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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 »

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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.

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color stay by unclestabby from http://www.flickr.com/photos/unclestabby/2706034988/

As we move online, the definition of a community changes. Our neighbors aren’t just those people physically near us, but those we hang out with. This flexible definition of a community has serious repercussions for law and social morals: when we find kindred spirits online, we start thinking that everyone is just like us. At the same time, different communities hold us to different standards, and now that those communities leak into one another we need to apply context to our judgement.

In the 1970s bestseller The Joy Of Sex, we learn about a man who could only be aroused in a bathtub full of spaghetti. Back then, he probably led a lonely, normal life — albeit one in which he bought a lot of pasta and had a higher water bill than his neighbors. It’s unlikely that he had friends who shared his particular turn-on. Read more »

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Colt firearm from SZuppo on Flickr

September, 2014 was unusually cold for Boston. The chill from the Charles drifted in through an open window and slid across the floor of the one-bedroom apartment. Special Agent Ross took in the mess of books, records, and DVDs scattered around the room, framing the dead body of Janet Somers.

Back at the office, he started filing in the forms of the homicide report, detailing the execution-style killing—one shot to the back of the head—and signs of struggle. He’d barely had time to fetch a fresh cup of coffee when the PDA on his hip started buzzing. “Ross.” he answered curtly, annoyed by yet another interruption in what was already looking like a long day.

“This is Mike Lynch. I work for the U.S. Marshals,” explained the caller. “You filed the homicide report on Janet Somers, right?”

“Sure. You knew her?” asked Ross.

“Detective Ross, I work in Witness Protection. It’s not that I knew her, so much as I tried to make the world forget her. Based on what happened today, it sounds like I failed,” said Lynch.

“Yeah, it looked like a professional job: one shot to the back of the head at close range. What’s up?” asked Ross.

“I need you to tell me what music Janet listened to,” Lynch replied.

Ross scowled at the thought of spending hours in Janet’s frosty apartment. “Oh, come on. She’s dead. What difference does that make?”

“Listen, we’ve had six other killings this week. Same M.O. I need your help here.” replied Lynch.

And I thought I was having a bad week, muttered Ross under his breath.  “All these victims were under your protection?”

“Nope, none of them were,” said Lynch. “But the other six victims were all women in their mid-thirties, like Janet. They were all killed, execution-style, late at night, just as Janet was. And most importantly, all six of them liked the same music.

Ross took a sip of coffee and furrowed his brow. “I don’t get it,” he said, “what does their music have to do with it? You don’t shoot people for bad taste.”

“Listen, Ross,” growled Lynch, clearly annoyed. “If Janet liked the same music as the other six, then that means the killer’s using wishlists, iTunes, Last.fm and other online services to find people we’ve spent years working to hide.” The Marshal paused, letting it sink in. “We can change their faces, their cities, their jobs — but we can’t stop them listening to shitty music. And that might just get them killed.”

The US Witness Protection Program has hidden nearly 20,000 people since it was launched in the 1970s. So far, nobody in its custody has been harmed, despite Hollywood’s love of this plot device. Witnesses change their names, their appearance, and even their jobs — anything to hide their past. But can we hide who we really are?

Read more »

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The Ethics of Designer Babies

Commercial DNA service, by aprilzosia on Flickr

This episode of BBC World’s Discovery podcast looks at the science which is already allowing parents to choose those embryoes least likely to develop diseases later in life. At first these techniques seem like powerful tools to put in the hands of would-be parents, but since any genetic assessment can only give probability, not certainty, it has the potential to create agonizing choices. And the programme also looks at India, where pale skin is becoming increasingly desirable, especially for girls, and asks if legislation should stop parents from rejecting embryoes for aesthetic rather than medical reasons.

Listen to the episode (streaming audio hosted by the BBC)

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Man with camera attached to cycle helmet

What if you could remember everything? Not just birthdays and photos, but your entire life. Technology is now affordable and powerful enough to make this a reality. This is lifelogging – using computers to extend your brain and outsource your memory.

 

What is lifelogging?

Read more »

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Shot of newspapers by Shironekoeuro (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shironekoeuro/4040697914/)

Newspaper and magazine publishers see the the arrival of tablet computers like the iPad as a salvation for their ailing industry. They expect it to lower delivery costs and move them from a once-a-day news source to a constant, immediate service.

The excitement is justified, but misdirected. If tablets do save publishing, it’ll won’t be because they’re digital or more up t. It’ll be because they make newspapers interactive, and in doing so, let any reader place an ad right on the page they’re reading, opening up an entirely new revenue stream. Read more »

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Who owns your voice online?

Gagged on Flickr by Sebastiano Pitruzzello

When I call you, I don’t care who your service provider is. When I send a letter, I don’t care who delivers it to the door. But with online communication, it’s not so simple. If I want to “friend” you, I can only do so if we both use Facebook. If I want to share a thought publicly, you’re unlikely to see it unless you’re on Twitter, too. Twitter, Facebook, MSN and Skype are new forms of communication that did not exist before the Internet – but unlike their old world equivalents, they’re controlled by corporations and the messages you send with them are restricted in audience and reach.

Much of the media attention on Twitter and Facebook is on the products and the companies behind them, but we would do well to stop thinking in those terms, like we did with email, and start thinking more about the means of communication that they provide.

It’s only when we take a step back and think about the digital communications revolution in these terms, that the picture becomes evident. It’s not a pretty one. Almost every form of digital communication is dominated by one company, and locked in to members of that service (See table below). We are in a poor state for a free, open exchange of ideas.

Read more »

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SpaceShipOne in flight

The X-Prize Foundation is a non-profit charity which catalyzed the creation of a private space travel industry. Virgin Galactic recently completed its maiden voyage and will be taking passengers to space using technology first created for SpaceShipOne, winner of the Ansari X-Prize in 2004.

The Foundation has announced, in line with their mission is to bring about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity”, $100 million of prizes over the next 10 years, in four key areas – Energy & Environment, Education & Global Development, Exploration and Life Sciences.

The Life Sciences category is of particular interest as it specifically mentions Human 2.0 devices, brain computer-interfaces, bionics, artificial intelligence physicians and telemedecine. If the prize gives the same boost to innovation and scientific development in this field that it has for space travel, we can be sure of some exciting progress in the next few years.


Image credit: sdawara on Flickr.

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