Tag archives for New York Times

Predicting the Future of Computing

The New York Time has a fascinating interactive tool for looking at the history of computing, and for crowdsourcing when new technological breakthroughs might arrive.

It’s interesting to see what people believe will happen. Google will have mapped the entire world at 1 cm resolution (good enough to recognize faces) by 2020. Telecommuting and online dating replace ‘real world’ versions of the same by 2030. AI and cyborgs will be around by 2050, and by 2300, humanity will have achieved the Singularity, ending all forms of material suffering and deprivation.

China’s Censors Tackle And Trip Over The Internet

Since late March, when Google moved its search operations out of mainland China to Hong Kong, each response to a Chinese citizen’s search request has been met at the border by government computers, programmed to censor any forbidden information Google might turn up.  “Carrot” — in Mandarin, huluobo — may seem innocuous enough. But it contains the same Chinese character as the surname of President Hu Jintao. And the computers, long programmed to intercept Chinese-language searches on the nation’s leaders, substitute an error message for the search result before it can sneak onto a mainland computer. 

This is China’s censorship machine, part George Orwell, part Rube Goldberg: an information sieve of staggering breadth and fineness, yet full of holes; run by banks of advanced computers, but also by thousands of Communist Party drudges; highly sophisticated in some ways, remarkably crude in others.

The one constant is its growing importance. Censorship used to be the sleepy province of the Communist Party’s central propaganda department, whose main task was to tell editors what and what not to print or broadcast. In the new networked China, censorship is a major growth industry, overseen — and fought over — by no fewer than 14 government ministries.


Is There An Ecological Unconscious?

About eight years ago, Glenn Albrecht began receiving frantic calls from residents of the Upper Hunter Valley, a 6,000-squaree-mile region in southeastern Australia.  For generations, the Upper Hunter was known as the “Tuscany of the South” – an oasis of alfalfa fields, dairy farms and lush English-style shires on a notoriously hot, parched continent.  “The calls were like desperate pleas,” Albrecht, a philosopher and professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, recalled in June.  “They said:  ‘Can you help us?  We’ve tried everyone else.  Is there anything you can do about this?’

 Residents were distraught over the spread of coal mining in the Upper Hunter.  This open-pit mining, used chemical explosives to blast away soil, sediment and rock.  The blasts occurred several times a day, sending plumes of gray dust over ridges to settle thickly onto roofs, crops and the hides of livestock.  The residents were anxious, unsettled, despairing & depressed, just as if they had been forcibly removed from the valley.  Only they hadn’t; the valley changed around them.  In Albrecht’s view, the residents of the Upper Hunter were suffering not just from the strain of living in difficult conditions but also from something more fundamental: a hitherto unrecognized psychological condition. 

 Albrecht coined a term to describe it: “Solastalgia,” which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that loves is under immediate assault. . . .  a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home’.  Solastalgia, in Albrechts’s estimation, is a global condition, felt to a greater or lesser degree by different people in different locations but felt increasingly, given the ongoing degradation of the environment.  As our environment continues to change around us, the question Albrecht would like answered is, how deeply are our minds suffering in return? 


The Coffee Party, With A Taste For Civic Participation, Is Added To The Political Menu

Fed up with government gridlock, but put off by the flavor of the Tea Party, people in cities across the country are offering an alternative:  The Coffee Party.  Growing through a Facebook page, the party pledges to “support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.”  Within days of its inception, over 40,000 members joined this website and the numbers are growing quickly.  Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker who lives outside Washington is in shock over the level of energy and attention this website is drawing.  She has over 300 requests to start a chapter and cannot keep up.  The slogan is “Wake up and Stand Up” and their mission statement declares that the federal government is “not the enemy of the people, but the expression of  our collective will and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges we face as Americans ”.


Human Flesh Search Engines

Human Flesh Search Engines is a Chinese network based search facility which combines human and computer resources to accomplish a search task.  It is human powered rather than computer driven.  Human Flesh searches highlight what people are willing to fight for:  the polarizing events and contested moral standards that are the fault lines of contemporary China.  They have become a phenomenon in China: they are a form of online vigilante justice in which Internet users hunt down and punish people who have attracted their wrath.

 The goal is to get the targets of a search fired from their jobs, shamed in front of their neighbors, or run out of town. It’s crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online — with offline results. “In the United States, traditional media are still playing the key role in setting the agenda for the public,” says Jin Liwen. “But in China, you will see that a lot of hot topics, hot news or events actually originate from online discussions.” In one well known case, when a video appeared in China of a woman stomping a cat to death with the sharp point of her high heel, the human flesh search engine tracked the kitten killer’s home to the town of Luobei in Heilongjiang Province, in the far northeast, and her name — Wang Jiao — was made public, as were her phone number and her employer. “Wang Jiao was affected a lot,” says one Luobei resident. “She left town and went somewhere else”.  The kitten-killer case didn’t just provide revenge; it helped turn the human-flesh search engine into a national phenomenon. Searches have also been directed against cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system.