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The End of Cyberspace

Legend has it that when ENIAC, the first digital computer, was switched on for the first time, it drew so much power from the Philadelphia electrical grid it caused a brownout. Since then, computers— and supercomputers in particular— have always been significant consumers of electrical power. For the next generation of supercomputers, operating at petaflop speeds and working on things like detailed climate models, power consumption could represent a significant limiting factor. As Electronics Design Strategy reports,

In an irony of this environmentally conscious era, the supercomputers used to study issues such as climate change themselves impose a significant carbon footprint—consuming megawatts of electricity both directly and for the elaborate cooling systems that are required to deal with the excessive heat they generate. Even so, scientists wishing to tackle leading-edge research need 100× to 1000× more computing throughput than today’s high-end systems can provide.

Scientists at UC-Berkeley and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center have proposed a new supercomputer design «using millions of low-power embedded microprocessors instead of conventional server processors,» which is projected to use a fraction of the power of previous supercomputers. As Berkeley Research News explains:

To develop a 1-km cloud model, scientists would need a supercomputer that is 1,000 times more powerful than what is available today, the researchers say. But building a supercomputer powerful enough to tackle this problem is a huge challenge. Historically, supercomputer makers build larger and more powerful systems by increasing the number of conventional microprocessors — usually the same kinds of microprocessors used to build personal computers…. [A] system capable of modeling clouds at a 1-km scale would cost about $1 billion. The system also would require 200 megawatts of electricity to operate, enough energy to power a small city of 100,000 residents.

The proposed Berkeley-Tensilica computer, in contrast, would «consume less than 4 megawatts of power and achieve a peak performance of 200 petaflops.» According to Electronics Design Strategy,

The joint effort will focus on massively parallel designs featuring large numbers of processor cores connected via optimized links…. Each core dissipates just a few hundred milliwatts while churning out billions of FLOPS, representing an order-of-magnitude improvement in FLOPS per watt over traditional desktop or server processor chips, according to Tensilica. A supercomputer harnessing millions of such cores, tightly integrated at the chip, board, and rack level, will achieve the exascale goal within a power budget of «a few megawatts.»

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The End of Cyberspace

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13 posts from March 2008

The New York Talk Exchange is a really interesting exhibit now running at MOMA.

New York Talk Exchange illustrates the global exchange of information in real time by visualizing volumes of long distance telephone and IP (Internet Protocol) data flowing between New York and cities around the world.

In an information age, telecommunications such as the Internet and the telephone bind people across space by eviscerating the constraints of distance. To reveal the relationships that New Yorkers have with the rest of the world, New York Talk Exchange asks: How does the city of New York connect to other cities? With which cities does New York have the strongest ties and how do these relationships shift with time? How does the rest of the world reach into the neighborhoods of New York?

Naturally, there are some really cool visuals, and some terrific animations.

Technorati Tags: art, cities, end of cyberspace, internet, museum, visualization

Lovely prototype from B&O of a «touchless remote.»

Technorati Tags: end of cyberspace

Painter David Hockney— who has in the last few years made some very interesting speculations about the history of art— has a piece on the Guardian about «Pictures and Power:»

Michael Curtis, one of the founders of Hollywood and director of Casablanca and many swashbuckling Erroll Flynn movies, tells a story about seeing his first bit of cinema in about 1908, in the Cafe New York in Budapest. He recalls what fascinated him: it wasn’t the film itself but the fact that everybody watched it. He realised not everyone goes to the theatre, not everyone goes to the opera, but the cinema will attract the masses. By 1920 he was in Hollywood — which was the sticks then, compared with Budapest — but California had the money, the light, and the technology. He was right.

Now let’s go back 350 years, to Neopolitan scholar Giambattista Della Porta, who published a book, Natural Magick, about optical projections of nature. He was a renaissance man: scientist, playwright and showman. He put on shows using optical projections (simple to do) and was hauled before the Inquisition by the church.

The church at that time was the sole purveyor of pictures. It knew the power of images, and Della Porta would have noticed, like Michael Curtis, how people were attracted to that optical projection. They still are.

The church had social control. Whoever controlled the images had power. And they still do. Social control followed the lens and mirror for most of the 20th century. What’s now known as the media exert social control, not the church, but we are moving into a new era, because the making and distribution of images is changing. Anyone can make and distribute images on a mobile phone. The equipment is everywhere.

As a number of commenters have pointed out, the church didn’t quite have «control» over images: Renaissance states could be substantial patrons of the arts, and popular iconography— particularly after the invention of the printing press— both served as counterbalances to ecclesiastical power. On the other hand, you can make the argument that for familiarity and drama, the church’s was hard to beat. It wasn’t just the ability to produce rival images that earned Della Porta an appointment with the Inquisition: it was his ability to do novel, dramatic things.

I’m not exactly sure how this connects with the end of cyberspace, except through cellphones… but I’m sure I’ll find some link.

[To the tune of Perpetual Groove, «Naive Melody,» from the album «Live at the Georgia Theatre, 31 December 2005».]

Technorati Tags: art, history, religion

From National Defense Magazine, a short account of a meeting of SIGMA, «a loosely affiliated group of science fiction writers who are offering pro bono advice to anyone in government who want their thoughts on how to protect the nation:»

The 45-minute panel discussion quickly deteriorated as federal, local and state homeland security officials, and at least one congressional aid, attempted to ask questions, which were largely ignored.

Instead the writers used their time to pontificate on a variety of tangentially related topics, including their past roles advising the government, predictions in their stories that have come to pass, the demise of the paperback book market, and low-cost launch into space.

[To the tune of Perpetual Groove, «Naive Melody,» from the album «Live at the Georgia Theatre, 31 December 2005».]

Technorati Tags: science, science_fiction, security

Another example (via Mike) of how the digital world and physical intersect, to our peril: a timeline of the top 10 data breaches of the decade (here’s a bigger version). The smallest affected 5 million people; the largest, 97 million.

[To the tune of Johann Sebastian Bach, «- Sarabande (s1),» from the album «Yo-Yo Ma: Complete Cello Suites — Inspired By Bach (Disc 1)».]

Technorati Tags: internet, security

  • «The general objective of the Research Creativity and Management Office (RCMO) is to provide management, administrative and implementation needs as well as support, liaise and sustain the R&D activities of the university.»
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The End of Cyberspace

I just got back from a family vacation in Disneyland. Having spent more time on rides than I want to think about, and less time doing actual productive work (I know that vacations are supposed to be when you completely unplug; sue me), I was naturally tickled to see this post by Ophelia comparing old browser bookmarks to carnival attractions.

How many bookmarks do you have? I have over 10 folders and each one holds an average of 100 bookmarks. These have been gathered over the last 8 years. I have even more on my other laptops that I had not transferred over, just because I wanted to start fresh with each new computer. Going back and looking at those bookmarks is like a walk back in time, a road map backwards and as I scroll through, I can see the burning heaps alongside the road….

Why haven’t I gone back and visited those sites? Probably the same reasons I don’t go to fun fair carnivals that set up for a day. At night the carnivals are a thing of beauty, the sparkling lights, the smell of popcorn, and the booming music coming from each ride is a lure to buy a book of tickets. I am a sucker for anything flashy and I will try each ride, but after the quick thrill I am done. I could ride the most exciting rides again, but I already know what is going to happen, when it will break to the right or drop suddenly, a sense of ennui sets in. My bookmark folders are Fun Fair carnivals filled with exciting rides that I have ridden once. My reasons why can be explained by using the carnival ride analogy.

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The End of Cyberspace

One of the things I’ve come to realize in the course of this project is how rewarding it can be to look closely at humans’ interactions with computers, mobile devices, and other technologies. Cyberspace, I’m arguing, made sense in a world in which getting online was hard, and there were clearer behavioral divides between the everyday world that we inhabit naturally, and the online «world» that we visited via computer modem. Today, things like the cellphone, iPhone, and Intel’s new Mobile Information Devices, combined with the proliferation of wireless networks and always-on services, are all eroding that sense of the digital world as something separate from regular life.

Today I saw another example of how changes in the ways we engage with technologies can break down conceptual divisions— this time involving the divide between people and robots. New Scientist reports on a project by Georgia Tech researchers Ja-Young Sung and Rebecca Grinter that examines how people interact with the Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner. Apparently a lot of owners give their Roomba a name, dress it up, or even take it on vacations:

«Dressing up Roomba happens in many ways,» Sung says. People also often gave their robots a name and gender, according to the survey… which Sung presented at the Human-Robot Interaction conference earlier this month in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Kathy Morgan, an engineer based in Atlanta, said that her robot wore a sticker saying «Our Baby», indicating that she viewed it almost as part of the family. «We just love it. It frees up our lives from so much cleaning drudgery,» she says. Sung believes that the notion of humans relating to their robots almost as if they were family members or friends is more than just a curiosity. «People want their Roomba to look unique because it has evolved into something that’s much more than a gadget,» she says. Understanding these responses could be the key to figuring out the sort of relationships people are willing to have with robots.

Until now, robots have been designed for what the robotics industry dubs «dull, dirty and dangerous» jobs, like welding cars, defusing bombs or mowing lawns. Even the name robot comes from robota, the Czech word for drudgery. But Sung’s observations suggest that we have moved on. «I have not seen a single family who treats Roomba like a machine if they clothe it,» she says. «With skins or costumes on, people tend to treat Roomba with more respect.»

So as they move from environments that we don’t like into places that are more familiar, and from doing work we hate to work we just dislike, two things happen to our perception of robots: their social status goes up, and they become more familiar. But this doesn’t just happen with robots who are doing «dull, dirty and dangerous» jobs: humans who are doing those jobs can develop bonds with those robots, too.

US soldiers serving in Iraq and interviewed last year by The Washington Post developed strong emotional attachments to Packbots and Talon robots, which dispose of bombs and locate landmines, and admitted feeling deep sadness when their robots were destroyed in explosions. Some ensured the robots were reconstructed from spare parts when they were damaged and even took them fishing, using the robot arm’s gripper to hold their rod.

Figuring out just how far humans are willing to go in shifting the boundaries towards accepting robots as partners rather than mere machines will help designers decide what tasks and functions are appropriate for robots. Meanwhile, working out whether it’s the robot or the person who determines the boundary shift might mean designers can deliberately create robots that elicit more feeling from humans. «Engineers will need to identify the positive robot design factors that yield good emotions and not bad ones — and try to design robots that promote them,» says Sung.

This is not to say that we’re starting to think of robots as more like people, but at least we’re starting to treat them a little more like, say, pets: they’re not us, but they’re still part of our emotional lives, and we have some appreciation for what they do for us.

(* A reference to Stephen Colbert’s great description of what would make his show different: «Other shows read the news to you. We feel the news at you.»)

[To the tune of Mono, «Lost Snow,» from the album «Ex Plex, Los Angeles, September 24, 2005».]

Technorati Tags: design, end of cyberspace, HCI, psychology, robotics

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The End of Cyberspace

From the always-snarky Sadly, No!

‘[C]yberspace’ used to mean an interactive post-media nexus of transformative hyperrealities whose multi-dimensionalized datasphere you flew through as a bodiless post-human, via sitting in a farted-out desk chair typing on Usenet.