Cybergeddon: Why the Internet could be the next “failed state”

March 4th, 2015

Ars Technica has a good article on Cybergeddon: Why the Internet could be the next “failed state”. The article all the ways the internet is being abused (from porn to the theft of information.) The article starts by reminding us of all the abuse on the internet from revenge porn to the theft of personal information. It then summarizes a paper by Jason Healey, The Five Futures of Cyber Conflict and Cooperation that outlines five possible cyber futures from the unlikely Paradise to Status Quo, Domain (where cyberspace is a domain like any other for conflict), Balkanization, and Cybergeddon.

One wonders what the futures for cyberspace for the academy are. Here are my speculative futures:

  • Balkanization: universities create their own internets (intranets?) to keep out the great unwashed. Alumnae get to keep their university email addresses if they behave. The elite universities (like the University of Alberta) then create a ivory tower subnet where only the important hang.
  • Cybergeddon: trolls drive academics off the internet as we are all Social Justice Warriors who should be doxxed, swatted, and watched. Risk management takes over and academics are not allowed on the internet without grant-funded insurance.
  • Paradise: universities finally succeed is teaching ethics reliably and the world is made a better place. Philosopher rulers are put in charge. The internet becomes the nice safe place it was originally. Microsoft goes out of business, but wills Bob to the internet to be its AI policeperson.

Press Start: Culture, Industry, and Innovation in Japanese Gaming

March 2nd, 2015

Conference Image

This Friday and Saturday I was at a lovely two day conference, Press Start: Culture, Industry, and Innovation in Japanese Gaming. The conference was put on by the University of British Columbia Centre for Japanese Research. The conference had excellent involvement from Japanese game companies like Bandai Namco, Sega, Capcom, and DeNA. The industry folk talked about the challenges of the expanding mobile market and how their Vancouver studios are positioned in their larger business.

I gave the opening talk on beginnings (as in Press Start) and kept conference notes here.

Guardian’s destroyed Snowden laptop to feature in major V&A show

February 27th, 2015

Great story about how the Guardian’s destroyed Snowden laptop to feature in major V&A show. This is the laptop that the government forced the Guardian to destroy because they had the Snowden leaked documents on it.

Canadian Spies Collect Domestic Emails in Secret Security Sweep

February 26th, 2015

The Intercept and CBC have been collaborating on stories based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden. One recent story is about how Canadian Spies Collect Domestic Emails in Secret Security Sweep. CSE is collecting email going to the government and flagging suspect emails for analysts.

An earlier story titled CSE’s Levitation project: Expert says spy agencies ‘drowning in data’ and unable to follow leads, tells about the LEVITATION project that monitors file uploads to free file hosting sites. The idea is to identify questionable uploads and then to figure out who is uploading the materials.

Glenn Greenwald (see the embedded video) questions the value of this sort of mass surveillance. He suggests that mass surveillance impedes the ability to find terrorists attacks. The problem is not getting more information, but connecting the dots of what one has. In fact the slides that you can get to from these stories both show that CSE is struggling with too much information and analytical challenges.

It’s official: NSA spying is hurting the US tech economy

February 26th, 2015

Slashdot pointed me to a ZDnet story that It's official: NSA spying is hurting the US tech economy. As one can imagine, the Snowden revelations are having an impact on American businesses. Who trusts them anymore?

A related story describes the brokers who handle data requests for companies like those from the FISA court. See Meet the shadowy tech brokers that deliver your data to the NSA. One of the bottlenecks is the shortage of lawyers with security clearance who could fight orders. The system seems designed so that few think about whether government orders should be resisted at all.

Building Research Capacity Across the Humanities

February 26th, 2015

On Monday I gave a talk at the German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF) on:

Building Research Capacity Across the Humanities and Social Sciences: Social Innovation, Community Engagement and Citizen Science

The talk began with the sorry state of public support for the humanities. We frequently read how students shouldn’t major in the humanities because there are no jobs and we worry about dropping enrolments. The social contract between our publics (whose taxes pay for public universities) and the humanities seems broken or forgotten. We need to imagine how to re-engage the local and international communities interested in what we do. To that end I proposed that we:

  • We need to know ourselves better so we can better present our work to the community. It is difficult in a university like the University of Alberta to know what research and teaching is happening in the social sciences and humanities. We are spread out over 10 different faculties and don’t maintain any sort of shared research presence.
  • We need to learn to listen to the research needs of the local community and to collaborate with the community researchers who are working on these problems. How many people in the university know what the mayor’s priorities are? Who bothers to connect the research needs of the local community to the incredible capacity of our university? How do we collaborate and support the applied researchers who typically do the work identified by major stakeholders like the city. Institutes like the Kule Institute can help document the research agenda of major community stakeholders and then connect university and community researchers to solve them.
  • We need to learn to connect through the internet to communities of interest. Everything we study is of interest to amateurs if we bother to involve them. Crowdsourcing or “citizen science” techniques can bring amateurs into research in a way that engages them and enriches our projects.

In all three of these areas I described projects that are trying to better connect humanities research with our publics. In particular I showed various crowdsourcing projects in the humanities ending with the work we are now doing through the Text Mining the Novel project to imagine ways to crowdsource the tagging of social networks in literature.

One point that resonated with the audience at DIPF was around the types of relationships we need to develop with our publics. I argued that we have to learn to co-create research projects rather than “trickle down” results. We need to develop questions, methods and answers together with community researchers rather think that do the “real” research and then trickle results down to the community. This means learning new and humble ways of doing research.

Alain Resnais: Toute la mémoire du monde

February 25th, 2015

Thanks to 3quarksdaily.com I came across the wonderful short film by Alan Resnais, Toute la mémoire du monde (1956). The short is about memory and the Bibliothèque nationale (of France.) It starts at the roof of this fortress of knowledge and travels down through the architecture. It follows a book from when it arrives from a publisher to when it is shelved. It shows another book called by pneumatique to the reading room where it crosses a boundary to be read. All of this with a philosophical narration on information and memory.

The short shows big analogue information infrastructure at its technological and rational best, before digital informatics disrupted the library.

HathiTrust Research Center Awards Three ACS Projects

February 11th, 2015

A Advanced Collaborative Support project that I was part of was funded, see HathiTrust Research Center Awards Three ACS Projects. Our project, called The Trace of Theory, sets out to first see if we can identify subsets of the HathiTrust volumes that are “theoretical” and then study try to track “theory” through these subsets.

Tributary

January 15th, 2015

Spiral Graphic

Tributary is an interactive visualization programming environment for Javascript (and D3).  It lets you rapidly prototype visual code and reminds me of the old Design By Numbers which was both a book by John Maeda and a site that similarly let you program and see the visual results.

Wilkens: Literary Attention Lag

January 14th, 2015

Matthew Wilkens has posted a nice blog essay about his short MLA paper on geography and memory, Literary Attention Lag. He looked at how some cities get far more literary attention than their population merits despite a general correlation between population and attention. For example, in 1860 Chicago and New Orleans had about the same population, but New Orleans gets a lot more attention.

What is particularly useful is that he provides an iPython notebook with a documented version of his code here. He also provides a link to his data so you can edit and recapitulate his study.

Stéfan Sinclair and I are experimenting with Mathematica notebooks and iPython notebooks as a way to share research thinking with code woven in.