Saturday, June 1, 2013

raisin' up buildings, breakin' down bones

How cool would it be to make solar energy more accessible and easier to get? Synthetic nanoscientist Jillian Buriak is working on that very issue, making solar energy cells that are lightweight, portable, flexible, and easy to transport. Oh please please please put those on the market soon!

On the disturbing end of technology, Harvard has created the first (non-conscious) cyborg--or, at least, "cyborg flesh". Ergh. Mainly because, while that's cool, in a world where scientists have already created spidergoats and glow-in-the-dark mice, and programmers are trying to train computers to mimic the behavior of serial killers and megalomaniacs, I can easily see this getting out of hand. Technozombies, anyone?

In a similar vein, Google's about to make finding new things harder on the net. How? Well, they're making Google Maps "unique to you", which, I think, is Google vastly missing the point of what we want maps to do. I quote:
To succeed with advertisers, it needs to convince them that its view of us customers is accurate and that it can generate predictions about where we are likely to go (or, for that matter, what we are likely to click). The best way to do that is to actually turn us into highly predictable creatures by artificially limiting our choices. Another way is to nudge us to go to places frequented by other people like us—like our Google Plus friends. In short, Google prefers a world where we consistently go to three restaurants to a world where our choices are impossible to predict.
Me personally, I find this just as disturbing as in-world search for SL, where I get better results by typing in a general search term, and then scrolling to the very bottom of the list and moving up from there. I shouldn't have to do that, but to find new places, that's frequently my only option. Because the same three to five stores will pop up at the top of the list.

Now, Google tells me I'll be stymied in two directions--not only will searching for new places become harder, but, since I'm not on Google+, they won't be able to grab my unique searching algorithm to label me neatly for predictive analysis. Which will also mean they're planning to up their efforts to get me--to get everyone not on Google+ back into it again. Which is another very unfortunate thing.

Morozov makes a similar point in an article published a month previously, on the overuse of predictive algorithms in other businesses, like Netflix (who used their understanding of what people want to watch, when, paired with their user demographics, to introduce House of Cards and Hemlock Grove as original programming series) and Amazon (who has now used its demographic knowledge of what their users buy and how often to develop and market several independent publishing houses for new work). And what that says about us is disturbing as well--rather than use people to understand and adapt to new ways of interacting with the end users, they're simply using predictive software, and giving us more of what we already seem to like. Does that really give us what we want, though?

Or put another way, how do we know what those algorithms are feeding back is accurate information? Let's take the two men behind the Yogscast, for example. Both of them are well over the legal age of majority, and had, in fact, proved that when setting up the channel (because proof of age is required for international accounts much more stringently than domestic ones). Yet they received a termination email stating that, because they were under thirteen, they could not use YouTube.

Apparently the mix-up began when someone mentioned they were underage on Twitter. While that original tweet appears to be long gone, the reaction to it was quick and baffling: one of the Yogscast staffers sent out a nigh-immediate refutation (understandable, because neither of the main two behind Yogscast is underage), while in the same moments, YouTube deleted the BlueXephos account (still the main Yogscast account to date). It took a few days to completely resolve, and during that time, no one apologized, no one said it was a mistake, they'd look into it. It was all automated.

Sixteenth-century automatons, anyone? Well, no, it's more on arms and armor from that time frame, but seriously, some of those would make sixteenth-century automatons very, very easily.

Moving to space, astronomers have discovered cosmic bruises, where other universes have collided with--and injured--our own. Initial research notes four such "bruises" so far, which is fascinating. So far, the data does seem vastly inconclusive, but I'm definitely hoping more will be forthcoming.

Need more freezer space? Don't mind paying for used? Can pass a background check? Then you might be willing to bid on an extra morgue refrigerator that a coroner's office listed on eBay. Yay?

And have some SF and fantasy animated pixel art, from Waneela. While the animation is cool, I'm not so much thinking "ooh, what an innovative use of technology"; it's rather more closely aligned to "I could so cross-stitch one of those panels".

And Mozilla's Firefox is undergoing a major redesign to make it more 'user-accessible'. What does this mean? Simple: it will look and function more like Google Chrome.

I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Finally, disquieting news in the wake of Matt Smith's announcement he was leaving Doctor Who: Chris Eccleston finally comes clean--albeit extraordinarily vaguely--about why he left the show. Somehow, it manages to provide a disturbing grace note to the entire affair.

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