Xenobots | Living Robots

“Researchers in the US have created the first living machines by assembling cells from African clawed frogs into tiny robots that move around under their own steam…’They are living, programmable organisms.’…Their unique features mean that future versions of the robots might be deployed to clean up microplastic pollution in the oceans, locate and digest toxic materials, deliver drugs in the body or remove plaque from artery walls, the scientists say.”

—Ian Sample, “Researchers foresee myriad benefits for humanity, but also acknowledge ethical issues.” The Guardian. January 13, 2020.

What could possibly go wrong? Also: xenobots.

The Frailest Thing: Ten Years of Thinking About the Meaning of Technology by L. M. Sacasas

“In the fall of 2009, as the age of blogs was already fading, I launched The Frailest Thing as a space to think out loud as I worked my way through a graduate program in technology studies. In the years since, I sought to think about the challenges posed by emerging technologies, particularly digital media, in light of insights offered by scholars and thinkers from a variety of disciplines, past and present. Lewis Mumford, Neil Postman, Hannah Arendt, Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, Langdon Winner, and Walter Ong are among the those whose work has informed my analysis and reflection as I sought to clarify the political, cultural, and moral consequences of technological change. Ten years and 800 posts later, it was time to bring the enterprise to a close. 

What you have here are 100 dispatches spanning that decade of thinking and writing about how technology sustains, mediates, and conditions our experience. These are the essays that, in my view, have remained useful exercises in thinking about the meaning of technology. Prominent themes include the relationship of technology to politics, memory and time, ethics, and the experience of the self.

I’ve made the work available at no cost, you’re welcome to it. You are also able to pay whatever amount you like for it, should you so desire. Either way, if you find the work helpful, consider letting others know about it and rating the e-book here. 

Thanks for reading.

-L. M. Sacasas, “The Frailest Thing: Ten Years of Thinking About the Meaning of Technology.”

How to Properly Clean Your Laptop

“Cleaning a laptop is arguably more tedious than cleaning a desktop. You have to clean the keyboard, the internals, the screen, and the case itself. Still, you can easily give your laptop a makeover in under one hour, provided you have canned air, some 90%-100% isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs, and a microfiber cloth.”

-Andrew Heinzman, “How to Properly Clean Your Gross Laptop.” HowToGeek.com. July 2, 2019.

Standard Ebooks: Free and Liberated ebooks

“Standard Ebooks is a volunteer driven, not-for-profit project that
produces new editions of public domain ebooks that are lovingly
formatted, open source, and free.

Ebook projects like Project Gutenberg transcribe ebooks and make them available for the widest number of reading devices. Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style manual, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to create a new edition that takes advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.”

https://standardebooks.org/

Exceptional Access to Encrypted Communications

Bob Barr has recently added his voice to the ongoing call of law enforcement to provide exceptional access to encrypted communications. Here’s why that’s not going to work.

“Exceptional access — as governments propose — is the problem of making a system selectively secure. I can tell you, it’s hard enough to make a secure system. It’s vastly harder to make a system secure except for governments, and only available to governments that consist of ‘democratically elected representatives and [a] judiciary’ as the GCHQ authors imagine.”

—Jon Callas, “The ‘Ghost User’ Ploy to Break Encryption Won’t Work.” DavisVanguard.org. July 24,2019.

Is being able to access the encrypted communications of everyone enough? Between the drone’s Gorgon Stare above, the Ring camera on every other front door for police to access, televisions tracking every show being watched, phones and digital assistants listening in on conversations, fitness trackers as evidence in court cases, Stringray and other technology for phone tracking, license plate readers to track vehicle movement over time, surveillance balloons and so on, it feels to me like the police and military are a little under-powered these days.

I was promised a camera in my television watching my every move, a Room 101 for not sufficiently toeing the line and a boot stomping on a face of humanity forever. Was Uncle Orwell lying to me?

Vertiwalk: An Alternative to Stairs

“Vertical Walking is a new system to move yourself between floors in a building. By exploiting the potential of the human body and materials, only a fraction of effort is required, compared to taking stairs. No external energy is needed.”

http://www.vertiwalk.com

The intersection of how making things working for folks that are differently abled due to disease, age or some other issue and how that opens up new ways of looking at things for everyone else is really interesting. In the United States, your lifetime chance of dying from a fall is 1 in 114. The CDC states: “Every second of every day in the United States an older adult falls, making falls the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans, [for a total of 27,000 each year].

Changing the stair paradigm could make our residences much safer. It would also open up new architectural options.

A (Relatively Easy to Understand) Primer on Elliptic Curve Cryptography | Ars Technica

“If you just want the gist, here’s the TL;DR version: [Elliptical Curve Crytography,] ECC is the next generation of public key cryptography, and based on currently understood mathematics, it provides a significantly more secure foundation than first-generation public key cryptography systems like RSA. If you’re worried about ensuring the highest level of security while maintaining performance, ECC makes sense to adopt. If you’re interested in the details, read on.”

—Nick Sullivan. ” A (relatively easy to understand) primer on elliptic curve cryptography.” Ars Technica. October 24, 2013.

Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us | WIRED

“Each of us has our precious things, and as we care for them we locate the essence of our humanity.”

—Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” Wired. April 2000.

Figured it was time to revisit this old classic and get a feel for how prescient it was almost 20 years on. Still feels right on, particularly around CRISPR. The problems of runaway nanotechnology still seems far off, but it’s visible on the horizon.

Open question: Can technology’s risk of causing human extinction be mitigated?