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Gentlemachines
What's new at the crossroads of culture, technology and science
Curated by Artur Alves
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What the NSA can do with “big data”

What the NSA can do with “big data” | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
The NSA can't capture everything that crosses the Internet—but doesn't need to.
Artur Alves's insight:

... because internet companies are developing the means to do that for them.

 

"Ironically, about the same time these two programs were being exposed, Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo were solving the big data storage and analysis problem. In November of 2006, Google published a paper on BigTable, a database with petabytes of capacity capable of indexing the Web and supporting Google Earth and other applications. And the work at Yahoo to catch up with Google's GFS file system—the basis for BigTable—resulted in the Hadoop.

BigTable and Hadoop-based databases offered a way to handle huge amounts of data being captured by the NSA's operations, but they lacked something critical to intelligence operations: compartmentalized security (or any security at all, for that matter). So in 2008, NSA set out to create a better version of BigTable, called Accumulo—now an Apache Foundation project."

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There is no Such Thing as Invention

There is no Such Thing as Invention | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

"Calculus was invented twice, Natural Selection discovered twice and the telephone was patented twice.

There’s a pattern of simultaneous invention throughout history that’s either an unbelievable co-incidence or evidence that something different from what we usually think of as inspiration is going on."

Artur Alves's insight:

"The same is true in technology, even from its inception. Alan Turing and Claude Shannon shared the same cafeteria (even if they were not allowed to talk about their secret work), and Silicon Valley pioneers comprise a relatively small group of people who quite often, personally knew each other before they were successful. This is neither incredible co-incidence nor voodoo attraction between geniuses but a product of special environments.

We like to think special places are to do with people but you could probably swap out the individuals for different ones of equal intelligence at the Solvay Conference or in Silicon Valley, and there would be a different Heisenberg and a different Zuckerberg."

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BBC World News - When will Berlin's ghost airport open?

BBC World News - When will Berlin's ghost airport open? | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
A year on from when Berlin's new airport was due to open it is still far from take-off.
Artur Alves's insight:

More than 20 thousand items found troubling the brand-new Berlin airport, which is not even open yet

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The World as Free-Fire Zone | MIT Technology Review

The World as Free-Fire Zone | MIT Technology Review | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
How drones made it easy for Americans to kill a particular person anywhere on the planet. " The drone as we know it today was the brainchild of John Stuart Foster Jr., a nuclear physicist, former head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (then called the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory), and—in 1971, when the idea occurred to him—the director of defense research and engineering, the top scientific post in the Pentagon. Foster was a longtime model-airplane enthusiast, and one day he realized that his hobby could make for a new kind of weapon. His idea: take an unmanned, remote-controlled airplane, strap a camera to its belly, and fly it over enemy targets to snap pictures or shoot film; if possible, load it with a bomb and destroy the targets, too."
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Cyber theft: A hard war to wage - FT.com

Washington is angry. Really angry. It is just not sure what to do about it.
Artur Alves's insight:

"Washington is angry. Really angry. It is just not sure what to do about it. US officials have accused Chinese hackers of stealing corporate trade secrets since the mid-2000s but during the past few months the outrage has reached a political tipping point. cyber security has been thrust to the top of the agenda in US-China relations.

The Obama administration, members of Congress and the think-tanks that advise them have cast around for ways to punish hackers from China and elsewhere. Washington is considering a series of unilateral trade and other sanctions against Chinese entities and individuals."

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Covert War on Terror – the Datasets: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Covert War on Terror – the Datasets: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

Covert strikes datasets - including drone attacks. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is a not for profit organisation based at City University in London

Artur Alves's insight:

The British BIJ has released several datasets with records and analyses of covert attacks in the "war on terror"

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The New Yorker Strongbox

The New Yorker Strongbox | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
A new way to share information with The New Yorker's writers and editors, designed to provide a greater degree of anonymity and security than conventional email.
Artur Alves's insight:

"(...) The New Yorker launched Strongbox, an online place where people can send documents and messages to the magazine, and we, in turn, can offer them a reasonable amount of anonymity. It was put together by Aaron Swartz, who died in January, and Kevin Poulsen. Kevin explains some of the background in his own post, including Swartz’s role and his survivors’ feelings about the project. (They approve, something that was important for us here to know.) The underlying code, given the name DeadDrop, will be open-source, and we are very glad to be the first to bring it out into the world, fully implemented."Strongbox is a new way for you to share information, messages, and files with our writers and editors and is designed to provide you with a greater degree of anonymity and security than afforded by conventional e-mail.

 

To help protect your anonymity, Strongbox is only accessible using the Tor network (https://www.torproject.org). When using Strongbox, The New Yorker will not record your I.P. address or information about your browser, computer, or operating system, nor will we embed third-party content or deliver cookies to your browser."

 

"Strongbox is designed to be accessed only through a “hidden service” on the Tor anonymity network, which is set up to conceal both your online and physical location from us and to offer full end-to-end encryption for your communications with us. This provides a higher level of security and anonymity in your communication with us than afforded by standard e-mail or unencrypted Web forms. Strongbox does not provide perfect security. Among other risks, if you share your unique code name, or if your computer is compromised, any activities, including communications through Strongbox, should be considered compromised as well."

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Google Fights Glass Backlash Before It Even Hits The Street : NPR

Google Fights Glass Backlash Before It Even Hits The Street : NPR | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
From privacy concerns to technology saturation, Google's new technology has had its fair share of criticism — and it's not even on sale yet.
Artur Alves's insight:

Google glass might be the cyborg tech toy of the year, but it is facing a lot of criticism even before hitting the market. How is Google trying to shape perceptions of the Glass project? And how are the different publics reacting to it?

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After 100,000+ Downloads, Group With 3-D Gun Plans Goes Dark : NPR

After 100,000+ Downloads, Group With 3-D Gun Plans Goes Dark : NPR | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
"Defense Distributed put its gun-making blueprint on the Web for downloading. It says it's been asked by the government to stop doing that. But with more than 100,000 copies already distributed, it would seem the recipe is out there. " Minutes ago, just as we were headlined "3D-Printed Gun's Blueprints Downloaded 100,000 Times In Two Days," this message of the group that has made those plans available to the world: "#DEFCAD has gone dark at the request of the Department of Defense Trade Controls. Take it up with the Secretary of State."
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What Phone Companies Are Doing With All That Data From Your Phone

What Phone Companies Are Doing With All That Data From Your Phone | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
They're mining it and selling it. But don't worry, it's all anonymous. Maybe
Artur Alves's insight:

"A team of researchers from Louvain University in Belgium, Harvard and M.I.T. found that by using data from 15 months of phone use by 1.5 million people, together with a similar dataset from Foursquare, they could identify about 95 percent of the cell phones users with just four data points and 50 percent of them with just two data points. A data point is an individual’s approximate whereabouts at the approximate time they’re using their cell phone.

The reason that only four locations were necessary to identify most people is that we tend to move in consistent patterns. Just as everyone has unique fingerprints, everyone has unique daily travels. While someone wouldn’t necessarily be able to match the path of a mobile phone–known as a mobility trace–to a specific person, we make it much easier through geolocated tweets or location “check-ins,” such as when we use Foursquare."

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Security alert: notes from the frontline of the war in cyberspace

Security alert: notes from the frontline of the war in cyberspace | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
The battle for control of cyberspace is turning nasty, with young hackers, pirates and activists facing long prison sentences. Jon Ronson reports from the frontline
Artur Alves's insight:

"After his death, I became aware of lots of other Aaron Swartzes out there – hackers and pirates and activists facing prison for their ideology of internet freedom. It felt like a concerted worldwide prosecutorial effort to subdue a movement. So I began approaching them. I decided to contact only those people facing imminent imprisonment or trial. What in their lives had led them to that moment? How were they dealing with it?"

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An Open Letter to Professor Michael Sandel from the Philosophy Department at San José State University

Artur Alves's insight:

The "Open Letter to Professor Michael Sandel from the Philosophy Department at San José State University" is making the rounds of the online discussion about the use of MOOCs and the inherent flaws of online education re standardization (of content, pedagogy and methods) and reification of student-teacher relations.

"(...) in a high quality course, the professor teaching it must be able both to design the course and to choose its materials, and to interact closely with the students. The first option is not available in a pre-packaged course, and the second option is at grave risk if we move toward MOOCs.

...

We respect your desire to expand opportunities for higher education to audiences that do not now have the chance to interact with new ideas. We are very cognizant of your long and distinguished record of scholarship and teaching in the areas of political philosophy and ethics. It is in a spirit of respect and collegiality that we are urging you, and all professors involved with the sale and promotion of edX-style courses, not to take away from students in public universities the opportunity for an education beyond mere jobs training. Professors who care about public education should not produce products that will replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities."

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Third of all honeybee colonies in England did not survive winter - The Guardian

Third of all honeybee colonies in England did not survive winter - The Guardian | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

"More than a third of all honeybee colonies in England died over the winter, according to figures from the British Beekeepers Association..."

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The feudal information age

"When it comes to our data on the internet, we’re serfs again, working land we’ll never own the rights to. I don’t think there’s anything inherently corrupt about electronic communication—no need to abandon the internet, folks—but I do think we’re at a point of transition here. What is the equivalent of a middle class in this situation? It may still be just out of the reach of our imaginations, but a solid place to start is learning what we can about the dependencies already in place."

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Edward Snowden, whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance Program leak

Edward Snowden, whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance Program leak | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Edward Snowden, whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance Program leak
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Documents: U.S. mining data from 9 leading Internet firms; companies deny knowledge

Documents: U.S. mining data from 9 leading Internet firms; companies deny knowledge | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
U.S. intelligence has access to the servers of nine Internet companies as part of top-secret effort. " The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post. The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley."
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Ideas coming down the track

Ideas coming down the track | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
COMPARED with other modes of transport, train technology might seem to be progressing as slowly as a suburban commuter service rattling its way from one station to...
Artur Alves's insight:

"[T]here is no shortage of new ideas, and they are steadily making their way out onto the rails. Better technologies are delivering everything from improved traction, braking and route-planning to sleek levitating trains designed to glide on air at an astounding 500kph (310mph). Energy-efficiency and safety are up, and derailments are down. There are schemes to transfer electrical energy from braking trains into local power grids, and even more radical plans for “moving platforms” that dock with high-speed trains.

For proponents of rail transport, such developments strengthen the political and economic case for favouring trains over roads or short-haul air travel. In 2011 a European Commission “roadmap” document on transport strategy called for a trebling of high-speed rail capacity in Europe, and further investment in urban networks, with the goal of halving the use of fossil-fuel-powered cars in cities within two decades. That seems optimistic. But high oil prices, clogged roads and rising demand for passenger and freight capacity have prompted widespread talk of a “rail renaissance” which will accelerate the adoption of new technologies."

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Big Data Gets Personal | MIT Technology Review

May 2013 Business Report - Big data and personal information are converging to shape the Internet’s most powerful and surprising consumer products. They’ll predict your needs, store your memories, and improve your life—if you let them.

Artur Alves's insight:

"Big Data" is one of the tropes of the moment. But how much data is enough, and how much is too much? From personal life to politics, a renewed obsession with quantification and statistics indulges in the familiar promises of utopia: a better life, a more efficient society.

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The Massive Hypocrisy of Facebook, AT&T Celebrating “Data Privacy Day”

The Massive Hypocrisy of Facebook, AT&T Celebrating “Data Privacy Day” | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Twitter has launched a new transparency-focused website to tell users about how governments are snooping on them.
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Nathan Heller: Is College Moving Online?

Nathan Heller: Is College Moving Online? | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Many people think that massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are the future of higher education in America.
Artur Alves's insight:

The New Yorker's Nathan Heller's excellent piece on MOOCs.

 

"On the one hand, if schools like Harvard and Stanford become the Starbucks and Peet’s of higher education, offering sophisticated branded courses at the campus nearest you, bright students at all levels will have access. But very few of these students will ever have a chance to touch these distant shores. And touch, historically, has been a crucial part of élite education.

...

Meanwhile, smaller institutions could be eclipsed, or reduced to dependencies of the standing powers.

...

Just how much is lost has lately been a subject of debate. At Harvard, as elsewhere, MOOC designers acknowledge that the humanities pose special difficulties. When David J. Malan, who teaches Harvard’s popular and demanding introduction to programming, “Computer Science 50,” turned the course into a MOOC, student assessment wasn’t especially difficult: the assignments are programs, and their success can be graded automatically. Not so in courses like Nagy’s, which traditionally turned on essay-writing and discussion. Nagy and Michael Sandel are deploying online discussion boards to simulate classroom conversation, yet the results aren’t always encouraging.

...

“Two features that can be found in most of this recent wave of online courses are: first, what could be described variously as the ‘guru on the mountaintop,’ or the ‘broadcast model,’ or the ‘one-to-many model,’ or the ‘TV model,’ ” [William Fisher] said. Fisher has a shock of strawberry-blond hair. He was wearing a pin-striped suit and, incongruously, tan hiking boots. “The basic idea here is that an expert in the field speaks to the masses, who absorb his or her wisdom. The second feature is that, to the extent that learning requires some degree of interactivity, that interactivity is channelled into formats that require automated or right-and-wrong answers.

“I think this fails to capitalize on many of the most important advantages of new technologies vis-à-vis education,” Fisher said. “It’s possible that it’s optimal for math, computer science, and the hard natural sciences. I don’t teach those things, so I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure it’s not optimal for social sciences, humanities, and law. So I wanted to try a different technique.”

 

"

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On algorithms - is there still a place for human judgment?

On algorithms - is there still a place for human judgment? | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Computers could take some tough decisions out of our hands, if we let them. Is there still a place for human judgement?
Artur Alves's insight:

One the most important questions of our times: what can we externalize into algorithms, and what should we keep as human responsibility?

 

"What lies behind our current rush to automate everything we can imagine? Perhaps it is an idea that has leaked out into the general culture from cognitive science and psychology over the past half-century — that our brains are imperfect computers. If so, surely replacing them with actual computers can have nothing but benefits. Yet even in fields where the algorithm’s job is a relatively pure exercise in number- crunching, things can go alarmingly wrong."

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China enraged by Pentagon’s claims it is waging new cyberwar

China enraged by Pentagon’s claims it is waging new cyberwar | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
An unprecedented and blunt Pentagon report that accuses China of cyber-espionage aimed at extracting US military secrets has prompted a war of words between Washington and Beijing, with the latter angrily denying the accusations.
Artur Alves's insight:

The discourse and numbers of the purported "cyber coldwar"

"Despite its accusations against China, the US is no slouch when it comes to cyberwarfare, as evidenced by the 2010 Stuxnet attacks on computers controlling Iran’s nuclear programme, believed to be a joint American/Israeli operation, and the rapid build-up of the Pentagon’s own Cyber Command.

Despite the rapid and sustained expansion of China’s armed forces, the US remains far ahead in terms of firepower and military technology. Although Beijing’s defence spending is growing by some 10 per cent annually and is described by the new report at totalling between $135bn (£87bn) and $215bn (£139bn), it is eclipsed by the US defence budget, almost $700bn (£452bn) for 2013. China, says the Pentagon, sees electronic warfare as a way to “reduce or eliminate” US advantage."

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Syria 'working to repair internet'

Syria 'working to repair internet' | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
The Syrian government has blamed faulty cables for an internet blackout that has entered its second day.
Artur Alves's insight:

Syria internet access has flatlined yesterday. It is likely a governmental "kill switch" is to blame.

"The Syrian government blamed that incident on "terrorists", but internet experts said it was more likely that the regime had shut down the web.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has been fighting a bloody internal conflict for two years.

Activists suggested at the time of the previous internet shutdown that the regime might have been planning a major offensive, or that it might have been attempting to prevent rebels from using the internet to co-ordinate themselves and communicate with the wider world."

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Decoys Entrap Hackers Who Trawl the Internet Trying to Tamper with Industrial Control Systems | MIT Technology Review

Decoys Entrap Hackers Who Trawl the Internet Trying to Tamper with Industrial Control Systems | MIT Technology Review | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Dummy water-plant control systems rapidly attracted attention from hackers who tinkered with their settings—suggesting it happens to real industrial systems, too.
Artur Alves's insight:

Honeypots help revealing the real extent of cyber espionage.

"Just 18 hours after security researcher Kyle Wilhoit connected two dummy industrial control systems and one real one to the Internet, someone began attacking one of them, and things soon got worse. Over the course of the experiment, conducted during December 2012, a series of sophisticated attacks were mounted on the “honeypots,” which Wilhoit set up to find out how often malicious hackers target industrial infrastructure."

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