Hot on the heels of that Second Life/digital identity documentary I shared earlier is news of another documentary exploring virtual themes, but of a very different kind. Have you heard of simulation theory? It’s like Second Life, but instead of being outside looking in, we’re on the inside wanting to look out.
Are we all living in the Matrix? Behind a documentary on simulation theory – The Guardian Coincidences we accept as quirks of chance are just imperfections in the system we’ve been plugged in to, whatever shape it might take. We could be brains in a vat, receiving electrical stimuli through wires manipulated by scientists, or perhaps we’re nothing more than bytes of data on some intelligent being’s hard drive. Plato posited that we could be shackled in a cave, mistaking the shadows on the wall for the things casting them. From VR video games to pop culture, any number of metaphors speak to the core concept of a dimension that can be seen through by those who know how to look. In the case of the more adventurous psychonauts accepting these figurative ideas as literal fact, some even attempt to control the illusion.
What is Simulation Theory? Do we live in a simulation? – Built In New York University philosophy professor David Chalmers has described the being responsible for this hyper-realistic simulation we may or may not be in as a “programmer in the next universe up,” perhaps one we mortals might consider a god of some sort — though not necessarily in the traditional sense. “[H]e or she may just be a teenager,” Chalmers said, “hacking on a computer and running five universes in the background… But it might be someone who is nonetheless omniscient, all-knowing and all-powerful about our world.”
Yes, as conspiracy theories go, it’s pretty out there. But think of it as just another whacky creation myth. I mean, do you really understand superstring theory and quantum entanglement? Nah, me neither.
Second Life Book Club – Second Life Meet book authors and discuss your favorite books at the Second Life Book Club, a series of literary-minded events. Draxtor Despres will bring established as well as up-and-coming authors, poets, publishers, and indie store owners together for virtual book discussions.
Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is Me – YouTube Filmmaker Bernhard Drax travels from Los Angeles to rural South England to explore why people ranging from 24 to 92 years of age find solace and inspiration in a user-created digital wonderland that only exists inside their computers. Drax sends his documentarian avatar Draxtor Despres into the virtual universe of Second Life as well as next generation VR platforms like High Fidelity and Sansar where he meets a 40-something disabled Chicago native feels best represented by a colorful superhero gecko and Cody LaScala – confined to a wheelchair his entire life – who makes his avatar an exact replica of his physical self.
Here are some crappy pics I took from last week’s Book Club event, with the sci-fi writer Julie Novakova. It’s all really piqued my interest in digital identities again, though I feel like such a newbie.
Do you remember Second Life? Not only is it still around, but it’s having something of a comeback, thanks to you-know-what.
Huck’s absolute beginner’s guide to Second Life for the coronavirus curious – What the Huck? Registrations are up. People are rediscovering Second Life. Which makes sense, because one of the first things you realise after a couple of days of self-isolation/working from home is just how much we all need contact with other human beings. It’s so important that we stay at home right now, but that doesn’t mean to say we have to stop socialising, and SL offers that possibility.
A message from our CEO: Coronavirus and Second Life operations – Second Life Community We are seeing an increase in new registrations and returning residents during this outbreak. Please be kind and welcoming to those who may just need a friendly conversation to escape from this crazy world for a moment or more. If you have a friend or colleague who is looking for a safe place to socialize online during these tough times, we encourage you to help them discover how Second Life can enable them to feel less isolated by connecting them to your favorite communities or experiences.
I had an account with Second Life for a while back in the late-naughties, and remember very little. The only link I have on here about it is this one from 2010, about a university’s virtual version of itself falling foul of Second Life’s codes of conduct. The Chronicle’s news story I was linking to isn’t there anymore, but I found this one from the same time.
California College loses Second Life for a second time – US News It was a pretty big deal, then, when Woodbury University, a small school in Burbank, Calif., got booted off Second Life for the second time in four years on Tuesday, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Woodbury was kicked out the first time in 2007. Linden Labs, which owns and oversees Second Life, didn’t give a specific reason for the ban, but the Chronicle story suggests that it had to do with accusations of vandalism and Woodbury’s ongoing dispute with another group on Second Life.
Here’s another write-up of that from 2010, going in to more detail.
Woodbury University banned from Second Life (again) – Krypton Radio The real life Woodbury University has been barred from having any official representation in Second Life since July of 2007, when the original Woodbury University region was first trashed by IntLibber Brautigan employee Maldavius Figtree and then completely destroyed less than a week later by Linden Lab itself. Linden Lab deleted the region and most of its users due to its use as a headquarters for planning and executing grid raids by the now inactive griefing group known as the Patriotic Nigras.
The ten year anniversary of all that was noted last year on the Second Life forums, so it must have been quite significant at the time.
I was surprised that this story was the only one on Second Life that I had shared here on this blog. As I explain on my About page, all these links are first gathered up on my Pinboard site, so I went back there to see if I had anything else from around that time. They were all from 2016, the first time I peeked back inside this curiously old-fashioned futuristic land.
Why is ‘Second Life’ still a thing? – Vice “As the VR market continues to grow, new experiences are introduced, and new hardware is released, we’re seeing many experiences and behaviors that reflect what Second Life users have been doing for years,” Altberg said. Indeed, the most surprising thing about Second Life is not that it’s still a thing, but that 13 years after its inception, it is still way ahead of its time.
The digital ruins of a forgotten future – The Atlantic Second Life was supposed to be the future of the internet, but then Facebook came along. Yet many people still spend hours each day inhabiting this virtual realm. Their stories—and the world they’ve built—illuminate the promise and limitations of online life.
Whatever happened to Second Life? – Alphr Three years on, and Second Life seems no closer to finding a respectable reason for being than it did in 2006. It might try and shuffle sex into a corner, and pretend that it’s a melting pot of creativity, business and academia, but it ultimately serves no purpose. It’s like the nouvelle cuisine of the 1980s: pretty, fascinating but ultimately unfulfilling. “What’s the point of Second Life?” I asked one of the “greeters” on the Second Life Help Island, desperate to find something that could make this vast, billion-dollar empire seem worthwhile.
Well I quite like the place, third time round, though I’m still none the wiser about it all. Thankfully, help is still around.
I liked the way that my posture, whilst reading this article on how to sit correctly when working from home, was exactly the same as the photo they use to show how not to do it. We must both have heavy chins?
The complete list of Trump’s Twitter insults (2015-2021) – The New York Times As a political figure, Donald J. Trump used Twitter to praise, to cajole, to entertain, to lobby, to establish his version of events — and, perhaps most notably, to amplify his scorn. This list documents the verbal attacks Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, from when he declared his candidacy in June 2015 to Jan. 8, when Twitter permanently barred him.
Here’s an angle on this I hadn’t considered before.
‘I am not sad. I am really not sad’: Trump’s Twitter reply-guys reckon with a post-Trump era – OneZero Many of Trump’s early reply-guys eventually burned out or changed tactics; others have long since been booted from Twitter themselves. But dozens of otherwise ordinary anti-Trumpers, like Guterman, still draw hundreds of thousands of followers to their online tilts, and they’re facing an unclear future without their archnemesis. “I guess I’ll go read a book,” tweeted Jeff Tiedrich, perhaps the king of the reply-guys and the publisher of a leftist politics blog, in the hours after Trump’s suspension.
“It’s a new era for Twitter now,” Guterman said. “I don’t think there’s any need anymore for me to do this.”
Have you ever compared Facebook’s algorithmic autonomy and global reach to a Cold War era mechanism for assured nuclear destruction? Perhaps you should.
Facebook is a Doomsday Machine – The Atlantic [I]t took the concept of “community” and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web’s logical conclusions. That’s because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California. […]
Megascale is nearly the existential threat that megadeath is. No single machine should be able to control the fate of the world’s population—and that’s what both the Doomsday Machine and Facebook are built to do. […]
[T]here aren’t enough moderators speaking enough languages, working enough hours, to stop the biblical flood of shit that Facebook unleashes on the world, because 10 times out of 10, the algorithm is faster and more powerful than a person. […]
In other words, if the Dunbar number for running a company or maintaining a cohesive social life is 150 people; the magic number for a functional social platform is maybe 20,000 people. Facebook now has 2.7 billion monthly users. […]
If the age of reason was, in part, a reaction to the existence of the printing press, and 1960s futurism was a reaction to the atomic bomb, we need a new philosophical and moral framework for living with the social web—a new Enlightenment for the information age, and one that will carry us back to shared reality and empiricism.
Those were the paragraphs that Patrick Tanguay highlighted in one of his recent newsletters. As much as I love reading about the horrorsofFacebook — and social media more widely — I’m left wondering what the point of this piece was. Will attitudes really change after reading this, or is this just more confirmation bias? Take this paragraph, for instance.
These dangers are not theoretical, and they’re exacerbated by megascale, which makes the platform a tantalizing place to experiment on people. Facebook has conducted social-contagion experiments on its users without telling them. Facebook has acted as a force for digital colonialism, attempting to become the de facto (and only) experience of the internet for people all over the world. Facebook has bragged about its ability to influence the outcome of elections. Unlawful militant groups use Facebook to organize. Government officials use Facebook to mislead their own citizens, and to tamper with elections. Military officials have exploited Facebook’s complacency to carry out genocide. Facebook inadvertently auto-generated jaunty recruitment videos for the Islamic State featuring anti-Semitic messages and burning American flags.
That’s an appalling summary, unconscionable, how can this continue, something must be done etc etc. And yet here we are, nearly 3 billion users. Is it all being dismissed as tabloid exaggeration, resulting in nothing changing? A Doomsday that nobody notices?
Top 200 most common passwords of the year 2020 – NordPass Here are the worst 200 passwords of 2020. The list details how many times a password has been exposed, used, and how much time it would take to crack it. We also compare the worst passwords of 2019 and 2020, highlighting how their positions have changed. The green arrows indicate a rise in the position while the red ones – a fall off. Check if your password is on the list and strengthen it if it is.
Well, you’ll never guess what.
Dutch prosecutors say Trump’s Twitter account was hacked by guessing his password: maga2020! – Vox Despite insistence from the White House and Twitter that there was no evidence of a hack, public prosecutors in the Netherlands confirmed details of an intrusion on Wednesday. The hacker, 44-year-old Victor Gevers, was facing potential jail time for accessing the president’s infamous social media account. But prosecutors said Gevers had acted in an “ethical” way by immediately disclosing what he had done to Dutch authorities.
Trump Twitter ‘hack’: Police accept attacker’s claim – BBC News Mr Gevers said he was very happy with the outcome. “This is not just about my work but all volunteers who look for vulnerabilities in the internet,” he said. The well respected cyber-security researcher said he had been conducting a semi-regular sweep of the Twitter accounts of high-profile US election candidates, on 16 October, when he had guessed President Trump’s password. […]
Earlier this year, Mr Gevers also claimed he and other security researchers had logged in to Mr Trump’s Twitter account in 2016 using a password – “yourefired” – linked to another of his social-network accounts in a previous data breach.
Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.
I’ve shared articles about these fake, engineered nobodies before, but the transitions, animations and sliders in this piece from the New York Times are very effective, and great fun — a genuine individual on every frame.
Designed to deceive: Do these people look real to you? – The New York Times Given the pace of improvement, it’s easy to imagine a not-so-distant future in which we are confronted with not just single portraits of fake people but whole collections of them — at a party with fake friends, hanging out with their fake dogs, holding their fake babies. It will become increasingly difficult to tell who is real online and who is a figment of a computer’s imagination.
You think you know someone …
… but they turn out to be …
… someone completely different.
All these fakes — people, art, feet — it’s hard to keep track. Well, not any more.
This X Does Not Exist Using generative adversarial networks (GAN), we can learn how to create realistic-looking fake versions of almost anything, as shown by this collection of sites that have sprung up in the past month.
I got off the iPhone conveyor belt around iPhone 4, I think, so all the recent talk about the new Windows Phone-style widgets within iOS14 has passed me by.
These iOS 14 apps offer home screen widgets and more – 9to5Mac Apple has officially released iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7 to the public. The updates bring many new features to iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch users, and third-party developers have been hard at work on updating their apps to take advantage of Apple’s latest tools.
I know I’m biased but– I don’t know, is it all starting to look a little too busy? I’d much rather look at these homescreens.
iOS: A visual history – The Verge Although it may be difficult to imagine now, when the original iPhone was introduced, it was actually well behind the competition when it came to a strict feature-by-feature comparison. Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Symbian, and even BlackBerry were all established systems in 2007, with a wide and deep array of features. Comparatively, the iPhone didn’t support 3G, it didn’t support multitasking, it didn’t support 3rd party apps, you couldn’t copy or paste text, you couldn’t attach arbitrary files to emails, it didn’t support MMS, it didn’t support Exchange push email, it didn’t have a customizable home screen, it didn’t support tethering, it hid the filesystem from users, it didn’t support editing Office documents, it didn’t support voice dialing, and it was almost entirely locked down to hackers and developers.
Yet all of those missing features hardly mattered and nearly everybody knew it.
Company forced to change name that could be used to hack websites – The Guardian The company now legally known as “THAT COMPANY WHOSE NAME USED TO CONTAIN HTML SCRIPT TAGS LTD” was set up by a British software engineer, who says he did it purely because he thought it would be “a fun playful name” for his consulting business. He now says he didn’t realise that Companies House was actually vulnerable to the extremely simple technique he used, known as “cross-site scripting”, which allows an attacker to run code from one website on another.
The original name of the company was “”›‹SCRIPT SRC=HTTPS://MJT.XSS.HT› LTD”.
Finally! Video of a real flying car that’s actually flying – Motor1 Referred to as the AirCar, Klein’s creation attempts to streamline the flying car experience and make it a more realistic idea. As such, it allows the driver to swiftly transition from road-mode to air-mode at the push of a button – the wings can automatically be deployed or stowed while passengers remain in the cabin.
AeroMobil: Flying Car Fly. Drive. In a high tech, super luxury vehicle that is a car and airplane like no other. A supercar with super powers.
You have to wonder how much potential these plans now have, with the future of the industry as whole currently up in the air. Or not.
People have been trying to get these off the ground for years.
The AVE Mizar – Futility Closet In 1971, two aeronautical engineering students set out to make an aircraft by mating the wings, engine, and airframe of a Cessna Skymaster to a modified Ford Pinto. In principle you could drive to the airport, attach the wings in two minutes, and get quickly into the air under the combined power of two engines. At your destination you’d land, stop quickly using the car’s four-wheel brakes, detach the wings, and drive off.
Be careful, though.
By 1973, two prototypes had been built and the FAA was considering certification, but on two testing flights a wing strut detached from the car. One pilot had to land in a bean field, and another died when the wing folded. The project was dropped.
The US government has filed antitrust charges against Google – The Verge “Countless advertisers must pay a toll to Google’s search advertising and general search text advertising monopolies,” the complaint reads, “American consumers are forced to accept Google’s policies, privacy practices, and use of personal data; and new companies with innovative business models cannot emerge from Google’s long shadow.”
It might not be that big a deal, though.
American trustbusters take on Google – The Economist The sums involved are large but the charges are narrow, argues Mark Shmulik of Bernstein, a research firm. They cover only text search, not images or video. Fiona Scott Morton of Yale University, an antitrust expert critical of Google (and an adviser to Apple), notes that the suit does not tackle allegations that Google abuses its market power in digital advertising or the claims that it handicaps potential rivals in specialised searches such as travel.
US Army trials augmented reality goggles for dogs – BBC News In current combat deployments, soldiers usually direct their animals with hand signals or laser pointers – both of which require the handler to be close by. But that need not be the case if the prototype AR goggles are widely adopted, the army said.
The US Army is testing augmented reality goggles for dogs – The Verge The AR goggles themselves are adapted from an established piece of kit for military canines: protective goggles known as Rex Specs. Each pair of goggles has to be customized for its wearer, with 3D scans used to ascertain where exactly to place the HUD for optimal viewing angles. The familiarity of the Rex Specs, though, makes the goggles easy to adapt to, says Peper.
I enjoyed, if that’s the right word, this description of us from across the Atlantic, taken from The New York TimesMorning Briefing: Europe Edition newsletter. Their description of us certainly feels quite accurate. Unfortunately.
Britain, operating without adult supervision Coronavirus cases in Britain are rising rapidly, with a record 12,871 new cases reported on Saturday evening. But as our correspondent Peter Goodman writes, you would scarcely imagine it on the streets of London, where masks hang below chins, punters cluster in pubs and cafes and rules around mask wearing or social distancing are frequently ignored.
Beyond the obvious ways that this cavalier behavior is disconcerting, it has enhanced a widely shared sense that Britain — famously rule-abiding — is now operating without adult supervision. Public confidence has plummeted, with more than half of respondents in a recent survey declaring the government has botched its handling of the pandemic, up from 39 percent in May.
The current crisis seems exacerbated by an offshoot of the very virtue celebrated in Britain’s conventional historical narrative — an admirable refusal to bend. A national mantra, “keep calm and carry on,” seems to have been reconfigured into the misguided notion that nothing is amiss.
And as if to further illustrate the point about a lack of supervision.
Excel: Why using Microsoft’s tool caused Covid-19 results to be lost – BBC News “Excel was always meant for people mucking around with a bunch of data for their small company to see what it looked like,” commented Prof Jon Crowcroft from the University of Cambridge. “And then when you need to do something more serious, you build something bespoke that works – there’s dozens of other things you could do. But you wouldn’t use XLS. Nobody would start with that.”
Take-up of NHS contact-tracing app could be only 10% – The Guardian Officials at the test and trace programme, however, believe there will be benefits even if few people adopt it. A recent study by the same data team at Oxford University, looking at the experience of Washington state in the US, found that if 15% used an app that notified them of exposure to an infected person, infections were reduced by 8% and deaths by 6%.
But even the best only got up to 40% take-up.
Everything you need to know about the NHS Covid-19 tracking app – Wired UK The country with the highest download rate is Singapore, which was the first nation to introduce a contact tracing app. The TraceTogether system has been downloaded 2.4 million times as of September 9. This accounts for around 40 per cent of Singapore’s population. The country has also moved beyond the contact tracing apps by trialling a Bluetooth ’token,’ a wearable device, that people can use for contact tracing purposes.