How web developers choose to solve difficult technical problems has huge implications for free speech and democracy
There’s a new social nework on the block: Mastodon.
Or rather, it’s a social media technology. When we funnel all our conversations through the servers of a big company like Facebook or Twitter, we grant them enormous power. They control the extent of our privacy and of our free speech, and that power can be abused in ways that are both legal and not. The companies can sell our data to third parties (a process made much easier by the US Congress last week); they can reveal our data to the security agencies of nefarious regimes; and they can throttle or shut down our free speech if they so desire, without going via a court.
Decentralising the way in which we converse online means we can reclaim some of that power. A few years ago I posted a link to a blog post on Dave Winter’s Scripting News which sets out the practical and political importance of this idea: by spreading out, we’re harder to stop.
Mastodon is an open source project, so anyone can install it on a server and run a Mastodon ‘instance’. The software uses a principle called ‘federation’ to allow users to see messages posted on other instances of the software. So people who signed up on (say) mastodon.social can view and respond to messages posted to octagon.social (which is the version I signed up to with the username @robertsharp).
But what if we could restart the body after it shuts down?
The ReAnima Project, a project to assess the possibility of regenerating the brains of dead people, has just received approval from an Institutional Review Board at the National Institutes of Health in the US and in India.
Bioquark Inc., the brains behind ReAnima (sorry, bad pun), was given the go-ahead to work with 20 patients already declared clinically dead from traumatic brain injury to test whether parts of their central nervous system can be brought back to life.
Through the use of different therapies, the company will try to revive patients who are only kept alive through life support. These therapies include injecting the brain with stem cells and a cocktail of peptides, as well as deploying lasers and nerve stimulation techniques that have been shown to bring patients out of comas.
There are several reasons why I am happy to have personally blocked this terrorist investigation
Apple have refused an FBI request to help crack the iPhone of a terrorist.
Ray McClure, the uncle of murdered soldier Drummer Lee Rigby has said that Apple is protecting terrorists, and that ‘life comes before privacy’.
I think Drummer Rigby’s uncle is mistaken, both in his assumptions about what Apple is technically capable of, and the moral trade-off between life and privacy.
We need to understand that Apple are not being asked to decrypt just the iPhone of one particular terrorist. They are not like a landlord with a spare key that will open a particular door. If they were, then there would be legitimacy in Mr McClure’s complaints. A judge could examine the particular case at hand, and then sign a warrant that permitted entry to the property or decryption of a device. Targeted surveillance and privacy violations are a legitimate law enforcement tool.
We are challenged by an island’s worth of puzzles as the player is transported to the gothic mansion of Grey Holm and the hostile hospitality of The Craftsman
For the past few weeks I’ve been playing The Room series, a set of three games for mobile devices by Fireproof Games. This week I completed The Room Three, and thought I’d write a quick review.
The premise of all three games is simple. The player is presented with an ornate contraption, and the task is to unlock the secrets contained within. Do you pull this lever, or press that button? What combination of switches must you flick in order to open the door? How do I make that panel slide back? Where is the key that fits that lock? Continue reading “In Praise of The Room Three”
Last year, the amazing Zano project crashed both literally and metaphorically. Once the largest ever European project to have been funded on Kickstarter, Zano was an ambitious plan to produce thousands of remote control drones with auto-follow and return-to-base capability. But the idea failed spectacularly in November 2015 when the Welsh company Torquing Group went bust.
This was obviously a personal and financial disaster for those running the company; and a serious disappointment for everyone who had paid £139 or more to Kickstarter in the hope of receiving one of the first batch of drones.
However, it was also a public relations nightmare for Kickstarter. It is certainly not unknown for crowd-funded projects to fail and not deliver the backer ‘rewards’ as promised, but the high profile nature the Zano project, and its complete demise, threatens to destroy the trust that millions of people have placed in the platform. Worse, it could undermine the whole idea of crowd-funding as a way to finance products and creative content. Continue reading “Kickstarter’s Honest Response To A PR Problem”
Following the awful knife attack at Leytonstone on Sunday, the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv has been trending on social media. It has been so widely shared that it was discussed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and even the Prime Minister repeated it during his speech.
My advice to all political campaigners is therefore to produce videos that show your candidate speaking to supporters
On Monday, Labour Party members received an e-mail from Liz Kendall in their inboxes: an open letter.
You probably think I’m writing to ask you for your vote in the upcoming election for party leader.
And I am.
But what really matters for our country and our party is another election – the one we’ll fight together in 2020.
By then, our country will have suffered under five more years of the Tories.
&cetera. I was a little underwhelmed by the text, to be honest. The values she lays out do not seem to delineate Kendall from other candidates, or even the other parties. “End inequalities” and “eliminate low pay” are policies that Labour surely shares with the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. Conservative Party Leadership Candidates probably would not put these issues at the top of an appeal to their members, but it would be difficult to find a Tory MP that disagrees with either. However, “we need a more caring society”, “We must share power with people” and “We need a future of hope for all our young people” are phrases that would make their way onto a Conservative membership e-mail. Only once in the e-mail does Kendall explain a policy difference between her and anyone else (on inheritance tax). So the aspirations and goals, worthy though they are, seem rote when stated by themselves. Continue reading “Liz Kendall as a Quick Case Study on Political Persuasion in the Digital Age”
I’m really enjoying Periscope, the new app from Twitter that allows live broadcasts direct from your phone. It was launched very soon after its rival Meerkat and has, I think, better sharing and comment functionality.
Both apps, however, offer something utterly compelling — a live window into someone else’s world. In 5 minutes on Periscope, you can jump accross continents, watching forest fires in the Rockies, a sunset over the Pont Neuf in Paris, dinner with a family in Pakistan, or a toddler in Canberra learning to walk. Its magic, in the Arthur C Clarke sense.
With other forms of communication, the most fascinating developments come when the users push the platform in ways the developers had not anticipated. For example, the @ and # functionality in Twitter was something developed by the users and not by Twitter. Continue reading “#Periscope needs a ‘handover’ function”
Perhaps the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats could stage an online debate?
There’s a new app in town, called Meerkat. It allows you to stream live video direct from your mobile phone or tablet, with the link appearing in your Twitter stream.
Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to Barack Obama, writes:
If 2004 was about Meetup, 2008 was about Facebook, and 2012 was about Twitter, 2016 is going to be about Meerkat (or something just like it).
(He is of course talking about US politics). I wonder whether that’s true though: I fancy there may be a premium on asynchronicity—sending messages to people to read when they have time, rather than in the moment. How much value is there in This Is Happening Literally Right Now over the Twitter news model of This Just Happened? Meerkat does not seem to have any catch-up functionality—if you click on a link to a stream that has ended, there’s no way to view it back. Other services like Ustream and Google Hangouts do offer that functionality and I bet the Meerkat devs are beavering away (or whatever it is a meerkat does) to get this feature into the app. Continue reading “Why not do an extra leaders’ debate via #Meerkat?”