Car hacking just got real

“When I saw we could do it anywhere, over the Internet, I freaked out. I was frightened. It was like, holy fuck, that's a vehicle on a highway in the middle of the country. Car hacking got real, right then.”
Chris Valasek, as quoted in Hackers remotely kill a Jeep on the highway — with me in it, by Andy Greenberg, Wired, 21 July 2019

Valasek and his collaborator Charlie Miller found a way to remotely hack, and take, for all intents and purposes, full remote control of an entire class of automobiles by exploiting a vulnerability in their Internet-connected sound systems. Valasek and Miller’s work shows that hackers could create “a wirelessly controlled automotive botnet encompassing hundreds of thousands of vehicles.”

A time-shifted risk

“People always ask me: where's the harm?

Privacy harms are a time-shifted risk.

The moment you are protesting against your government, a seamless cashless public transport system can turn into a data trove for surveillance crowd control.”
Reporter Mary Hui (@maryhui), 13 June 2019, on witnessing Hong Kong protesters using cash transactions to board the subway instead of using their trackable/traceable metro cards. Also see Hui's CASH IS KING: Why Hong Kong’s protesters were afraid to use their metro cards, Quartz, 13 June 2019

The fandom it asked for

“The solution here isn’t all that difficult. If fans want to hold banners protesting fascism and racism and gun violence, that should be fine… It’s a feature, not a bug, one that comes from accepting that, when you treat your sport like a beacon of community, then some people will start treating it as such.”

The article also notes,

It’s a depressing commentary on our current national moment that signs stating opposition to gun violence, fascism, and racism are deemed “political”.

A perfect score

“One algorithm was supposed to figure out how to land a virtual airplane with minimal force. But the AI soon discovered that if it crashed the plane, the program would register a force so large that it would overwhelm its own memory and count it as a perfect score. So the AI crashed the plane, over and over again, presumably killing all the virtual people on board.”
The Spooky Genius of Artificial Intelligence, by Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, 28 September 2018. Thompson's article is based on the paper The surprising creativity of digital evolution: a collection of anecdotes from the evolutionary computation and artificial life research communities (14 August 2018) and Can Artificial Intelligence Be Smarter Than a Human Being?, an episode of the Crazy/Genius podcast by Kasia Mychajlowycz and Patricia Yacob.

Wikimania Stockholm

Wikimania conference, Stockholm, 16 August 2019; CC-BY

Wikimania conference, Stockholm, 16 August 2019; CC-BY

I was privileged to attend the Wikimania conference in Stockholm last week and give the opening keynote (here). The conference theme was about the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Almost all of the sessions were livestreamed (over 200 hours) and most are available on the program page and on YouTube.

There were so many good talks and sessions, including this “spotlight session” titled “Free Knowledge and the Sustainable Development Goals” featuring Liv Inger Somby (Sámi University of Applied Sciences), Ryan Merkley (Creative Commons), Karin Holmgren (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Tyler Radford (OpenStreetMap), Emanuel Karlsten (journalist), Mark Graham (Internet Archive), John Cummings (Wikimedian in Residence for UNESCO), and Annika Söder (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden).

It just requires that Twitter would care

Imagine if signing up to read Twitter was free, but posing required you to spend a week doing moderation first.

Everyone who came into the community would have to learn the rules before they violated them.

Then, when you’re tempted to break the rules, you’d remember that there were people who would read what you wrote, just like you did for others, and you’d lose your account and have to do another week of moderation before getting to post again.

This is not too hard to implement. It’s certainly easier than inventing a magic AI that will solve all your problems. It just requires that Twitter care enough about their community to do it.

The Hottest Chat App for Teens

"When everyone logs on to do homework at night, Google Docs chats come alive. Groups of kids will all collaborate on a document, while their parents believe they’re working on a school project. As a Reddit thread revealed in February, chatting via Google Docs is also a great way to circumvent a parental social-media ban."
The Hottest Chat App for Teens Is … Google Docs, by Taylor Lorenz, The Atlantic, 14 March 2019

To which Christina Xu (@xuhulk) replied: “I wrote my undergrad thesis on the history of instant messengers and learned that teenagers misusing productivity tools to flirt is truly one of the driving forces of the internet.“ (14 March 2019)

We want voters to be aware of who is trying to influence them. That’s the reason we have disclosure requirements on our campaign ads. We’ve known, at least since Aristotle in Western culture, that the source is judged as part of the message.
— Kathleen Jameison Hall, author of Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President — What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know (Oxford University Press, 2018), as quoted in How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump, by Jane Mayer, New Yorker, 24 September 2018

Discourse Saboteurs

[Kathleen Hall Jamieson's] case is based on a growing body of knowledge about the electronic warfare waged by Russian trolls and hackers — whom she terms “discourse saboteurs” — and on five decades’ worth of academic studies about what kinds of persuasion can influence voters, and under what circumstances. Democracies around the world, she told me, have begun to realize that subverting an election doesn’t require tampering with voting machines. Extensive studies of past campaigns, Jamieson said, have demonstrated that “you can affect people, who then change their decision, and that alters the outcome.” She continued, “I’m not arguing that Russians pulled the voting levers. I’m arguing that they persuaded enough people to either vote a certain way or not vote at all.”
How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump, by Jane Mayer, New Yorker, 24 September 2018. The article is a profile of Kathleen Hall Jamieson forensic's analysis of the 2016 election: Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President — What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know (Oxford University Press, 2018)

A pre-Newtonian moment

“Social media is in a pre-Newtonian moment, where we all understand that it works, but not how it works,” Mr. Systrom told me, comparing this moment in the tech world to the time before man could explain gravity. “There are certain rules that govern it and we have to make it our priority to understand the rules, or we cannot control it.”

Leo Laporte: Maybe what he's thinking is Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook to connect and everything like that. It was used against us in our elections by the Russians particularly to convince people not to vote or to stay at home mostly or to vote for somebody in particular. To me that was the come-to-Jesus moment where somebody figured out how to use social media in a very powerful way and they understood it but Zuckerberg did not and it took Facebook off guard, and at first they denied it even happened. Finally of late they've admitted yeah that's what happened.

Larry Magid: I think part of the problem for consumers is that most of us don't know how it works. We know that there are algorithms…

Leo Laporte: But do you think Zuck [Mark Zuckerberg] does is the question?

Larry Magid: That's what I'm saying, I assume that Zuck does, but maybe he doesn't fully understand it.

This Week in Tech (TWIT) 606, 19 March 2019, [at 43:51]


Obscurity makes meaningful and intimate relationships possible, ones that offer solidarity, loyalty and love. It allows us to choose with whom we want to share different kinds of information. It protects us from having everyone know the different roles we play in the different parts of our lives. We need to be able to play one role with our co-workers while revealing other parts of ourselves with friends and family. Indeed, obscurity is one reason we feel safe bonding with others over our shared vulnerabilities, our mutual hopes, dreams and fears.
Why You Can No Longer Get Lost in the Crowd, by Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger, New York Times, 17 April 2019. This article by Dr. Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science, and Dr. Selinger, a professor of philosophy, is part of the New York Times’ Privacy Project

Let them go

“As an undergrad at Harvard, I had the privilege of learning economics from the Big Names. The mainstream textbook writers. The World Bank presidents. The White House advisors.

And then Lehman fell.”

…To my great shame, I could not explain what had happened to my friends and family back home. Because my teachers could not. They did not include money or banking in their models. They didn’t see the crash coming. What insights could they have offered?

In a sentence, I realized I had been brainwashed.

Every experience in the financial reform world, every experience in law school, and every professional experience since, has only proved to me, more and more, that the Big Names do not know — or refuse to acknowledge — what’s actually going down. They were wrong about the global financial crisis. They were wrong about austerity. They were wrong about the EU. The list goes on and on and on.

Today, I work to help low-income communities directly fight banks, debt collectors, and other financial villains. I also collaborate with a wide range of heterodox scholars and activists.

In any case, I promise you what they’re saying is far closer to on-the-ground reality than anything I’ve ever learned from the Big Names, with rare exceptions. I know it’s scary to dismiss what the Big Names say. They have power and prestige.

But they are not scientists. They are not doctors. They are not objectively the best at what they do. Most of them are representatives of a failed elite consensus. They are afraid to admit their lens for looking at the world is fundamentally warped.

The Big Names simply could not and cannot explain the old world. They should not lead us into the future. Let them go.

The center line

Impartiality is still a value worth defending in mainstream news coverage. But you don’t get there by walking down the center line with a blindfold on.

Why do journalists and news organizations insist on doing this? I think the answer is pretty clear.

It’s because they want to appear fair without taking any chances.

Now the war

“Now the war has come to Walmart. And Hooters. And Sam’s Club and McDonald’s, and an unnamed but homey looking restaurant that has a $7.99 Lunch Special. If this doesn’t look like war, that’s only because we so reflexively resist the idea of a war on American soil that we refuse to see the obvious.”
What perpetual war looks like in America, by art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 4 August 2019

Kennicott's essay, in reaction to this week's mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, begins with a reflection on a photograph by Joel Angel Juarez of police in paramilitary gear outside a Hooter’s restaurant in El Paso.

Kennicott continues,

This convergence of our commercial landscape with violence is what the 21st century, ­slow-motion but persistent American war looks like. It also looks like the underside of a child’s school desk, people hiding in closets and wailing into cellphones, SWAT teams in parking lots, nightclubs with overturned bar stools and tables, piles of shoes abandoned outside a bar, and movie theaters soaked in gore. If we have the courage to do what we must do and look at the facts, we will also see that in one essential way, the American war looks like every other war everywhere on the planet, full of bodies riddled with bullets, bloodied, broken and dead.

Some wars are over in a day, or a week, and others go on for years. If there are opportunists and profiteers and cynical actors who are willing to fuel the mayhem for a tiny bit of personal or political advantage, then they can go on for decades. If war takes root in a society slowly, or by stealth, it can come to seem the ordinary state of affairs.