Tags: technology

Meet Walter Pitts, the Homeless Genius Who Revolutionized Artificial Intelligence

The fascinating story of logic, learning, and the origins of electronic computing. Russell, Shannon, Turing, Wiener, Von Neumann …they’re all in there, woven around the tragic figure of Walter Pitts.

It is a sad and beautiful world.

Thanks to their work, there was a moment in history when neuroscience, psychiatry, computer science, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence were all one thing, following an idea first glimpsed by Leibniz—that man, machine, number, and mind all use information as a universal currency. What appeared on the surface to be very different ingredients of the world—hunks of metal, lumps of gray matter, scratches of ink on a page—were profoundly interchangeable.

Web Design - The First 100 Years

A magnificent presentation from Maciej that begins by drawing parallels between the aviation industry in the 20th century and the technology industry in the 21st:

So despite appearances, despite the feeling that things are accelerating and changing faster than ever, I want to make the shocking prediction that the Internet of 2060 is going to look recognizably the same as the Internet today.

Unless we screw it up.

And I want to convince you that this is the best possible news for you as designers, and for us as people.

But if that sounds too upbeat for you…

Too much of what was created in the last fifty years is gone because no one took care to preserve it.

We have heroic efforts like the Internet Archive to preserve stuff, but that’s like burning down houses and then cheering on the fire department when it comes to save what’s left inside. It’s no way to run a culture. We take better care of scrap paper than we do of the early Internet, because at least we look at scrap paper before we throw it away.

And then there’s this gem:

We complained for years that browsers couldn’t do layout and javascript consistently. As soon as that got fixed, we got busy writing libraries that reimplemented the browser within itself, only slower.

It finishes with three differing visions of the web, one of them desirable, the other two …not so much. This presentation is a rallying cry for the web we want.

Let’s reclaim the web from technologists who tell us that the future they’ve imagined is inevitable, and that our role in it is as consumers.

The Internet That Was (and Still Could Be) - The Atlantic

A fantastic piece by David Weinberger on the changing uses of the internet—apparently in contradiction of the internet’s original architecture.

Some folks invented the Internet for some set of purposes. They gave it a name, pointed to some prototypical examples—sharing scientific papers and engaging in email about them—shaping the way the early adopters domesticated it.

But over time, the Internet escaped from its creators’ intentions. It became a way to communicate person-to-person via email and many-to-many via Usenet. The web came along and the prototypical example became home pages. Social networking came along and the prototype became Facebook.

Paul Ford: What is Code? by Paul Ford

It seems grossly unfair to refer to this as an article. It’s a short book. It’s a very good short book; lucid and entertaining in equal measure. A very enjoyable read.

It is, unfortunately, surrounded by some distracting “enhancements” but perhaps you can use your cleaner-upper software of choice to route around their damage: Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, whatever works for you.

Hazards Of Prophecy by Arthur C. Clarke

A PDF of Clarke’s classic essay on the follies of prediction. From the 1972 collection The Futurists, edited by Alvin Toffler.

Sound Mirrors

Before there was radar, there were acoustic mirrors along the coast of England—parabolic structures designed to funnel the distant sound of approaching aircraft.

Alex Feyerke: Step Off This Hurtling Machine

I love this talk.

Alex takes a long-zoom look at the web and our technology stacks, from ’60s counterculture to start-up culture, touching on open source and the indie web along the way.

Codebar Brighton from Matchbox HQ - Matchbox Mobile

Jo writes about hosting Codebar Brighton. I share her enthusiasm—it feels like a great honour to be able to host such a great community event.

isolani - Web Standards: Flash’s slide into irrelevance

Mike runs through the history of Flash. Those who forget the history of the web are doomed to repeat it:

The struggle now seems to be turning to native apps versus non-native apps on the mobile platform. It is similar to Flash’s original battle ground: the argument that the Web technology stack is not suitable for building applications with a polished user-experience.

The Brighton Makerlab - where technology meets awesome! by Simon Riley — Kickstarter

Still a few days left to back this great project for Brighton:

Build, tinker, make and play! For anyone with imagination, The Brighton Makerlab lets ages 8 to 80 create cool stuff with technology.

The Web’s Grain by Frank Chimero

Superb. Absolutely superb.

A magnificent tour-de-force by Frank on the web’s edgelessness.

Read. Absorb. Read again. This is the essence of responsive web design, distilled.

SpringForward - A celebration of women in digital and technology - March 2015, Brighton

There’s a whole bunch of great events happening in Brighton this March: Codebar, Curiosity Hub, She Codes Brighton, 300 Seconds, She Says Brighton, and Ladies that UX. Lots of these will be downstairs from Clearleft in Middle Street—very handy!

BBC - Future - The invisible network that keeps the world running

Tim Maughan reports on the same container ship trip that Dan W. is sending his postcards from.

I like the idea of there being an Apollo-sized project all around us, if you just know where to look.

First, towering above and over the ship, are the loading cranes. Vast structures mounted on huge, four-legged frames, they resemble the naked scaffolding of unbuilt skyscrapers, and trigger nostalgic reminders of Saturn V rocket launch towers from the 1960s.

Once in port at night I saw one suddenly fire into life next to the ship in a stroboscopic explosion of lights, before it tracked slowly above my high vantage point, bathing me in the orange glow of a dozen small halogen suns.

The challenge for web designers in 2015 (or how to cheat at the future)

Designing primarily in a laptop web browser and testing with a mouse rather than fingers may come to look very out of date soon.

Why James Cameron’s Aliens is the best movie about technology

Tim Carmody on James Cameron’s meisterwerk (and technology in sci-fi films in general).

The Nor: A Paranoid Cartography

James walks the site of London’s old wall, documenting the instruments of London’s new wall.

He wrote about his experience in “All Cameras Are Police Cameras.” It is a history lesson, a present lesson, and a future lesson, all in one.

Overwhelmed by Code · An A List Apart Blog Post

Focus on what you want to learn; not what you think you should learn.

There is a lot of pressure out there: to learn new things, to spend all your time coding, to be the super developer. I now believe that to be impossible and unhealthy. It means you aren’t living a balanced life and it also means that you’re living under constant stress and pressure.

The boring front-end developer - Adam Silver, Front end developer, based in London

My name is Jeremy and I am a boring front-end developer.

Tech’s tunnel vision (Phil Gyford’s website)

I really like Phil’s braindump of conference ideas. Frankly, many of these ideas work just as well as watchwords for building on the web:

  • Different models for start-ups. Co-operatives. Employee ownership. Normal, slowly-growing, profit-making businesses.
  • Technology for people who don’t live in the first world. (There’s a lot of them and they have a lot of technology, but most of us know nothing about it.)
  • Websites that make the whole Web better.
  • New services that work fine on technology that’s been around for years.
  • Services designed for people who have little money.
  • Services designed for people who aren’t fully able.
  • Models for keeping services running over the long-term. (What happens when your company closes, or to your personal projects when you die?)

Valley of the Meatpuppets | superflux

Slides and transcript from Anab’s terrific dConstruct talk.

Drip, Drop, Groundswell

Cole Peters calls upon designers and developers to realise the power they have to shape the modern world and act accordingly.

It is in those of us who work in tech and on the web that digital privacy may find its greatest chance for survival. As labourers in one of the most pivotal industries of our times, we possess the knowledge and skills required to create tools and ecosystems that defend our privacy and liberties.

I don’t disagree, but I think it’s also important to recognise how much power is in the hands of non-designers and non-developers: journalists, politicians, voters …everyone has a choice to make.

Twelve Tomorrows | MIT Technology Review

This year’s collection of twelve sci-fi stories from Technology Review features three dConstruct speakers: Lauren Beukes, Cory Doctorow, and Warren Ellis.

Improving Reality 2014 — Visibility Is A Trap

Lighthouse are putting on their Improving Reality conference again this year. It’s the day before dConstruct. Come to both!

The Eccentric Genius Whose Time May Have Finally Come (Again) - Doug Hill - The Atlantic

A profile of Norbert Wiener, and how his star was eclipsed by Claude Shannon.

Valley of the Meatpuppets | superflux

The transcript of Anab Jain’s talk from the FutureEverything Festival.

Signs from the near future

We better get used to them…

How We Got To Now with Steven Johnson - YouTube

Steven Johnson’s new television series will be shown on BBC in a few months time. Looks like it’s going to be good Burkian fun.

It’s OK not to use tools by Jonas Downey of Basecamp

Today, a basic HTML/CSS site seems almost passé. But why? Is it because our new tools are so significantly better, or because we’ve gone overboard complicating simple things?

He’s right, y’know.

Where Time Comes From on Vimeo

A profile of Demetrios Matsakis, keeper of time at U.S. Naval Observatory, America’s equivalent to Greenwich in its importance for timekeeping in the modern world.

How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future

Eileen Gunn writes in the Smithsonian magazine on the influence of science fiction.

Science fiction, at its best, engenders the sort of flexible thinking that not only inspires us, but compels us to consider the myriad potential consequences of our actions.

James Bridle — Where You Are

The GPS system is a monumental network that provides a permanent “YouAreHere” sign hanging in the sky, its signal a constant, synchronised timecode.

Wearables versus there-ables.

Some interesting thoughts that follow on nicely from Scott Jenson’s ideas around just-in-time interactions:

What if the technology was actually already in the room when we got there? Maybe that’s the kind of Internet-of-things that will be more sustainable and will win long-term.

Dr. Easy on Vimeo

I finally got around to reading Red Men by Matthew De Abaitua recently. It’s like Nick Harkaway crossed with Jeff Noon.

Here’s hoping that this short film will be developed into a full-length feature.

1995 Vannevar Bush symposium: closing Panel

So Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee walk into a panel…

Our Comrade The Electron

This is a wonderful piece by Maciej—a magnificent historical narrative that leads to a thunderous rant. Superb!

Anatomy of a failed rendition | booktwo.org

A superb bit of sleuthing by James:

From London to the Mediterranean, to Malta and back again, over multiple countries and jurisdictions, through airspace and legal space. The contortions of G-WIRG’s flight path mirror the ethical labyrinth the British Government finds itself in when, against all better judgements, it insists on punishing individuals as an example to others, using every weasel justification in its well-funded legal war chest. Using a combination of dirty laws and private technologies to transform and transmit people from one jurisidiction, one legal condition and category, to another: this is the meaning of the verb “to render”.

STET

From the lovely people behind Editorially comes STET:

A Writers’ Journal on Culture & Technology

Unfashionably profitable

Rachel talks about some of the old-fashioned technologies and business practices driving Perch.

This reminds of a talk by Marco Arment at Webstock a few years back when he described the advantages of not using cutting-edge technologies: most of the time, “boring” well-established technologies are simply more stable.

Robert Cailliau’s world wide web on Dazed Digital

From CERN to singularity - the digital pioneer and cofounder of the WWW on 20 years of webscapades.

Immaterials, dConstruct and Culture Ships on Vimeo

Iain M.Banks and dConstruct, together at last.

dConstruct: Artists grapple with the culture of technology surveillance

Honor’s piece for The Guardian on this year’s dConstruct.

Three themes from dConstruct 2013

A smart and thoughtful write-up of dConstruct from Lee, pulling together three emergent themes:

  1. how we interact with machines and each other,
  2. how we co-evolve with machines, and
  3. making the invisible visible.

A great, thought-provoking day that proved, once again, that there are many brilliant, generous minds working in or around the future of technology and human experience today.

dConstruct 2013: “It’s the Future. Take it.” | matt.me63.com - Matt Edgar

This is a terrific write up of this year’s dConstruct, tying together all the emergent themes.

Inspiring Tech Quotes

Some of the more idiotic, harmful, stupid and nasty things said by the thought leaders of Silicon Valley.

The apparent difficulty of living in my head, freelancing, working for large organisations and then descending in to paranoia.

I have a lot of admiration for Reverend Dan Catt.

I don’t want to be in a position where I say “Hey, I’m working at Google, no no, don’t worry, the good bit of Google”, because goodness knows I did enough of that at Yahoo.

When politicians get the internet wrong, the internet can be ruthless by Caroline Criado-Perez

Oh, dear. An otherwise perfectly well-reasoned article makes this claim:

But the internet is peculiarly adapted to deftly pricking pomposity. This is partly because nothing dies online, meaning your past indiscretions are never yesterday’s news, wrapped round the proverbial fish and chips.

Bollocks. Show me the data to back up this claim.

The insidious truism that “the internet never forgets” is extremely harmful. The true problem is the opposite: the internet forgets all the time.

Geocities, Pownce, Posterous, Vox, and thousands more sites are very much yesterday’s news, wrapped round the proverbial fish and chips.

The Killing Machines by Mark Bowden in The Atlantic

How to think about drones—an in-depth and fairly balanced article by Mark Bowden on drone strikes and the politics behind them.

In the long run, careful adherence to the law matters more than eliminating another bad actor. Greater prudence and transparency are not just morally and legally essential, they are in our long-term interest, because the strikes themselves feed the anti-drone narrative, and inspire the kind of random, small-scale terror attacks that are bin Laden’s despicable legacy.

Kids can’t use computers… and this is why it should worry you - Coding 2 Learn

This is a really well-written and worrying piece that pokes at that oft-cited truism about kids today being “digital natives”:

The parents seem to have some vague concept that spending hours each evening on Facebook and YouTube will impart, by some sort of cybernetic osmosis, a knowledge of PHP, HTML, JavaScript and Haskell.

The causes of this lack of digital literacy can be traced back to school:

We’ve mirrored corporate networks, preventing kids and teachers access to system settings, the command line and requiring admin rights to do almost anything. They’re sitting at a general purpose computer without the ability to do any general purpose computing.

Also, this article has the best “TL;DR” description ever.

The Ecuadorian Library by Bruce Sterling

A good ol’ fashioned rant.

stevenberlinjohnson.com: How We Got To Now

This sounds like it’s a going to be a good: a new TV series by Steven Johnson on the history of technology and innovation. Sounds very Burkian, which is a very good thing.

We Need More Communism by Scott Jenson

A terrific lighting talk by Scott on the need to think bigger. The solution to long-term issues is rarely “start a company”—we need to think more about creating a shared infrastructure …just like the internet.

The Hut Where the Internet Began by Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic

A wonderful article looking at the influence that Vannevar Bush’s seminal article As We May Think had on the young Douglas Engelbart.

Improving Reality 2013

The line-up for this year’s Improving Reality conference looks great (as always).

It’s the day before dConstruct so why not come on down to Brighton a day early and double your fun?

Is Google dumping open standards for open wallets?

Google’s track record is not looking good. There seems to be a modus operandi of bait-and-switch: start with open technologies (XMPP, CalDav, RSS) and then once they’ve amassed a big enough user base, ditch the standards.

A Few Notes on the Culture by Iain M Banks

I’ve linked to this before, but with the death of Iain M Banks it’s worth re-reading this fascinating insight into The Culture, one of science fictions’s few realistic utopias.

The brief mention here of The Culture’s attitude to death is apt:

Philosophy, again; death is regarded as part of life, and nothing, including the universe, lasts forever. It is seen as bad manners to try and pretend that death is somehow not natural; instead death is seen as giving shape to life.

Silicon Valley through a PRISM · Ben Ward

Ben is rightly worried by the blasé attitude in the tech world to the PRISM revelations. Perhaps that attitude stems from a culture of “log everything by default”?

I think there’s a deep rooted trait within this industry that sedates the outrage. That is the normality, complicity, and dependency on ‘surveillance’ in the software we make.

The New Aesthetic: James Bridle’s Drones and Our Invisible, Networked World in Vanity Fair

James gets profiled in Vanity Fair …which is, frankly, kind of weird.

It’s also so bizarre to read about his SXSW New Aesthetic panel as being such a pivotal moment: there weren’t that many of us in the room.

James Somers – Web developer money

A well-written piece on the nature of work and value on the web, particularly in the start-up economy.

A Woman’s Place — Everything Old is New Again — Medium

In a piece for Medium commissioned by Matter, Jon Norris describes a little-known aspect of the UK’s information technology history:

Gender equality is still a major issue in the technology industry, but 50 years ago one British company was blazing trails.

A Stormy Sky of Cranky Clouds by Scott Jenson

Scott points out a really big problem with the current state of the “internet of things”: everyone is inventing their own proprietary walled-garden infrastructure instead of getting together to collaborate on standards.

The single biggest fallacy I want to blow up is this utopian idea that there is this SINGLE thing called ‘The Cloud’. Each company today reinvents their own cloud. The Cloud as a concept is dead and has been for years: we are living within a stormy sky of cranky clouds, all trying to pretend the others don’t exist.

The open internet and the web

A history lesson from Vint Cerf. I can’t help but picture him as The Architect in The Matrix Reloaded.

When Tim Berners-Lee invented and released the World Wide Web (WWW) design in late 1991, he found an open and receptive internet in operation onto which the WWW could be placed. The WWW design, like the design of the internet, was very open and encouraged a growing cadre of self-taught webmasters to develop content and applications.

A Digital Tomorrow on Vimeo

A design fiction video depicting technology that helps and hinders in equal measure.

The Secure Transport of Light on booktwo.org

A beautiful piece by James on the history of light as a material for communication …and its political overtones in today’s world.

What is light when it is information rather than illumination? What is it when it is not perceived by the human eye? Deep beneath the streets and oceans, what is illuminated by the machines, and how are we changed by this illumination?

Meet the Web’s Operating System: HTTP

A lovely description by Paul Ford of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

That simple handshake is the firmament upon which we have built trillion-dollar cathedrals and bazaars, the base upon which we construct other protocols and networks.

Embracing the Medium

A lovely piece of writing from Richard on the nature of the web.

The canonical smart city: A pastiche by Adam Greenfield’s Speedbird

Sorta sci-fi from Adam.

Consider this a shooting script for one of those concept videos so beloved of the big technology vendors.

Google Keep? It’ll probably be with us until March 2017 - on average

Charles Arthur analyses the data from Google’s woeful history of shutting down its services.

So if you want to know when Google Keep, opened for business on 21 March 2013, will probably shut - again, assuming Google decides it’s just not working - then, the mean suggests the answer is: 18 March 2017. That’s about long enough for you to cram lots of information that you might rely on into it; and also long enough for Google to discover that, well, people aren’t using it to the extent that it hoped.

Creating a physical internet to save money and energy on logistics

I remember a talk and discussion at SxSW a few years back about trying to improve the efficiency of trade networks by making them more web-like: there are ships full of empty cargo containers, simply because companies insist on using the container with their logo on it. I really, really like the idea of applying the principles of packet-switching to physical networks.

But here’s the hard part:

The technology is not a problem. We could do it all in 10 years. It’s the business models and the mental models in people’s minds.

Write The Future by Tom Hunter — Kickstarter

Now this looks like my kind of event:

A new micro-conference on science, technology, communication and fiction, organised by the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Ladies in Tech

A great new site from Jenn and Yesenia: celebrating and supporting female speakers in technology.

Interview with Lauren Beukes about Shining Girls

Lauren talks about The Shining Girls and the tools she uses to write with.

The Panasonic Toughpad Press Conference - LOOK, ROBOT

Now this is what I call tech reporting.

The women leave the stage, wet computer in hand, and a new man takes the stage. He plays a schmaltzy video where Portuguese children teach adults to use Windows 8 accompanied by a hyperloud xylophone soundtrack that slices through my hangover like cheesewire though lukewarm gouda.

When the Nerds Go Marching In - Alexis C. Madrigal - The Atlantic

The fascinating story of how a dream team of geeks helped Obama to victory. Personally, I think it’s all about the facial hair. I mean, how could they lose with Trammell’s beard to guide them?

Was the Internet just an accident? | Scott Jenson

Man, I just love Scott Jenson.

Our brains have collectively gone startup-crazy, seeing the world through stock option colored glasses, assuming that if there is no money, there is clearly no value. This is madness. I’m so desperately worried that the internet will turn out to be a happy accident.

Turning his focus on “the internet of things” he makes the very good point that what we need isn’t one company or one proprietary service; we need an ecosystem of open standards that will enable companies to build services.

We all have to appreciate how we need a deep, open solution to solve this problem. If we don’t understand, demand even, that hardware devices need to be just as discoverable an open as web servers are today, we’ll never see the internet of things come to pass.

isolani - Web Standards: Web App Mistakes: Condemned to repeat

Some great thoughts from Mike Davies about the strengths of the web, prompted by some of the more extreme comments made by James Pearce at Full Frontal last week.

I should point out that James was being deliberately provocative in order to foment thought and discussion and, judging from this blog post, he succeeded.

The Web’s independence from the hardware and software platform people use is a feature. It’s better than cross-platform frameworks which are constantly criticised for not producing exact native-feeling apps on the multitude of platforms they run on. The Web is above that pettiness.

Device Fatigue | Brad Frost Web

I know how Brad feels. I find it hard to muster any enthusiasm for any specific new device these days. But that’s okay. It’s more important to step back and see the trends and directions instead of getting caught up in the specifics of this particular phone or that particular tablet.

My remedy for device fatigue has been to take a step back and let my eyes go unfocused. Much like a Magic Eye, I can then see the hidden pictures behind the stippled noise that is the device landscape. This remedy helps me cope, gets me to stop caring about things that don’t really matter, and gets me to care about the broader trends the Magic Eye unveils.

An alternate universe – Marco.org

There is an elephant in the Microsoft store.

The best interface is no interface | Cooper Journal

Interaction dissolving into the environment.

Stories from the New Aesthetic : Joanne Mcneil

A lovely piece from Joanne on storytelling, identity and the internet.

Citrix Systems » Most Americans Confused By Cloud Computing According to National Survey

See‽ See‽

The cloud is not only a lie, it’s a lie that everyone pretends to understand.

When asked what “the cloud” is, a majority responded it’s either an actual cloud (specifically a “fluffy white thing”), the sky or something related to the weather (29 percent).

3D-Printed “Magic Arms” - YouTube

3D printing an exoskeleton for a child with arthrogryposis — technology can be so fricking awesome!

The fetishization of the offline, and a new definition of real

A good recap of the recent online/offline/does-it-really-matter discussion …although it does lend a bit too much credence to the pronouncements of that king of trolls, Nicholas Carr.

HP “On That Cloud Thing That Everyone Else Is Talking About” | The Onion - America’s Finest News Source | Onion News Network

Pitch-perfect parody from The Onion:

HP announced they’re making a new push into cloud computing and that they totally know what that is.

In related news, I’ve ordered my “the cloud is a lie” T-shirt from James.

As We May Think - The Atlantic

Vannevar Bush’s original 1945 motherlode of hypertext.

The Coming Technological Singularity

Vernor Vinge’s original 1993 motherlode of the singularity.

The Myth of Cyberspace – The New Inquiry

There is a there there after all.

The IRL Fetish – The New Inquiry

The backlash against the backlash against connectivity.

Welcome to the Future Nauseous

I, for one, welcome our Manufactured Normalcy Field overlords.

[this is aaronland] “an index of reality”

Aaron should definitely skyblog more often if this is the result.

Vint Cerf: We Knew What We Were Unleashing on the World | Wired Business | Wired.com

I could listen to Vint Cerf all day.

I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to have packets raining down from satellites, IP packets just literally raining down from satellites and being picked up by hundreds, if not millions, of receivers at the same time.

Digital archivists: technological custodians of human history | Ars Technica

An introduction to the important work of digital archivists:

Much like the family member that collects, organizes, and identifies old family photos to preserve one’s heritage, digital archivists seek to do the same for all mankind.

The Farmer & Farmer Review. Modern Medicine by Jonathan Harris

This is very, very good. It gets a little unhinged towards the end but Jonathan Harris’s initial comparisons of software with medicine are spot-on.