Monthly Archives: May 2014

Who Needs Pavlov’s Dog When We Have Disney and Microsoft…

May 14, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

Ivan Pavlov, Russian physiologistRemember Pavlov and his dog?

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who developed the theory / model known as conditioned reflex.

Using his soon-to-become famous dog, Pavlov conditioned the animal to associate food with the ringing of a bell.  He soon noticed that the dog salivated every time the bell rang…whether food was present or not.

(He later broadened his experiments to include children and, naturally, won the Nobel Prize and would soon become the darling of modern advertising).

Taking a page from Pavlov and his experiments, Disney and Microsoft are developing controllers that will take conditioned reflex to the next level.

For Disney, the system is known as Touché is modeled upon a touch-sensing approach.  For example, Touché can recognize when you’re sitting at your office desk (or not).

In their promotion video, they show a young child being monitored and trained to eat food properly (with a spoon vis-à-vis their fingers).  Depending on the response, a harsh buzzer versus soothing bell “trains” the child.  Pavlov and his dog anyone?!

For Microsoft, their system is known as SoundWave.  At the moment, SoundWave uses sound waves from the speakers and microphone built into PCs and laptops and seems an evolution from Microsoft’s Kinect motion controller.

Much like Disney’s Touché, SoundWave can also recognize when you’re sitting at your office desk (again, or not!).  While the harsh buzzer effect doesn’t seem present in SoundWave, the ever-repetitive hand motions that are translated into specific actions – such as moving or swiping your hand in the air to progress your computer screen or programs – seems just another variation of conditioned reflexes.

Computers have already changed the way we read (How Users Read on the Web (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox) and think (‘The Shallows’: This Is Your Brain Online : NPR).  Will Touché and SoundWave be the next steps on the path to turn us into functioning automatons?


Big Brother at your backdoor…

May 7, 2014 in Blog by admin  |  No Comments

FBI logoAccording to recent news reports, the FBI is meeting with Internet companies – such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and the like – to push its plan to force backdoor surveillance on social networks, VoIP,  e-mail servers and so forth.

The news reports are soft-peddling the FBI’s requests with terms like “quietly pushing” and “asking” Internet companies not to oppose a law  making backdoor surveillance mandatory.

This is much like a 500-pound gorilla “asking” for a banana.  Of course you’re going to give him the banana – and, by extension, grant mandatory surveillance – you’d be naïve not to, especially with the judicial clout the FBI and Justice Department hold over these Internet companies.

What does it all mean?

Quite frankly, if the FBI wants to see your e-mails, they would be able to easily access all of  them.  If the FBI wants to track what sites you’ve been visiting…not a problem.

For its part, the FBI just considers this an expansion of their existing powers.  They’re proposing an amendment to the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) which would require communication platforms (like the companies cited above) to build FBI-accessible backdoors into their services.  This, the FBI innocently considers, is just a way to use its existing powers more effectively in our ever-expanding digital age.

Supposedly a court order would still be necessary for any surveillance; but we’ve seen and read enough about the judicial system to know that such a court order is quite easily obtainable.  Child’s play, so to speak.

And, with companies forced to create mandatory “backdoors” into their data, everything about you is suddenly wide-open for inspection.

We all respect the FBI’s legal ability to search for criminals.  But does access to data from a handful of criminals off-set the potential access to data on millions of citizens?  Hardly!

But this can’t happen here!

Wanna bet?

It wasn’t so long ago that President Richard Nixon abused his political powers by requesting (through the FBI) wiretaps, secret files and so forth.  Back then, with no Internet access, these files and reports were nonetheless damaging.  Imagine what one political figure or agency could accomplish with built-in backdoor surveillance.

Big Brother isn’t just here.  He’s knocking – very loudly – at your backdoor!