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Author Archives: Abbey

Hive Mentality or Individual Worker Bees? (Phase 1 and 2)

// Posted by Abbey on 04/13/2012 (1:21 PM)

My final blog can be viewed here. The background information posted below is also overviewed on my blog.

 

For my final project, I decided to explore further the idea set forth by Jane McGonigal in her Read more

My final blog can be viewed here. The background information posted below is also overviewed on my blog.

 

For my final project, I decided to explore further the idea set forth by Jane McGonigal in her TedTalk “Gaming can make a better world.” When watching her talk for the first time, I found myself considering our current United States culture and society today and whether or not these problem-solving ideas were applicable to all issues, no issues, or just some. We are all taught to be individuals from a young age: getting ahead is about individual goals and individual skills, and the goals or aspirations of a group mentality are not focused on when being taught how to problem solve. This issue kept coming back into my head, and I began to apply it to greater walks of our society. I found myself wondering if individualism was so ingrained in us that it could never be replaced, or if a movement towards collaborating with others was possible. I thought about these issues on small and large scales, whether it be from the teachings of a kindergarten class to our economic system as a whole, how it functions, and what values it promotes in us as citizens and as workers. I wanted to explore whether implementing a system of teaching young children to work collaboratively instead of individually from an early stage would be beneficial later on, or if there are some issues which are simply too polarizing to be solved by groupthink and all that could be done with it already is. To explore these issues, I searched further into what McGonigal has published about her theories and explored the frameworks of those she has drawn from in her exploration.

 

Throughout my search, I came across (once again) one of the most exciting examples of collaboration used to solve a major issue to-date. McGonigal introduces the idea of collaborative intelligence in her case study Why I Love Bees as a way of demonstrating how problems are solved with group work. Collaborative intelligence could be applied to solve anything: but could it? An example of success is the scientists who, after grappling with a problem that had stumped them about AIDS for 10 years, decided to develop a program called Foldit which allowed users to download, play, and solve problems they put in front of them. The users took this program and solved the 10-year battle scientists had been waging in just 10 days. (More about this here). This is one of the most perfect examples of collaborative intelligence: gamers came together, formed groups, and solved a major, previously un-solveable issue. After exploring the Foldit website further, I came across their “Groups” section. The groups are ranked from highest-scoring to lowest, and each has a profile that describes their methods and ways of working as sort of an advertisement to join. One of the top groups is called “Contenders” and its mission statement reads: “We are a team of like-minded individuals, interested in discovering new methods and philosophies about folding, and doing things a little differently. There is no hierarchy; we have no dedicated soloists or evolvers or even a team ‘captain’. We possess a range of experience and ability, and recognize that each of us can ‘bring something to the table’. Encouraging discussion and questions, all are free to express themselves. We play our soloist games our own way; but if someone finds sudden success, it’s posted for the benefit of the group, detailing what was done to get there.” Collaborative intelligence at its finest: having no “dedicated soloists” and recognizing that “each of us can ‘bring something to the table’.” In a collaborative group, “all are free to express themselves” and one person finding success is “posted for the benefit of the group.” Below is a video about Foldit, who uses it, how they use it, and why it was developed:

 

 

I was sad to realize that, while reading the Contenders mission statement, I found myself a little surprised that people advertise working this way. I’ve considered many times the fact that, when in the “real world,” group collaboration is essential to success, and the benefit of whoever you are working for is the group goal to be achieved. But it has been so ingrained in us from the beginning of our schooling that collaboration just isn’t the way to get ahead; you get ahead individually, not moving forward in a hive. You get the promotion, you and your 6 coworkers do not. I had this mindset in full force when I read McGonigal’s article “SuperGaming: Ubiquitous Play and Performance for Massively Scaled Community.” Supergaming, McGonigal says, consists of “experiments in massively scaled, public collaboration” which create “an emerging constellation of network practices that are both ludic, or game-like, and spectacular--that is, intended to generate an audience.” Supergaming “Harnesses the play of distributed individuals in a high-performance problem-solving unit,” or the “hive mentality” set forth by Kelley in Why I Love Bees. McGonigal overviews arguments set forth by Clay Shirky (hey, that name sounds farmiliar…) in an essay he wrote called “Communities, Audiences, and Scale.” Shirky argues that these supergames create massively scaled communities which collapse due to the inability of humans to maintain more than a certain number of connections with others. Shirky argues that once this number is exceeded, the community becomes an audience, which is “typified by a one-way relationship between sender and receiver, and by the disconnectino of its members from one another- a one-to-many pattern.” Communities, however, are set up so that people “send and receive messages, and the members of a community are connected to one another, not just to some central outlet- a many-to-many pattern.” Shirky argues against the ability of these new supergames to create massively scaled communities. He writes, “Because growth in group size alone is enough to turn a community into an audience, social software, no matter what its design, will never be able to create a group that is both large and densely interconnected.” Massively scaled group collaboration as a way of problem-solving, therefore, is not looking so good.

 

For the next phase of my project, I will explore McGonigal’s theoretical foundation even further and apply it to our society in ways I’ve come up with throughout my research. I will continue my academic search of articles on education and how groupwork is both useful and detrimental and come up with an answer to the question of whether or not it would be beneficial to implement programs to promote the hive mentality in youths. I will explore the question of whether or not those who tend to play games are just more open to group work than those who do not: is it a psychological difference? Is there no difference at all? Is McGonigal’s suggestion that we spend 21 billion hours a week playing games going to improve the collaborative efforts we’ve already learned from games, or are some issues still on the table to be solved just too polarizing for collaborative efforts in coming up with solutions? How is the digital media that we use today making this movement towards collaboration easier? Is it potentially making it more difficult? Have we developed types of technology that make it more possible on a massive scale? Does collaborative intelligence put the world on the verge of an “epic win,” as McGonigal puts it? Will all our faces look like this in a few years, when we discover that working collaboratively really can save the world?

 


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Everyone is Visible

// Posted by Abbey on 04/09/2012 (4:11 PM)

 

Over the past few months, discussions of security have always been coupled with discussions of the goings-on in our new digital age. It seems that with the progression of Digital America has come a progression of decreased personal… Read more

 

Over the past few months, discussions of security have always been coupled with discussions of the goings-on in our new digital age. It seems that with the progression of Digital America has come a progression of decreased personal security of information when it comes to anyone who uses any kind of technology at all. The WIRED article about the new NSA data center being built in Utah (dubbed simply the “Utah Data Center”) both shocked and worried me. Anything about a person’s life, down to a phone conversation with their grandmother on her birthday, is subject to review by members of the NSA. Further, after the Utah Data Center is built, virtually ALL communications made over the internet, phone, basically any technological medium possible, will be recorded and available for future evaluation. My idea of constitutional rights, as pointed out in the WIRED article by the former NSA official William Binney, is being seriously challenged with this new practice. While the NSA has made statements (like in this article from Fox News) about how the Utah Data Center is “designed to support the Intelligence Community’s efforts to further strengthen and protect the nation,” I have not been convinced that what we as Americans are afraid of happening really is. I’m both disturbed and challenged by this Orwellian state that the WIRED article is depicting: the days of NSA being called “Never Say Anything” seem to be coming back, and everyone is a target.

 

In this Fox News Interview, the center is first and foremost called a “spy center,” a claim that is defended by a former CIA officer and current president of a global intelligence and security firm, Mike Baker. He argues that the size of the facility is what is creating the stir, because this new center is not the only physical holding that the NSA has. Baker claims that the number one threat to the United States is not Iran, but cyber warfare and the “daily, astounding number of attacks” directed at our country. He also says, surprisingly to me, that “there is a tendency…for the average American to think that their life is fascinating enough for the government to want to surveil them all the time, to collect information on them.” I guess I have never thought about it this way; that we, as average Americans with no terroristic tendencies, only fear the government spying on us because we think they would be interested. Why would they be interested, after all, in my birthday conversation with my grandmother? What Baker does not do a good or even mediocre job of defending is that, despite the government’s disinterest in personal conversations that pose no threat to national security, they still have access to them. If they wanted to know what Nanna and I were saying, they could. That ability is, in my opinion, a violation of my right to freedom. The interview can be watched in the video below:

 

 

Another article I recently read revealed an operation of the NYPD to “infiltrate” the lives of Muslim students in the Northeast. The article says that the mission was, reportedly, “part of police efforts to “keep tabs” on Muslims throughout the region, as part of the department’s anti-terrorism efforts.” If this isn’t a blatant violation of constitutional rights, I don’t know what is. The article goes on to claim that “The FBI is sending out pamphlets to military surplus stores, saying anyone who buys matches and a flashlight is a potential terrorist. Paying cash is suspicious. Shielding your laptop screen is suspicious. Lowering your voice if you’re having a phone conversation in public: also suspicious.” So, while Baker’s point about how the NSA simply doesn’t care about average Americans’ goings-on, I’m not totally convinced this is true. If I can’t buy a flashlight without being watched or having my “file” pulled at the new Utah Data Center, then how is this still the land of the free? Are we not living in a time where this ideal is still possible? Do you feel violated by these new happenings?


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Twitter and Trolls and Cultural Shifts, Oh My!

// Posted by Abbey on 03/28/2012 (11:42 AM)

I guess I’ll be one of the brave souls to mention trolling in a post because recent class discussions have caused me to consider the impact of technology on our culture (our Digital America, if you will). Throughout the semester,… Read more

I guess I’ll be one of the brave souls to mention trolling in a post because recent class discussions have caused me to consider the impact of technology on our culture (our Digital America, if you will). Throughout the semester, I have read articles that argue that social media sites have changed our culture for the worse; we choose to interact with people through computer screens instead of in person, we are distancing ourselves from “real” human interaction, we are forgetting how to socialize, etc. These articles make a compelling and significant point in that nothing can replace the interactions we have in person that make us humans, and the new digital culture we live in is moving us away from this. One counter point to this argument is that social media sites are new tools that actually improve our connections with people, both from close up as well as from far away. Using a site like Facebook or Twitter allows people to share more of their lives with both those directly around them as well as those possibly oceans away. It is the times when people sit next to each other and are constantly on their smartphones, however, that causes this question of whether or not social media is making or breaking our new cultural age of communication.

I recently read an opinion in mashable.com written by Josh Rose. Rose attempts to argue that social media has a positive impact on our culture by describing the way in which he interacts with his son, whom he only gets to see occasionally because he and his wife are divorced. Rose says that the “I don’t care what you had for breakfast this morning” argument against social media may apply to some people, but in his case, he dies for the moments where his son tells him exactly that. Rose notes how confusing social media can be for those who engage with it: “Social media simultaneously draws us nearer and distances us.” People feel both pulled closer to the people far away from them but sometimes distanced from those in their physical proximity. Rose makes an observation from the coffee shop he is writing in: four people are reading newspapers while four people are on their laptops. He observes the “juxtapositions of physical and digital going on,” and observes that “people aren’t giving up long-form reading, considered thinking or social interactions. They are just filling all the space between.” This is an interesting idea, “filling the space between.” People who interact with social media aren’t moving away from their cultural surroundings, they are merely filling the gap between interactions. After all, as Rose puts it, “the Internet doesn’t steal our humanity, it reflects it. The Internet doesn’t get inside us, it shows what’s inside us.” Social media gives us a medium through which to share our thoughts, feelings, goings-on, etc. instead of replacing them in some way with something less real. The internet is the medium which the message is conveyed, it is not becoming the message itself.

 

After reading Rose’s piece, I began to think about how this positive impact on our lives he cites contrasts with the impact trolling has been cited to have. For those who are unclear on what exactly “trolling” is, knowyourmeme.com gives a comprehensive definition of trolling to make it more clear. The New York Times simply defines it as “manipulating other people’s emotional equilibrium.” There have been many stories about how trolling has caused not just emotional distress, but emotional destruction to its victims. One man in the UK was arrested for “trolling” about a girl after she committed suicide because she was bullied. (Read the article here). This is only one example of a story like this, but there are many others out there. I then came across an article called Top 10 Trolls in Internet History, which details 10 results of “trolling” that, while causing annoyance and frustration, do not go as far as to insult a child who has ended their life. Either way, trolling seems to have only negative consequences for its victims; a point that makes sense because its intention is “emotional distress.” Further down in the knowyourmeme.com article on trolling, the “Rules of the Internet” on trolling, beginning with the statement “We are anonymous” and continuing down to “Nothing is sacred” and “The more beautiful and pure a thing is- the more satisfying it is to corrupt it.” What, now? Nothing is sacred? The more beautiful and pure something is… the more fun it is to ruin it? These ideas play into the theory of psychology that we all have a little evil in us, and under the right circumstances it can come out. It is what was seen in Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 prison experiment at Stanford University in which participants were randomly assigned to part of “prisoner” or “guard” and the guards became sadistic, causing so much emotional distress to the prisoners that the experiment had to be shut down early. The “Rules of the Internet” begin with the statement “We are anonymous,” significant because psychological distress of those who troll seems to be the gasoline on the pile of wood while anonymity is the match. What causes people to want to cause harm to loved ones of those who have died? In the New York Times article “The Trolls Among Us”, Jason Fortuny says that trolling will only stop when people stop taking it seriously. This may be true, but this type of bullying would not and is not tolerated in person; there is a word for it, and it is harassment. Anonymity makes people more likely to troll and too resource-consuming for authorities to track.

 

 

Taking both of these perspectives into mind, do you think the internet has created possibilities for more positive or negative impacts on our culture? How do you personally think our culture has been impacted by this digital age?


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The Will of the People

// Posted by Abbey on 02/28/2012 (9:46 PM)

 

 

In a recent interview that CNet conducted with an (get this) anonymous member of the group Anonymous, dubbed “Anon,” the reasons behind their organization and movement was revealed: it is the “will of the people.” Elinor… Read more

 

 

In a recent interview that CNet conducted with an (get this) anonymous member of the group Anonymous, dubbed “Anon,” the reasons behind their organization and movement was revealed: it is the “will of the people.” Elinor Mills, the interviewer, was questioning Anon about their collaboration with WikiLeaks to publish emails from the company Stratfor, identified as a “global intelligence firm that seems to have paid informants to monitor, among other things, human rights and environmental activists on behalf of Dow Chemical after the Bhopal disaster, and that allegedly considered using the intelligence it gathers from insiders to grow a strategic investment fund.”

When asked why take they take the risk of going to jail to uncover types of information like the Stratfor scandal, Anon replied, “There is a moral obligation for those who see injustices being committed by individuals who are purely driven by greed.” This type of hacking is completely different, in my opinion, from the malware Stuxnet. This type of hacking is meant to shed light on information or a hole in security that Anonymous felt compelled to unveil, while Stuxnet’s function was to slowly destroy from within a nuclear program in Iran. Anonymous’s goal was to move forward, while Stuxnet’s was to make someone take a step back. The corruption that Anonymous sees in companies like Stratfor is why they hack into their systems; they believe they are not the security company they say they are, and in the United States working with them, it becomes an issue of national security. A correspondent from London discusses this issue on Russia Today in this video:

 

 

I think Anon is correct in the interview when he says, “I’d argue that the people are beginning to wake up and realize the strength of their unified peaceful protests, both behind a computer, in the streets, or personal protest. Whether it’s the Arab Spring, Wall Street or BART, there needs to be someone saying ‘this is not OK.’” I believe that is exactly what Anonymous is doing. While reading the interview and watching commentaries on the Stratfor WikiLeaks, I found myself debating the positives and negatives of the type of hacking that Anonymous engages in vs. the type Stuxnet was. I believe in the “will of the people” and standing up for a cause (in the form of hacking) if you believe it to be a potential threat to national security. However, I’m not sure I’m totally sold on the idea of malware introduced so silently and specifically targeted at setting back a nation. I think my hesitation might lie in the fact that I’m feeling like it is only a matter of time before the United States is a target of something like Stuxnet.

 

What do you think about the motivations of Anonymous? What about the differences between the types of hacking? Do you agree or disagree with either cause for any particular reason?


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Stuxnet and the New Forms of Cyberattacks

// Posted by Abbey on 02/25/2012 (2:18 PM)

After reading this article on wired.com about Stuxnet, the most sophisticated malware ever produced, I started to consider the ways in which this type of attack is novel and why it has gotten so much attention. First, the people… Read more

After reading this article on wired.com about Stuxnet, the most sophisticated malware ever produced, I started to consider the ways in which this type of attack is novel and why it has gotten so much attention. First, the people investigating Stuxnet were shocked at what exactly was being attacked. One of the researchers, Eric Chien, said, “We were expecting something to be espionage, we were expecting something to steal credit card numbers; that’s what we deal with every single day. But we weren’t expecting this.” The shock and awe had shifted from what was being attacked or stolen to how the attacks were being implemented. Below is a TedTalk by Ralph Langner, a German researcher who was heavily involved in decoding the virus of Stuxnet:

 

 

What shocks me the most is the process of discovering what exactly Stuxnet was setting out to do: a virus that had been specifically programmed to attack only certain computers in certain areas. The article from wired.com that details where Stuxnet was prevalent along with how it was choosing which computers to infect; essentially, it proves that specific, potentially extremely harmful attacks can be waged on just a simple USB stick. Still, however, the most shocking part about the article was the way in which Stuxnet accomplished its goal-- it was a slow, deliberate attack on certain physical components of Iran’s plant. Stuxnet was not only the most sophisticated malware yet (four zero-days? two stolen certificates??), but it was performing the most sophisticated cyber attack seen yet. It was introducing a hard-to-detect virus into certain computers, controlling certain functions, so certain physical components would malfunction over time. This clearly is much more than “stealing credit card numbers.” This malware had the ability to slow down the production of nuclear weapons. It slowed the nuclear arms race. All from a few lines of code.

 

This new form of attack has caused me to re-think not only the forms of cyber attacks, but also what exactly is becoming a target of attack. Are you shocked by what Stuxnet was attacking, as well as the impressive forms of attack it employed to get there? How do you feel this new form of attack fits in with the much-discussed globalization of technology? Do you think that putting a specific virus that is meant to attack a specific computer or set of computers has opened up a new form of warfare across the world?


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Safer Distracted Driving?

// Posted by Abbey on 02/12/2012 (3:00 PM)

The discussions about a car that drives itself and the potential need to “unplug” from all technological sources in our lives piqued my interest about the war the United States seems to have going concerning cell phone use while driving.… Read more

The discussions about a car that drives itself and the potential need to “unplug” from all technological sources in our lives piqued my interest about the war the United States seems to have going concerning cell phone use while driving. Would a car that drives itself be more safe from the standpoint of leaving us to be free to engage in whatever technologies we want while “driving”? How could we ever be sure that the car could really drive and react the way a person would? Is it really safe? All of these questions are still at the forefront of my mind. However, after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about things called “Connected Cars” that are now being designed to be able to tweet, check Facebook, purchase movie tickets, etc., I can’t imagine that a car that drives itself could be less safe than a car which is inviting its driver to engage in touch screen controls for social media sites while driving. Joe White, a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal, gives an interview on these new cars:

 

 

In the interview, Joe White states, “This technology race that used to be around safety is moving around into this arena of connecting your car to the cloud.” The fact that people are no longer capable of “unplugging,” even if just for a 15 minute drive, is also discussed in the context of this new realm that car companies have entered in which integrating technology into the driving experience is crucial for success. It is described as “safer distracted driving,” but safer than what? I am skeptical that looking at your phone screen is much less safe than fiddling with a touchscreen in front of you that is built into your car. Why grant people the ability to tweet or check Facebook while driving at all? I think this technology may be enabling more people to engage in distracted driving because those who may not be likely to check their phone may be tempted to begin using the technology that is built into the car. The interviewer in this video describes this new integration of social media into cars as “like groups who give heroin addicts clean needles…and at least with that you can say that it’s a real addiction, this is just feeding people’s need to tweet, it seems a little excessive.”

 

I can’t say which mode of engaging in technology while driving is “safer,” but this new race to integrate it into the driving experience poses an important question: why do you think, despite so much backlash about cell phone usage while driving, corporate America is giving in to this craving for technology? I guess making money is the obvious answer. Why is it that, despite knowing how much more likely we are to get in an accident while using a cell phone, we still refuse to let go of them? Why do we insist on finding different ways to integrate technology instead of giving up and accepting that driving is simply safer without it? Why is society “willing to absorb that cost, that safety risk, because we view this as important for the way we live our lives”? Why is it so important?


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If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em.

// Posted by Abbey on 01/29/2012 (5:53 PM)

The discussions of “Spacewar” and Stewart Brand’s idea of hackers made me think more about what hacking has become today in both the forms of social stereotypes as well as financial gains. I began to research the broad topic of… Read more

The discussions of “Spacewar” and Stewart Brand’s idea of hackers made me think more about what hacking has become today in both the forms of social stereotypes as well as financial gains. I began to research the broad topic of “hacking” and found the issue continually being linked to the keywords “national security” and “youth.” It’s interesting that hackers today are reported to be so young and often times socially maladjusted, let alone potential threats to certain global forms of security. I watched a TedTalk given by Misha Glenny on these hacking youths and he reached a somewhat controversial conclusion: hire them.

 

Misha Glenny: Hire the hackers!

 

I guess it’s a new and improved version of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”… If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em. In the TedTalk Glenny discusses first the group Anonymous, which does not use their hacked information for financial gain. They are more of a social activist network of hackers who are acting with a purpose for change, not money. Glenny then talks about another group, Carderplanet, which began about 10 years ago. Carderplanet is a group of Ukranian hackers who developed a website which Glenny says “lead to the industrialization of cyber crime.” This website invited cyber criminals to buy and sell stolen credit card information as well as was a hub for learning about new hacking technologies and strategies. Glenny describes what Carderplanet became as a “supermarket for cyber criminals” in which people could, for a buy-in fee, gain access to stolen credit card information or sell stolen information they had. The network of hacking knowledge was used solely for financial gain, a major way in which Carderplanet is different from Anonymous. In the discussion of Carderplanet, Glenny talks about a contact he had with one of its members who was making $150,000 a week by using stolen credit card information in ATMs. “Tax free, of course,” as Glenny puts it.

Glenny goes on to discuss the facts surrounding what we know about how hackers come to be; people learn hacking skills in their early to mid teenage years, generally have advanced skills in math and the sciences, and do not demonstrate very good social skills in the real world. These are important facts to note because the young age as well as diminished social skills indicates that their moral compass has not had a chance to fully develop when they are learning these new skills. They feel somewhat of a disconnect with their surrounding social environment and may not even be fully aware that what they are doing is wrong. This is one main reason that Glenny feels it is wrong to incarcerate these young hackers–instead, he suggests that we “engage and find ways of offering guidance to [hackers] because they are a remarkable breed–if we rely solely on the criminal justice system and the threat of punitive sentences, we will be nurturing a monster we cannot tame.” Essentially, if you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em.

This idea, in theory, is not a new one. Although it is illegal to hack, I personally believe that it will always exist. Just as people will always break the speed limit, people will always hack. An important question can then be asked: could teaching basic forms of computer science to children in early years of school create hackers that may cause more harm than good, or will the children who will eventually become hackers find their way to it anyway? If it were a possibility that making computer science a part of early schooling would create more opportunities for children to become hackers, would it still be worthwhile? Do you agree that we should hire the hackers to work for us? Do you think this strategy would work?

 

Misha Glenny TedTalk: Hire the hackers!


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