“If you’re a runner and you want to be a better runner, you say, well, I’ll run every day and mark an X on the calendar every day I run. I can’t believe this was useful information to anybody!” He spreads his palms, a gesture conveying the sheer obviousness of the insight. “Really? There are people who think, ‘I’ll just sit around and do absolutely nothing, and somehow the work will get done’?”

January 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

if-you're-060114

In 2013, the State Department, which has more than 400,000 likes and was recently most popular in Cairo, said it would stop buying Facebook fans after its inspector general criticized the agency for spending $630,000 to boost the numbers.

In one case, its fan tally rose from about 10,000 to more than 2.5 million.  read more

COMPOSITE: Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF), NASA Hubble, NASA Chandra

For in tremendous extremities human souls are like drowning men; well enough they know they are in peril; well enough they know the causes of that peril; – nevertheless, the sea is the sea

December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

for-in-311213

Boston Dynamics was as much its YouTube channel as it was a robotics firm. Poorly lit, with a look that betrayed iMovie’s default settings, the videos were what Boston Dynamics did best: present experimental technologies as logical conclusions. Of course we’ll have quadruped robots running faster than Usain Bolt. I mean, obvy. The banality of it all; how could you resist? But there were consequences to this kind of thinking.

PETMAN isn’t the T-1000. It was meant to test hazard suits worn by military personnel, so, the logic goes, it needed to move like one. LS3 isn’t a mobile weapons platform, but a way to haul supplies across uneven terrain. In neither case are the technologies murderous on their own, but a very real problem lies in the goals they serve. Here are robots meant to streamline war. Make war go faster.

My—our—obsession with Boston Dynamics served as a kind of military boosterism. An obscenely large foam hand emblazoned with the words Real Future Shit (and, occasionally, We’re All Going to Die). Also, a sense that only in a not-too-distant future will war be truly horrifying, when it’s waged by articulated legs, quadcopter swarms, railguns—only then. I’m absolved of any guilt about the wars happening right now because I’ve transferred it to the future still buffering. Fearing what a robot might do makes me comfortable with what drone strikes do right now.

Paralysis comes swift when you think of all the ways you’re complicit in ongoing horror. So 2013 went to drone pilot confessionals. Snake robots in water. It was also the year I turned 30, and, feeling nostalgic, searched for early footage of the Gulf War—the moment, I think, science fact and science fiction became inseparable, inviting all of us to imagine what could be at the cost of what already was.

No one company should take all the blame, if that’s even the word. The speculative arms industry is thirsty and involves universities, blogs, commercial gimmicks—even DIY makers cobbling better, cooler drones in the backyard. Harmless, robbed of context.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: tim_d

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