August 1st, 2015
Moira Weigel for The New Inquiry on fitness tracking:
In the Middle Ages, theologians debated about what bodies would be like in the Resurrection. If you had lost a limb, would it grow back? Would people copulate? Would they poop? Imagine a heaven, St. Thomas Aquinas exclaimed, that full of shit!
He was being sarcastic, because he thought our immortal souls would not poop. But the question was dead serious. It meant: How should a person be? Which human activities are essential and which superfluous? What are the eternally significant data about ourselves?
The Catholic Church says the essential data point is the age 33. We will be resurrected as we were, or would have been, at 33 because that's how old Jesus was. Activity trackers say that our true selves lie in a broader range of biodata.
This does not mean that they hold out more, or more flexible, ways to salvation. Only different ones. Fans of FitBit believe that we are essentially productive. The good life divides cleanly. We should strive to leave no remainder untracked. […]
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
July 18th, 2015
Ben Hammersley, on sharing a house with AIs with differing personalities:
It's a little wrinkle in what is really a miraculous device, but it's a serious thing: The Amazon Echo differs from Siri in that it's a communally available service. Interactions with Alexa are available to, and obvious to, everyone in the house, and my inability to be polite with her has a knock-on effect. My daughter is too young to speak yet, but she does see and hear all of our interactions with Alexa. I worry what sort of precedent we are setting for her, in terms of her own future interactions with bots and AIs as well as with people, if she hears me being forced into impolite conversations because of the limitations of her household AI's interface. It's the computing equivalent of being rude to waitresses. We shouldn't allow it, and certainly not by lack of design. Worries about toddler screen time are nothing, compared to future worries about not inadvertently teaching your child to be rude to robots.
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
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June 1st, 2015
Jan Chipchase's Twelve Concepts in Autonomous Mobility is pretty wonderful:
Recently met with the advanced design team of a Japanese client to discuss how autonomous mobility could play out. I've talked publicly about a few of these ideas before – behavioural musings/predictions based on existing practices across markets as diverse as the US, China, Japan and India.
Nookie mode: ensures you don't meet your vehicle when you're out and about until you are ready. This is named after the behaviour of couples who share location with one another to avoid each other on a big out when they may end up with new sexual partners for the night. If the purpose is to hook up the vehicle will increasingly be an option, autonomously driving to minimise discovery. Every car is a potential love-hotel room, albeit with wet wipes rather than great bathing facilities – I would expect them to be significantly impacted by the shorter end of the "short-stay" market, including highly transactional activities such as prostitution.
Hedge-parking: where your vehicle overbooks a number physical parking spaces based on your preferences of timing, location, flexibility and willingness to pay, but is unable to offload the unused spaces on the open market when the time comes to make the choice.
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January 3rd, 2015
11 Spectacular 3D Printer Failures.
Me, I don't think this one was necessarily a failure…
Isn't that from the scene in John Carpenter's The Thing where the alien reveals itself after it's locked into the dogs' enclosure?
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December 13th, 2014
Reddit user sesipikai recorded his heartbeat whilst proposing marriage:
(This is just an excerpt: click on the image above to go and see the whole thing.)
The associated Reddit comment thread can be found here.
[Via Flowing Data]
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November 16th, 2014
Why Audio Never Goes Viral:
With a community of creators uncomfortable with the value of virality, an audience content to watch grainy dashcam videos, and platforms that discourage sharing, is a hit-machine for audio possible? And is it something anyone even wants?
A decent overview of why not all content is suited to going viral.
If 'going viral' requires content to be in brief chunks that can be digested by the listener with minimal context I'm not sure that I want the audio content I listen to to make the effort. Plenty of the best audio content thrives on length and context, so why try to make it fit a template that won't work to the medium's strengths?
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August 11th, 2014
It's both amazing and mildly depressing to think of how many of the interfaces catered for by xkcd's Universal Converter Box I have within an arm's length of where I'm sitting as I type this.
Most of them still passing bits or electrons back and forth just like they were built to. I'm pretty sure my F Connector would be a wee bit confused to find itself plugged into an adapter that sends the PAL signal my aerial provides on to a USB2 port.
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August 3rd, 2014
Sadie Stein contemplates the state of the modern Genius:
Somewhere in the world there exists a clip of Hugh Hefner on one talk show or another. I can neither remember what the show was nor the exact wording of the exchange, but the following paraphrase has become legendary in my family:
INTERVIEWER: Do you consider yourself a genius?
HEFNER: Genius is a difficult word to define. But by any definition, I am one.
Hef may be a law unto himself, but genius, a word that used to be the sole domain of the upper reaches of the IQ scale, is now thrown around like grass seed. Maybe it's the effect of language evolution or intelligence inflation – after all, only recently has it became compulsory for one's child to be intellectually gifted – but it can't be denied that genius no longer packs the awe-inspiring punch it once did. […]
(And yes, her essay does involve a trip to an Apple Store at one point.)
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July 26th, 2014
Excellent piece from Evgeny Morozov on the downside to governments' infatuation with the notion that they can 'nudge' citizens into doing the right thing (whatever that is) without any of that messy politics getting in the way:
[…] consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. "We propose 'payment by results', a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus," they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what's expected.
The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It's certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one's poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn't wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.
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