Archives for the month of: November, 2010

After technology is created by humans, it goes on to shape what it is to be human. For instance, consider the ability of our younger generation to sit in front of a monitor and play a game, speak to a friend, write a blog/essay and follow a stream of news – all at the same time.

This ability was rare before the modern Windows based PC became ubiquitous. Mastery over navigating computer windows has changed the way our mind learns.

A computer user smoothly moves from one activity to another. Often the contents of one activity informs and influences how the user understands and processes the contents of another activity. As Bert Olivier explains:

‘Before the advent of computers and the internet, intellectual activity was largely determined by the prevailing experiential and didactic model to be linear, syntagmatic (semiotically sequential), instead of a combination of syntagmatic and paradigmatic (semiotically associative).’

So, at a rudimentary level, the development of the internet has improved our ability to think in an associative way (to the detriment of a linear way of thinking).

Both ways of thinking have benefits and pitfalls – but one particular benefit of associative thinking is its association with metaphor.

Metaphor is an important but often neglected part of our life (we use about 6 metaphors every minute). Metaphor is what we turn to when we need to express abstract thoughts- thoughts ranging from love to philosophy.

In Aristotles words ‘metaphor is giving a name to a thing which is something else’. By saying that one thing is another thing, the mind is forced into a powerful associative process of re-understanding – it delves into a network of analogies. It helps us change our perceptions, discover new ways of expression and understand difficult concepts.

Marco Bertolini gives a talk at TED about why metaphor is so important to any decision making process. He describes an experiment that asks subjects their opinion about a scenario in which a small democratic country is invaded and appeals to the US for help. The question is,  should the US intervene?

Test subjects were asked their opinion, but the question was framed in one of three different contexts – one of World War 2, one of Vietnam and one of a neutral conflict. Those exposed to the WW2 scenario supported intervention significantly more than those that were not.

Of course, the likelihood is that many of those test subjects would not have based their decision on just one context if the event were to happen in real life. The internet would have allowed them to hear multiple perspectives, often simultaneously, all of which would have impinged on their final decision.

So the associative learning that comes from time spent on the internet should be seen as liberating, and a great way to improve our metaphorical way of looking at the world.

Of course, it also means that people are less susceptible to propaganda. But then, metaphor has always been the enemy of propaganda.


One important thing about Wikileaks is its technological sophistication. Julian Assange, the founder and editor, has said his group uses “state-of-the-art encryption to bounce stuff around the internet to hide trails”.

Wikileaks spreads throughout the world, spanning multiple jurisdictions and operates through countries which offer a high level of legal protection to people that leak information. To the US government it is a formidable enemy.

I blogged earlier about the new division of the US military, the US Cyber Command (USCC). It aims to protect US national security by improving the nations cyber-warfare arsenal. Could one of its prime targets be Wikileaks? They would be justified – as one reporter at the Washington Post has written:

‘Assange is a non-U.S. person operating outside the territory of the United States. This means the government has a wide range of options for dealing with him. It can employ not only law enforcement, but also intelligence and military assets, to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business.’

Of course, bringing down a website like Wikileaks is probably outside the current ability of the US. I reason that they could attack the site and bring it down, but it would appear somewhere else in no time at all.

Even if they could successfully bring down all of the mirror sites – the files would all be distibuted through torrents and posted all over the web.

As the social web of user generated content grows, the US government will further lose its control over the media. As a result the normal route of deploying propaganda against Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange (like the recent attempt to label him a racist) will become increasingly ineffective.

What needs to be tackled is the entire infrastructure of Wikileaks – and this is precisely what the USCC is designed to do. Charged with carrying out “full-spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains”, the USCC is designed to totally eradicate infrastructure.

The question now is to what possible extremes could military interference with the internet have on the our new digital world?

‘The struggle for control of the internet is just beginning’ – that is what Nikko Hyppönen, chief research officer for F-Secure, a Finnish-based computer security company believes.

At the start of October US Cybercom, the division of the pentagon created to battle enemies in cyberspace, went operational.

The Pentagon computer network is probed up to six million times a day by groups including 140 different foreign spy networks, according to General Keith Alexander, the commander of US Cybercom.

To defend against this increasing threat to national security US Cybercom needs to do all it can to lift the United States from the vulnerable position it now finds itself in. A cyber-attack on the critical infrastructure of an American city would probably succeed in taking out power, communications and financial services.

However, as Richard Clarke points out, the creation of this military division has been done without a “public debate, media discussion, serious congressional oversight, academic analysis or international dialogue”

As the Financial Times have commented.

‘These moves will lead to a much deeper apparatus of control and monitoring of internet activity by the US.’

It is not just the military that are having to defend against cyber-enemies. Banks are losing out on millions as a result of cyber-crime. One of the responses of  financial organisations is that people need to become more responsible.

HSBC are already refusing to reimburse victims of cyber crime unless they have the correct level of internet security on their computer. In China, the next generation of internet users will have to pass a ‘internet test’ to prove their proficiency before surfing the web.

The Battle of Cyberspace is one that can never really be won and will roll on indefinitely. As criminals up their game with new technologies, the response from the American military (and the military of other countries) will be to increase their power in cyber-space.

What the effects will be can only be imagined.

This video shows how researchers at Stanford University mapped letters of famous figures in the 18th century – visualising their spheres of influence. This visualisation can show connections that would otherwise take ages to study.


With Facebook announcing a major new messaging system (codenamed Project Titan) and Google snapping up acquisitions all over the place (83 so far) – what is the fundamental difference between these two giants of cyberspace?

The answer lies in the kind of data that they both deal in.

Facebook lets you tell the world all about you – what you ‘like’ about culture, companies and people. It is data that you want to give away so that you can show other people just how much of an individual you are.

Google, on the other hand, is a lot more personal than that. It is about what you really get up to when it is just you and the computer. It stores data about everything from your embarrassing rash to your sexual desires.

As Sebastian Anthony puts it:

‘Facebook knows who we want to be, while Google knows who we actually are.’

We could see this as Facebook being all about your public self, whilst Google is all about your private self.

Of course, the bottom line for the companies involved is all about how this fundamental difference affects revenue. Facebook advertises to your public self, and Google advertises to your private self.

The question now is whether Project Titan will change this fundamental difference by reading your Facebook emails and targeting adverts (something which Google already do).

This would be an advertising model based on both your private and public identities. Priceless to marketers, but something that I find unsettling.

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian Editor in Chief, has outlined 15 reasons why Twitter is important. I have listed them below and then added 5 other reasons. I’ll add more as I think of them.

  1. It helps with distribution of news.
  2. It is often the source of breaking news.
  3. It can often outdo Google when it comes to search.
  4. It is a formidable aggregation tool.
  5. It is a great reporting tool – for both finding information and asking the crowd.
  6. It is great for marketing and letting people involved in your content know that it is there.
  7. It is a series of common conversations with instant feedback
  8. It is diverse environment.
  9. It is opening up a new tone of writing – brief but humourous, succinct and more personal.
  10. It levels the playing field – hard work is rewarded.
  11. It has different values – a story may make in all the nationals but have little Twitter impact, and vice-versa.
  12. It has a long attention span – conversations around a topic can last for ages.
  13. It creates communities.
  14. It changes notions of authority.
  15. It is an agent of change.

And here are my additions:

  1. You can follow events as they unfold – any news event will be given a hashtag and you can easily find help from the eyes on the ground.
  2. It allows you to be in several places at once.
  3. It encourages serendipity – you stumble across ideas and people that will completely change your opinions and direction.
  4. You can contact people directly – and it is much more likely you will get a response.
  5. It is perfect for finding the exact person you are loooking for – not to mention the possibilities in Geo-Tagging.

Microsoft’s new motion sensor controller Kinect doesn’t look very impressive if you only look at what it can do on the Xbox 360. What is more impressive is what the open source community is doing with the device. It is here where we can see some of the products enormous potential.

The Kinect was hacked three hours after it was released by a guy called Hector Martin, who was awarded a $3000 prize. Now programmers around the world are discovering innovative new ways to explore and exploit the devices potential.

Below are 3 videos showing the power of the device. The first shows how Kinect acts as an ‘eye’ for a robot (the technological mash-up uses an iRobot – a robot that costs around £400). The second shows how Kinect can see in 3d. And the third shows how the machine can learn visually.

These videos show why Kinect really matters. It seems that a robot that can truly see, can learn the name of objects and is able to perfectly navigate around the house is just around the corner.

Going from these videos it won’t be long until robots become a part of the home. Will they become as ubiquitous as computers are nowadays?