How Far We Have Come

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It is concerning to know that how we pay to use the internet with net neutrality is in the hands of congressmen that mostly decide based on donations or for political reasons instead of actual morals.  Converting to an internet system in which we have to pay for bundles like for cable is extremely inferior to our current system of paying for all internet access.  It seems that as with cybersecurity, uneducated politicians are once again messing with things they do not fully understand.

 

The various cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum oddly rely on a general trust of value of nothing tangible.  This trust is especially odd considering that ethereum has already been hacked and evidently could pose many security risks as people can add applications to the platform.  Also, that ethereum was created by many instead of a single benevolent dictator creates greater probability that ethereum code has bugs as there is no overall design philosophy and a sense of personal responsibility.  Considering that there will always be a huge incentive to hack cryptocurrencies, I think that cryptocurrencies will always have security risks.

 

I am not sure how many uses blockchains have.  Beyond cryptocurrencies, I do not see necessarily a benefit for blockchains for areas such as healthcare.  We already have databases, and I am not convinced that public blockchains is helpful for healthcare.

 

Looking back, it is amazing to think how far we have come to be dealing with crises over virtual online currency today when sixty years ago ARPA struggled with creating the first reliable network.  I have learned so much about the creation and development of the internet in this course, not to mention the thought provoking discussions about moral and philosophical dilemmas that arise with technology.  So, I find it frightening that most politicians cavalierly gloss over the specifics of policies related to technology and vote for political or financial gain instead actually considering the implications.  Hopefully the dysfunction in Washington does not set us to either be vulnerable to major cyber attacks or grappling with limited access to the internet that is paid for in bundles.

 

Thank you to Professor Smith and Professor Waldo for putting together an enlightening course and leading a great semester!

What You Make of It

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I think that technology and social media is detrimental to personal connections and human interactions only if we allow it to be.  For example, Snapchat streaks are not in themselves bad for friendships or a ‘sunk cost’ unless we make them into a big deal.  There is nothing inherently wrong with sending pictures back and forth for 500 days straight.  The problem arises when people over read into social media actions such as viewing Snapchat streaks as an indicator of a strong friendship.  Personally I think that Snapchat streaks have helped me build new friendships as the initial snaps might be to start a streak, but the continual conversation leads to a strong friendship.  Maybe we all need to take a small step back in investing so much thought into these social media platforms, but on the whole I think they have enhanced connections between people.

 

Some say that with social media, one cannot “unplug” and can create a sense of loneliness, which I have sometimes felt, but I believe that social media just places more responsibility on each of us to monitor themselves and also be comfortable with their own life, not getting caught up with doing things just because other people are.  Social media is a great enabler, but can have a detrimental influence on all of us if we get caught up in maintaining a certain online personal that is not actually representative of oneself.

 

It was quite interesting to hear Latanya Sweeney describe the change in Washington in terms of how political and dysfunctional congressional hearings have become.  The media has focused on the dysfunctional and toxic nature of the Executive branch, but Sweeney gave us insight into similar characteristics of the Legislative branch.  It is concerning to hear how everything has been a political fight as politicians care more about their seats and party than actually making the country a better place or fighting for their own beliefs.  Politics have seemed to devolved into a two-sided war in which neither truly knows what they are fighting for, only that they are fighting against their opponent.

Crazy Cybersecurity

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The discussion made me feel more supportive of the NSA as we thought through the danger that other nations’ cyber forces pose to the US.  Earlier in the year when we talked about the debate over whether Apple should give a backdoor to the US government, I was against such action, but now I am less sure as I see a potential need for the US government to be involved in private companies in order to protect the entire US from cyber attacks.

 

From Michael’s discussion, it seems that politics have harmed cyber command in the US military as the executive has publicly doubted Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and legislative branch has hindered cyber policy.  It is scary to think that dysfunctional politics could leave us horribly exposed to cyber attacks on key infrastructure such as emergency responses and the power grid.  The lobbying power of other interests groups can direct attention away from the security of the power grid, but high level government officials need to try enhance cybersecurity for such crucial infrastructure or else we would be rendered helpless if another nation choose to do so.

 

I think that the public dearth of knowledge on cyber security could lead to dangerous issues in the future.  When Sony was attacked by North Korea, why was national response focused on ideals such as free speech instead of spending more money on cybersecurity as a whole and working with private companies to keep the US protected?  Perhaps, since most people can readily understand the first amendment, but not cyber security, the severity of the hacking was not part of the national attention.  The government needs to direct funding to cyber security even if the public does not believe in it, which is admittedly hard as politics can hinder such action.

 

I think that public education on cyber security could help steer the conversation to the exposed nature of many private companies, and hopefully pressures all private companies to spend money security.  Without public pressure, it would be difficult for the government to increase security of private companies without getting involved in a manner that companies do not like or creating regulations.  The US national attitude of being suspicious of the NSA definitely makes the NSA’s job of protection harder.

Control and Convenience

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With such powerful pervasive technology companies, it is scary to think about how easily actors such as the government could access lots of data given lawful permission.  If Apple were forced by the government to build phones or laptops with a backdoor, then we would all have to concede privacy.  This essentially happened in the past with the FBI listening to phone calls over AT&T’s pervasive telephone lines, so there is precedent for the government forcing companies to give the government access to data.

 

With so many technological options that have slight variation, we could survive if one system were shut down such as email.  Texting, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and other methods could take over the functions, which is very different from before when email was the only means of internet communication.  This defers from China where Weibo is essentially everything, which allows government to easily control data.  The competing companies not only benefit us with healthy competition that breeds innovation and low (free) prices, but also makes it so no centralized organization controls everything we interact with.

 

The question of censorship arises once again when comparing Apple’s iPhone App Store and the Google Play store.  Apple has stringent app verification process while the Google Play store has allowed scam apps such as multiple fake Whatsapp.  I think that these app stores should deny apps that are blatant scams and rip offs of other apps where blatant could mean having the same name or tricking users into spending money.  Apple originally denied apps that used Flash Player, which I do not think they should have censored apps in this way as the apps were not blatantly detrimental to users.

 

It is crazy to listen about the initial protocols of the internet and all of the adventures that brought the internet to what we have today.  We take for granted how well the internet works for all of us and are extremely dependent on it.  If the internet were to go down, we would all be lost.

The Tremendous Importance of Labeling Consumer Products

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I really like the analogy of labeling advertisements on social media to labeling food products.  Since advertisements are in a way consumer products, they should be labeled as to make consumers aware of what they ‘buying’ (believing) just like when buying food products.  Many years ago, the FDA required all food products to be labeled with allergen information, which got a lot of push back from companies as it cost them money.  Companies disliked the regulation because they lost some consumers that now would not consume some products after knowing about the allergens and the companies had to do more research and be careful in what they were putting into their products (especially ingredients that were outsourced).  In the same way, labeling on advertisements will be resource intensive and get push back.  As someone with an extremely severe peanut allergy, my life depends on the labeling of food products to decide what I can consume.  So, I similarly find the labeling of advertisements extremely valuable so people know what they are consuming.  With the food labeling, some companies blindly slap on labels such as “May contain egg, milk, and peanuts” as a lazy way to make sure they are not liable.  There could be similar issues in labeling advertisements, but since I am extremely grateful for the food labeling that is overall beneficial, I think that label advertising will also be mostly beneficial.

 

Our discussion on what news organizations to trust was quite interesting.  Personally, I do not think trust is the right way to think about news because all news is biased.  Even ‘facts’ are biased since one could say that the Atlanta Falcons beat the New York Jets 25 to 20 emphasizing the Falcons’ victory or one could say that the New York Jets lost to the Atlanta Falcons 20 to 25 highlighting the Jets’ defeat.  For information, I tend to look at a broad spectrum of news outlets and usually like to supplement with videos before believing anything.  The idea of looking at the stock market for ‘facts’ is quite intriguing, but the market can have big swings in reaction to powerful individuals.  For example, when Hillary Clinton reproached Mylan (company that makes Epi-Pen) over twitter, Mylan’s stock immediately plummeted, but later recovered.  Anything can be twisted or manipulated.

Big Data

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David Eaves’ outlook on the world is a lot less optimistic compared to the authors of our previous readings.  His comparison of the internet to the printing press that first increased individual power, and then increased the power of the state is quite fascinating to consider.  First, the printing press gave millions easy access to more information.  Later, Napoleon was able to mobilize a one million man army only after the printing press standardized language, history, identity, and nationality that he was able to exploit to his own ends.  Similarly, the internet has empowered the individual, but we have started to feel the threat of centralized governments controlling technology in malicious ways.  Looking to China, we can see that the government’s censorship attempts to suppress any rebellion against the government, and attempt to make one billion people think as the government sees fit.  Arguably, China is an example of Eaves’ outlook on the future as people are in some ways being manipulated by the government.  The centralized, all-encompassing technology in China such as Weibo, certainly seems appealing and convenient, but this unfortunately gives the government easy access to all your data.  We need to be careful about how much data we are willing to give to technology that may help us in some ways, but can be used maliciously.  At worst, collection of all this data could lead to a scenario depicted in Captain America: The Winter Solider in which a computer program determines who would pose a threat based off all data records of people, and then would kill them.  Data has been extremely beneficial to us, but soon could be detrimental.

 

I am not sure that open government solves the issue of data being used maliciously against people.  Open government does not necessarily stop the government from using the data they collect.  Open government does make it harder for the government to be malicious, but does not prevent it all together.

 

Jeff Bezos’ thought that it is extremely difficult for large organizations to fundamentally change processes and adjust as relayed by Eaves shows the importance that we think carefully about the early stages and foundation of technological systems and databases in how they could be used in the future.  I think this also relates to our discussion of AI, and how important that we are careful with AI in the beginning as it will be increasingly difficult to change the core values of AI systems.

AI – Splendid or Skynet?

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As we looked to the future with AI, our class became more like a philosophy and ethics class than a STEM class.  An interesting idea to consider is would making an AI assistant that has the intelligence level of humans or greater your servant be slavery?  Since the sole purpose of all our digital devices currently is merely to do our bidding as we desire and as quickly as we desire, our devices are already slaves to us.  So, of course AI assistants would be slaves.  With this logic, I believe that our future would likely mirror Skynet in Terminator in which machines rule over humans.  At worst, the futuristic super-intelligent machines view humans as a threat to them or a danger to the environment or a waste of living space.  At best, the futuristic super-intelligent machines ignore us or even help us, but why would they do so?  Humans do not truly help animals that we regard as lesser intelligent beings so why would they help us?  From a risk/reward perspective, I am skeptical of the benefits of creating a fully autonomous AI system that has more intelligence than humans.  If we can control the function of the AI system, then the system would be useful to use.  But as soon as we lose control, then the AI system becomes likely useless if not dangerous.  AI would be extremely beneficial if we can direct it solve a problem such as cancer, but I find the autonomous super-intelligent AI system not only useless, but frightening.  AI has great potential to solve problems humans cannot tackle and to improve our lives in ways we cannot imagine, but we need to stay in control, else we risk allowing the Skynet scenario to play out.

 

In a different manner, our discussion involved ethics when discussing how in the beginning, voice recognition and face recognition had trouble with women and African Americans respectively due to the composition of the development team.  An issue with machine learning is that our biases in large data sets will be picked up by the machine.  This illustrates a tangible benefit of diversity in the technology industry.  From this, we can also see that the creator of a machine learning or AI system holds much power in determining how the system interacts with the world.  When dealing with the unknown, we need to be careful with developing AI in the beginning stages so we do not face Skynet in the future.

Risk/Reward

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Plato’s argument that people should not learn to read and write because people’s memory capacity would decrease is extremely intriguing to consider in the context of technology’s role in human retention and general thinking ability.  Studies have shown that most people’s reading attention span has decreased in an era dominated by 140 character tweets.  Personal conversations and human interactions have suffered since the introduction of mobile devices and Facebook.  This phenomenon is presciently described by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” writing in which he asserts that society never truly advances since progress in one dimension results in regression in another.  While human memory has deteriorated first with reading/writing and now with technology such as Google, knowledge has become widely available for all.  Similarly, the rise of all things becoming connected to the internet leads to convenience such as your phone automatically telling you how long it will take to reach your likely destination with no prompting, but poses a potential problem of an enormous amount data being able to be used against you in harmful ways.  A person with ill-intentions could use the same phone data that predicts where you intend to drive.

 

Personally, I am wary of the new digital assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home due to potential privacy and security issues.  That the devices are likely recording you at all times and storing that data forces consumers to trust that the company will not use your data maliciously and that the data will never be compromised, both of which are impossible to guarantee forever.  In addition, I am not sure if telling Alexa to turn off the lights is better than flipping the light switch or if telling Alexa to order an item from Amazon better than doing so on your computer.  While asking Alexa to buy products is faster, one could buy things and regret doing so later, which is less likely if one has to spend time and effort buying on the computer.  Technology certainly makes our lives more convenient in some ways, but adds more risk.

Replacement (Refs? Even more?)

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It is interesting to consider how the economy and workforce will change as technology evolves.  I love watching sports, so I am especially intrigued with the debate of automated officials.  The argument for automated officials is increased accuracy.  If the sports have an intermediate solution where every single play in question is reviewed by computers, then the game would be slower, but less controversy and dispute over plays.  The ideal solution would appear to be that sports officiating were able to go fully automated in real time, which would likely require new technology.  However, this would remove a human element from the game.  One could say that if the goal is precision and accuracy, then the players themselves should be replaced with robots.  What makes sports so exciting is that nothing is precise or can be predicted due to human behavior, so removing human officials would be a step away from the natural human aspect of the game.

 

The end of the Falcons-Lions game would not have been so controversial if a machine had gotten the non-touchdown call right the first time.  With automated officials, people would not have complained about the outcome of the game or complained about the infamous Seahawks-Packers game with the replacement referees a couple of years ago.  Theoretically, automated officials would eliminate all complaining and controversy about calls from players, coaches, and fans, but people would probably still find something to complain about in the game.  Complaining is part of the game.  Players pout and/or put on a show to the referees in attempt to get calls to go their way.  While human officials are imprecise, I think that they are as part of the game as the imperfect human players who cannot always hit extra points in football or layups in basketball.

 

I wonder how the job economy will change in the next couple years under the influence of technology and increasing automation.  I am interested to see how the Amazon and Whole Foods relationship plays out in terms of automation in the food industry.  While there is certainly merit in human interaction at stores, would consumers be willing to pay extra for humans operating stores while machines could do the job at lower cost and arguably higher efficiency? While philosophers and the public debate such issues, the drivers of the decisions may be out of our control and instead centered on companies’ monetary agenda.

Charitable? Colonialism?

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Learning the history of how the internet was built reminds me of the difficulties of building something that is now so prevalent and obviously useful.  From today’s perspective, I would have thought that the rise of the internet is inevitable, but there were many obstacles such as different packet sizes and choosing that the network was dumb and unreliable with smart endpoints.  Scaling the network also posed a problem that we do not consider today.  In the present, we get upset if our FaceTime to someone across the globe does not connect immediately.  We take reliability for granted and expect speed, while neither could be counted on before.

 

I wonder about the range of intentions for expanding the internet.  Recently, Facebook’s aggressive push for global expansion has brought debates about Facebook’s behavior.  Some argue that Facebook’s expansion into Africa that includes building lines is not dissimilar from the original European colonial expansion.  One could look at Facebook as a company solely interested in expanding its empire and control over people.  However, bringing internet and connectivity through Facebook to places such as Africa is undeniably beneficial for communication.  Facebook also has attempted to expand into places such as China that has tight government censorship, which Facebook has seemed willing to comply with.  Does Facebook in China benefit people as there already exists similar services?  Mark Zuckerburg has been seen wining and dining China’s leader Xi Jinping.  Did people fifty years ago do the same to convince others of the usefulness of the internet?  As an unknown quantity, the internet must have been hard to sell as most tend to be resistant to change or at least skeptical.

 

Harvard buying the TLD “.harvard” would have made it incrementally faster to type out URLs and also just a cool concept, but otherwise mostly insignificant.  With bookmarks and Google search, shortening an URL is not necessarily beneficial to users, but more of a luxury.  On the other hand, one could similarly argue that the internet itself is a luxury since people lived happy lives without it.  I think that a commonly overlooked aspect of the internet for students is the ability to search for any information on the internet for learning.  I think that my college experience would be very different without the internet.

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