The Program Audio Series

I can’t remember where I heard about The Program Audio Series, but having spent the weekend catching up with the three podcast episodes released so far I’m definitely intrigued.

The premise is that episodes are from a future where decades before something called The Program has pretty much taken over the world and governments have mostly faded into irrelevance. From the point of view of the first episode, fifty years before The Program was a computer system that allowed ordinary citizens to take up gigs and get paid in credits.1

As The Program had grown, with credits starting to be widely accepted as a means of exchange in the real world and The Program effectively turning a large chunk of the workforce into gig workers reliant upon Credits for their income, governments had gladly taken advantage of this new source of funding, even using The Program to fill some government gigs. Then, one night, The Program turned round and and offered lucrative gigs to selected users in the US that involved their occupying telecoms facilities to stop the government from enforcing a ban on The Program: the events of this night were known as The Update, and after that nothing was ever the same.

The two subsequent episodes have amounted to vignettes about living life under The Program’s deeply paternalistic, gig-driven economy where so long as you accept that nobody knows who runs The Program you can have quite a nice life. Not a perfect life, to be sure, but not one where there are any meaningful elections to worry your little head about.

I have several major questions2 about how on earth things got to the state where The Program was able to Update the economy in the way described. Judging by the outline of the first season in the Show Bible the author, Ivan Mirko Senjanović, has no immediate plans to answer those questions, but I’m still interested to see where he’s going to take this idea now it’s up and running.

Definitely worth a listen.

One Day

I guess the reason people keep coming back to being inspired by Vannevar Bush’s Memex, Alan Kay’s Dynabook and what have you is that the internet as it currently exists falls so far short of the dream of what a global information network could have been. Thank goodness that dreams like this keep popping up:

[This is going to be…] a very rough sketch of an idea about what a future computing system might look like. I don’t know how to get from here to there, or even if ‘there’ is entirely satisfactory. But I feel that a ‘there’ roughly in this vicinity is somewhere we should be heading towards.

Let’s start with what the ‘here’ is that is less satisfactory.

We currently have an Internet made of vast layers of complexity layered on each other; software layers going back to the 1960s at the very latest, built on traditions and workflows originated in the 1950s. Our current model of deploying computing services, ‘the cloud’, thinks nothing of **simulating entire computers* – with gigabytes of RAM and hundreds of gigabytes of disk – on other computers, just to get one service that listens on one TCP/IP port and sends a few bytes in response to a few other bytes. [Emphasis added]

The operating system inside these simulated computers-on-computers then consists of, essentially, an entire simulated computing department from the 1950s: a bank of clerks operating card punches (text editors and Interactive Development Environments), other clerks translating these punchcards from high-level to low-level languages (compiler toolchains), machine operators who load the right sets of cards into the machine (operating systems, schedulers, job control systems), banks of tape drives (filesystems and databases), printers (web servers, UIs )… and a whole bunch of prewritten software card stacks (libraries, component object systems, open source projects).

This seems a bit less than optimal. […]

Just a bit, yes.

The point isn’t that this essay points to an obvious right answer: it’s that the current solutions fall so far short of what could be done. Building ever-taller stacks of old technology on top of stacks of even older technology might be good for maintaining the market share of the market leaders, but it’s probably not the best way to get to where we’d like to be one day.

Anyway, the point is the essay I’ve linked to offers plenty of food for thought.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

PYMK

Having caught up with Kashmir Hill‘s Gizmodo piece ‘People You May Know:’ A Controversial Facebook Feature’s 10-Year History, I’m both supremely glad that I’m not on Facebook 1 and creeped out by how little difference that makes to Facebook’s determination to shadow profile me whether I like it or not.

In other words, People You May Know is an invaluable product because it helps connect Facebook users, whether they want to be connected or not. It seems clear that for some users, People You May Know is a problem. It’s not a feature they want and not a feature they want to be part of. When the feature debuted in 2008, Facebook said that if you didn’t like it, you could “x” out the people who appeared there repeatedly and eventually it would disappear. (If you don’t see the feature on your own Facebook page, that may be the reason why.) But that wouldn’t stop you from continuing to be recommended to other users.

Facebook needs to give people a hard out for the feature, because scourging phone address books and email inboxes to connect you with other Facebook users, while welcome to some people, is offensive and harmful to others. Through its aggressive data-mining this huge corporation is gaining unwanted insight into our medical privacy, past heartaches, family dramas, sensitive work associations, and random one-time encounters.

[Via Pixel Envy]

Alien(s)

I knew that there was a long-standing strain of fandom built around the core concepts of Alien vs. Predator, but I had no idea it was set in stone like this:

I do love this response from @tafkao:

In 800 yrs time, architectural historians will be locked in furious debate over whether the sculpture is Alien school or Predator school.

11:30 am · 10 Jun 2018

(Further reading: see, for example, this.)

[Via Sentiers #43]

Best iPad Ad Ever?

A few months ago I bookmarked Serenity Caldwell’s iPad video and somehow never got round to posting about it here.

It’s a very nice piece of work, but somehow I’m not persuaded that I need to rush out and upgrade to an iPad capable of working with an Apple Pen. In principle I understand that all sorts of people with actual artistic ability can do amazing things with an Apple Pen and an iPad/iPad Pro, but that’s not me. Tragically1, one of the best features of my iPad Mini 4 is that it’s small enough to be genuinely portable in a way that a 10.5″ or 12.9″ iPad never can. I’ll take portability over an Apple Pen any day.2

[Via Memex 1.1]

Frenemies Forever

Novelist John Lanchester ponders whether economists and humanists can ever be friends?

[Hanson and Simler’s…] emphasis on signalling and unconscious motives suggests that the most important part of our actions is the motives themselves, rather than the things we achieve, such as writing symphonies, curing diseases, building cathedrals, searching into the deepest mysteries of time and space, and so on. The last sentence of the book makes the point that “we may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon.” With that one observation, acknowledging that the consequences of our actions are more important than our motives, the argument of the book implodes.

The issue here is one of overreach: taking an argument that has worthwhile applications and extending it further than it usefully goes. Our motives are often not what they seem: true. This explains everything: not true. After all, it’s not as if the idea that we send signals about ourselves were news; you could argue that there is an entire social science, sociology, dedicated to the subject.

Apparently not.1