when I saw him speak last year, he admitted to buying a condominium in Mumbai for his retirement because he expected India to have the best standard of living.
Read more »

Posts

Part three: the problem with teachers’ unions

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

At this point in my research, as I explained in yesterday’s post, I’d concluded that learning isn’t a priority in North America — politically, culturally, or economically. It seems to me that tablets — with their access to affordable, tailored education — offer a tantalizing cure to the ills of North American’s classrooms, and a path to the digital classroom that can help us catch up with the rest of the world.

When I started looking into the issue of education in North America, I assumed that military spending outstripped healthcare and education dramatically. That’s how it is in many regions. In San Francisco, for example, 21% of a family’s taxes in 2007 paid for war, while just 5% went to education. Globalissues.org puts military spending — and the financing of past wars — at 44.4% of the US tax haul, with education just under 7%.

In absolute terms, the US pays a tremendous amount for its education (putting aside “special budgets” for specific wars). Universities in the US are the most expensive in the world, and despite spending all that money, the K-12 educational system is dysfunctional.

Comparing standardized test scores, spending on teachers in North America climbed dramatically while performance remained flat.

In other words, despite spending a lot on education, we aren’t seeing good results.

Read more »

Powered by WordPress, based on Mina theme.