Friday, October 20, 2017

Securing the Noosphere

Russian Facebook ads featured anti-immigrant messages, puppies, women with rifles
Oct 2017, Ars Technica

The study of memetics as the spreading of information, and articles about the science of psychological influence of narratives as studied by DARPA, are just some of the posts that have come up here on Network Address. (See the Post Script below.)

Many years prior two us seeing something like this happen (Russian Facebook election interference), something which is very easily understood by a lot of people, and the threat of which is also very easily understood by a lot of people. Totally not into scaremongering, but definitely into the study of memetics and how it works. As we can see now, it is a very important topic.

It should be noted here that the contagion theory of memetics propogation has been deflated as of late. It's just too simple. There's lots of work being done on what makes a thing viral, and it gets less and less to do with infectious disease theory. Something about affect and timing and network distribution.

Regardless, the infectious disease model was never the one used for memetics. By its very name in fact, memes were thought to behave as genes (and were thus named by Richard Dawkins in his 1982 book, The Extended Phenotype). The 90's saw some other folks pick up the idea and write some books, but by the eearly 2000's it was dead. Leading up to 2010, it became a sort-of underground thing, thanks to the ease of creation and transmission of the macro image series (this is, perhaps, the formal name for this instantiation of a meme). The meme - the new meme, not so much as Dawkins described it, but as a macro image series specifically - seems to have thoroughly saturated mainstream culture, as evidences by the fact that your mom probably makes them and shares them with her friends. Or in other words, memes are mainstream because Russian digital soldiers are making them and sharing them with scared, synapse-deficient Americans.

Anyway, hopefully the meme is getting its due recogntion, and hopefully it can be seen not just as a funny picture, but the unit of cultural transmission that it was intended to represent. 

image source

Post Script
Recombinant Memetics and Narrative Networks
Network Address, 2013
No surprise, DARPA's been doing research on narratives for quite some time now; how else to explain the process of inculturation perpetrated on susceptible patriots by terrorists?

The Inward Turn of the Narrative
Network Address, 2012
1970's book by German scholar Erich Kahler, whose view of the modern world is “the steady evolution of consciousness in the direction of the demythification and secularization of wider and wider areas of human life”. Good read on cultural complexification

The Meme Wars Instruction Manual May Be Written By Robots
Network Address, 2013

Thought Contagion
Network Address, 2012
Summary of a book about how belief spreads through society (the new science of memes)
Aaron Lynch, 1996

And this one is just for fun, and for the art history folk out there:
The Macro Image Series and the Dematerialization of Artifact
Network Address, 2013

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Zero Mind

DeepDream is still the greatest thing to come out of artificial intelligence neural nets.

Today is a twofer. Not only has it occured to us that AI needs ethics training, but it turns out that in order to do some things, it needs no training from us at all.

Alphabet's DeepMind forms ethics unit for artificial intelligence
Oct 2017,

First of all, I don't know about you, but I need Human Subjects Research (HSR) training before I can conduct experiments involving humans. Regardless, the AI region of the Google empire now has a way to question and guide the ethical implications of its human-like thinking machines. (Wait a minute, doesn't that name belong to IBM?)

This is probably a good thing, since they already control the stock market (high frequency trading), and your social life (no explanation necessary). I just hope they have a diverse staff there on the ethics panel, because well, does anyone remember the Google gorilla fail?

How about the one where hundreds of bots were released on twitter in a competition to see who could make the most convincing human-analog, but then some of the algorithms were so good that some people started to flirt with them, and the creators really had to ask themselves when or how they should break it to the poor souls? Those were the early days of experimenting on people via the digital world (2011).

In fact, the head of those experiments, Tim Hwang was very recently named director of the Ethics and Governance of AI Fund, which does research on ethics and AI.

Having covered that, it comes out simultaneously that Google's same DeepMind (the one that did DeepDream and AlphaGo) has now taken unsupervised learning to the final frontier. Instead of teaching the program what to do or even how to learn, they let the thing figure out for itself how to play the game of Go, and it still beats the human. Done. They call it AlphaGo Zero, because it starts with nothing.

Google DeepMind: AI becomes more alien
Oct 2017, BBC

Post Script
Social Bots
Network Address, 2012

Fake Data Police

A fancy tin foil hat is still a tin foil hat.

Study claims vaccines-autism link; scientists find fake data, have rage stroke
Oct 2017, Ars Technica

It's that time of year to get your flu shot. Unless you're these two scientists, in which case you'll probably avoid the flu shot and take some homeopathic neurotoxins instead - because if you don't know you have the flu because you're brain is broken, then do you really have the flu??

On a serious note, however, it is really reaffirming to see that science works, and in particular because of that last step of the scientific method - peer review. I post this because it's a good example of a bad scientific article. It sounds scientific, and it looks scientific, with all those numbers and charts etc. But you can read right here the problems that many scientists have with it, and let it be a lesson on how to be critical when looking at science papers.

Beyond anything else, however, I would still take advice from Michael Shermer's Carl Sagan's Baloney Detector:

How reliable is the source of the claim?
Does the source make similar claims?
Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
Does this fit with the way the world works?
Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

Subcutaneous injections of aluminum at vaccine adjuvant levels activate innate immune genes in mouse brain that are homologous with biomarkers of autism
Dan Li, Lucija Tomljenovic, Yongling Li, Christopher A.Shaw
Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry
Volume 177, December 2017, Pages 39-54

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fake Fonts

"Font Detectives" Use Their Expertise to Solve High Stakes Cases
Sep 2017, WIRED

Interesting article about the folks who know fonts so well they are called upon to ferret fake documents, for example Barack Obama's birth certificate, the fake one that is. Something like forensic handwriting analysis but for computers (not really; sort of).

Speaking of which, I must relay a good story about handwriting analysis - I once decided to sell a Johnny Unitas signed football. Ebay requires certified signatures before selling, so I sent the football to a group who specialize in sports memorabilia signatures. These folks, the group of them together, know by heart every signature there is.

When I went to pick up my (now certified authentic) football, I got to talking about the nature of the job with a member of this group. I was cleaning out my parents' attic selling all my old stuff, including my sports memorabilia, including a Don Mattingly signed baseball. I was thinking about the possibility of my 9-year old self buying a fake baseball, and couldn't help but notice that Don Mattingly had the handwriting of a 4th grader, which looked suspicious to my now 35-year old self. I did a quick search and saw that his signature had in fact evolved over his career, from that of a 9-year old girl to that of a sleep-deprived doctor in an emergency room.

So I ask this sports-signature expert how they can really know all these signatures if they change all the time like that. But then he dropped this one on me - Muhammad Ali. As you may know, he suffers from brain damage, specifically Parkinson's, which as you may know, makes your hand shake uncontrollable. He continued to sign things that continued to be worth money until the end of his life, which required signature experts to continue to be able to identify it, and I shit you not this guy told me that they could identify a real Ali until the very end. I don't know about you, but I find that hard to believe, but then again, that's what experts are for.

Post Script:

The Ampersand - The 27th Letter
Network Address 2012
Marginally related to fonts

Very Distributed Computing

New type of supercomputer could be based on 'magic dust' combination of light and matter
Sep 2017,

A team of researchers from the UK and Russia have successfully demonstrated that a type of 'magic dust' which combines light and matter can be used to solve complex problems and could eventually surpass the capabilities of even the most powerful supercomputers.

image: 2001: Space Odyssey

Post Script

Weird Computers
Network Address 2013
Computers made of slime, crystals, and frozen light

Laws Meta Physical
Network Address 2013
The Matthew Effect, Zipf's Law, etc.

Monday, October 16, 2017

So Long Stabranja

Maybe it's all this Equifax bonanza stuff going down, but I thought a post about identity and security and automated account attacks would be appropriate.

I was very excited to be able to see my facebook account hacked in a (perhaps) methodical, slow attack that has left me unable to verify my own identity, i.e., access the account. I say perhaps because, perhaps, there is no method-making person behind this; maybe it's just a program following instructions. Regardless, I got to watch it happen, and I'd like to share.

In preface, it should be noted that here at Network Address, we certainly don't present ourselves as digital liberators, that is, computer hackers. However, the world that surrounds the activities of such folk are very interesting to us. Listening to Off the Hook on 99.5 WBAI and attending the HOPE conference at the Hotel Pennsylvania are a great source of the material seen on this site. If interested yourself, please look into these, they're very much worth it (The next HOPE is summer 2018, check it out...

Back to the matter. I wonder how common this is. I plan to do some research on this dating site that requires your fb as entry. I have many facebook accounts, and many from back in the day before you had to use real names. This one is Stabranja Bones, part of a project from  almost 10 years ago, about hick-hop (at the time this was something we made up, but it's apparently a thing now) and bronix (same, although it was called Brocabulary by reddit). So I access this dating site using one of my facebook accounts, unfortunately, a favorite that I'm sad to see taken away from me. Although, I'm glad I got to see it happen firsthand.

I'm on this dating site for a couple days, that's all I need. You know how these sites work, btw - if you leave your account vacant it will be used as a bot. There's no such thing as deactivating or deleting an account. Content has value and will not go to waste, no matter what you think or want. (Remember, when things are free, you're the one giving the value, not taking it.) We used to call this a zombie I guess, like you killed the account but someone else uses the empty shell, the carcass, to impersonate a real person. This makes the site look like they have more people than they really do, which makes the prospects of finding a date better, which makes the site more attractive, which makes it more likely that you'll pay for a subscription after your free trial. (If you're new to all this, just look into the Ashley Madison scandal, "angels" and "engagers" and etc.) So, I get into the habit of at least deleting all the uploaded pictures on the dating site account, posting new picutres of people that are certainly not me, and then "deactivating" it. I did this.

About a week later, I get a message from a friend of mine, one of the few people I have connected to the hacked fb account, and a person who, unlike myself, is active on facebook and notices these things - he asks me, in real life via text message, if I changed the profile picture on the facebook page. I did not. I assume that my tooling around with the dating site via the fb site had caused some inadvertent change. In the back of my mind, because I don't trust anything, I thought there was a possiblity that everything was already compromised.

About a week or two later I check back into the dating site, just to check up on things, since I was suspicious. I see a chubby Middle Eastern man has taken the place of my profile picture (which until then was a photo of a college friend of mine in drag), and yes, the dating site is still using my profile/account, but with this new chubby Middle Eastern guy as the primary avatar. I log back into fb and delete this guy's pic, and reinstate my old profile pic.

A month goes by. I then get an email stating that my password has been changed, if I didn't do that, I should check into it. I do. They're asking me to confirm my identity. They show me some pictures of "friends" to test whether I know them or not. Hmmm. Some of these people I don't recgnize (I only had 3 friends, this was a bogus account we did for fun, after all.) I fail the test. I try again. I fail again. I don't know these people. I'm locked out of the account forever.

I go back to my email account (a second account that I use for bogus accounts etc.). Gmail separates "social" emails to another page, so I haven't been seeing the updates from fb etc. I go into this "social" page of emails and see that my fb avatar has been accumulating friends for the past month. I imagine that friend requests are sent out by the hundreds, and someone, be they either real or not, is accepting. Now I have a whole bunch of "friends" who I don't know. And if this is going on for a month, and I'm not doing anything about it, then whoever is doing this (see me giving agency to an algorithm here?) is like "great, nobody's at the wheel, let's take control." My password gets changed.

I recall some time ago, my credit card company called me about potential fraud. Have you been to Florida recently, they asked. No. That's what we thought, you have some fraudulent charges, we're going to take them off and give you a new card number. How did you know, I asked. They bought hard hats from a Home Depot in Florida, and we thought that was strange. ... I thought it was strange that they thought that was strange. Anyway, they know this stuff better than I do, because once someone has stolen your credit card number, the first thing they do is to test it; they buy some stuff and see if they get flagged. They see if there's anyone behind the wheel. If not, it's all their's.

And now Stabranja is all theirs, whoever they are.


The next time you hear something like "Facebook has reached x million users," be aware that these are not real people. They're empty shells. Their "likes" are empty as well. Also, the next time you are deciding whether it's worth it to pay for a subscription to that dating site, many of those people are not real. That is to say, they may have been real at one time, but they are no longer; they are also empty shells. 

Post Script

etymology of Stabranja Bones:
Stabroned (brain + stoned) + ganja. Yup. Producer of Brody Lambone, hick-hop sensation.

The Semibots Are Coming
Network Address, 2015

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Physiodata at Large

Drone detects heartbeat and breathing rates
Sep 2017, BBC

The system detects movements in human faces and necks in order to accurately source heart and breathing rates.

In other words, facial recognition algorithms have now gone totally apeshit.

I guess they're just looking at your neck, and reading your pulse that way. Do our faces (our heads really) move in the rhythm of our breathing, so slight that we might not see it, but a robotic eye-brain?

Now that we can get live physiological data from large groups of people, simultaneously, and in realtime, just by looking at them, it's no time to forget that we can read the date on a dime on the sidewalk from a satellite in orbit.

In extrapolation, all I can think about is Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora (2015), where the multi-generational starship, equipped with a quantum computing AI instead of a captain, and after a civil war on the ship, finally "decides" that in some cases, it's better to let the air out of a biome than to let the people in it do harm to the ship, because, you know, for the greater good. The people don't die, at least most of them; instead they just get really, really tired and docile.

Narrative snippets have the ship dictating the "average pulse rate of the ship," meaning the average of every inhabitant of the ship,  data that an AI-equipped starship of the 22nd century can very capably know.

Who's about to riot? Those people with the quickening pulse, that's who. Face-recognition used to yield data on the outside, like your face. Now they can data from the inside. Maybe "angry faces" is easy to identify, and might be more predictive than pulse. Maybe it's the same things. But something about a drone I can't even see, knowing what's going on inside my body, makes me think we're already living in these science fiction novels.

image: Woody Allen on the couch in his 1977 film Annie Hall, BBC