Sunday, February 21, 2010

Statistical Mastery

Cellphone traces reveal you're so predictable

We may all like to consider ourselves free spirits. But a study of the traces left by 50,000 cellphone users over three months has conclusively proved that the truth is otherwise.

"We are all in one way or another boring," says
Albert-László Barabási at the Center for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University in Boston, who co-wrote the study. "Spontaneous individuals are largely absent from the population."

Barabási and colleagues used three months' worth of data from a cellphone network to track the cellphone towers each person's phone connected to each hour of the day, revealing their approximate location. They conclude that regardless of whether a person typically remains close to home or roams far and wide, their movements are theoretically predictable as much as 93 per cent of the time.

Just another instance of the machine understanding us better than we understand ourselves. Like renting a movie even though netflix says you won't like it. A few days later the formula laughs as you give it a low rating. The god in the machine knows you like no one else.

"Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows."

So much more valuable in the whole political economy [politonomy or ecolotics?] of things. $o much more valuable...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Living Legends

About a week ago, the guys over at were inspired by some history channel concept videos and ended up writing a piece about the educational possibilities for augmented reality- specifically in terms of history and interaction with the past:

Will History disappear, if we can “see” the past via Augmented Reality?

"What if we could harness Technology, to educate and stimulate the younger generation to value and cherish tradition but in a non text book manner, and thus impart education to them with help from the same devices that they seem hooked onto. In effect, hijack these devices in an interesting way, so as to break into a students "Digital personal space" which they are not so keen to give up that easily.

Some note worthy apps are Layar, WikiTude and Junaio. These applications allow a person to “annotate” the living living world. It’s actually blurring the line between the Digital and the real world.

The Junaio application allows you to actually have animated 3d objects placed at different locations. Re-animating ancient battles and wars at the actual locations, brings a whole new dimension to learning and keeps History alive! As any place on Earth can be annotated or “geo-tagged”, this will promote the learning of History and heritage when visiting these different countries.

These ”Digital Ghosts”, will be inhabiting our world alongside us, waiting to be revealed through the View Finder of a Smart phone, and in the next few years via digital sunglasses such as those fromVuzix. This will further blur the line between our present world and History – So will History be “history” if it’s always living with us?"


They're definitely on to it, but the idea goes much, much further in terms of the digital ghosts they were talking about at the end. From my earlier post on education:

"...when combined with transparent visuals we get something completely new. Imagine walking up to the Twin Towers and watching a realistic, stationary CGI simulation of its construction in real size [UPDATE]. Time could be sped up to show the building rise in ten minutes or 30 seconds. Then imagine being able to watch a recreation of the September 11th terrorist attack with sound and visuals of explosions, audio bites of news anchors delivering the information, a montage of newspaper headlines, and simulations of running crowds, yelling firefighters, and lots of smoke- in real size and in a sort of transparent half-virtual reality. Or imagine walking onto a battlefield and being able to see a panoramic, 360 degree simulation of the battle of Gettysburg, complete with overhead maps of troop movement and the ability to hit “pause” at any time. Each of these simulations would come with three or four different levels of realism- after all, we probably wouldn’t want to expose a group of ten year olds to the full carnage of warfare uncensored…There would also be much less depressing examples: the flight of the first plane, a volcanic eruption, a solar eclipse, or a Roman sporting event. And here comes the best part: you wouldn’t have to be at these physical locations. Of course it would be more interesting if you were, but there’s no reason you couldn’t run the simulation in the middle of any empty field, park, or parking lot. This would be an educational dream: “Alright kids, watch what happens to the Spanish navy during this storm....”
If nothing else it would keep students entertained, which brings us to our next point: people aren’t going to use this for work as they are for fun.Ignoring any advanced features, this device is already a portable, full size movie projector which can be linked to watch with friends. It’s also a portable computer, mp3 player, and gaming system. You can imagine any of the examples above being more than just simulations. They could be fully interactive strategy games, where you and other players actually command troops as generals on the field, or you try to shoot down planes before they can hit buildings, etc. This is essentially something like the virtual reality that gamers have been longing for since the days of Donkey Kong, but what’s even better is that it can actually gather information from the real environment to become half real/half digital: mixed reality.
To use a familiar example, people could “carry” their Warcraft characters around with them throughout the day. While turned on, these characters would actually walk through the environment- avoiding walls, traffic, and other real life hazards [all through communication with online maps and visual environmental recognition through the user’s camera]. Waiting in line for something, or just hanging out in a public place, you might see a stranger’s character. He prompts you to fight. For two minutes the sidewalk is lit up with a battle that only the two of you can see. After beating him, you actually walk over and talk about the game- thus creating an opportunity to form a real life friendship through a digital introduction, like a walking social networking site. Coffee and Cigarettes for the 21st century and counter intuitively a way to make people less isolated from the real world.
Strangely enough, mixed reality is in many ways actually more compelling than a complete virtual world and it will hold more lasting appeal based purely human nature. Our psychology is tied to the world we are bound to. Even our fantasies can’t escape: whether greek, hindu, old or new testament, our (no offence) mythological gods behave as humans and are concerned with our affairs. Our cartoon animals speak, love, and fight, as do the robots. Our stories, dreams, and illusions can reach a high level of abstraction, but they are always anchored to reality. There are another type which are not held to this rule, but as these leave the ground they cease to hold their social power. The fantasies of a madman might contain the most beautiful creations ever imagined, but they are either misunderstood or dismissed as irrelevant to those of us around him- what good is a social commentary on the inhabitants of Europa unless they love and hate like us? Until we can accomplish a Matrix like “brain in a vat” experience, freely manipulating all five senses and therefore experience itself, the most interesting virtual reality will be that which we paint on top of the existing world around us. This layered world will be the most important cultural development of our generation, and will affect social interaction perhaps more than anything since speech."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sound Problem Solved

From Wired a while ago:

Clear Calls Amid Chaos

"I'm just settling in at a bar when I get a phone call from work. The football game is blaring, people are shouting, glasses are clinking- but I hit"answer" on my Bluetooth headset anyway. The [Motorola] HX1 completely eliminates the barroom ruckus, sending only my speech to my colleague. That's because I can turn off its ordinary microphones, which pick up sound from the air, and instead switch on an ultra-sensitive microphone that listens just for waves conducted through my jawbone. Parked on the earbud's inner tip, this specialized mic uses software to turn the smallest vibrations sent from my throat into a faithful reproduction of my voice. So my colleague can hear me, I can hear her and, best of all, she'll never know I was talking business over a martini."

The part about vocal re-synthesis is interesting, because that would farm quite a bit of data, eventually enabling convincingly real voices from scratch, allowing us to do things like hold conversations with simulated dead relatives or absent friends: how will she react to this? Lets just run a simulation based on the statistics I've collected about her personality, etc.
This will help fight the lonelification of modern life- just like we've chosen perpetual visual satisfaction/stimulation through hyper sexual ads, we'll probably choose perpetual aural satisfaction through automatically selected background music, perpetual oral satisfaction through miracle fruit tablets, and perpetual social satisfaction by having ghost friends and relatives around us at all times. You can see the seeds of this every time someone comes to you with a problem not looking for a solution, but just for the sake of telling someone. In the future, this might often be a simulated someone. Like the Splenda version of human companionship. Actual, uncut, Colombian-grown human companionship will meanwhile become more and more scarce as people are too busy pleasuring themselves to bother.

New hedonism: when people stop giving a shit about not giving a shit about anything.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

PDA helping you score a little PDA

New Toshiba Phone 'Acts Like a Secretary'
"Toshiba is working on a new cellphone with tech that allows it to, uh, behave like a secretary. Apparently, that means it tracks you wherever you go and gives you info without your asking. Sounds like a creepy secretary, Toshiba!
The technology, which could be available for practical use by the end of this year, enables cellphones to "predict" the user's actions based on behavioral patterns monitored by such programs as the Global Positioning System, Toshiba officials said.
The technology also draws on acceleration sensors that detect the handsets' movements, such as rocking and shaking.
For example, cellphones with the technology can automatically display train schedules for the nearest station when the user leaves home in the morning.
It can also recommend places to eat when the user leaves the office for lunch."


It makes sense that this type of thing will catch on pretty quickly. Like I've said before, everything has to do with computers automatically understanding very human things like boredom and loneliness. In one sense, this personal assistant is just an extension of what we already use: pandora suggesting songs or google reader suggesting articles it believes we'll find interesting.

How far does this go? I think it's safe to assume that this toshiba model will become much more advanced and as all profiles are merged together (think chrome storing each of your passwords when you hop onto a different computer) they'll in essence become a giant personal secretary unique to each user. As algorithms get better and more information is collected, we'll better trust them to predict other things: "suggest a friend" "suggest a date" etc.

To quote

"Funny applications to socialize try to counter this development of disconnecting-with-the-real-world, which is actually kind of silly. But that’s how it has always been. One technology may drive us apart, another technology is needed to bring us together again."

But let's go further and a little bit darker. If we improve CGI and voice simulation, there will be no reason not to have this secretary actually appear as a simulated friend- one who knows what will make you happy depending on your mood, one who won't mind giving you perpetually undivided attention. If it's linked to your cellphone, this friend could also fill you in on things and give you advice:

"you know you seem a little down today- why not try calling Robert or Jessica- you haven't seen them in a while, and last time you hung out you all had a great time." (it was listening to the quality of your voices and watching everyone's facial expressions)

you: "I dunno, what about Eryka, she seems pretty cool... what are the chances that she's into me?"

computer: "about 3%"

you: "damn"

Even further and much darker, what if we allowed our secretaries to communicate with one another, say even temporarily like at a party. They would watch everyone's interactions, occasionally chiming in to suggest mingling (think a futuristic version of facebook suggesting that we help people become more social). Toward the end of the night we could begin some sort of Game Theory algorithm where each of the secretary agents would trade data until coming up with a "greatest possible universal happiness" formula which would pair those of us wanting to go home or to the next party with someone with each other in the most efficient way. And even if we don't agree to trade data, people will each use their own gathered information to see who they might have a shot with as things are winding down. Of course young people will also learn how to fool the system (like learning to pass a lie detector test) which would have certain advantages. As computer-aided social interaction becomes the norm, how will everything change?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Know Thyself

Let's take a look at what we talked about before, that is machine learning and software eventually sort of understanding us better than we understand ourselves. Since there are obvious monetary/political advantages to pulling this off, advertising companies and government projects are a good place to start:

1. Cognitive Match Secures Another $2.5m For Realtime Matching

The Cognitive Match startup is applying artificial intelligence, learning mathematics, psychology and semantic technologies to match content (product, offers, or editorial) to realtime content. It’s doing this in part by relying on an academic panel of professors in artificial intelligence from Universities across the UK and Europe who specialize in machine learning and psychology. The idea is to ensure maximum response from individuals, thereby increasing conversion, revenue and ultimately profit.

The premise of Levine’s company, Innerscope, is that running this data through algorithms can tell advertisers which commercials work and which don’t. They can quantify your subconscious responses to advertisements without resorting to the messiness of human language.

3. Navy Wants Troops Wearing Brain-Scanners Into War

The Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery is requesting proposals for a brain-scanning system that can assess a myriad of neuro-cognitive abilities, including reaction times, problem solving and memory recall. The scanner would also test for preliminary warning signs of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, using the Trail-Making Test: a series of connect-the-dot exercises that’s been used by the military since the 1940s. And not only should the system be portable, but the Navy wants it to outlast the most extreme weather conditions, from desert heat to Arctic cold.

4. HIDE – Homeland Security, Biometric Identification & Personal Detection Ethics

HIDE is a project promoted by the European Commission (EC) and coordinated by the Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship, an independent research centre based in Rome (IT).

HIDE aims to establish a platform devoted to monitoring the ethical and privacy implications of biometrics and personal detection technologies. Detection technologies are technologies used to detect something or someone within a security or safety context. Personal Detection Technologies focus specifically on individuals, they include for example CCTV, infrared detectors and thermal imaging, GPS and other Geographical Information Systems (GISs), RFID, MEMS, smart ID cards, transponders, body scanners, etc. Biometrics is the application of technologies that make use of a measurable, physical characteristic or personal behavioural trait in recognizing the identity, or verifying the claimed identity of a previously registered individual.

ADABTS (Automatic Detection of Abnormal Behaviour and Threats in crowded Spaces) aims to facilitate the protection of EU citizens, property and infrastructure against threats of terrorism, crime, and riots, by the automatic detection of abnormal human behaviour. Current automatic detection systems have limited functionality, struggling to make inferences about the acceptability of human behaviour.

We could keep going, but that's enough for now. This last one is pretty interesting- and don't worry, I'm not about to start talking Orwell/Minority Report. Biometrics when hooked into a bunch of wires, sitting in a chair is one thing. Biometrics being read by simply analyzing visual/sonic information is another. This British system is supposedly working on algorithms to detect evil intentions through facial cues allegedly in order to stop potential terrorists/criminals before they're able to do anything. So let's talk about the fun, non military, non crime fighting, personal version of this type of thing. If we're eventually all wearing cameras and microphones, then we have the same tools at our disposal as the British government, just on a small scale. The advantage we also have, is being able to manually tag incoming information to help the computer: that was Mark who I was talking to for the last hour. Next time you talk to Mark, it recognizes his voice and adds important information to your growing collection of his statistics. Three months later, after the computer has a pretty good idea of what he sounds like when you talk to him, all of a sudden it lets you know that he's either sick, tired, or depressed, judging by his abnormal facial expressions, less emotional voice, and sparser comments. It also lets you in on the fact that Leah, who you just met at a party is probably attracted to you judging by her tracked eye movement, increasingly engaged responses, and infrared temperature patterns. As the judicial spins all out of wack, so will interpersonal relationships, art, and love.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Laughing at themselves, to themselves

Opwats. You've seen it, you've been effected by it, you've read articles written under its influence, hell you might even have it.

Old People With Advanced Technology Syndrome. Opwats

Common examples:

1. That guy wearing his bluetooth in church whose most urgent possible phone call would probably be coming from his wife (sitting next to him) making sure he doesn't forget to pick up milk on the way home

2. a txt msg frm ur mum tht luks like ths n dsnt rly say nething imprtnt @ all n is less efcnt bcuz its hardr 2 read neway damit

3. a professor trying to maximize youtube

4. using realplayer by choice

5. being overly impressed by apple products

6. conspicuously entering the simplest meeting into your planner/pda/calendar instead of hiding that weakness like a decent person

7. way too much public information from people over 30 on facebook who apparently can't help but check the shiny "reply to all" button


Opwats, a tragedy as annoying as it is deadly (people who can barely work a cell phone now trying to sync blueteeth while driving sounds like a great idea...)