Archive for the 'real time web' Category

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Surveillance Keiretsu

I stumbled across some near-term plans for the Amazon Corporation. It’s funny to think that they started as an online bookstore. Now it’s hard to say exactly what they are. They’ve purchased other companies, branched off into space exploration and are even pioneering delivery by drone.

I think everyone will agree that the new set of services they’re working on will move online commerce to a whole new level. The last mile problem has been there since the beginning. An order can be placed at the speed of light and the large national distribution networks get the goods quite close to where the customer lives very quickly. But getting packages from a local distribution warehouse to a specific residence ends up being the most expensive part of the distribution process.

Even if the packages arrive on schedule and are placed on the doorstep, they are often stolen by criminals cruising neighborhoods. These crooks trail delivery vans and pick off packages that look like they might have resale value on the black market. Customers are always complaining about stolen packages.

This is why Amazon bought Ring, the home security company. Ring puts video cameras on your front door and around your property. If a thief approaches, intending to steal a package, the video cameras capture an image of the person’s face. Recently Ring customers within particular neighborhoods have started sharing these photos. “Watch out for this guy, he’s stealing packages.” Often the photos are also shared with the local police.

Here’s where Amazon can really add value through its network of companies and infrastructure services. Imagine a future with even faster delivery and free of package thieves. By combining drone delivery and Ring’s home surveillance technology, you’ll never lose another package.

Here’s a typical scenario. The customer places an order. The item is picked and packed, and moved into the distribution chain. The package arrives at a local distribution center and is assigned to a drone for home delivery. The drone races to your house and places the package on the designated receiving location. What this? A thief sees the delivery, waits until the drone is out of sight, then moves in to steal the package. Here’s where Ring’s network-connected cameras kick in. The cameras are watching the receiving area—having been notified by the drone that a delivery was imminent. The images of the thief are sent to the Amazon Cloud for processing. The photo of the thief is compared to the family of consumers occupying the house. If there’s no match, the algorithm goes through the extended family, work colleagues and friends. It looks through address books and photo albums to see if there’s any possible match. Given what’s coming next, Amazon doesn’t want to make a mistake.

It looks like there’s no match. This person is stealing your package. The image is now compared to outstanding arrest warrants and neighborhood watch photos. Based on several year’s worth of video footage, the algorithm produces a list of people who have no regular pattern of activity in your neighborhood to determine if this person has been casing the neighborhood. All the while, Amazon’s facial recognition systems are attempting to identify the individual. As a courtesy, Amazon shares the information with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to determine whether enforcement action should be coordinated.

At the same time, Amazon’s drones working in the area are alerted to the theft and they begin to gather into a swarm. The swarm tracks the thief as he tries to make his escape. Since Ring cameras are installed in almost every home in the neighborhood, it’s straightforward to track his route. The thief’s location is transmitted to the drone swarm and the cameras on the drones make an identification and lock in and begin tracking the thief. Amazon echo nodes in neighborhood homes notify residents via Alexa to shelter in place while the action is executed.

We’re Watching.

Ideally, the drone swarm will want to take action before the thief enters a vehicle. Even if full identification hasn’t been completed, the drone swarm will move in to herd the thief toward a designated location that has been communicated to local police. Since the police can’t always immediately respond to this kind of incident, the drone swarm is equipped to keep the “suspect” in the designated location for up to 12 hours.

If the thief has abandoned the package, and it appears undamaged, a drone will break off from the swarm and re-deliver it to your home. Damaged packages are taken by drone back to the local distribution warehouse and a request for a replacement item is automatically generated.

Once the police arrive on the scene, all video and audio evidence, along with any background profile data, is transmitted. Generally this results in an open-and-shut case when delivered to the District Attorney’s office. A permanent record is created in Amazon’s central data warehouse to make sure once this person has served their time in prison they receive heightened surveillance on release and for the rest of their lives.

Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. Using the vast resources of the Amazon family of companies, we can often deter a person from reoffending by foregrounding the surveillance apparatus at a key moment prior to a criminal act. Sometimes all it takes is a reminder that someone is watching, and that any criminal act will be swiftly and surely punished.

That’s the future, but here’s some things Amazon is working on today…

Adding Face Recognition to Your Front Door

The Weaponization of Language

Just a quick note to help people, particularly the Media in the United States, to better understand what it means when language is weaponized—and especially what it means in the context of connected digital communication networks. While these techniques have been refined over many years in Russia and the former Soviet Union, they are somewhat new to mainstream American politics. This is not to say that these techniques haven’t been used over the years, but generally they’re employed around the edges. It hasn’t been possible, until recently, to move them to the center of a political communication strategy.

Certain tools are designed as weapons, for example: guns, knives, clubs, brass knuckles, bombs, poison gas. Each of these tools is specially constructed to inflict a certain kind of harm on its target. Now here’s another list of tools: a cast-iron frying pan, a fireplace poker, a baseball bat, a car, a brick, and an electrical current. Each of these tools has a proper use—a set of uses that humans understand through habit. All of these non-weapons have been used to commit murder in some mystery novel. Part of solving the mystery involves a detective envisioning an ordinary tool expressing its potential as a deadly weapon.

When language is used as a weapon—it’s deployed to inflict the maximum possible damage. The usual response to language used in this way is to say that it is neither true nor proper. While this may be a reasonable approach to language used to communicate, it has no effect on language when used as a weapon. It’s the equivalent of saying that the blow inflicted by a frying pan to the head of the victim was not a proper use of frying pans.

Much of the effectiveness of advertising is due to the frequency with which it is broadcast. If you see or hear an ad ten times a day for three months, it’s likely you will remember it for the rest of your life. Most of us can recite ad copy we heard in our childhood even when the product has long since disappeared from the shelves. To maximize the effectiveness of weaponized language, it must have high frequency. In political campaigns this is usually accomplished through producing negative attack ads and buying lots of radio and television time.

In the age of cable news and connected digital social networks, another strategy is possible. An attack is constructed that will harm the target using metaphors, statements and images. In itself, this isn’t enough to assure the attack will be retweeted frequently and universally (by all sides) throughout cable news, newspapers and social media networks. Two elements must be added to the attack, the first is that it should be demonstrably false. This will cause many media outlets to rebroadcast the attack, and then explain why it is false. If the attack is on the veracity of the media itself, many will discount the explanation. The second added ingredient is that the attack must break with ordinary decorum, it must cross a moral line. This causes many media outlets to rebroadcast the attack and explain why it is immoral. Each of these media responses is the equivalent of decrying the improper use of a frying pan in committing an assault.

The media becomes complicit in the attack because it serves as the force multiplier that maximizes the harm. That’s how “playing the media” works. And as the media chases its tail on obviously false sensational headlines, it loses its credibility on the serious investigations it’s doing. When a President has immunity through Republican majority in Congress, a free press is needed more than ever. The attacks on the media have escalated and the media seems blind to its own role in amplifying the harm that is done.

Where’s Twitter’s Aksimet?

Why doesn't Twitter have something like WordPress's Akismet? Akismet is a plugin that filters spam by combining information about spam captured on all participating sites. It uses that information to generate rules to block future spam. I know that bad actors can easily create new Twitter accounts, but should also be easy for a large group of people to tag them in real time.

And I'd imagine if you can create an algorithm that can predict what you'd like to buy, surely an algorithm could be created to identify both hate speech and the speaker based on a few online real-time gestures. Identifying these storms of attacks, like the ones against Leslie Jones, is not too different from identifying the events that Twitter wants to sell advertising against.

Twitter valued being unfiltered at a certain point, but now the stream is quite polluted.


McBurney’s Encounter: Real-Time Complicity


You are complicit. Or, you could be. We say this phrase from a stance of pure innocence. You didn’t personally commit an evil act, but some of your actions and attitudes are so resonant with this evil, that you must be complicit. Because I am not complicit, I can say that you are. But complicity is a slippery thing. It jumps the gaps and implicates us when we least expect it.

I like this definition:

Involvement as an accomplice in a questionable act or a crime.

As an “accomplice” your participation may be direct or indirect, but what I particularly like is this idea of a “questionable act.” An act of uncertainty—is it an evil act or not? “The Encounter?” Is it a questionable act?

We all have the opportunity to be complicit, in real time, on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, at 7:30pm GMT (11:30am PT). That’s when Simon McBurney’s extraordinary theater company, “Complicite” will perform “The Encounter” via live stream.

The cutting-edge technology of the virtual reality headset attempts to give you a virtual world in a bottle. But what McBurney and Complicite offer is more than that, they’re playing with the stuff of reality itself. The audience is required to wear a headset, but in this case, it’s a pair of headphones.

“…my hand, groping around the universe, has torn a corner open… why did I tear the corner open, if I’m not prepared for the encounter?”

Twenty years ago Simon McBurney was given a book.

Written by a Romanian who escaped the Ceaușescu regime to reinvent himself as a Los Angeles screenwriter, the book, Amazon Beaming, tells the story of photographer Loren McIntyre, who, in 1969, found himself lost amongst the remote people of the Javari Valley, on the border between Brazil and Peru. It was an encounter that changed his life: bringing the limits of human consciousness into startling focus.

Complicite’s technical team has wired the performance space with 600 pairs of headphones. Simon McBurney performs to a microphone that looks like your head. He whispers in this ear, then he moves around the space, and whispers in the other ear. (If you tune in to the live stream, be sure to wear headphones. That way you can experience “spooky action at a distance.”)

Here is a clip from The Guardian to give you an idea of what it’s like:

Judged purely as a sonic experiment, the show is an astonishing technical feat. Amiably chatting to the audience and asking us to put ourselves in the mind of McIntyre, McBurney asks us to don headphones that relay information from a binaural microphone. This results in a complex aural mix of live and recorded sound. At one point, we hear the whirr of the Cessna aircraft that deposits McIntyre in the jungle. At another, McBurney simulates the sound of walking through the forest by trampling on a mass of recording tape. But the heart of the story concerns McIntyre’s encounter with the nomadic Mayoruna tribe, and his dependence on his close relationship with the head shaman, known as Barnacle, with whom he communicates in a way that transcends language.

This is what real-time technology has the capability to create. But technology only gives what we ask of it. McBurney and the Complicite team ask for the moon, the stars, and the jungle. A work of this magnitude begs the question, who should be asking technology for the next new thing? Should it really be the technologists themselves?

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