Category: Technology

0

AIBOs as Test Objects

aibo.jpgSherry Turkle teaches psychology at MIT, and is one of the leading scholars in the social dimensions of digital culture. Her book, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, was written in 1995 (an epoch ago in Internet years) but is still probably the most perceptive and well-written (in my opinion) treatments of the psychological dimensions of human-computer interaction. In it, Turkle quotes a statement by Emmerson that dreams and beasts are “test objects” — “two keys by which we are to find out the secrets of our nature.” Turkle adds computers as a new form of test object — she argues that in our attempts to negotiate the meaning of digital objects and spaces, we will face important decisions about who we are, individually and collectively.

As an interesting update to the “test object” notion, see this page from the University of Washington’s Value Sensitive Design Research Lab, and scroll down to the section on Human-Robotic Interaction. There is a wonderful set of papers on the way people relate to AIBOs — the electronic dogs that Sony manufactures. The AIBO is interesting because it is doubly a test object — a virtual dog. The researchers sample human interactions with the AIBO to assess how they differ from interactions with real dogs or inanimate (stuffed) dogs. For instance, do people perceive any ethical issues with regard to the treatment of a robotic dog? Most don’t, though some do. This is from a message board:

WHAT!? They Actualy THREW AWAY aibo, as in the GARBAGE?!! That is outragious! That is so sick to me! Goes right up there with Putting puppies in a bag and than burying them! OHH I feel sick…

But while (I think) most would agree it is silly to treat an AIBO even remotely like a dog, is there anything else to say about AIBO ethics? The authors state that AIBO owners seem to garner some of the psychological benefits of having a pet from a relationship with an AIBO — yet most feel entirely free to ignore it whenever is convenient or desirabe to do so. Which is interesting, considering that we’ll soon have generations of children growing up with richly interactive electronic companions as toys. What might they learn from the availability of such switch on/switch off “real” imaginary friends?

And if you want a legal-doctrinal spin on these questions, see Ian Kerr’s recent paper on e-commerce law: Bots, Babes and the Californication of Commerce: Are we tricked into buying things by electronic babes?

2

FBI Virus

fbi1.bmpI just got a humorous virus email. It’s from admin@fbi.gov with this message:

Dear Sir/Madam,

we have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal Websites.

Important:

Please answer our questions!

The list of questions are attached.

Yours faithfully,

Steven Allison
Federal Bureau of Investigation -FBI-
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3220
Washington, DC 20535
phone: (202) 324-3000

Of course, the list of questions attached is a file containing a virus. I’m dying to see the questions, but alas . . . my email program stripped out the virus-laden file.

0

Searching the Internet: It’s the Hip Thing to Do

google.jpgIt’s news to make Google even happier as it proceeds in its plans to conquer the world. According to a PEW study, more and more people are searching the Internet with a search engine each day:

The most recent findings from Pew Internet & American Life tracking surveys and consumer behavior trends from the comScore Media Metrix consumer panel show that about 60 million American adults are using search engines on a typical day.

These results from September 2005 represent a sharp increase from mid-2004. Pew Internet Project data from June 2004 show that use of search engines on a typical day has risen from 30% of the internet population to 41%. This means that the number of those using search engines on an average day jumped from roughly 38 million in June 2004 to about 59 million in September 2005 – an increase of about 55%.

comScore data show that from September 2004 to September 2005 the average daily use of search engines jumped from 49.3 million users to 60.7 million users – an increase of 23%.

This means that the use of search engines is edging up on email as a primary internet activity on any given day. The Pew Internet Project data show that on a typical day, email use is still the top internet activity. On any given day, about 52% of American internet users are sending and receiving email.

Related Posts:

1. Solove, When Google Is King

Hat tip: beSpacific

1

Wex

wex.gif

Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute recently launched WEX, “a collaboratively built, freely available legal dictionary and encyclopedia.” Sounds peachy. What is it?

According to an email which has been circulating from the Tom Bruce, Director of the LII [who kindly gave me permission to quote]:

At the risk of sounding a little more diffident than perhaps I should, I’ll say that we’ve just put something sorta new and very interesting on the LII site. It’s called WEX, and we are hoping that it will grow into a very ambitious and interesting project indeed — interesting and ambitious enough that we should be trumpeting it from the housetops, I suppose, but for the moment we’re confining ourselves to low-key conversations with our friends and supporters. Hence this note.

WEX . . . will be the first collaboratively edited legal encyclopedia and dictionary on the web, aimed specifically at law novices.

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7

Does Anything Really Disappear from the Internet?

magician1.jpgI just posted about the Wayback Machine and that got me wondering whether anything really disappears from the Internet when it is deleted. Certainly, a ton gets archived in the Wayback Machine as well as in Google cache and in RSS readers. Of course, if something appears on the Internet, somebody could see it and copy it before it gets taken down.

But I was wondering to what extent information can vanish completely from the Internet. Thus, if a blogger posts something and then deletes it a minute later, can it escape from permanent fame? Maybe some ill-fated performances might be so brief that they can sneak on and off the Internet without being caught. What about a comment to a blog post that gets zapped quickly by the blog author? Can this escape becoming part of some permanent record?

The question, put another way: Can something posted briefly on the Internet, seen and heard by hardly anyone, not snatched up by anybody, and then deleted, be gone forever? Is there an Internet equivalent to a tree falling in the forest that nobody hears?

I don’t know the answer to this question, and I would like to hear from those with more technical expertise.

UPDATE: People with expertise have answered, and their replies are worth checking out if you’re interested in the issue.

2

What’s On the Net Stays on the Net: Thoughts on the Wayback Machine

waybackmachine.jpgSteve Vladeck (law, Miami) visiting at PrawfsBlawg tells an interesting anecdote about the Internet Archive, otherwise known as the “Wayback Machine.” Steve writes about a student who discovered his childhood pictures:

Well, apparently that cute idea I had for a webpage when I was a freshman in college, including the fun pictures page, didn’t die quite the fiery death I had hoped for it upon graduating (or, to be more honest, one month after last updating it in the fall of my sophomore year).

So, new law prawfs, beware!! If there’s a cute, funny webpage all about you from somewhere out there in the Internet ether, your students will find it… what they do with it, well, I’m just glad I kept some of the college photos off the page.

Sobering thoughts for any blogger before clicking on the “publish” button.

According to the Wayback Machine’s FAQ:

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5

Your Microsoft Word Documents Can Rat on You

metadata1a.jpgMany people don’t realize that Microsoft Word encodes information about the authors and editors of each document. It’s called “metadata.” For example, some of this data is contained under the “Properties” section of the “File” pull down menu.

An article in the New York Times describes what can be revealed when metadata is examined:

It hardly ranks in the annals of “gotcha!” but right-wing blogs were buzzing for at least a few days last week when an unsigned Microsoft Word document was circulated by the Democratic National Committee. The memo referred to the “anti-civil rights and anti-immigrant rulings” of Samuel A. Alito Jr., a federal appeals court judge who has been nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bush.

The stern criticisms of Judge Alito rubbed some commentators the wrong way (Chris Matthews of MSNBC called it “disgusting” last Monday). But whatever the memo’s rhetorical pitch, right-leaning bloggers revealed that it contained a much more universal, if unintended, message: It pays to mind your metadata. . . .

According to some technologists, including Dennis M. Kennedy, a lawyer and consultant based in St. Louis, (denniskennedy.com), metadata might include other bits of information like notes and questions rendered as “comments” within a document (“need to be more specific here,” for example, or in the case of my editors, “eh??”), or the deletions and insertions logged by such features as “track changes” in Microsoft Word.

A blogger searched the Alito memo for metadata and could figure out some of the authors of the document. According to the NYT story:

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5

The arms race continues in the Spam wars

We’re getting a new wave of spam comments like this one:

IP Address: 195.39.170.102

Name: Thomas Miller

Email Address: Alex@gmail.com

Comments:

Two thumbs up!!! thins that excited you at 14: http://www.panasonic.com , [a href=”http://www.sun.com”]my parents didnt told me about it[/a] , [a href=”http://www.apple.com” rel=”itsok”]think that will make relief [/a]

What in the world is going on here? Are the spammers really shilling for Sun, Yahoo, and Panasonic?

Nope. The newest wave of comments is a sophisticated long-term attack by the smart big spammers. They are designed not to advertise for the mainstream sites in question, but rather to compromise the blacklists that are becoming more effective against spam.

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5

Why Blawging is Bad For Law

Hello Folks.

I’ve joined Co-Op today from Prawfsblawg. This is by my count the fifth time I’ve introduced myself at a new blog-home. That makes me a bit of an itinerant blogger. It is also pretty ironic, because I generally think that the institution of blogging/blawging threatens to fundamentally disrupt some very valuable aspects of how law is currently organized, administered and transmitted.

To take an example I posted on recently on Prawfs, consider what happens to the common law when the primary sources which form its skeleton — judicial opinions – become the fodder for the entertainment of an audience of millions of eager web-surfers. Yes, I’m talking about you, Howard. It isn’t that How Appealing, and like blawgs, are bad. Indeed, I visit Howard’s blawg every day, and it is an invaluable resource. It is that Howard’s popularity, and the increasing linking of opinions by the MSM-online, provides incentives for judges to write witty, funny, entertaining, short, glib opinions, instead of careful, boring, technically precise ones. That is, to the extent that lower-court judges want to be noticed and profiled by (kind of silly) websites like these, it makes sense to be more like Scalia and Douglas than Souter and Rutledge.

Some might protest: surely federal judges don’t care much about having their opinions widely publicized? They have life tenure, and they care only about not being reversed. But the motivations of federal judges seem to me to be an open question, and I think that if I could somehow chart the growth of funny and media friendly opinions, we’d see a small bump beginning with the introduction of WL and a huge increase in the last five years.

So, why is this bad?

To find out, you’ll have to visit here again, as I will be retuning to this topic soon.

2

Making Universities Pay for Government Surveillance

computer-surveillance.jpg.gifIn 1994, Congress passed a law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which requires telecommunication providers to build wiretapping and surveillance capabilities for law enforcement officials into their new technologies.

A recent rulemaking by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) significanty expands the reach of CALEA beyond telephone companies and ISPs:

The federal government, vastly extending the reach of an 11-year-old law, is requiring hundreds of universities, online communications companies and cities to overhaul their Internet computer networks to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to monitor e-mail and other online communications.

The action, which the government says is intended to help catch terrorists and other criminals, has unleashed protests and the threat of lawsuits from universities, which argue that it will cost them at least $7 billion while doing little to apprehend lawbreakers. . . .

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