Technology

Improv time is over. This is crunch time. Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won't be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile.

We need to become energy independent or at least aspire to that.

If you believe in peace, act peacefully; if you believe in love, acting lovingly; if you believe every which way, then act every which way, that's perfectly valid — but don't go out trying to sell your beliefs to the system. You end up contradicting what you profess to believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the world, change yourself.

The trouble with most forms of transport, he thought, is basically that not one of them is worth all the bother. On Earth — when there had been an Earth, before it was demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass — the problem had been with cars. The disadvantages involved in pulling lots of black sticky slime from out of the ground where it had been safely hidden out of harm's way, turning it into tar to cover the land with smoke to fill the air with and pouring the rest into the sea, all seemed to outweigh the advantages of being able to get more quickly from one place to another — particularly when the place you arrived at had probably become, as a result of this, very similar to the place you had left, i.e. covered with tar, full of smoke, and short of fish.

Insight is within the grasp of the dreamer, for he escapes the waking intensity which tends to hold back the vitality that bids us carry on with life, often as underground levels. The eternal now instinctively carries us forward and contains within it knowledge and experience of the routes ahead, even though those routes are dimmed when we awaken to each day's new experiences. The prediction is clear in a dreaming world, but the route is clouded when we surface to live out the day's experience. The outer eye discerns only what is to be undertaken in a three-dimensional world.

We believe this is a diversion that Tom DeLay and his lawyer have cooked up to distract from his serious legal problems and presumably that is what Mr. Earle is interested in showing.

While the Internet is censored in China, the censorship is allowing a level of speech to take place that's unprecedented.

The Chinese government keeps installing video cameras in its most troubling cities. Not only do such cameras remind passersby about the panopticon they inhabit, they also supply the secret police with useful clues[...]. Such revolution in video surveillance did not happen without some involvement from Western partners.
Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, funded in part by the Chinese government, have managed to build surveillance software that can automatically annotate and comment on what it sees, generating text files that can later be searched by humans, obviating the need to watch hours of video footage in search of one particular frame. (To make that possible, the researchers had to recruit twenty graduates of local art colleges in China to annotate and classify a library of more than two million images.) Such automation systems help surveillance to achieve the much needed scale, for as long as the content produced by surveillance cameras can be indexed and searched, one can continue installing new surveillance cameras.
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The face-recognition industry is so lucrative that even giants like Google can’t resist getting into the game, feeling the growing pressure from saller players like Face.com, a popular tool that allows users to find and automatically annotate unique faces that apepar throughout their photo collections. In 2009 Face.com launched a Facebook application that first asks users to identify a Facebook friend of theirs ina photo and then proceeds to search the social networking site for other pictures in which that friend appears. By early 2010, the company boasted of scanning 9 billion pictures and identifying 52 million individuals. This is the kind of productivity that would make the KGB envious.

It's political and economic factors, rather than the ease of forming associations, that primarily set the tone and vector in which social networks contribute to democratization; one would be naive to believe that such factors would always favor democracy.

Because our personal identities are now so firmly pegged to our profiles on social networks such as Facebook and Google GOOG +0.57% +, our every interaction with such objects can be made "social"—that is, visible to our friends. This visibility, in turn, allows designers to tap into peer pressure: Recycle and impress your friends, or don't recycle and risk incurring their wrath.

These two features are the essential ingredients of a new breed of so-called smart technologies, which are taking aim at their dumber alternatives. Some of these technologies are already catching on and seem relatively harmless, even if not particularly revolutionary: smart watches that pulsate when you get a new Facebook poke; smart scales that share your weight with your Twitter followers, helping you to stick to a diet; or smart pill bottles that ping you and your doctor to say how much of your prescribed medication remains.

But many smart technologies are heading in another, more disturbing direction. A number of thinkers in Silicon Valley see these technologies as a way not just to give consumers new products that they want but to push them to behave better. Sometimes this will be a nudge; sometimes it will be a shove. But the central idea is clear: social engineering disguised as product engineering.

The most worrisome smart-technology projects start from the assumption that designers know precisely how we should behave, so the only problem is finding the right incentive. A truly smart trash bin, by contrast, would make us reflect on our recycling habits and contribute to conscious deliberation—say, by letting us benchmark our usual recycling behavior against other people in our demographic, instead of trying to shame us with point deductions and peer pressure.

There are many contexts in which smart technologies are unambiguously useful and even lifesaving. Smart belts that monitor the balance of the elderly and smart carpets that detect falls seem to fall in this category. The problem with many smart technologies is that their designers, in the quest to root out the imperfections of the human condition, seldom stop to ask how much frustration, failure and regret is required for happiness and achievement to retain any meaning.

It's great when the things around us run smoothly, but it's even better when they don't do so by default. That, after all, is how we gain the space to make decisions—many of them undoubtedly wrongheaded—and, through trial and error, to mature into responsible adults, tolerant of compromise and complexity.

I have the impression that despite the undeniable Ecotopian scientific achievements in plastics, the future may well belong to the purists. For in this as in many areas of life, there is still a strong trend in Ecotopia to abandon the fruits of all modern technology, however innocuous they may be made, in favor of a poetic but costly return to what the extremists see as ‘nature.’

All history – as well as all current experience – points to the fact that it is man, not nature, who provides the primary resource: that the key factor of all economic development comes out of the mind of man.

An expansion of man's ability to bring forth secondary products is useless unless preceded by an expansion of his ability to win primary products from the earth; for man is not a producer but only a converter, and for every job of conversion he needs primary products.

I have argued all along, no system of machinery or economic doctrine or theory stands on its own feet: it is invariably built on a metaphysical foundation, that is to say, upon man's basic outlook on life, its meaning and its purpose.

In his urgent attempt to obtain reliable knowledge about his essentially indeterminate future, the modern man of action may surround himself by ever-growing armies of forecasters, by ever-growing mountains of factual data to be digested by ever more wonderful mechanical contrivances: I fear that the result is little more than a huge game of make-believe and an ever more marvelous vindication of Parkinson's Law. The best decisions will still be based on the judgments of mature non-electronic brains possessed by men who have looked steadily and calmly at the situation and seen it whole.

That soul-destroying, meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work is an insult to human nature which must necessarily and inevitably produce either escapism or aggression, and that no amount of "bread and circuses" can compensate for the damage done – these are facts which are neither denied nor acknowledged but are met with an unbreakable conspiracy of silence – because to deny them would be too obviously absurd and to acknowledge them would condemn the central preoccupation of modern society as a crime against humanity.

The foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity, in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man.

The poverty of the poor makes it in any case impossible for them successfully to adopt our technology. Of course, they often try to do so, and then have to bear the most dire consequences in terms of mass unemployment, mass migration into cities, rural decay, and intolerable social tensions. They need, in fact, the very thing I am talking about, which we also need: a different kind of technology, a technology with a human face, which, instead of making human hands and brains redundant, helps them to become far more productive than they ever have been before.

The power of ordinary people, who today tend to feel utterly powerless, does not lie in starting new lines of action, but in placing their sympathy and support with minority groups which have already started.