Some thoughts about tech

The New Artificial: VR

The materiality of design expands further than a mere object. [1] According to Bruno Latour, humans never move from one private sphere to the Great Outside; we are carefully contained within designed envelopes that unfold into new envelopes. Humans, our own beings being designed with fragility, depend on life support that is not so explicit to us, unless ecological crisis slowly expose us to those dependencies. This struck me as I thought about the layers of artifice we live in. We constantly design shelters in and around us. 

As Latour noted, designers need to think of tools that draw things together "including gods, non-humans, and mortals" and allow the “contradictory and controversial nature of matters of concerns to be represented.” I could think how the development of Virtual reality tools are introducing us to a new world completely devoid of materiality existent in our physical world. It allows people to reimagine the notion of “artificial” – is the world we exist in more artificial than the virtual world we created or vice versa? It also suggests new meanings of gods, non-humans, and mortals. If we could live beyond our physical lives in our virtual worlds, could we draw what it means to be mortal? Perhaps the oculus is too narrow in its possibilities to capture matters of concerns, but the notion of virtual reality ushers us to think about new artificial possibilities of existence beyond materiality. Design no longer bifurcates to materiality and aesthetics, but more and more materiality, aesthetics, even morality are coalesced into one. Now with the possibilities that virtual reality offers, even our own beings, the physicality of our beings, are becoming harder to remove from functionality, morality, and aesthetics related to redesigning the world.

[1] “A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk)”



Jasmine OhComment
Making a chat tool with TCP Sockets in Processing

"TCP is one of the main protocols in TCP/IP networks. Whereas the IP protocol deals only with packets, TCP enables 2 hosts to establish a connection and exchange streams of data."(http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/T/TCP.html)

I used Node.js to create a TCP network for my IoT Pillow project before, but I never tried Processing to create a TCP network. In my Large Systems class, I recently learned how to make a 2 way communication with OSC. I recreated the simple chat tool I made in OSC with TCP Sockets. Here is a short demo:

Jasmine OhComment
Attention Span and Virtual Reality Films

I have been thinking about how people's attention span are getting shorter and shorter. (Explained in my previous blog post) How do we stay focused for a long time now? For example, what about when watching a film? Cinematic techniques are used to leave clues in one scene to lure the viewer to the next. Many elements such as camera angles, subtle hints in props, lighting all contribute in guiding the gaze throughout the film. It is interesting to see the emergence of virtual reality films these days. There are both fictional and non-fictional films available in VR. Even NYTimes announced it will be providing news stories through its own VR cardboard headset. Current Virtual Reality headsets allow viewers to see their environments in 360 degrees. Unlike traditional films, we know everything that is within our “visual” realm in virtual environments. Instead of waiting for that camera to slowly turn and show the rest of the setting, we can simply turn our heads on our own will. Are these VR films weakening people's imagination skills? What kind of visual clues could VR films use to encourage the viewer to move? 

Jasmine OhComment
Dumber than a Goldfish

Did art die with the proliferation of technological devices? According to Paul Virilio, telegraph and television that allows instantaneous transmission of visual and audio heralded the death of art.[1] In the old days, mental images were formed through processing of perception and consolidation of natural memory. Now with technologies blatantly providing visual and audio with little room for the viewers to process their perception, the beauty of “productive unconsciousness” is lost. As a result, our attention span is curtailed and so are our imagination skills. A recent article by Time magainze actually supports this phenomena. The article titled “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish” describes how an increasingly digitalized lifestyle has affected the brain so much so that our average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. (http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/) With so many devices around us beeping with notifications, it is undeniably difficult to focus on one activity. Apparently, the average time that one visually is concentrated on a website is within the milliseconds. This becomes a vicious cycle as advertisers flood the web with flashing banners and pop-up windows to retain viewers attention.


[1] http://cmuems.com/excap/readings/virilio-the-vision-machine.pdf

Jasmine OhComment
World of Ads

One of my favorite TV shows is Black Mirror. Recently, I watched the episode, “15 Million Merits.” The episode portrays a world where advertisements are so deeply saturated into people’s daily lives. Media and advertisements incessantly pop up regardless of place and time, even when brushing your teeth or relaxing in your bedroom. To turn off these advertisements off temporarily, characters needs to pay, only to be swarmed with more advertisements shortly after. Though dramatized in a fictional setting, this episode depicts a world not so far from ours.

Funnily enough, we already have to install Ad-blockers on our phone and our computers to keep ads from overflowing our devices. We pay to block them too. For example, to remove ads from our music listening experience on apps such as Spotify, people need to pay more for a premium account. In fact, we watch adds to get rid of ads. On Spotify, to enjoy thirty minutes of ad free music listening, one could watch an advertisement video of one to two minutes. The fact that we need to block advertisements by viewing more ads simply shows the ludicrousness of an ad filled world we live in.

This reminds me of the recent news about enabling ad blocking in the new Apple iOS 9.[1] Many publishers have been criticizing the ad blocking feature for treating all ads the same. They say blocking all ads are too blunt. There needs to be a more customizable way to block off ads. Will more ad-blocking functions allow us to live less ad-intrusive lives or will increase of ad blockers worsen our situation as ad producers simply find other alternative ways to seep into our lives? Already, there are increase in native advertisements that we (and ad blockers) cannot detect as advertisements. This episode in Last Week Tonight by John Oliver best demonstrates how absurd it is for ads to disguise as content.  

Most prevalently, websites such as Buzzfeed feature articles that have advertisement ingrained in its content. More and more, it is becoming harder to distinguish what ads are since ads are so deeply weaved into all kinds of media and products we consume. What is a logical way to distinguish between intrusive advertisement and productive advertisement? 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/technology/apple-ios-9s-enabling-of-ad-blocking-prompts-backlash.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0

Jasmine OhComment
Network Fever

In Mark Wigley’s “Network Fever”, he mentions how intellectuals, most notably Marshall McLuhan and Buckminister Fuller, were concerned with “visible aesthetics for the invisible net.”[1] Some said because our cities we inhabit are the information system of an artificial brain and an extension of our own hyperextended body, to redesign network is to redesign our body, city, and human body-network. Wigley denounced those attempts, saying they are merely “poetic image” of the invisible communication infrastructure whose influence had grown throughout the century. 

This struggle remains today as we try to visualize data and the overall networks of information flow. The expansion of “data-visualization” as an academic study and many companies’ creation of data visualization departments are contemporary examples of our effort to map out the invisible net. The visual of “networks” that we are commonly accustomed to is a picture of countless dots dispersed in indefinite space connected with a web of hundreds of lines connecting the nodes (as shown below).

It seems almost outlandish to visualize our whole network of connectivity since everything is now connected, especially with the growth of Internet of Things. Our bodies, our smart homes, our social media all connects us to so many things that we are not even aware of. Marshall McLuhan predicted, technologies have expanded our bodies so much so that the size of the planet shrunk to the size of a village. This could be extended to say that our planet has reduced to the size of a phone screen, albeit bits of invisible information.

What is interesting to note is this seesaw between invisible and visible networks have let us to anthropomorphize our invisible network through artificial intelligence. Communication methods evolved from human to human, human to telephone, human to computer, computer to computer, and now human to computer that acts and thinks like human. Because of our inability to fully visualize our complicated network, especially the Internet, we have now made our own network behave like ourselves. Whether or not this is a successful method to understand an invisible, intangible system is still a question. However, it is nevertheless changing dramatically the way we communicate with each other human beings as well as with machines.

[1] http://bodywithout.org/network-fever-mark-wigley/


Jasmine OhComment
How low (power) can you go?

How, as humans, could we adopt and adapt to the shifting technological paradigms in our society? As described in Charlie Stross’ “How Low Power Can You Go”, with the exponentially increasing energy efficiency of computers and reduction of node size for semiconductors, we are entering an era of small, ultra-low-power wireless devices.[1] He suggests that in the future, RFID chips could be so prevalent and cheap that it could be planted everywhere around the city and in your belongings. Already, this is starting to happen as we see the booming of “smart” homes, wearables, even connected architecture. Geo locating devices such as iBeacon allows places like museums and stores to track where people are and feed real time data. As Stross mentions, these connected devices have so many social beneficial applications, such as preventing epidemics and monitoring environmental conditions to give accurate local weather forecasting. For example, we could use connected devices to better manage New York City sewage system by implementing an alert system in every home to warn people of overflowing sewage and inhibit them from using water for a brief period of time.

However, the excitement surrounding Internet of Things and its impact on social change is counterbalanced by the potential risk IoT could have on privacy. Evgeny Morozov's “The Planning Machine” article from The New Yorker explains how digital utopianism does not involve using connected devices and Big Data for a social mission but rather tech giants such as Apple, Google, and now Uber exploiting and capitalizing on people’s data.[2]

My question is- how as designers could we use IoT and Big Data to balance commercial uses with social ones?


[1] How low (power) can you go? - Charlie Stross


[2] The Planning Machine - Evgeny Morozov



Jasmine OhComment
Decentralizing Data

The problem of digital demise and digital inheritance boils down to the question of who has ownership. As mentioned in previous posts, our personal data is controlled by higher powers such as the government or giant tech corporates who owns the physical data centers that hold our data. How do we take more control over our own data? Decentralizing the digital assets could be one possible way. The trend now is to decentralize many products and services that used to be dominated by a single group. For example, mobile apps such as Firechat, used for the Hong Kong Umbrella Protest, provide a decentralized form of communication.[1] Rather than relying on one centralized network, people are seeking ways to communicate with each other without having any ties to huge telecommunication companies. Similarly, the development of 3D printers ushers a new era of decentralized manufacturing. No longer do people have to rely on traditional manufacturing methods to produce their products in factories. People will be able to make their own products, food, and even possibly organs on their own with the right materials and a 3D printer.[2] Can we decentralize data?

There are already companies providing storage and data inheritance options. Most notably, LifeNaut, which is a company under the umbrella organization Terasem, allows one to upload DNA samples and memorabilia for hundreds of years. Their main purpose is to “educate the public on the practicality and necessity of greatly extending human life…concentrating in particular on facilitating revivals from bio stasis.”[3] Not only will LifeNaut allow one to hand down own digital assets but also allow your descendants to download and recreate your virtual presence. They could even use your own digital information to recreate a person in the physical world through cryonics. Rather than using Google drive, Dropbox, or other commercial cloud sharing and storage services, one should use multiple storage services such as LifeNaut or CyBeRev to securely pass down your digital information to people you trust with detailed instructions. However, there is always a question of whether “something free from a chartable organization will remain so over the long-term, or whether the organization will remain in existence.”[4] Hence, relying on a third party storage always raises challenges.

In my imagination, there could be a virtual cemetery, where one could come to an official closing with someone’s digital death and inherit his or her digital assets. I am not thinking of a simple website with bunch of people’s profile pictures and logs of their digital activities. I believe a two-dimensional website does not do enough justice for the dead. Just like we hold rituals and funeral services for the dead, there should be a sacred act of acknowledging someone’s digital death. Perhaps virtual reality display technologies such as the Oculus Rift could be incorporated so that people could fully immerse themselves into officiating someone’s death.

A person will be able to upload their social media, business documents, and emails along with a digital will to a cloud service. The digital will can specify who can have access to those information, how he or she wants her data to be used, and what ethical guidelines to follow. These stored data will not belong to any data centers, but remain in a collective digital space. Admittedly, I understand all data needs to hold some kind of physical presence. However, perhaps in the future what we consider the cloud will actually be an intangible cloud, a space that only exists in the digital world. This cloud will belong to everyone. To access a specific person’s folder in the cloud, a person would need to provide a password as well as some biological information specific to the person. Once the computer uses its highly detective sensors to verify that the user matches the person listed for access, only then the user will be able to tap into the deceased’s information. If the deceased granted access to multiple people, those people could access the cloud at the same time. Besides peeking into photos or emails of the dead, maybe those people could even interact with the dead or interact with each other in this virtual space. These fantastical thoughts may seem farfetched. However, the underlying question of how data storage is changing our fundamental view of memory and privacy is worth its attention.


[1] http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/16/tech/mobile/tomorrow-transformed-firechat/

[2] http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/3d-food-printers-how-they-could-change-what-you-eat/

[3] https://lifenaut.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Cryonics_Mag_Mindfile_Info.pdf

[4] Ibid

Jasmine OhComment
The Invisible Infrastructure

The question of digital demise can only be discussed among one third of the world. Two thirds of the world has yet to even have access to the Internet. What does digital legacy mean to those who are not connected? Will this widen the gap between the privileged and the not privileged, the connected and the disconnected? Historically, people have tried to leave their legacy behind. Whether it is a marble statue displaying one’s political prowess or a burial of a body, it is clear that people long to be remembered. With features such as Facebook Legacy allowing inheritance of digital data, question of inequality extends beyond our present lives to posthumous lives. Will those who have access to the Internet and Facebook continue to leave more and more of their “trace” behind whereas those who do not have access disappear from memory, albeit history? Can those who have control over data curate stored data to discriminate against those who do not have data or otherwise a proof of an event, activity, or a person? In an era of information, our existences are, to a certain degree, proven by the accumulation of our data and activity online. Now, it is not those who are vocal that their voices are heard, but those who have more access and control over data that are followed and remembered.

The issue of Facebook Legacy feature reaches far beyond who remains virtually existent and who does not. It raises questions of division of power in the infrastructural level. As Benjamin Barber said, “Will information technology nourish or undermine our democratic institutions?”[1] If digital inheritance is only limited to those in the developing countries that have access to Facebook, information technology surely will be undermining our democratic institutions. Before solving the Facebook Legacy issue, there first needs to be a more universal access to connectivity. Currently, Facebook’s massive infrastructure with five data centers around the world supports 5 billion users. The number is substantial but Facebook still has a long way to go until it truly breaks down barriers in “developing countries to make Internet access available to everyone everywhere.”[2] Internet.org is a “Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, nonprofits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.”[3] Major tech and communications companies such as Ericsson, Media tek, Nokia, Samsung, and Qualcomm are participating in this initiative to develop a “free portal of hand-picked internet services that can be accessed for free by users on mobile devices.”[4] Facebook argues that it is providing Internet services to people who cannot connect because of financial or other reasons. They do this by developing technology that decreases the cost of delivering data to people worldwide, especially in under-served communities, invest in tools and software to improve data compressions to run more efficient data networks, and to grow business models among developers, mobile operators, and device manufacturers. 

Despite Facebook’s seemingly philanthropic motivation, many argue that Facebook is actually “creating a separate Internet and by hand selecting Internet.org partners, discriminating against companies that are not on the list.”[5] After landing in India in February and now launching in Indonesia, a country with a 250 million population, Facebook is expanding quickly to help people become more connected around the world. But the question about privacy and net neutrality resurfaces as people challenge Facebook’s underlying intentions. According to Sir Tim Berners Lee, the man who created the Internet itself, argued that “’positive discrimination’ is a major problem because of the power it affords ISPs and operators.” Companies like Facebook becomes gatekeepers-“able to handpick winners and losers in the market and to favour their own sites, services, and platforms over those of others” leading to “snuff out innovative new services before they even see the light of day.”[6] Will Facebook’s initiative provide a more democratic eco system by granting universal Internet access or will it inhibit equal treatment of Internet traffic?

[1] Barber, Benjamin R. "Chapter 19." A Passion for Democracy: American Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1998. 245. Print.

[2] http://internet.org/about

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://techcrunch.com/2015/04/20/internet-dot-org-indonesia/

[5] http://techcrunch.com/2015/04/20/internet-dot-org-indonesia/

[6] http://techcrunch.com/2015/04/06/bharti-airtel-airtel-zero-india/

Jasmine OhComment
After watching the movie "Ex Machina"

A Turing Test is a test to see a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to or indistinguishable from that of a human. In the movie, "Ex Machina", a young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. Certainly, it is important that a successful A.I. can hold a fluid conversation. There is a scene in the movie where Ava, the female A.I., angrily tells Kaleb, the programmer, that they are not having a real conversation. Ava scorns Kaleb for simply asking her questions and observing her behavior rather than engaging in a mutually invested conversation. To hold a normal conversation, it requires more than mere grammatical knowledge. The movie made me think of a book I read called “Can Machines Think?” by Dennett. In the book, the author mentions Terry Winograd, “a leader in artificial intelligence”, and his efforts to produce conversational ability in computer. He mentions that Winograd’s effort shows how computers can certainly create sentences. But to generate sentences with wrong grammar but sensible meaning requires a lot of world knowledge. Think about the times you encountered foreigners or babies speaking English. Despite their broken grammar and pronunciation, you can still use your “knowledge about the world, about politics, social circumstances, committees, and their attitudes” to predict what they are saying. Hence, a true Artificial Intelligence encompasses more than what Alan Turing presumed, an ability to think. AI would need to intelligently respond to information about social and political circumstances as well. 

Also, this raises the question of sarcasm or humor. Dennett describes an imitation test that asks the judge to read about a funny story and explain why the story is funny or sad. Humor requires creativity, empathy, and the right timing. In the movie, "Her", Samantha, an intelligent computer operating system, is able to bounce off jokes and even exchange sexual feelings with a human. How can computers intelligently understand and generate humor?

A computer can generate jokes based on a wide inventory of human humor and patterns of jokes it learned. However, I question if computers can catch the subtle innuendos of funniness that is so specific to the context. In other words, anyone can own hundred blocks of lego, but only the creative or intelligent ones can build something more than just another house or a car. Creativity kicks in when people start thinking about how the structure sits in space, how different colors are used, and how adjacencies are created by different sized blocks. People can consider each of these variables on its own, seeing value in its independent element, as well as together within a bigger structure. Same applies for humor. Comedians find the baseline of our feelings and experiences and twist them, creating connections that we never thought of. Perhaps that’s why funniest jokes are the ones that we can empathize with but evoke a new feeling. In order for computers to be truly funny, it would need to understand situational humor, human feelings, and culture.

Jasmine OhComment
Dead in the Cloud

Since the expansion of Facebook and online storage issue is a rather new phenomenon, nobody can yet pinpoint to an appropriate solution in handling a dead user’s social media account. Only assumptions and confusion surround the issue. In fact, most people are still unaware of or simply not interested in what happens to our online data after death. Specifically, many people have yet to adopt the new Facebook Legacy feature. The problem is the user experience of the Legacy function. In order to designate a person to “inherit” your Facebook account when you die, you need to go into Security Settings and find the last function called “Legacy Contact.” Once you designate a person, you could send a default message saying “Hi [name], Facebook now lets people choose a legacy contact to manage their account if something happens to them: https://www.facebook.com/help/1568013990080948. Since you know me well and I trust you, I chose you. Please let me know if you want to talk about this.” Most people rarely log into security settings when using Facebook. Legacy Contact is in the very end of security settings and is hardly noticeable. Also, a Facebook message written in a serious tone and related to death seems a bit overwhelming to send. Facebook is a platform mostly used for social, entertaining purposes, and people are not inclined to talk about grave matters over Facebook message.

Google also has a similar feature that is tucked away and hardly used. Under Google Account settings page, you can find “Inactive Account Manager” where you can choose which data to be deleted, after 3, 6, 9, or 12 months of inactivity. You could also select “trusted contacts to receive data from some or all of the following services: +1s; Blogger; Contacts and Circles; Drive; Gmail; Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams; Picasa Web Albums; Google Voice and YouTube.”[1] The vague name and its complicated process to choose your digital legacy contact inhibit many users from adopting this feature. If these features were to be more pronounced, the two companies can require a user to designate a Legacy contact when he or she creates an account. I speculate that Facebook and Google intentionally did not draw attention to these features until they learn from dealing with enough dead user cases. Thus far, they do not want to turn away potential users and create more controversies over such as sensitive topic.

In terms of technology, even if a legacy contact has limited access to the dead user’ account, what is stored could remain the same. Just like how multiple users can access the same computer with different accounts, Facebook and Google could also have one “superuser”, the dead person, who has access to all photos, wall posts, messages and one Legacy contact that has limited access. On Facebook, you can choose whether your legacy contact can download a copy of what you shared on Facebook including posts, photos, videos, friend list, and info from the About section of the profile. It is not sure whether Facebook will permanently delete those data after the Legacy contact downloads a copy. If a user did not give permission to the Legacy contact to download a copy of what she shared, the Legacy contact will only be able to see photos that he or she posts. Perhaps each file has a code that describes who can access the file. When logged in, your accessibility will be compared with the code and either allow a certain file to be visible or hidden.

On the other hand, the Legacy Contact also provides an option to permanently delete your Facebook after you pass away. Unless someone sends a death certificate to Facebook, how would Facebook know that the account is of a living person or a dead person? This would require machine-learning techniques to configure patterns that indicate the death of the user. For example, there will be a very complicated algorithm that detects many different elements such as activity time and frequency, condolence messages, and IP address. However, as we know, algorithmic mistakes can lead to huge consequences. If Facebook were to falsely identify a living user as a deceased one and shut down his or her profile, the company could face serious charges.

[1] http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2013/04/plan-your-digital-afterlife-with.html

Jasmine OhComment
Should We Fear Artificial Intelligence?

The general attitude towards artificial intelligence is split into two: celebration of the robots that improve humanity and fear of development of artificial intelligence that will outsmart humans. Many renowned figures in the field of science and tech has warned about the looming threat of artificial intelligence. Elon Musk said, “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” Bill Gates also warned, “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent… A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern.” What is it that people fear about robots having full artificial intelligence?  In the last few classes, we discussed if robots could have emotions, free will, or consciousness. These questions pinpoint to key features that robots need to fully emulate human beings. 

If robots were to truly have emotions, why should we fear them? With emotions, one can express much more complicated thoughts and intentions. Rather than a robot with a simple input and output signal, the addition of emotion allows it to learn true human experiences. Why is it potentially dangerous for robots to understand true human emotions and experiences? Perhaps it is because knowing emotions allows robots to effectively manipulate humans. The tricky part is a robot need to have emotions but also know how to perceive emotions to be like human. For example, a robot that does not have emotions can interact with a human being. It can output verbal messages depending on the person talking. However, to convince a human being, the robot needs to use some emotional element. A robot who understands emotion will also understand how to use it. Can a robot trigger someone’s jealousy, anger and lead him or her to have murderous thoughts? Albeit, can a robot have emotions that motivates him to steal, rob, or kill someone? Many a times, these irrational and unethical behaviors are triggered by an emotional response.

Recently, I watched a video of Brooks’ Herbert robot that uses sonar to detect nearby obstacles. The robot exploits a subsumption architecture and allows the robot to perform motions. Imagine that Brooks’ robot also has emotions. It can refuse to perform the tasks that it is told, to sweep the surface to detect cans, if it is not in the right mood. What if it can have emotional mood swings like humans do? Will it be harder to control them?


Jasmine OhComment
What is the commercial value of social media?

Just like one can inherit money, car, and house, one can also inherit social media. What is the commercial value of social media? Before, time was money. Now, personal data is the new currency of the digital economy. If Facebook profiles of dead users continue to remain active and produce new “data”, there will be significantly much more data on Facebook. Facebook’s business model depends on advertising revenue. By using personal data of the numerous users on Facebook, Facebook is able to intelligently and specifically target groups of users for advertisements. They could track what you liked, how much time your mouse hovered over a post, who your close friends are, what kind of mobile apps you use, what credit card you use, and much more. The Legacy Feature of Facebook allows Facebook to extrapolate lucrative data from the dead. The more users, the more data Facebook can exploit to target people on advertisements. For example, if a mother of a dead son continues to post pictures and write posts on behalf of the son, Facebook can possibly analyze the emotional responses of the deceased’s mourning friends and suggest advertisements of mental therapy, relaxation vacation trip, or flower arrangements to them. 

Recently, Facebook made a public apology for its Year in Review feature, which displayed to a grieving father images of his dead daughter. Hopefully, Facebook learned its lesson and will be extra cautious about preventing algorithmic mistakes that can anger people who are sensitive to death. Most likely, Facebook will not use the data of the deceased to advertise funeral services or make other blatant suggestions. Besides, even if Facebook is making profit by subtly utilizing data of the deceased users, the company will need to make sure that this fact remains unnoticeable. Imagine how enraged some people will be knowing the company is making money out of your son’s death.

Even if the profile of the deceased is not active, the fact that Facebook stores all data of the dead people is a concern. In the Facebook’s financial side of the view, the company needs to invest in assuring that all data is secure. In the future, when there are more dead users than living ones and stored data exceeds an unimaginable amount, Facebook will struggle to protect data from hackers trying to access certain information. According to a 2014 global survey by SafeNet, nearly two thirds of consumers said they would stop or avoid using a company that had experiences a data breach.[1] After the Edward Snowden’s revelation of government surveillance in mid-2013, it is estimated that the incident cost U.S. technology companies as much as $35 billion in potential business. Facebook has already been challenged with many privacy law sues. To prevent the company’s loss of users, they will need to invest heavily on protecting personal data from leaking.

Also, data storage does not happen in an invisible cloud but actually requires physical space. Currently, the Luleå Data Center in Sweden handles all live traffic and data of Facebook from all around the world. As its users grow and dead users continue to produce more data, Facebook will need to rush to build the physical infrastructure needed to process data more efficiently. For photos, Facebook currently stores them by dividing them into “cold” and “hot” photos. Only eight percent of photos on the site are getting views. These are the “hot” photos that are stored in expensive hard drives whereas the rest “cold” photos that are rarely accessed are stored in Blu-ray discs. These discs are often rated for 50 years of storage and 50 percent cheaper than hard drives. However, what if these discs crash? Facebook will need to diversify their storage options to have a back up storage plan if the discs were to ever experience storage failures. The company is increasingly investing on building new technology and technicians to insure safe storage. Unless the company continually develops new innovations for data storage and efficient powering of the data centers, Facebook will struggle to keep up with this costly duty.





[1] https://hbr.org/2015/02/if-data-is-money-why-dont-businesses-keep-it-secure

Jasmine OhComment
Prosthetics, A.I., and Art

The development of prosthetics raises interesting questions about dualism. Now, prosthetics are becoming so well developed that people who could not move their arms before can do so now with the surgical insertion of a chip in their brain and extension of a mechanical arm. In a TED talk in 2011, Anthony Atala explained the use of 3D printers to create a transplantable kidney. The 3D printer could use living cells to create organs that functions and looks exactly like a human organ. Physicalism states that everything in human nature can be explained by physical means. In the perspective of the physicalists, prosthetics shows that the physical material of the brain and its actions account for movements of our bodies. Furthermore, identity theory, explains that even mental states could be correlated with physical events in the brain. Hence, a 3D printed organ that allows the firing of C-fiber would lead to the body experiencing pain. Considering Functionalism, mental states, both introspective values or sensory reactions, are explained by causal organization. Then I must ask: if one were to create a human out of all synthetic organs that still carry out the same functions as the human body does, are they the same person? My immediate thought tells me that they are not.

A synthetic human, a robot, could carry out all the basic mental and physical functions to stay alive. With artificial intelligence, robots can learn, detect emotion, perhaps feel “pain.” However, as a visual artist, I question if synthetic humans can ever be able to imitate human creativity. Admittedly, creativity has strong relation to the brain. As many say, if your left brain is more developed, you are more “artistic” than “mathematical.” However, novel ideas and creative thoughts are not originated from firings of different neurons in the brain. True creativity, at least within the realm of visual art, springs from a magical fusion of infinite nodes that constitutes psychological associations, environmental stimuli, and visual sensibility. A robot could be programmed to look at one thing and feel a certain emotion. However, a robot cannot look at a thing and think of a new idea that connects the visual experience with past experience, knowledge, emotions, and many more infinite nodes that connects instantly. 

Jasmine OhComment
Facebook Legacy: Implications of Digital Demise

As of March 31, 2014, Facebook reported that it has 665 million active users. As Facebook ages, so will the users. What will happen when we approach a time when there are more dead users than living ones? Recently, Facebook announced a new feature, a Legacy Contact. This feature, under Facebook’s security settings menu, allows the user to select a specific Facebook friend who will be able to control certain aspects of your page after you die.[1] Users can alternatively choose to have their accounts completely deleted after they pass away. If you decide to choose the former option and leave your posthumous Facebook account to be managed by your friend or family member, your Facebook page will become “memorialized” only if someone verifies your death through an obituary or news article. “Memorialized accounts don’t surface in friend suggestions, ads or other ‘public’ places on Facebook.”[2]

Many people stress that Facebook accounts are key “digital assets” and demand them to be handed down. Before Facebook implemented this Legacy Feature, there have been many controversies surrounding access to dead users’ profiles. For example, when Dare Dellcan, a 39 year old committed suicide, nobody knew why the normally “cheery creative director and design company owner did it.”[3] His father tried to access his Facebook account to find any clues that led to his suicide. Facebook rejected his request due to infringement of privacy of the user. Instead, Facebook provided a CD to the father with limited data pulled from his son’s Facebook account. There have been many similar cases where a parent of a killed or deceased child tried to access his or her child but was denied access. Some parents like Richard Linn, father of a son who was killed in Iraq in an enemy ambush, argue that the information belongs to his son’s estate, just like “his old high school papers, his sweaters and his soccer ball, and should be transferred to the next of kin.”[4] Legal reforms are beginning to reflect this thought; 19 states have stepped in to create laws that will protect people’s digital assets and give the person’s family the right to access and manage those accounts after the user died. In addition, The Uniform Law Commission recently created the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which is “aimed to executors, trustees, or the person appointed by court (‘conservator’ or ‘fiduciary’) complete access to deceased’s digital assets.”[5] This Act could supersede Facebook’s terms of service and grant access unless the deceased specifically stated in his or her will a denial of access to social media.

However, many counter argue that the Facebook Legacy feature encroaches on user’s privacy. “Every inappropriate inside joke email, every racy love letter, every scorned suitor on your dating profile, every embarrassing photo buried in the Cloud, every bank statement, medical record, support group or spiritual guidance” will all be exposed as social media websites start to follow Facebook’s trend.[6] The American Civil Liberties Union argues that a “one-size-fits-all” solution for digital asset ignores personal preferences for what should happen to your digital information at death.[7] Furthermore, there have been many concerns regarding the exploitation of a ghost user. What if your friends or family do not send Facebook a death certificate or does not manage your account? Who will use your information after you are dead? Tech companies often mine people’s personal data to better target advertisements. Besides the tech companies, how will the government control, store, and use our data when we are dead? How are we to ensure that our data is being used correctly and not exploited? Besides these concerns, Facebook’s memorialization process also brings anxiety about shutting down Facebook pages of living users. It is easy to pull “Facebook death” pranks, a “bizarre new trend spreadking across the social network.”[8] For example, Katie Notopoulos declared her friend to be dead on Facebook by sending Facebook a link to an obituary from a 75-year-old man with a similar, but different name. Consequently, her friend, who is living healthily, was locked out of his own Facebook account. Imagine your Facebook page false notifying your parents of your death. This Facebook hoax can lead to serious complications and cyber bullying. Overall, Facebook’s Legacy feature raises critical issues surrounding our privacy, digital inheritance, and data exploitation.

[1] http://mashable.com/2015/02/12/facebook-legacy-contact/

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/12/facebook-legacy-contact-can-take-over-your-account-when-you-die

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/07/death-facebook-dead-profiles_n_2245397.html

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58836-2005Feb2.html

[5] https://www.everplans.com/articles/state-by-state-digital-estate-planning-laws

[6] https://www.aclu.org/blog/technology-and-liberty/facebook-legacy-matter-life-and-death

[7] Ibid.

[8] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/facebook-dead-prank-death-memorialization-page-lock-account_n_2424976.html?

Jasmine OhComment