Category: Technology

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Hockney, Phones, and Is It Art?

Payphones DeYoungI was lucky enough to visit friends in the Bay Area and go to the de Young David Hockney exhibit. It is a large exhibit that starts on the bottom floor and moves up to another. In between you pass through a store for the exhibit. Beyond that I saw some other unintentional art. Three pay phones. 50 cents a call. I assume they worked. Didn’t touch. Might have been an installation of quaint technology.

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Public Domain? We ain’t got no Public Domain. We don’t need no Public Domain! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ Public Domain!

With apologies to B. Traven and John Huston, I note that Duke’s Center for the Public Domain has a nice post about what might have been in the public domain. In my paper The Life and Death of Copyright, I go over how a few authors rallied with American interests to extend copyright term. I also show that no matter which of the main theories one looks to for IP, none supports copyright after death. None.

In other words, folks who usually disagree about all sorts of nuances in copyright, (It’s labor! It’s the personhood! It’s utilitarian!) converge on, or at least have no good support for copyright after death. Paul Heald’s work shows that the dreaded under-production myth is just that, a myth. Aram Sinnreich’s The Piracy Crusade just came out and gets into the problems with locking up work. I’ve just started it, but his run through history, sociology, and more looks to be a great addition to the literature in this space.

So it’s a new year. Old fights are with us. New ones will come. The sun also rises. Time for naked lunch.

(Note: Burroughs claimed the phrase, Naked Lunch, meant a “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” or the truth albeit ugly).

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Tech Literacy: One more of my end of year, bookmarked to share posts

A few weeks back Juliet Walters wrote an op-ed called the The Code Life. I had read the Eggers excerpt of The Circle and thought it was odd; odd because having worked at Google and been in the Valley, his portrayal was not that creepy. It was just corporate America. Office Space alone captures the be all you can as part of a team which may not value you (cue Lorde to contrast and for irony). Walters goes further. She has tried coding as a way to understand and take some control over her life. She used Code Academy to learn coding and found

Yes, programming is challenging, frustrating and often tedious. But it offers satisfactions that are not unlike those of writing. The elegant loops of logic, the attention to detail, the mission of getting the maximum amount of impact from the fewest possible lines, the feeling of making something engaging from a few wispy, abstract ideas — these challenges were familiar to me as a critic. By my third month, I had internalized a new logic, a different way of looking at information. By the time summer came around, I was learning about good web design by constructing web applications, taking them from simple prototypes to something sophisticated enough to test with users. And by the end of the course, I knew the basic structure of computer operating systems.

For me, even reading computer science papers and theory has given me a better, deeper appreciation for the tech world, how it works, and policy debates (both worthwhile and frivolous). And I was happy to read Walters re-calibrated her life:

The biggest surprise has been the recovery of the feeling that my mind is once again my own. The “always-on” agenda of mobile technology, now visible to me in the very design of the devices, could not manipulate me as easily. Where my devices were interrupting my work or my life in these ways, I’ve had an easier time filtering and controlling them.

It’s also become more obvious to me how to use social media to enrich my life, not unravel it. For one, I don’t waste time trying to “catch up” on a Twitter or Facebook feed, any more than I would waste time ringing the doorbell of every person in my neighborhood every day.

With understanding comes more reasoned responses to technology and how it fits into our life. When Walters write she sympathizes with Eggers and Franzen (another tech critic) but rejected their tribalism and embrace of “techno-illiteracy.” Her example is a call for STEM without being explicit. I hope to add some Code Academy to my learning list this year. I don’t always get to such goals, but Walters, a humanities type, like me, found a world I like too. Coding may not set us free, but it may open the door to new freedoms. Tech literacy should at least help stop the real threat of those who misuse technology by allowing us to offer other options and to call B.S. on tech utopianism, and thus counter the downside of technology more than we suspect.

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We Will All Be Jaime Sommers – 3D printing ears

Thanks to 3D printing and advances in material sciences, questions I had a few years ago about what data is sent, how we are regulated, and of course illusive ownership are hitting home for biomedical, implanted devices. I wrote about some of these issues in a short piece about the implications of a post-human world. I thought about implanted medical devices and the idea that we are becoming appliances with all the contracts and data issues we see online moving to the body.

On the one hand, I love some of the outcomes of this engineering. For example, what if we all could be the Bionic Woman? Michael McAlpine of Princeton may be making it so that anyone could have a bionic ear, and he wants to improve us even more. He is engineering:

a synthetic ear made with a 3-D bioprinter, is a realization of that vision. The complex biomechanical structure was fabricated by depositing live cells and conductive silver in layers. It started as an exploration of material properties, but commercial applications started to appear rapidly. He discovered that cochlear implants, a leading treatment for those with some hearing impairment, are made by hand in a slow and laborious process with costs to match.

His work draws on the way hearing works. The interface sends “the electronic signal right into your medula and brings us one step closer to a world where we can learn kung fu by plugging into a computer.” That idea is fantastic (as in fantasy) but his main point, “It will just be considered normal that you have electronics embedded in your body, … You won’t think its weird that a door will just open up as you walk towards it. We will become cyborgs and it will be seen as just a normal thing” connects to my piece.

So on the other hand, as these changes move forward, we will have to consider what is control over health and other data that may come from within us. Security and hacking will take on new dimensions. I also think that class will play a role. If devices and surgery are expensive but “natural” will only the rich get to have them? Will the poor be stuck sneaking steroids will the privileged pay for dexterity enhancement?

I don’t think dystopia is ahead. I think these questions are the right and fun ones to consider and manage. Again the New Year looks good.

P.S. Jamie Boyle’s Shamans, Software, and Spleens is ever more relevant, as we move into the next technology era.

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Digital Death – What Happens to Your Digital Stuff

What happens to your to your email and other digital content after you die? That question continues to pop up. Back in 2008, I wondered about the issue in a paper called Property, Persona, and Preservation. I noticed a sort of cloud effect. Once we moved email to the web, we were distanced from our creations. For those interested in the theories behind my argument, read the whole paper. But if you want to skip to the policy and application material, skip to part III starting at page 111.

In fact, while I was at Google, Google and a few other email providers started to come up with ways to let heirs access content and to let creators of content signal whether they wanted that work to be shared with heirs. Those solutions tracked some ideas I offered. I am not sure whether the paper was part of their reading but was happy to see the changes. Nonetheless as Pew shows, how we preserve, protect, and control that work will continue to be a problem. The Pew report notes that states and the Uniform Law Commission are starting to come up with laws to address digital estate issues. I will write a follow up to this post, but for now, I offer that any solution should allow Service Providers the ability to set defaults and users to alter them. In short, if someone wants to have an email account for things he or she would rather not have known, the user should be able to click a setting that says “This email account will self-destruct upon the provision of a death certificate.” Now we might want to let an executor verify these wishes and so on rather than relying on Service Provider’s insight or discretion. Still a clear signal about what one wants can be built into how we preserve or destroy our digital history.

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Peer review, replication, and thankless tasks

Peer review and the ability to test claims are powerful but not infallible. The video (here) from The Economist covers the way science and peer review may not be great or as reliable as we hope or believe. In short, industry such as pharmaceuticals, may draw on academia, but the research cannot be replicated. Pharma has revealed that issue. Many who think about this issue know that replication and verification is not well-rewarded, and so the scientific method may not live up to its potential. The chat also gets into some nice issues regarding statistics and false positives. It also looks at the failure of peer reviewers to do their jobs as well as desired (for example, not catching errors that one journal inserted as a test). And, peer review is not about reviewing the raw data.

I wonder whether open data sets as Victoria Stodden has described them will help here. It may be that modeling and other software approaches will be able to test the raw data and examine the method of collection to note it limits and find errors. Who knows? Maybe replication can be automated so that people could focus on the new work and machines can deal with the drudgery of “Yes, that is correct.”

UPDATE: I noticed that The Economist has an autoplay ad. That is lame. I have removed the embedded video but still recommend going to the site to watch it.

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More Patent Fun, New York Times and another DC event

My paper with Gerard Magliocca made the New York Times in a piece called “Beyond 3-D Printers’ Magic, Possible Legal Wrangling,” and the fun continues. With patent reform on the table (pdf to the bill), the New America Foundation is holding a conference called Just How Broken Is the Patent System?. I will be on the kick-off panel with my friend Adam Mossoff. After some jousting over patents, property, and more with the help of Annie Lowery, the day will turn to industry folks, policy wonks, and more professors, to get into health and patents, green innovation, patent assertion, fixes to the patent system, and a keynote by Maureen K. Ohlhausen, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission.

It promises to be a fun day. Hope to see folks there.

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Drones, Amazon, Pizza, and More

As I saw that Amazon is tinkering with drone delivery, I thought “How very Stephenson” and that the opening of Snow Crash tracked the idea of 30 minutes or less delivery. Of course, others thought of this connection overnight. And although Fox News hyped the idea as the Senate holding hearings on Amazon and Drones (“Senate to hold hearing to discuss Amazon package delivery drones“), the hearings were already in place as Fox reports. The Amazon glory is icing on the cake of let’s freak out about drones. And, yes, there are reasons to think about drones and what, if anything, should be done to regulate them. In this post I am more interested in the labor issues. Chris Taylor’s thoughts at Mashable get into this question. There are many limits to the tech. But as I wrote before, Amazon strikes me as well-placed to press into new ways to use this sort of technology to reduce its labor needs. Local distribution sites, same day or now maybe within an hour delivery, maybe on-demand printing of books (or 3D things), and Amazon could yet again change shopping. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case about forcing retailers to collect taxes even when they have no presence in a state. Amazon’s response of moving into states and taking on local retailers may prove to increase competition locally and in an ironic twist the idea that imposing taxes would be fair may prove to be what eats at local businesses more than expected.

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Search Engine Objectivity

(This is a guest post from Professor Mark R. Patterson of Fordham Law School. As someone who has participated in panels on antitrust with Prof. Patterson, I thought our readers would be interested in his perspective. –Frank Pasquale.)

pattersonM“Search is inherently subjective: it always involves guessing the diverse and unknown intentions of users. Regulators, however, need an objective standard to judge search engines against.”

The two claims above, from an essay by James Grimmelmann, are at the center of the conflict over regulation of search engines. Some argue that Google is a powerful gatekeeper for competing firms’ access to customers, so that it must operate in an objective or neutral manner to preserve a level competitive playing field. Those who make this argument necessarily assume that we can assess objectivity or neutrality in this context. Others, like Grimmelmann, support the first statement above, arguing that there is no objective, neutral means of assessing search results, so that there is no way to regulate search engines.

The European Commission (EC), having investigated Google’s practices and concluded that there are “competition concerns,” is apparently on the pro-regulation side, because it is entertaining proposed commitments from Google to address those concerns. (The U.S. F.T.C. conducted its own investigation and closed it without action, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that Google’s practices lacked a legitimate business justification.) Google proposed a first set of commitments to the EC in April, but the Commission received “very negative” feedback from a market test of those commitments, so it asked Google for an improved proposal. Last month, Google proposed a second set of commitments. This new proposal was not put to a market test. Instead, the EC sent private inquiries to the complainants in the case and other market participants. Nevertheless, the proposal was leaked, and it offers much food for thought.

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