Ian Pearson BSc DSc(hc) FWAAS CITP FBCS FRSA FWIF
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Category Archives: social media
Posted on September 2, 2012
My writing on the future of gender now forms a section of my new book You Tomorrow, Second Edition, on the future of humanity, gender, lifestyle and our surroundings. Available from Amazon as paper and ebook.
Posted on July 23, 2012
“Let’s connect up!” A former American associate of mine used that phrase all the time and nice lady that she is, those words always had an empty, rather dread ring to them. “Connecting up” invariably meant participation in a teleconference where, blind to each other’s facial expressions, attire – hairstyles! – the contributors to the so-called ‘conference’ were left anxiously trying to assemble layers of meaning and depth from each other’s lifeless pleonasms. The communications experience was never much better when we actually saw each other; teleconferencing offered its own unique brand of awfulness, which unvaryingly got in the way of good discussion. Of course there is nothing unusual about this type of experience – it’s common in fact, which makes it all the more dreadful. With all the technology that has come about to help us ‘connect’, much faster and with less effort than ever before, we have become ever more detached from real, flesh and blood relationships. Digital communications simply does not cut it when it comes to developing a relationship. Of course we all know the mantra, the arguments for communications technology. It’s an important tool that helps us to make plans more efficiently, and to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. It is a portal to our business world – to making money! It has even proved to be critically important to the cause of liberty and democracy, witness the events that led to the Arab Spring. And yet I feel that we’re all missing out terribly by confining ourselves to studying our smartphones instead of reading the faces of the people around us, or by choosing to text a few words to a colleague in the office via Skype when he/she is only a few feet away (oh, yes, this is really happening more and more now). I suppose we must keep faith and hope for common sense to lead us back to a sensible blend of technology and good old-fashioned human contact. Or perhaps those clever fellows at BT, Ma Bell, Deutsche Telecom or Telstra will find a viable substitute via interactive holographic technology, or some form of advanced avatar communications. Mmm, I believe that I would still rather shake someone’s hand and, err, smile.
Chris Moseley, 17 Mile Studios, Brisbane, Australia
Posted on July 2, 2012
This entry now forms a chapter in my book Total Sustainability, available from Amazon in paper or ebook form.
Posted on June 1, 2012
We hear the term frequently, but what qualifies some people and not others to be classed as climate scientists? You might think it is just someone who studies things that affect the climate. But very many people do that, not just those who call themselves climate scientists. The term actually seems to refer solely to a group who have commandeered the term for themselves and share a particular viewpoint, with partly overlapping skills in a subset of the relevant disciplines. In recent times,it seems that to be an official ‘climate scientist’ you must believe that the main thing that counts is human interference and in particular, CO2. All other factors must be processed from this particular bias.
To me, the climate looks like it is affected by a great many influences. Climate models produced by ‘climate scientists’ have been extremely poor at predicting changes so far, and one reason for this is that they exclude many of the relevant factors.
I am struggling to think of any scientific discipline that doesn’t have something to say about some influence on climate. Many branches of chemistry and physics are important in understanding how the atmosphere works, and the oceans, and glaciers, and soil. We have some understanding of some natural cycles, but far from all, and far from complete. We need biologists and chemists and physicists to tell us about soil, and forests, and ocean life, and how species and entire ecosystems react and adapt to changing circumstances, with migrations or adaptation or evolution for example. We need to understand how draining bogs or chopping trees to make room for biofuels affects the climate. How using bio-waste for fuel instead of ploughing it into the ground affects soil structure, plant growth, and carbon interchange. We need to understand how cosmic rays interact with the earth’s magnetic field, how this is affected by solar activity, how sunspots form, and even gravitational interactions with the planets that affect solar cycles. We need to understand glacial melting, how glaciers move differently as temperature changes, how black carbon from diesel engines affects their heat absorption, how clouds form, how they act to warm or cool the earth according to circumstances. We need to understand ocean cycles much better, as well as gas and heat interchange between layers, how this is affected by weather and so on. I could go on, endlessly. We need to understand the many different ways we could make energy in the future, the many options for capture and containment of emissions or pollutants, or positive effects some might have on plant growth and animal food chains.
But it doesn’t stop with science, not be a long way. We also need people skilled in anthropology and demography and sociology and human psychology, who understand how people react when faced with choices of lifestyle when presented in many different ways with different spins, or faced with intimidation or eviction because of environmental policies. And how groups or tribes or countries will interact and distribute burdens and costs and rewards, or fight, or flee. And religious leaders who understand well the impacts of religious pressures on people’s attitudes and behaviours, even if they don’t subscribe to any organised religion. Clearly environmental behaviour has a strong religious motivation for many people, even if that is just as a crude religion substitute.
We even need people who understand animal psychology, how small mammals react to wind turbine flicker for example, and how this affects the food chain, ecosystem balance and eventual interchange with the atmosphere and the rest of the environment.
And politicians, they understand how to influence people, and marketers, and estate agents. They can help predict behaviours and adaptation and how entire countries may or will interact according to changes in climate, real or imagined.
And we need economists to look at the many alternatives and compare costs and benefits, preferably without ideological and political bias. We need to compare strategies for adaptation and mitigation and avoidance. Honestly and objectively. And we need ethicists to help evaluate the same from human perspectives.
And we need loads of mathematicians, especially statisticians. Climate science is very complicated, and a lot of measurements and trend analyses need in-depth statistical skills, apparently lacking in official climate science, as evidenced by the infamous hockey stick graph. But we also need some to model things like traffic flows so we can predict emissions from different policies.
And we need lots of engineers too, to assess likely costs and timescales for development of alternatives for energy, transport, entertainment and business IT. We need a lot of engineers!
And don’t forget architects, who influence energy balance via choices of shapes, materials and colour schemes as well as how buildings maintain a pleasant environment for the inhabitants.
Ah yes, and futurists. Many futurists are systems thinkers with an understanding of how things link together and how they may develop. You need a few of them too.
I have probably forgotten lots of others. The point is that there are very many factors that need to be included. No-one, and I mean no-one, can possibly have a good grasp of all of them. You can know a bit about a lot of things or a lot about a few things, but you can’t know a lot about everything. I would say that there are no people at all who know about all the things that affect climate in any depth, and therefore no group deserves a monopoly on that title.
So, if you only look in any depth at a few interaction in the oceans and atmosphere and ignore many of the rest of the factors affecting climate, as ‘climate scientists’ seem to, it is hard to see a good reason to continue to hold the title any more than anyone with another label like astrophysicist, or politician. ‘Climate scientists’ as we currently classify them, know a bit about some things that affect climate. So do many other groups. Having skills in a few of the relevant areas doesn’t give any right to dismiss others with skills in a different few. And if they consistently get it wrong, as they do, then there is even less reason to trust their particular viewpoints. And that’s before we even start considering whether they are even honest about the stuff they do talk about. And as Donna Lamframboise has pointed out recently, they don’t deserve to be trusted.
Posted on May 2, 2012
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/9236667/Pirate-Bay-must-be-blocked-High-Court-tells-ISPs.html Justice Arnold ruled that ISPs must block their customers from accessing Pirate Bay. Regardless of the morality or legality of Pirate Bay, forcing ISPs to block access to it will cause them inconvenience and costs, but won’t fix the core problem of copyright materials being exchanged without permission from the owners.
I have never looked at the Pirate Bay site, but I am aware of what it offers. It doesn’t host material, but allows its users to download from each other. By blocking access to the Bay, the judge blocks another one of billions of ways to exchange data. Many others exist and it is very easy to set up new ones, so trying to deal with them one by one seems rather pointless. Pirate Bay’s users will simply use alternatives. If they were to block all current file sharing sites, others would spring up to replace them, and if need be, with technological variations that set them outside of any new legislation. At best judges could play a poor catch-up game in an eternal war between global creativity and the law. Because that is what this is.
Pirate Bay can only be blocked because it is possible to identify it and put it in court. It is possible to write software that doesn’t need a central site, or indeed any legally identifiable substance. It could for example be open-source software written and maintained by evolving adaptive AI, hidden behind anonymity, distributed algorithms and encryption walls, roaming freely among web servers and PCs, never stopping anywhere. It could be untraceable. It could use combinations of mobile or fixed phone nets, the internet, direct gadget-gadget comms and even use codes on other platforms such as newspapers. Such a system would be dangerous to build from a number of perspectives, but may be forced by actions to close alternatives. If people feel angered by arrogance and greed, they may be pushed down this development road. The only way to fully stop such a system would be to stop communication.
The simple fact is that technology that we depend on for most aspects of our lives also makes it possible to swap files, and to do so secretly as needed. We could switch it off, but our economy and society would collapse. To pretend otherwise is folly. Companies that feel abused should recognise that the world has moved on and they need to adapt their businesses to survive in the world today, not ask everyone to move back to the world of yesterday so that they can cope. Because we can’t and shouldn’t even waste time trying to. My copyright material gets stolen frequently. So what? I just write more. That model works fine for me. It ain’t broke, and trying to fix it without understanding how stuff works won’t protect anyone and will only make it worse for all of us.
Posted on April 30, 2012
3D printers are growing in popularity, with a wide range in price from domestic models to high-end industrial printers. The field is already over-hyped, but there is still room for even more, so here we go.
3D printing is a good solution for production of items in one-off or small run quantity, so restoration is one field that will particularly benefit. If a component of a machine is damaged or missing, it can be replaced, if a piece has been broken off an ornament, a 3D scan of the remaining piece could be compared with how it should be and 3D patches designed and printed to restore the full object.
Creativity & Crafts
Creativity too will benefit. Especially with assistance from clever software, many people will find that what they thought was their small streak of creativity is actually not that small at all, and will be encouraged to create. The amateur art world can be expected to expand greatly, both in virtual art and physical sculpture. We will see a new renaissance, especially in sculpture and crafts, but also in imaginative hybrid virtual-physical arts. Physical objects may be printed or remain virtual, displayed in augmented reality perhaps. Some of these will be scalable, with tiny versions made on home 3D printers. People may use these test prints to refine their works, and possibly then have larger ones produced on more expensive printers owned by clubs or businesses. They could print it using the 3D printing firm down the road, or just upload the design to a web-based producer for printing and home delivery later in the week.
Fashion will benefit from 3D printing too, with accessories designed or downloaded and printed on demand. A customer may not want to design their own accessories fully, but may start with a choice of template of some sort that they customise to taste, so that their accessories are still personalised but don’t need to much involvement of time and effort.
Could printed miniatures become as important as photos?
People take a lot of photos and videos, and they are a key tool in social networking as well as capturing memories. If 3D scans or photos are taken, and miniature physical models printed, they might have a greater social and personal value even than photos.
Micro-robotics and espionage
3D printing is capable of making lots of intricate parts that would be hard to manufacture by any other means, so should be appropriate for some of the parts useful in making small robots, such as tiny insects that can fly into properties undetected.
Conventional 3D printers, if there can be such a thing so early in their development, use line of sight to make objects by building them in thin layers. Although this allows elaborate structures to be made, it doesn’t allow everything, and there are some structures or objects that would be more easily made if it were possible to print internally. Although lasers would be of little use in opaque objects, x-rays might work fine in some circumstances. This would allow retro-fitting too.
If x-ray or printing can be made to work, then it may be possible to build heating circuits inside cancers, and then inductive power supplies could burn away the tumours. Alternatively, smart circuits could be implanted to activate encapsulated drugs when they arrive at the scene.
This would require a one-off exposure to x-rays, but not necessarily similarly damaging levels to those used in radiotherapy.
Direct brain-machine links
Looking further ahead, internal printing of circuits or electronic components inside the brain will be a superb means to do interfacing between man and machine. X-rays can in principle be focused to 1nm, easily fine enough resolution to make contacts to specific brain regions. Obviously x-rays are not something that people would want to be exposed to frequently, but many people would volunteer (e.g. I would) to have some circuits implanted at least for R&D purposes, since greater insights into how the brain does stuff will accelerate greatly the development of biomimetic AI. But if those circuits were able to link parts of the brain to the web for fast thought based access to search, processing, or sensory enhancement, I’d be fighting millions of transhumanists to get to the front of the long queue.
Posted on March 24, 2012
The excitement around augmented reality continues to build, and my blog is normally very enthusiastic about its potential. Enjoying virtual architecture, playing immersive computer games while my wife is shopping, or enjoying artworks transposed onto walls in the high street are just a few of the benefits.
But I realized recently that it won’t all be wonderful. I’ve often joked that you could replace all the ugly people in the high street with more attractive ones. But I didn’t really consider the implications of that. And now I have, I think it will actually become a problem.
In spite of marketing hype and misrepresentation of basic location based services, AR is only here in very primitive form today, outside the lab anyway. But very soon, we will use visors and contact lenses to enable a fully 3D, hi-res overlay on the real world. So notionally, you can make everything in the world look how you want, but only to a point. You can transform a dull shop or office into an elaborate palace of spaceship. But even if you change what they look like, you still need to represent real physical structures and obstacles in your fantasy overlay world, or you may bump into them, and that includes all the walls and furniture, lamp posts, bollards, vehicles, and of course other people. Augmented reality allows you to change their appearance thoroughly but they still need to be there somehow.
When it comes to people, there will be some small battles. You may have a wide variety of avatars, and may have invested a great deal of time and money making or buying them. You may have a digital aura, hoping to present different avatars to different passers-by according to their profiles. You may want to look younger or thinner or as a character you enjoy playing in a computer game. You may present a selection of options. The avatar they choose to overlay could be any one of the images you have on offer, that you spent so much time on. Maybe some people get to pick from some you offer, or are restricted to just one that you have set for their profile.
However, other people may choose not to see you avatar, but instead to superimpose one of their own choosing. The question of who decides what the viewer sees is the first and most obvious battle in AR and it will probably be won by the viewer (there may be exceptions, and these may be imposed by regulations). The other person will decide how they want to see you, regardless of your preferences.
You can spend all the time you want making your avatar or tweaking your virtual make-up to perfection, but if someone wants to see Lady Gaga walking past instead of you, they will. You and your body become no more than an object on which to display any avatar or image someone else chooses. You are quite literally reduced to an object in the AR world. If you worry about objectification of women, you will not like what AR will bring.
Firstly they may just take your actual physical appearance (via a video camera built into their visor for example) and digitally change it, so it is still definitely you, but now dressed more nicely, or dressed in sexy lingerie, or how you might look naked, body-fitting any images from a porn site. This could easily be done automatically in real time using some app or other. They could even use your actual face as input to image matching search engines to find the most plausible naked lookalikes. So anyone can digitally dress or undress you, not just with their eyes, but with a hi-res visor using sophisticated software and image processing software. They could put you in any kind of outfit, change your skin colour or make-up, and make you look as pretty and glamorous or as slutty as they want. And you won’t have any idea what they are seeing. You simply won’t know whether they are celebrating your inherent beauty with respect, flattering you and simply making you look even prettier, which you might not mind, or stripping or degrading you to whatever depths they wish, which you probably will mind a lot.
Or they can treat you as just an object on which to superimpose some other avatar, which could be anything or anyone, a zombie, favourite actress or supermodel. They won’t need your consent and again you won’t have any idea what they are seeing. The avatar may make the same gestures and movements but it won’t be you. In some ways this won’t be so bad. You are still reduced to an object but at least it isn’t you that they’re looking at naked. To most strangers on the high street, you were mostly just a moving obstacle to avoid bumping into before. Most people will cope with that bit. It is when you stop being just a passing stranger and start to interact in some way that it starts to matter. You probably won’t like it if someone is chatting to you but looking at someone else entirely, especially if the viewer is one of your friends or your partner. And if your partner is kissing or cuddling you but seeing someone else, that would be a strong breach of trust, but how would you know? This sort of thing could and probably will damage a lot of relationships.
It’s a fairly safe bet that the software to do some or all of this is already in development. Maybe some of it already exists in primitive forms but it will develop quickly once AR display technology is really with us. The visor hardware required is certainly on its way and will be here by christmas.
In the office, in the home, when you’re shopping or at a party, you won’t have any idea what or who someone else is seeing when they look at you. Imagine how that would clash with rules that are supposed to be protection from sexual harassment in the office, but how to police it?
The main casualty will be trust. It will make us question how much we trust each of our friends and colleagues and acquaintances. It will build walls. People will often become suspicious of others, not just strangers but friends and colleagues. Some people will become fearful. You may dress as primly as you like, but if the viewer sees you in a slutty outfit, perhaps their behaviour and attitude towards you will be governed by that rather than reality. So we may see an increase in sexual assault or rape. We may see more people more often objectifying women in more circumstances.
It applies equally to men of course. You could look at me and see a gorilla or a zombie or see me fake-naked. I won’t lose any sleep over that because I don’t really care all that much. Some men will care more than I will, some even less. I think the real victims will be women. Many men objectify women already. In the future AR world , they’ll be able to do so far more effectively.
We can still joke about a world where you use AR to replace all the ugly people with supermodels, but I think the reality may well not be quite so funny.
Posted on March 16, 2012
If you wage war with someone and he gets a bigger gun, you feel pressured to get one too. It’s the same in the war to take your money. If everyone else spends a fortune on advertising, you are likely to feel forced to do so too. But it costs, heavily, and those costs ultimately have to be recovered in higher prices.
When you click on an ad on a website, an advertising company somewhere typically gets about £0.50. That 50p plus has to be recovered when you buy the product, but many of the clicks are ineffective, and there are other expenses in the whole chain apart from the actual click fee (the seller’s own staff, banking costs, accountancy, management etc). Whether you even notice ads or have ever clicked on one, the money you hand over nevertheless subsidises a great many ads, and the ultimate price you pay is much greater than the price that would be needed without advertising.
Nothing new there, but advertising has become a significant and unavoidable extra cost along with taxes and banking fees (and parking charges if you buy in town). You don’t get a choice whether to pay extra to buy via an advertising route or get it cheaper by somehow buying direct. Add up all the web ads, junk email, text messages, paper junk mail, newspapers and magazines, TV and radio advertising, and the whole advertising mark-up is big.
Advertising doesn’t just increase costs. With the exception of some wonderfully entertaining ads, many involving meerkats, adverts waste our time too. Count up all the hours people waste fast forwarding over the add breaks or even sitting through them, and consider the significant personal stress directly resulting from the irritation they cause, that may have a small but finite impact on health. Add to that the extra demands on landfill from the paper junk mail, plus the wasted time opening and sorting the waste. The negative impact on our lives, the environment, and on the overall economy is vast. Sure, the ad industry creates jobs, but jobs in advertising don’t generate wealth (though there are obviously cash flows between regions). Like banking and the public sector, advertising is a drain on resources. It syphons money from the productive economy and impoverishes us.
On the other hand, advertising pays for a great deal of what we use on the web, watch on TV or read in newspapers. Some of that wouldn’t exist if the advertising went away, though some would survive via other business models. We’d still have to pay for the things we want to use somehow, so any notional extra fees and administrative inconvenience can reasonably be offset against advertising’s negative impacts.
But even with that offsetting, we really should challenge the cost:benefit ratio in advertising and see if we can find better ways of letting suppliers make potential customers aware of the merits of what they have on offer.
Advertising is only one strand of marketing of course. Marketers know that people want to learn about their new products when they are potentially interested. Context is key. If I have just eaten, I am not interested in marketing from nearby restaurants. If I haven’t, I might be. Using context makes direct marketing possible, especially knowing the location of the user and their tastes and preferences. I will gladly pull information from companies willing to sell me stuff I am interested in, when I want it. They won’t have to pay anyone. Pull marketing is potentially very low cost to both parties, providing the consumer with the info on suppliers’ offerings so they can make an informed decision on what to buy. If we moved entirely to that sort of model, we could greatly reduce the price of everything we buy while saving time and stress.
It is certainly possible to build such a system and make it work well. The technology exists and we’d all be far better off. The really huge problem is that we have bought into the smartphone model, buying iphones, pads or similar, and were taken in so well by beautiful designs and features that we didn’t look under the covers. What we didn’t consciously buy, but bought nonetheless, were devices that only give us access to things on condition that Apple or another big manufacturer gets a big slice of the price, via a variety of mechanisms. A smartphone is perfectly capable of providing exactly the platform we need to save lots of unnecessary spend, but Apple has used its power to extract its own slice of our spend not just at device purchase but throughout its lifetime. Not only has it not let us avoid the expense of advertising, it has added its own extras on top. It has made the situation even worse. Most other companies also use strategies that are designed to get into the most lucrative position in the value chain, expanding the price increase industry.
As I remember it in the beginning, the web was meant to get rid of intermediaries and save costs, making the economy more efficient. What has happened is that layer upon layer of new intermediaries have become adept at selling us products and purchasing systems that allow them to skim off extra slices of revenue for themselves. Anyone working in IT is very familiar with the many layered system architectures, and each layer is another opportunity for some company to take a slice of the revenue passing through. All add ultimately to the purchase price, and companies like Apple win several times because they control several of the architectural layers that their devices are used in. But we are suckers, and keep buying them. Because the extra costs are cleverly hidden or disguised or renamed, we don’t notice them until it’s too late.
I may sound critical of Apple, but all they are doing is to maximise profits for their shareholders, whilst giving customers products they can’t resist. There is no fault there. The same goes for Google or Facebook or any other intermediary. It is the model that we need to change, not companies, who will always do what they can to make the most money. That’s what companies are for.
I’ve written often about cloud nets and digital jewellery nets and the forces of censorship and surveillance and web-based politics and the consequential likely emergence of sponge networks. Check them out in my recent articles list. Freeing ourselves of parasitic companies and advertising is another potential pressure. It may go two ways. We could simply recreate exactly the same problems all over again, just swapping one set of intermediaries for another. Sadly, that is the most likely outcome. History teaches us best that we don’t often learn from history.
But, and this is a long shot, but one that would really help make the world better, we could make devices that people buy, and are then free. No charges for making apps for them, no push advertising, completely open, highly context aware, and high powered, yet completely free to own and use after purchase. Even the comms could be free. They would be capable of everything that you do now, and more. We could use them to talk direct to suppliers and do business with them without anyone else involved. It is even possible to design a free payments and banking system. We could avoid paying anyone except the device manufacturer, once, and the companies we want to do business with using the devices. And with all the time and money we would all save, none of us would mind paying a fair price for such a device. Many people paid via advertising would have to find alternative support models, but the economy would be better off, the rest of us individually would be better off, and the environment would be better off. It is hard to see a downside.
History tells us we will still pick the other system and pay more for a worse life.
Posted on February 14, 2012
Men and women are different. Shock, horror.
Their range of likes and dislikes overlaps to a high degree, but the centre of gravity is markedly different in some areas.
A fairly new social website called pinterest is growing very rapidly
I looked at it and I can see why. It is a very good site. A very nice idea, very nicely done. It deserves to succeed. But 97% of the followers are women. It is unusual to see such gender polarisation.
So what would a man do if he has lots of images and visual ideas he wanted to share? Well, he would blog them, or stick them on tumblr. Tumblr looks the same as pinterest but without all the chitchat. Social networking sites, blogs and tumblr represent well how men communicate. Social networking sites, blogs and Pinterest represent best how women do.
Strong overlap, but the extremes are pinterest and tumblr. They look like male and female versions of the same idea. There must be lots of other sites that work very well for men or women for which there are gender opposites.
OK, so it’s Valentine’s day. Here is one missing link:
There should be a website that allows people to have a personal board on which people can post notes of affection and affirmation and encouragement for each other. You could limit it to friends to avoid stalkers and nasty comments, but people could give you nice feedback to make your day better. Strokes I think psychologists call them. You can do that with twitter or facebook or email or blogs of course, but it needs brought out, crystallised, just like pinterest does the picture sharing and comment stuff for women. It will be another women 97% site. The pinterest people should build it.