A team led by a Libyan-American telecom executive has helped rebels hijack Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s cellphone network and re-establish their own communications.
The new network, first plotted on an airplane napkin and assembled with the help of oil-rich Arab nations, is giving more than two million Libyans their first connections to each other and the outside world after Col. Gadhafi cut off their telephone and Internet service about a month ago.
To make that possible, engineeers hived off part of the Libyana cellphone network—owned and operated by the Tripoli-based Libyan General Telecommunications Authority, which is run by Col. Gadhafi’s eldest son—and rewired it to run independently of the regime’s control. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, asked about the rebel cellphone network, said he hadn’t heard of it.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Zdenek Kalal’s Predator object-tracking software is almost uncanny. Show anything to its all-seeing camera eye, and it will quickly learn to recognize it and then track it, whether it fades into the distance, hides amongst other similar objects or — in the case of faces turns sideways.
In less time than it took the Beatles to make it big, WikiLeaks has dropped us all, willing or unwilling, into a Bruce Sterling wet dream. The only question now is who gets to be Jonathan Gresham: Assange, or moot?
The media’s focus on the contents of specific leaked cables (and then, as attention waned, on Assange’s sex life) is understandable: specific revelations and the controversies they trigger are the bread and butter of pop journalism. To be fair, news that US mercenaries sold children as sex slaves and billed taxpayers for the time… well, that’s worth a little chatter. Everything was by the leaked-news numbers, though, until the bottom dropped out from under WikiLeaks. After a couple days of “Meh, nothing new here,” Switzerland froze bank accounts, Interpol issued a Red Notice, PayPal and VISA locked donations, columnists called for Assange’s execution, Senators twisted Amazon’s arm until they kicked WikiLeaks from their cloud servers, and 4chan launched a retaliatory assault on the Swiss banking infrastructure.
Yes, it’s a fine time to be a shit-thrower.
It’s no wonder, though: behind the embarrassing bits there’s a real war going on. Assange and the WikiLeaks posse don’t care about changing policy, about targeting corrupt officials, or even revealing specific abuses. Unlike traditionally motivated leakers, they’re taking the long view:
Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial….
Since a conspiracy is a type of cognitive device that acts on information acquired from its environment, distorting or restricting these inputs means acts based on them are likely to be misplaced. Programmers call this effect garbage in, garbage out. Usually the effect runs the other way; it is conspiracy that is the agent of deception and information restriction….
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.
Simply put? The details don’t matter, and the ripple effects of any specific revelation are unimportant. The current actions of a given state aren’t the problem to fight: it’s the future success of a potential conspiracy that must be stopped, by crippling its ability to communicate efficiently.
[This campaign] represents the first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the internet. There have been skirmishes before, but this is the real thing.
In that light, the speed and the ferocity of the government crackdown is no shock. Like all asymmetrical conflicts, though, the dangers of disproportionate response are significant. Can the powers that be put the genie back in the bottle before they annoy everyone else?
Creepy enthusiasm for double-edged swords is par for the technofetishist course, and a willingness to say, “Wait a minute, what if someone were to use this for…” is what separates us from the aspies. The latest Diminished Reality tech demo, though, takes the cake. If you can’t trust realtime streaming video, what’s left?
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Ever since The Turk went live, it’s been one Craphound story after another about the crazy, Gen-Z future of crowdsourced intelligence work. Why hire expensive corporate spies to monitor your competition, or convince unstable radicals to propagandize for you? Just use the distributed job-o-verse to outsource tasks and wait for hungry gold farmers to clock in from China!
Buzz be damned, there hasn’t been much to show for the idea outside of World of Warcraft and the pages of Metatropolis. Why no love? Sadly, there’s a big gap between microcontent grunt work and running dead drops for the CIA; it’ll be a cold day in hell before honest-to-God TLAs entrust security-sensitive tasks to the project management equivalent of BitTorrent. More importantly, though, the Turk and its various workalikes are still focused on brute-forcing past AI challenges. Summarize this paragraph, reads one job. Post a one-hundred word comment on a site, reads another. To push past the novelty stage, someone needs to broker tasks that require real, physical access: the stuff Google-style algorithms will never be able to automate.
Whoops! Looks like someone did. FieldAgent is a Turk-like brokerage wrapped in an iPhone app, and all of the jobs are tied to real, physical places. Combine that with the iPlatform’s GPS niceties, and you’ve got yourself a distributed job board. Pop it open, tap ‘find me a task,’ and it serves up a proximity-sorted menu of Competitive Intelligence grunt work. “Drive to the Walmart on the corner of 52nd and Washington,” reads one task. “Locate the Taster’s Choice 16oz decaf, take a picture of its tag, and record the sale price.” FieldAgent whips the pic off to its anonymous client, you get a cool $2, and a retail conglomerate’s pricing models just got craftier.
Funny thing is, anyone who didn’t see it coming wasn’t paying attention. Nation-states move slow, but the business sharks are slaves to selection pressure. If FaceBook is the new Big Brother, price-checks are the new spycraft.
As the clock ticks down to Apple’s harmonic iConvergence, gadget sites are serving up a poisonous cocktail: two parts euphoria, two parts curmudgeon, and a squeeze of desperation courtesy the publishing industry.
Cory Doctorow inevitably weighs in on the iPad’s failings. He breezes past points others have covered better: that it’s a closed device, that it will not breed the same hacker culture that previous generations of personal computers did, that Steve Jobs is powered by the harvested souls of orphans, and so on. Doctorow’s most interesting complaint is that the iPad’s design demonstrates “a palpable contempt for the owner”.
With the iPad, it seems like Apple’s model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother….
The model of interaction with the iPad is to be a “consumer,” what William Gibson memorably described as “something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It’s covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth… no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote.”
Translation: people who aren’t interested in hardware hacking or programming are sweaty, subhuman potatoes that have no friends. Oh, how times have changed!
Ironically, Doctorow’s pathological contempt for anyone who doesn’t attend Maker Faires helps the closed model gain ground. At the end of the day, most people just want to do stuff. Even creatives (as opposed to consumers) have a broader idea of what that means than the soldering-iron-and-compilers purists. Belittling the people who find a data appliance appealing, and convincing fellow nerds that everyone wants the same hacker toys they do, will only deepen the divide.
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