Tag Archives: Hi-Tech

“Alexa, Launch Our Nukes!”

There could be no more consequential decision than launching atomic weapons and possibly triggering a nuclear holocaust. President John F. Kennedy faced just such a moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and, after envisioning the catastrophic outcome of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange, he came to the conclusion that the atomic powers should impose tough barriers on the precipitous use of such weaponry. Among the measures he and other global leaders adopted were guidelines requiring that senior officials, not just military personnel, have a role in any nuclear-launch decision.

That was then, of course, and this is now. And what a now it is! With artificial intelligence, or AI, soon to play an ever-increasing role in military affairs, as in virtually everything else in our lives, the role of humans, even in nuclear decision-making, is likely to be progressively diminished. In fact, in some future AI-saturated world, it could disappear entirely, leaving machines to determine humanity’s fate.

This isn’t idle conjecture based on science fiction movies or dystopian novels. It’s all too real, all too here and now, or at least here and soon to be. As the Pentagon and the military commands of the other great powers look to the future, what they see is a highly contested battlefield — some have called it a “hyperwar” environment — where vast swarms of AI-guided robotic weapons will fight each other at speeds far exceeding the ability of human commanders to follow the course of a battle. At such a time, it is thought, commanders might increasingly be forced to rely on ever more intelligent machines to make decisions on what weaponry to employ when and where. At first, this may not extend to nuclear weapons, but as the speed of battle increases and the “firebreak” between them and conventional weaponry shrinks, it may prove impossible to prevent the creeping automatization of even nuclear-launch decision-making.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 19, 2018 in North America


Tags: ,

The Genius Neuroscientist Who Might Hold the Key to True AI

When King George III of England began to show signs of acute mania toward the end of his reign, rumors about the royal madness multiplied quickly in the public mind. One legend had it that George tried to shake hands with a tree, believing it to be the King of Prussia. Another described how he was whisked away to a house on Queen Square, in the Bloomsbury district of London, to receive treatment among his subjects. The tale goes on that George’s wife, Queen Charlotte, hired out the cellar of a local pub to stock provisions for the king’s meals while he stayed under his doctor’s care.

More than two centuries later, this story about Queen Square is still popular in London guidebooks. And whether or not it’s true, the neighborhood has evolved over the years as if to conform to it. A metal statue of Charlotte stands over the northern end of the square; the corner pub is called the Queen’s Larder; and the square’s quiet rectangular garden is now all but surrounded by people who work on brains and people whose brains need work. The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery—where a modern-day royal might well seek treatment—dominates one corner of Queen Square, and the world-renowned neuroscience research facilities of University College London round out its perimeter. During a week of perfect weather last July, dozens of neurological patients and their families passed silent time on wooden benches at the outer edges of the grass.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 19, 2018 in Reportages


Tags: , ,

A Future Where Everything Becomes a Computer Is as Creepy as You Feared

More than 40 years ago, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft with a vision for putting a personal computer on every desk.

No one really believed them, so few tried to stop them. Then before anyone realized it, the deed was done: Just about everyone had a Windows machine, and governments were left scrambling to figure out how to put Microsoft’s monopoly back in the bottle.

This sort of thing happens again and again in the tech industry. Audacious founders set their sights on something hilariously out of reach — Mark Zuckerberg wants to connect everyone — and the very unlikeliness of their plans insulates them from scrutiny. By the time the rest of us catch up to their effects on society, it’s often too late to do much about them.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 26, 2018 in Uncategorized


Tags: , ,

Why You’re Probably Getting a Microchip Implant Someday

When Patrick McMullan first heard in early 2017 that thousands of Swedish citizens were unlocking their car doors and turning on coffee machines with a wave of their palm, he wasn’t too impressed. Sure, the technology—a millimeters-long microchip equipped with near-field communication capabilities and lodged just under the skin—had a niche, cutting-edge appeal, but in practical terms, a fob or passcode would work just as well.

McMullan, a 20-year veteran of the tech industry, wanted to do one better—to find a use for implantable microchips that was genuinely functional, not just abstractly nifty. In July 2017, news cameras watched as more than 50 employees at Three Square Market, the vending-solutions company where McMullan is president, voluntarily received chip implants of their own. Rather than a simple scan-to-function process like most of Sweden’s chips use, the chips and readers around Three Square Market’s River Falls, Wisconsin, office were all part of a multistage feedback network. For example: Your chip could grant you access to your computer—but only if it had already unlocked the front door for you that day. “Now,” McMullan says of last summer, “I’ve actually done something that enhances our network security.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 23, 2018 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,

Was machen wir morgen?

Mitten in Hamburg auf dem Containerterminal lässt sich die Zukunft der Arbeit besichtigen.

Ein Aprilmorgen, der Himmel milchig blau, Sonnenglitzern auf dem Wasser, da setzt sich die Zukunft in Bewegung. Ein Automated Guided Vehicle, AGV 87, fährt ruckelnd an, ein rollendes Tablett auf mannshohen Rädern, 34 Tonnen. Das Ding sieht aus wie ein Lastwagen ohne Fahrerhaus. Und ohne Fahrer. In einer sanften Kurve zieht der ferngesteuerte Untersatz über den Asphalt und nähert sich einem silbergrauen Blechkasten, der Ladestation. AGV 87 bremst, steht. Eine Klappe öffnet sich am Blechkasten, und ein Ladearm, dick wie ein Zaunpfahl, schiebt sich tief in die elektrischen Eingeweide des Rollwagens, dann fließt Energie. Die Batterie des Wagens wird aufgeladen, 90 Minuten lang. Ohne Tankwart, wie von Geisterhand.

Dann setzt sich AGV 87 wieder in Bewegung, energiegeladen für 18 Stunden, reiht sich ein ins Hin und Her der 91 fahrbaren Containertransporter, die an unsichtbaren Fäden Güter und Waren über den Terminal bewegen, computergesteuert, überwacht von 19.000 Transpondern im Boden. Alles, was Menschen brauchen, wird hier umgeschlagen. Aber es braucht keine Menschen mehr für den Umschlag.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 2, 2018 in Reportages


Tags: ,

Common Cyborg

I’m nervous at night when I take off my leg. I wait until the last moment before sleep to un-tech because I am a woman who lives alone and has been stalked, so I don’t feel safe in my home on crutches. How would I run? How would I fight back? Instead of taking Klonopin, I read the Economist. The tone is detached. There is war, but always elsewhere.


When I tell people I am a cyborg, they often ask if I have read Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’. Of course I have read it. And I disagree with it. The manifesto, published in 1985, promised a cyberfeminist resistance. The resistance would be networked and coded by women and for women to change the course of history and derange sexism beyond recognition. Technology would un-gender us. Instead, it has been so effective at erasing disabled women1 that even now, in conversation with many feminists, I am no longer surprised that disability does not figure into their notions of bodies and embodiment. Haraway’s manifesto lays claim to cyborgs (‘we are all cyborgs’) and defines the cyborg unilaterally through metaphor. To Haraway, the cyborg is a matter of fiction, a struggle over life and death, a modern war orgy, a map, a condensed image, a creature without gender. The manifesto coopts cyborg identity while eliminating reference to disabled people on which the notion of the cyborg is premised. Disabled people who use tech to live are cyborgs. Our lives are not metaphors.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 26, 2018 in Reportages


Tags: , , ,

There is a leftwing way to challenge big tech for our data. Here it is

For all its supposed complexity, our digital future does have a logic shaping its basic foundations. It’s mostly an interplay of two conflicting dynamics: one of data extractivism – propelled primarily by big tech’s dependence on new sources of data; and one of data distributism – propelled by all those opposed to big tech’s rapid ascendance.

The latest example of the former dynamic comes from the Wall Street Journal, which has uncovered Facebook’s efforts to cajole banks into sharing their customers’ data, including account balances and card transactions (Facebook says it’s not “actively” seeking such data).

With this move, Facebook wants to ensure that its services are used to perform tasks as trivial as contacting the bank’s support desk or making payments. And the longer we stay on the site to access our data, the more new data it collects. On Facebook, all roads lead to data extractivism.

Supporters of data distributism have no unifying ideology. However, they are firmly united in opposing the status quo, whereby technology platforms serve as self-appointed custodians of the world’s data.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Uncategorized


Tags: , ,

Der Traum vom Tech-Staat

In Zeiten der Digitalisierung fühlt sich vieles wie eine Attacke der Zukunft auf das Jetzt an. Überall scheint der Zeitgenosse von Science-Fiction umstellt; Visionen, die ihn in ein Morgen beamen, von dem er gar nicht wusste, dass er es sich so sehnlich erträumte. Ein Sinnbild dieser erstaunlichen Exzentrik schuf zuletzt Silicon Valleys Chef-Innovator Elon Musk. In einem sensationellen Vorspiel auf künftige Marsflüge jagte er eine SpaceX-Rakete, mit einem Tesla Roadster bestückt, in den Orbit. Seither kreist – im Live-Stream übertragen – ein «Raumfahrer» in einer Mischung aus «Back to the future» und «Per Anhalter durch die Galaxis» um den Erdball. Welch schöne neue Aussicht: schwerelos im luftleeren Raum – «all watched over by machines of loving grace».

Auch jenseits solch jungenhafter Himmelsstürmerei werden wir kontinuierlich mit einem futuristischen Möglichkeitssinn konfrontiert. In unheimlichen Allianzen aus Big Tech und Big Government – einer Melange aus Konzernen, Thinktanks und staatlichen Einrichtungen – tun sich immer wieder «unerhörte» Utopien auf; gespickt mit digitalen Verheissungen verweisen sie auf eine «smarte» Gesellschaft im automatisierten Wohlfühlmodus.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Reportages, South America


Tags: , ,

There Is No Such Thing as a Smart City

The term “smart city” is interesting yet not important, because nobody defines it. “Smart” is a snazzy political label used by a modern alliance of leftist urbanites and tech industrialists. To deem yourself “smart” is to make the NIMBYites and market-force people look stupid.

Smart-city devotees all over this world will agree that London is particularly smart. Why? London is a huge, ungainly beast whose cartwheeling urban life is in cranky, irrational disarray. London is a god-awful urban mess, but London does have some of the best international smart-city conferences.

London also has a large urban-management bureaucracy who emit the proper smart-city buzzwords and have even invented some themselves. The language of Smart City is always Global Business English, no matter what town you’re in.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 3, 2018 in Reportages


Tags: ,

Margrethe Vestager: the EU commissioner who’s taming the Tech Giants

On the last day of November 2017, the snow fell in Brussels. By the evening, a crust of white had settled on the crown of Godfrey of Bouillon, the 11th-century crusader whose statue dominates the Place Royale. Not far away, people filed into a concert hall at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, renowned for hosting great conductor-composers such as Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. However, they were not there to listen to music; they had come to hear Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner who has been called the “most powerful woman in Europe” and whose mission is to hold to account the world’s biggest technology companies.

Since 2014, the arts centre has hosted an annual series of debates about the future of the EU. These have been notable both for reflecting the sense of crisis on the continent – the themes have been “Reinventing Europe”, “Now or Never”, “Last Chance” and “The End of Europe?” – and for the quality of the speakers, one of whom was Emmanuel Macron, who appeared in 2014 and 2016, while he was France’s economy minister. Vestager, who is 49, shared the stage with Macron both times.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 2, 2018 in Reportages


Tags: ,