The real story in this mess is not the threat that algorithms pose to Amazon shoppers, but the threat that algorithms pose to journalism. By forcing reporters to optimize every story for clicks, not giving them time to check or contextualize their reporting, and requiring them to race to publish follow-on articles on every topic, the clickbait economics of online media encourage carelessness and drama.
Friday, September 22nd, 2017
Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017
A report by the Digital Currency Initiative and the Center for Civic Media. Download the PDF or read the executive summary.
In this report, we explore two important ways structurally decentralized systems could help address the risks of mega-platform consolidation: First, these systems can help users directly publish and discover content directly, without intermediaries, and thus without censorship. All of the systems we evaluate advertise censorship-resistance as a major benefit. Second, these systems could indirectly enable greater competition and user choice, by lowering the barrier to entry for new platforms. As it stands, it is difficult for users to switch between platforms (they must recreate all their data when moving to a new service) and most mega-platforms do not interoperate, so switching means leaving behind your social network.
Sunday, May 7th, 2017
A minority report on artificial intelligence
Want to feel old? Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report was released fifteen years ago.
It casts a long shadow. For a decade after the film’s release, it was referenced at least once at every conference relating to human-computer interaction. Unsurprisingly, most of the focus has been on the technology in the film. The hardware and interfaces in Minority Report came out of a think tank assembled in pre-production. It provided plenty of fodder for technologists to mock and praise in subsequent years: gestural interfaces, autonomous cars, miniature drones, airpods, ubiquitous advertising and surveillance.
At the time of the film’s release, a lot of the discussion centred on picking apart the plot. The discussions had the same tone of time-travel paradoxes, the kind thrown up by films like Looper and Interstellar. But Minority Report isn’t a film about time travel, it’s a film about prediction.
Or rather, the plot is about prediction. The film—like so many great works of cinema—is about seeing. It’s packed with images of eyes, visions, fragments, and reflections.
The theme of prediction was rarely referenced by technologists in the subsequent years. After all, that aspect of the story—as opposed to the gadgets, gizmos, and interfaces—was one rooted in a fantastical conceit; the idea of people with precognitive abilities.
But if you replace that human element with machines, the central conceit starts to look all too plausible. It’s suggested right there in the film:
It helps not to think of them as human.
To which the response is:
No, they’re so much more than that.
Suppose that Agatha, Arthur, and Dashiell weren’t people in a floatation tank, but banks of servers packed with neural nets: the kinds of machines that are already making predictions on trading stocks and shares, traffic flows, mortgage applications …and, yes, crime.
Precogs are pattern recognition filters, that’s all.
Rewatching Minority Report now, it holds up very well indeed. Apart from the misstep of the final ten minutes, it’s a fast-paced twisty noir thriller. For all the attention to detail in its world-building and technology, the idea that may yet prove to be most prescient is the concept of Precrime, introduced in the original Philip K. Dick short story, The Minority Report.
Minority Report works today as a commentary on Artificial Intelligence …which is ironic given that Spielberg directed a film one year earlier ostensibly about A.I.. In truth, that film has little to say about technology …but much to say about humanity.
Like Minority Report, A.I. was very loosely based on an existing short story: Super-Toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss. It’s a perfectly-crafted short story that is deeply, almost unbearably, sad.
When I had the great privilege of interviewing Brian Aldiss, I tried to convey how much the story affected me.
Jeremy: …the short story is so sad, there’s such an incredible sadness to it that…
Brian: Well it’s psychological, that’s why. But I didn’t think it works as a movie; sadly, I have to say.
At the time of its release, the general consensus was that A.I. was a mess. It’s true. The film is a mess, but I think that, like Minority Report, it’s worth revisiting.
Watching now, A.I. feels like a horror film to me. The horror comes not—as we first suspect—from the artificial intelligence. The horror comes from the humans. I don’t mean the cruelty of the flesh fairs. I’m talking about the cruelty of Monica, who activates David’s unconditional love only to reject it (watching now, both scenes—the activation and the rejection—are equally horrific). Then there’s the cruelty of the people of who created an artificial person capable of deep, never-ending love, without considering the implications.
There is no robot uprising in the film. The machines want only to fulfil their purpose. But by the end of the film, the human race is gone and the descendants of the machines remain. Based on the conduct of humanity that we’re shown, it’s hard to mourn our species’ extinction. For a film that was panned for being overly sentimental, it is a thoroughly bleak assessment of what makes us human.
The question of what makes us human underpins A.I., Minority Report, and the short stories that spawned them. With distance, it gets easier to brush aside the technological trappings and see the bigger questions beneath. As Al Robertson writes, it’s about leaving the future behind:
SF’s most enduring works don’t live on because they accurately predict tomorrow. In fact, technologically speaking they’re very often wrong about it. They stay readable because they think about what change does to people and how we cope with it.
Monday, May 1st, 2017
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016
Continuous web death.
The modern journalist is not an expert on the web. They and their colleagues have spent a large part of the last twenty-five years dismissing the open web at every stage. They are not the people you can trust to either accurately assess the web or to make usable websites. You can’t even trust them to make sensible decisions about web strategy. Just look at their damn websites!
Friday, July 8th, 2016
Margaret Hamilton’s code after scanning and transcribing.
Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
Results of a survey of over 1000 people working on the web. It’s beautifully put together and the overall trajectory regarding responsive design looks pretty positive to me.
Monday, August 5th, 2013
A look at the degree of diversity in Android devices, complete with pretty pictures. The term “fragmentation” is usually used in a negative way, but there are great points here about the positive effects for web developers and customers.
You say fragmentation, I say diversity.
Monday, June 18th, 2012
Google’s datadump makes for a fascinating—and worrying—bit of data dumpster diving.
Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010
Julian Bleecker explains design fiction in the context of science fiction using the examples of gestural interfaces and virtual reality.
Monday, September 27th, 2010
This is a news website article about a scientific finding | Martin Robbins | Science | guardian.co.uk
A perfect parody lampooning the shallow and cowardly reporting of most so-called science stories by the press (I'm looking at you, BBC).
Monday, April 13th, 2009
The New York Times covers Everyblock, Outside.in, and their ilk.
Thursday, January 15th, 2009
Dopplr Blog Â» Blog Archive Â» Dopplr presents the Personal Annual Report 2008: freshly generated for you, and Barack Obamaâ€¦
I can't wait to get my personal annual report from Dopplr! In the meantime, I'll content myself with the very pretty example of Barack Obama's annual report.
Friday, November 21st, 2008
Mimi Ito talks to the BBC about the findings of a report into teens geeking out online.
Tuesday, July 10th, 2007
Yet more on the events I blogged about down the street, again from the local newspaper.
Monday, July 9th, 2007
Here's the local paper's take on the happenings on my street that I blogged about.
Thursday, March 1st, 2007
I'm living on the cutting edge, apparently. This article is more like a press release meets an annual report, completely missing out the real reasons why Brighton is a cool place to live and work.
Friday, March 17th, 2006
Rotation Of Earth Plunges Entire North American Continent Into Darkness | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
Millions of eyewitnesses watched in stunned horror Tuesday as light emptied from the sky, plunging the U.S. and neighboring countries into darkness. As the hours progressed, conditions only worsened.
Monday, June 20th, 2005
Tom Coates, Heather Armstrong and others weigh in with their thoughts. Tom has a sexy radio voice.