1. Klint Finley

    Webdriver Torso

    I hadn’t seen this last week when I posted about Webdriver Torso, but the BBC reports that Google has admitted to being behind the weird YouTube channel:

    In an official statement, Google said: “We’re never gonna give you uploading that’s slow or loses video quality, and we’re never gonna let you down by playing YouTube in poor video quality.

    “That’s why we’re always running tests like Webdriver Torso.”

    Its light-hearted statement echoes 1980s pop star Rick Astley’s hit song Never Gonna Give You Up in reference to a recent Webdriver Torso video which showed the singer in silhouette.

    Full Story: BBC: Google behind Webdriver Torso mystery

    (Thanks Deb)

    Actually, I think Google did let us down, but ruining the fun of speculating what the channel is actually about. But yes, the truth is also pretty interesting. Who would have thought test patterns would make the jump to streaming internet video?

  2. Klint Finley

    From my story for Wired about Google’s new encryption plugin for Chrome “End-to-End“:

    Google won’t be able to scan encrypted email messages in order to target advertising. Security expert Eleanor Saitta believes this may lead to Google to discourage most users from actively using encryption. She worries that the End-to-End may simply be a publicity stunt designed to keep Google’s engineers happy while scoring points with privacy advocates.

    She also points out Google has history of abandoning projects that don’t make the company money, such as iGoogle and Google Reader. If activists come to rely on Google’s encryption tools, but those tools are discontinued, they will be left without crucial protections. “People live and die by the long-term success and failure of communication platforms — I mean that in a very literal sense,” she says. “You cannot put people in a position where they are depending on a software platform for life safety issues and then simply terminate it.”

    Her other worry is that the existence of Google’s own plugin may discourage people from building other alternatives, or make it harder for open source encryption projects to raise funds. For example, Mailpile raised over $100,000 last year to build a new open source email client that works with any email provider, including Gmail, and has PGP encryption baked in from the beginning. But it will need more funding eventually, and Saitta worries that potential backers may not be as motivated to contribute.

    Full Story: Wired: Google Renews Battle With the NSA by Open Sourcing Email Encryption Tool

  3. Klint Finley

    Security at Wisdom 2.0 conference wrestle a banner away from protesters

    Protesters stormed the stage during a Google-led panel on mindfulness at the Wisdom 2.0 conference last Saturday to display a banner reading “Eviction Free San Francisco.”

    Tricycle’s Alex Caring-Lobel reports on the incident and concludes:

    Bringing Buddhist meditation techniques into industry accomplishes two things for industry. It does actually give companies like Google something useful for an employee’s well-being, but it also neutralizes a potentially disruptive adversary. Buddhism has its own orienting perspectives, attitudes, and values, as does American corporate culture. And not only are they very different from each other, they are also often fundamentally opposed to each other.

    A benign way to think about this is that once people experience the benefits of mindfulness they will become interested in the dharma and develop a truer appreciation for Buddhism—and that would be fine. But the problem is that neither Buddhists nor employees are in control of how this will play out. Industry is in control. This is how ideology works. It takes something that has the capacity to be oppositional, like Buddhism, and it redefines it. And somewhere down the line, we forget that it ever had its own meaning.

    It’s not that any one active ideology accomplishes all that needs to be done; rather, it is the constant repetition of certain themes and ideas that tend to construct a kind of “nature.” Ideology functions by saying “this is nature”—this is the way things are; this is the way the world is. So, Obama talks about STEM, scientists talk about the human computer, universities talk about “workforce preparation,” and industry talks about the benefits of the neuroscience of meditation, but it all becomes something that feels like a consistent world, and after a while we lose the ability to look at it skeptically. At that point we no longer bother to ask to be treated humanly. At that point we accept our fate as mere functions. Ideology’s job is to make people believe that their prison is a pleasure dome.

    Full Story: Tricycle: Protesters crash Google talk on corporate mindfulness at Wisdom 2.0 conference

    (via Al Billings)

  4. Klint Finley

    Justine Tunney

    From Yasha Levine at Pando:

    Remember Justine Tunney? The OWS-anarchist-turned-cultist-Google-employee who bashed my reporting on Google’s for-profit surveillance? Well, today she hit the big time.

    Over the last few days, Tunney has been causing a Twitter outrage tsunami after she took full control of the main Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Twitter account, claimed to be the founder of OWS and then proceeded to tweet out stream of ridiculous anarcho-corporatist garbage. She railed against welfare, described the government as “just another corporation,” argued poverty was not a political problem but “an engineering problem” and told politicians to “get out of the way.” She also debunked what she thought was a misconception: people thought OWS activists were protesting against concentrated corporate power, and that, she claims, is simply not true.

    Full Story: Pando: Occupy Wall Street leader now works for Google, wants to crowdfund a private militia

    More:

    Undercover Googlers Defend Surveillance Valley

    Occupy Wall Street’s Final Implosion

  5. Klint Finley

    The Verge reports:

    Google’s blockbuster $2.9 billion sale of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo won’t include the Advanced Technology and Projects group led by former DARPA director Regina Dugan. The news was confirmed today on a conference call with Lenovo, and sources familiar with the matter say the group will be integrated with Google’s Android team, where Dugan will report to Sundar Pichai but maintain a more independent role. […]

    The most notable project to come from Dugan’s group was the Project Ara modular phone, which allows different phone configurations to be constructed from various parts. The plan is to use Google’s scale and resources to accelerate the project, as well as other wild ideas like security tattoos and other biotech sensors.

    Full Story: The Verge: Google to keep Motorola’s Advanced Technology group, including Project Ara modular phone

    Previously:

    Pentagon Watchdog Clears Darpa in Ethics Probe

    Former DARPA Director Heading Up New Experimental Technology Department At Google

    DARPA Director Taking Job at Google

  6. Klint Finley

    Fiction (?) from Adam Rothstein:

    They explained the manifesto. Any device that was known to be approaching release, they would fabricate and wield in public. Their devices were seen in blurry street photos, profiled in gadget magazines of the highest order, spotted in the wild when by rights, they should never have been. They intentionally subverted the release cycle paradigm, and in doing so redirected the entire gray market of development, hype, and design. “Permanent beta techno-anarchism by the deed,” was the phrase I remember best, though this commodity insurgency was certainly permeated by the occult as much as any politics. Perhaps it was something in the incense smoke affecting my powers of reason, but there was a dark magic implied in these counterfeit devices.

    Their work displayed the usual anti-corporate merit badges, measured in leftist buzz words and culture jamming cache. Every counterfeit device they made and used in public was a lobbed stick of dynamite at the Silicon Valley scabs, who had commodified the spirit of invention and delivered it up to the bosses. But there was a deeper symbolism at play. The devices they produced in this pseudo-lab were hexes, a transubstantiation of the spirit of consumption, simultaneously capturing the specter and setting it upon others. The market of gadget futures was a field of energy, invisible to anyone who wasn’t ensconced in this culture. And the Group played with this metaphysics as if it was their own personal toy. There was an incredible amount of power invested in the development of the newest, the most cutting edge, the most must-have consumer devices. The Group was blackening it, stealing this occult knowledge for their own purposes, hijacking it into unholy loops that they were attempting to channel. Also, sabotaging and rupturing the rights-of-way that railroaded this energy back to its supposed owners. And if the Group were throwing these bombs into the market square, then there were definitely Pinkertons out there, looking for them.

    Full Story: The State: Chased by Google X

  7. Klint Finley

    This touches all my cynical buttons:

    But in today’s Silicon Valley, there’s little patience for what many are happy to dismiss as “hippie bullshit.” Meditation here isn’t an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of existence but a tool to better oneself and improve productivity. That’s how Bill Duane, a pompadoured onetime engineer with a tattoo of a bikini-clad woman on his forearm, frames Neural Self-Hacking, an introductory meditation class he designed for Google. “Out in the world, a lot of this stuff is pitched to people in yoga pants,” he says. “But I wanted to speak to my people. I wanted to speak to me. I wanted to speak to the grumpy engineer who may be an atheist, who may be a rationalist.” […]

    It also raises the uncomfortable possibility that these ancient teachings are being used to reinforce some of modern society’s uglier inequalities. Becoming successful, powerful, and influential can be as much about what you do outside the office as what you do at work. There was a time when that might have meant joining a country club or a Waspy church. Today it might mean showing up at TED. Looking around Wisdom 2.0, meditation starts to seem a lot like another secret handshake to join the club. “There is some legitimate interest among businesspeople in contemplative practice,” Kenneth Folk says. “But Wisdom 2.0? That’s a networking opportunity with a light dressing of Buddhism.” […]

    Steve Jobs spent lots of time in a lotus position; he still paid slave wages to his contract laborers, berated subordinates, and parked his car in handicapped stalls.

    Full Story: Wired: Meditation Isn’t Just About Inner Peace—in the Valley It’s About Getting Ahead

    See also:

    Technoccult Interview: Open Source Buddhism with Al Jigong Billings

    Mindful Cyborgs: Sensor Hacking For Mindfulness with Nancy Dougherty on the new Mindful Cyborgs

  8. Klint Finley

    Audio and transcript of a meeting between Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, from June 23, 2011.

    Assange on why some countries censor speech more than others:

    So you can have a lot of political change in the United States. But will it really change that much? Will it change the amount of money in someone’s bank account? Will it change contracts? Will it void contracts that already exist? And contracts on contracts, and contracts on contracts on contracts? Not really. So I say that free speech in many places – in many Western places – is free not as a result of liberal circumstances in the West but rather as a result of such intense fiscalization that it doesn’t matter what you say. ie. the dominant elite doesn’t have to be scared of what people think, because a change in political view is not going to change whether they own their company or not. It is not going to change whether they own a piece of land or not. But China is still a political society. Although it is radically heading towards a fiscalized society. And other societies, like Egypt was, are still heavily politicized. And so their rulers really do need to be concerned about what people think, and so they spend a portion of efforts on controlling freedom of speech.

    About what gets censored first:

    JA: Even the censors in China of the Public Security Bureau, people who work there. Why do they censor stuff and what do they censor first? I’ll tell you what they censor first? They censor first the thing that someone in the Politburo might see. That’s what they censor first. They are not actually concerned about darknets.

    JC: Sorry, about?

    JA: They are not concerned about darknets. Because their bosses can’t see what is on the darknet, and so they can’t be blamed for not censoring it. We had this fantastic case here in the UK, we had a whole bunch of classified documents from the UK military, and published a bunch. And then later on we did a sort of preemptive FOI which we do occasionally on various governments when we can. So we did it on the UK ministry of defense, just to see whether they were doing some investigation, sort of a source protection to understand what is going on. So we got back… first they pretended they were missing documents and we appealed and we got back a bunch of documents. And so it showed that someone in there had spotted that there was a bunch of UK military documents on our website. About their surveillance programme. Another two thousand page document about how to stop things leaking, and that the number one threat to the UK ministry was investigative journalists. So that had gone into some counterintelligence da da da da, and they had like, oh my good, it has hundreds of thousands of pages, and it is about all sorts of companies and it just keeps going, and it’s endless, it’s endless! Exclamation marks, you know, five exclamation marks. And that was like, okay, that is the discovery phase, now the what is to be done phase. What is to be done? BT has the contracts for the MoD. They told BT to censor us from them. So everyone in the UK MoD could no longer read what was on WikiLeaks. Problem solved!

    On mainstream media:

    Well, the way it is right now is there is very… first we must understand that the way it is right now is very bad. Friend of mine Greg Mitchell wrote a book about the mainstream media, So Wrong For So Long. And that’s basically it. That yes we have these heroic moments with Watergate and Bernstein and so on, but, come on, actually, it’s never been very good it’s always been very bad. And these fine journalists are an exception to the rule. And especially when you are involved in something yourself and you know every facet of it and you look to see what is reported by it in the mainstream press, and you can see naked lies after naked lies. You know that the journalist knows it’s a lie, it is not a simple mistake, and then simple mistakes, and then people repeating lies, and so on, that actually the condition of the mainstream press nowadays is so appalling I don’t think it can be reformed. I don’t think that is possible. I think it has to be eliminated, and replaced with something that is better.

    See also: Julian Assange plans to develop new crypto system

  9. Klint Finley

    Mother Jones reports:

    First things first: No, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is not using drones to vaporize poachers. But thanks to a five million dollar grant awarded by Google on Tuesday, the organization is expanding its use of unmanned aerial vehicles to track and deter criminals who illegally hunt endangered animal species around the world.

    Full Story: Mother Jones: Google-Funded Drones To Hunt Rhino Poachers

  10. Remember how earlier this year Regina Dugan, the former director of DARPA, took a job at Google? Now we know what she’s up to there:

    Google has also created a department within Motorola—Advanced Technology and Projects—comprised of researchers charged with finding cutting-edge technologies that could give Motorola’s products an edge. And the executive refresh includes a new senior vice president, Regina Dugan, a former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s long-term research arm. […]

    But whether the DARPA research model can work in the fast-evolving world of smartphones is unclear, says Chetan Sharma, a wireless analyst in Seattle. “Regina does bring in outside perspective specially related to projects that are leaps, versus incremental steps,” he says. “However, this will need to be executed under the constraints of competition, time, and money.”

    While DARPA has had some storied successes—such as the precursor to the Internet—it also freely admits that it often fails. And it has pursued some odd projects, such as setting up a research program to figure out how to reassemble shredded documents.

    Technology Review: Can DARPA’s Strategy Help Motorola Compete Again?

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