Arquivo da tag: Interatividade

When Will My Computer Understand Me? (Science Daily)

June 10, 2013 — It’s not hard to tell the difference between the “charge” of a battery and criminal “charges.” But for computers, distinguishing between the various meanings of a word is difficult.

A “charge” can be a criminal charge, an accusation, a battery charge, or a person in your care. Some of those meanings are closer together, others further apart. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Texas at Austin, Texas Advanced Computing Center)

For more than 50 years, linguists and computer scientists have tried to get computers to understand human language by programming semantics as software. Driven initially by efforts to translate Russian scientific texts during the Cold War (and more recently by the value of information retrieval and data analysis tools), these efforts have met with mixed success. IBM’s Jeopardy-winningWatson system and Google Translate are high profile, successful applications of language technologies, but the humorous answers and mistranslations they sometimes produce are evidence of the continuing difficulty of the problem.

Our ability to easily distinguish between multiple word meanings is rooted in a lifetime of experience. Using the context in which a word is used, an intrinsic understanding of syntax and logic, and a sense of the speaker’s intention, we intuit what another person is telling us.

“In the past, people have tried to hand-code all of this knowledge,” explained Katrin Erk, a professor of linguistics at The University of Texas at Austin focusing on lexical semantics. “I think it’s fair to say that this hasn’t been successful. There are just too many little things that humans know.”

Other efforts have tried to use dictionary meanings to train computers to better understand language, but these attempts have also faced obstacles. Dictionaries have their own sense distinctions, which are crystal clear to the dictionary-maker but murky to the dictionary reader. Moreover, no two dictionaries provide the same set of meanings — frustrating, right?

Watching annotators struggle to make sense of conflicting definitions led Erk to try a different tactic. Instead of hard-coding human logic or deciphering dictionaries, why not mine a vast body of texts (which are a reflection of human knowledge) and use the implicit connections between the words to create a weighted map of relationships — a dictionary without a dictionary?

“An intuition for me was that you could visualize the different meanings of a word as points in space,” she said. “You could think of them as sometimes far apart, like a battery charge and criminal charges, and sometimes close together, like criminal charges and accusations (“the newspaper published charges…”). The meaning of a word in a particular context is a point in this space. Then we don’t have to say how many senses a word has. Instead we say: ‘This use of the word is close to this usage in another sentence, but far away from the third use.'”

To create a model that can accurately recreate the intuitive ability to distinguish word meaning requires a lot of text and a lot of analytical horsepower.

“The lower end for this kind of a research is a text collection of 100 million words,” she explained. “If you can give me a few billion words, I’d be much happier. But how can we process all of that information? That’s where supercomputers and Hadoop come in.”

Applying Computational Horsepower

Erk initially conducted her research on desktop computers, but around 2009, she began using the parallel computing systems at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). Access to a special Hadoop-optimized subsystem on TACC’s Longhornsupercomputer allowed Erk and her collaborators to expand the scope of their research. Hadoop is a software architecture well suited to text analysis and the data mining of unstructured data that can also take advantage of large computer clusters. Computational models that take weeks to run on a desktop computer can run in hours on Longhorn. This opened up new possibilities.

“In a simple case we count how often a word occurs in close proximity to other words. If you’re doing this with one billion words, do you have a couple of days to wait to do the computation? It’s no fun,” Erk said. “With Hadoop on Longhorn, we could get the kind of data that we need to do language processing much faster. That enabled us to use larger amounts of data and develop better models.”

Treating words in a relational, non-fixed way corresponds to emerging psychological notions of how the mind deals with language and concepts in general, according to Erk. Instead of rigid definitions, concepts have “fuzzy boundaries” where the meaning, value and limits of the idea can vary considerably according to the context or conditions. Erk takes this idea of language and recreates a model of it from hundreds of thousands of documents.

Say That Another Way

So how can we describe word meanings without a dictionary? One way is to use paraphrases. A good paraphrase is one that is “close to” the word meaning in that high-dimensional space that Erk described.

“We use a gigantic 10,000-dimentional space with all these different points for each word to predict paraphrases,” Erk explained. “If I give you a sentence such as, ‘This is a bright child,’ the model can tell you automatically what are good paraphrases (‘an intelligent child’) and what are bad paraphrases (‘a glaring child’). This is quite useful in language technology.”

Language technology already helps millions of people perform practical and valuable tasks every day via web searches and question-answer systems, but it is poised for even more widespread applications.

Automatic information extraction is an application where Erk’s paraphrasing research may be critical. Say, for instance, you want to extract a list of diseases, their causes, symptoms and cures from millions of pages of medical information on the web.

“Researchers use slightly different formulations when they talk about diseases, so knowing good paraphrases would help,” Erk said.

In a paper to appear in ACM Transactions on Intelligent Systems and Technology, Erk and her collaborators illustrated they could achieve state-of-the-art results with their automatic paraphrasing approach.

Recently, Erk and Ray Mooney, a computer science professor also at The University of Texas at Austin, were awarded a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to combine Erk’s distributional, high dimensional space representation of word meanings with a method of determining the structure of sentences based on Markov logic networks.

“Language is messy,” said Mooney. “There is almost nothing that is true all the time. “When we ask, ‘How similar is this sentence to another sentence?’ our system turns that question into a probabilistic theorem-proving task and that task can be very computationally complex.”

In their paper, “Montague Meets Markov: Deep Semantics with Probabilistic Logical Form,” presented at the Second Joint Conference on Lexical and Computational Semantics (STARSEM2013) in June, Erk, Mooney and colleagues announced their results on a number of challenge problems from the field of artificial intelligence.

In one problem, Longhorn was given a sentence and had to infer whether another sentence was true based on the first. Using an ensemble of different sentence parsers, word meaning models and Markov logic implementations, Mooney and Erk’s system predicted the correct answer with 85% accuracy. This is near the top results in this challenge. They continue to work to improve the system.

There is a common saying in the machine-learning world that goes: “There’s no data like more data.” While more data helps, taking advantage of that data is key.

“We want to get to a point where we don’t have to learn a computer language to communicate with a computer. We’ll just tell it what to do in natural language,” Mooney said. “We’re still a long way from having a computer that can understand language as well as a human being does, but we’ve made definite progress toward that goal.”

You’re So Vain: Study Links Social Media Use and Narcissism (Science Daily)

June 11, 2013 — Facebook is a mirror and Twitter is a megaphone, according to a new University of Michigan study exploring how social media reflect and amplify the culture’s growing levels of narcissism.

New research shows that narcissistic college students and their adult counterparts use social media in different ways to boost their egos and control others’ perceptions of them. (Credit: © mtkang / Fotolia)

The study, published online inComputers in Human Behavior, was conducted by U-M researchers Elliot Panek, Yioryos Nardis and Sara Konrath.

“Among young adult college students, we found that those who scored higher in certain types of narcissism posted more often on Twitter,” said Panek, who recently received his doctorate in communication studies from U-M and will join Drexel University this fall as a visiting fellow.

“But among middle-aged adults from the general population, narcissists posted more frequent status updates on Facebook.”

According to Panek, Facebook serves narcissistic adults as a mirror.

“It’s about curating your own image, how you are seen, and also checking on how others respond to this image,” he said. “Middle-aged adults usually have already formed their social selves, and they use social media to gain approval from those who are already in their social circles.”

For narcissistic college students, the social media tool of choice is the megaphone of Twitter.

“Young people may overevaluate the importance of their own opinions,” Panek said. “Through Twitter, they’re trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues.”

The researchers examined whether narcissism was related to the amount of daily Facebook and Twitter posting and to the amount of time spent on each social media site, including reading the posts and comments of others.

For one part of the study, the researchers recruited 486 college undergraduates. Three-quarters were female and the median age was 19. Participants answered questions about the extent of their social media use, and also took a personality assessment measuring different aspects of narcissism, including exhibitionism, exploitativeness, superiority, authority and self-sufficiency.

For the second part of the study, the researchers asked 93 adults, mostly white females, with an average age of 35, to complete an online survey.

According to Panek, the study shows that narcissistic college students and their adult counterparts use social media in different ways to boost their egos and control others’ perceptions of them.

“It’s important to analyze how often social media users actually post updates on sites, along with how much time they spend reading the posts and comments of others,” he said.

The researchers were unable to determine whether narcissism leads to increased use of social media, or whether social media use promotes narcissism, or whether some other factors explain the relationship. But the study is among the first to compare the relationship between narcissism and different kinds of social media in different age groups.

Funding for the study comes in part from The Character Project, sponsored by Wake Forest University via the John Templeton Foundation.

Journal Reference:

  1. Elliot T. Panek, Yioryos Nardis, Sara Konrath. Mirror or Megaphone?: How relationships between narcissism and social networking site use differ on Facebook and TwitterComputers in Human Behavior, 2013; 29 (5): 2004 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2013.04.012

Cientistas desenvolvem simulador de mídias sociais (Fapesp)

Criado por pesquisadores da IBM e do Instituto de Matemática e Estatística da USP, sistema possibilitará prever o impacto de ações de comunicação em redes como Twitter e Facebook

04/06/2013

Elton Alisson

Agência FAPESP – O poder de difusão e a velocidade de propagação das informações nas mídias sociais têm despertado o interesse de empresas e organizações em realizar ações de comunicação em plataformas como Twitter e Facebook.

Um dos desafios com os quais se deparam ao tomar essa decisão, no entanto, é prever o impacto que as campanhas terão nessas mídias sociais, uma vez que elas apresentam um efeito altamente “viral” – as informações se propagam nelas muito rapidamente e é difícil estimar a repercussão que terão.

“Se antes uma pessoa divulgava uma informação no boca-a-boca para mais três ou quatro pessoas, agora ela possui uma audiência que pode chegar aos milhares de seguidores por meio da internet. Daí a dificuldade de prever o impacto de uma ação em uma mídia social”, disse Claudio Pinhanez, líder do grupo de pesquisa em sistemas de serviços da IBM Research – Brazil – o laboratório brasileiro de pesquisa da empresa norte-americana de tecnologia da informação – à Agência FAPESP.

Para tentar encontrar uma resposta a esse desafio, o grupo iniciou um projeto em parceria com pesquisadores do Departamento de Computação do Instituto de Matemática e Estatística (IME) da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) a fim de desenvolver um simulador capaz de prever o impacto das ações de comunicação em mídias sociais com base nos padrões de comportamento dos usuários.

Os primeiros resultados do projeto foram apresentados no início de maio durante o 14th International Workshop on Multi-Agent-Based Simulation, realizado na cidade de Saint Paul, no estado de Minnesota, nos Estados Unidos e, posteriormente, no Latin American eScience Workshop 2013, que ocorreu nos dias 14 e 15 de maio no Espaço Apas, em São Paulo.

Promovido pela FAPESP e pela Microsoft Research, o segundo evento reuniu pesquisadores e estudantes da Europa, da América do Sul e do Norte, da Ásia e da Oceania para discutir avanços em diversas áreas do conhecimento possibilitados pela melhoria na capacidade de análise de grandes volumes de informações produzidas por projetos de pesquisa.

Segundo Pinhanez, para desenvolver um método inicial para modelar e simular as interações entre os usuários de redes sociais, foram coletadas mensagens publicadas por 25 mil pessoas nas redes no Twitter do presidente dos Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, e de seu adversário político, Mitt Romney, em outubro de 2012, último mês da recente campanha eleitoral presidencial norte-americana.

Os pesquisadores analisaram o conteúdo das mensagens e o comportamento dos usuários nas redes de Obama e Romney, de modo a identificar padrões de ações, a frequência com que postavam mensagens, se eram mais positivas ou negativas e qual a influência dessas mensagens sobre outros usuários.

Com base nesse conjunto de dados, desenvolveram um modelo de simulação de agentes – um sistema por meio do qual cada usuário avaliado é representado por programas individuais de computador que rodam integrados e ao mesmo tempo – que indica as probabilidades de ação na rede de cada uma dessas pessoas, apontando qual o momento do dia mais provável para publicar uma mensagem positiva ou negativa com base em seu histórico de comportamento.

Uma das constatações nos experimentos com o simulador foi que a retirada dos dez usuários mais engajados nas discussões realizadas no Twitter do presidente teria mais impacto na rede social do que se o próprio Obama fosse excluído.

“Esses resultados são preliminares e ainda não temos como dizer que são válidos, porque o modelo ainda é inicial e muito simples. Servem, contudo, para demonstrar que o modelo é capaz de mostrar situações interessantes e que, quando estiver pronto, será muito útil para testar hipóteses e responder a perguntas do tipo ‘será que a frequência com que o presidente Obama publica uma mensagem afeta sua rede social?’”, disse Pinhanez.

A IBM já possuía um sistema que permite a análise de “sentimento” – como é denominada a classificação do tom de uma mensagem – de grandes volumes de textos em inglês e em fluxo contínuo (em tempo real de informação), que a empresa pretende aprimorar para disponibilizá-la no Brasil.

“Estamos trabalhando para trazer uma série de tecnologias e adaptá-las para a língua portuguesa e à cultura brasileira, uma vez que o Brasil é o segundo país mais engajado em redes sociais no mundo, atrás apenas dos Estados Unidos”, afirmou Pinhanez.

Desafios

Segundo os pesquisadores, um dos principais desafios para a análise de sentimento de mensagens publicadas nas redes sociais no Brasil é que o português usado nessas novas mídias costuma não seguir as normas cultas da língua portuguesa, e isso não se deve, necessariamente, ao fato de o usuário não dominar o idioma.

“Existem convenções de como se escrever de maneira cool nas redes sociais”, disse Pinhanez. Por causa disso, um dos desafios no Brasil será o de incorporar o novo vocabulário surgido nesses fóruns.

Além disso, os textos são mais curtos e informais do que os publicados em sites de avaliações de filmes, por exemplo, como o do Internet Movie Database, em que os comentários são mais longos, mais bem formatados e rotulados.

“Com base nesse tipo de critério, podemos saber, de antemão, qual o sentimento do texto: se o usuário deu muitas estrelas para o filme é que ele está falando bem. E se deu poucas estrelas é porque sua avaliação foi negativa”, disse Samuel Martins Barbosa Neto, doutorando do IME e participante do projeto.

“A linguagem usada no Twitter é muito mais natural. Há muita expressão e variações de palavras, o que torna muito mais complicada a classificação das mensagens. Às vezes não se tem informação suficiente para assegurar que, de fato, um determinado tweet é positivo ou negativo, uma vez que ele não tem um rótulo que permita compará-lo com outros. Por isso, muitas dessas mensagens precisam ser rotuladas manualmente”, explicou Barbosa Neto.

Outro desafio é extrair dados das redes sociais. No início, o acesso aos dados das mensagens de redes, como o Twitter, era totalmente aberto. Hoje, é limitado. Além disso, o número de informações geradas por redes sociais cresceu exponencialmente, impondo aos pesquisadores o desafio de extrair mostras significativas de grandes volumes de dados para validar suas pesquisas.

“A rede do Obama no Twitter deve ter chegado aos 25 milhões de seguidores. Como podemos apenas extrair uma pequena parte desses dados, o desafio é garantir que eles não sejam enviesados – representando, por exemplo, apenas um nicho de seguidores – para gerar um resultado válido”, explicou Barbosa Neto.

Colaboração de pesquisa

Roberto Marcondes Cesar Junior, professor do IME-USP e orientador do trabalho de doutorado de Barbosa Neto, conta que o projeto de desenvolvimento do simulador de rede social é o primeiro realizado por seu grupo em colaboração com a IBM Research – Brazil.

O grupo do IME trabalha há dez anos no desenvolvimento de projetos de análise de dados usando modelos estatísticos em áreas como Biologia e Medicina, para descobertas de novos genes e de redes gênicas, por exemplo. E, mais recentemente, começou a desenvolver pesquisas para a aplicação de modelos matemáticos em Ciências Sociais.

“Ingressamos nessa área com o intuito de aplicar as mesmas técnicas matemáticas e computacionais em situações em que os dados provêm de alguma atividade humana, especificamente, em vez da ação de um gene ou de uma proteína, por exemplo, e vimos a oportunidade de trabalhar essas técnicas em redes sociais, que, do ponto de vista abstrato, têm muitas semelhanças com uma rede gênica, porque são redes que conectam elementos”, comparou Marcondes Cesar, que é membro da Coordenação Adjunta de Ciências Exatas e Engenharias da FAPESP e coordena o Projeto Temático “Modelos e métodos de e-Science para ciências da vida e agrárias”.

“Enquanto em uma rede gênica os elementos são os genes, que trocam informação bioquímica, em uma rede social os integrantes são os usuários, que trocam mensagens de texto”, disse.

A parceria com a IBM Research – Brazil, segundo Marcondes Cesar, possibilita implementar as ferramentas desenvolvidas na universidade. Para facilitar a realização do projeto, o estudante de doutorado orientado por ele foi contratado como estagiário pela empresa.

“Temos feito muitos projetos em parceria com universidades e instituições de pesquisa. Acreditamos muito em inovação aberta e atuamos bastante dessa forma”, disse Pinhanez.

Segundo Pinhanez, poucos grupos de pesquisa no mundo tentaram desenvolver um simulador de mídias sociais, em grande parte pela dificuldade de se montar uma equipe multidisciplinar de pesquisa.

“Acho que, pela primeira vez, a comunidade científica tem algo parecido com o mapa de quem conhece quem no mundo. É um mapa ainda incompleto, cheio de erros e enviesado, mas o nosso trabalho é uma das primeiras simulações de comportamento de um número tão grande de pessoas”, afirmou. “Antes, quando se fazia isso era, no máximo, com 300 pessoas, e era preciso ficar coletando dados por anos.”

O artigo Large-Scale Multi-Agent-based Modeling and Simulation of Microblogging-based Online Social Network, de Pinhanez e outros, pode ser lido nos anais do 14th International Workshop on Multi-Agent-Based Simulation.

In Big Data, We Hope and Distrust (Huffington Post)

By Robert Hall

Posted: 04/03/2013 6:57 pm

“In God we trust. All others must bring data.” — W. Edwards Deming, statistician, quality guru

Big data helped reelect a pesident, find Osama bin Laden, and contributed to the meltdown of our financial system. We are in the midst of a data revolution where social media introduces new terms like Arab Spring, Facebook Depression and Twitter anxiety that reflect a new reality: Big data is changing the social and relationship fabric of our culture.

We spend hours installing and learning how to use the latest versions of our ever-expanding technology while enduring a never-ending battle to protect our information. Then we labor while developing practices to rid ourselves of technology — rules for turning devices off during meetings or movies, legislation to outlaw texting while driving, restrictions in classrooms to prevent cheating, and scheduling meals or family time where devices are turned off. Information and technology: We love it, hate it, can’t live with it, can’t live without it, use it voraciously, and distrust it immensely. I am schizophrenic and so am I.

Big data is not only big but growing rapidly. According to IBM, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes a day and that “ninety percent of the data in the world has been created in the last two years.” Vast new computing capacity can analyze Web-browsing trails that track our every click, sensor signals from every conceivable device, GPS tracking and social network traffic. It is now possible to measure and monitor people and machines to an astonishing degree. How exciting, how promising. And how scary.

This is not our first data rodeo. The early stages of the customer relationship management movement were filled with hope and with hype. Large data warehouses were going to provide the kind of information that would make companies masters of customer relationships. There were just two problems. First, getting the data out of the warehouse wasn’t nearly as hard as getting it into the person or device interacting with the customers in a way that added value, trust and expanded relationships. We seem to always underestimate the speed of technology and overestimate the speed at which we can absorb it and socialize around it.

Second, unfortunately the customers didn’t get the memo and mostly decided in their own rich wisdom they did not need or want “masters.” In fact as providers became masters of knowing all the details about our lives, consumers became more concerned. So while many organizations were trying to learn more about customer histories, behaviors and future needs — customers and even their governments were busy trying to protect privacy, security, and access. Anyone attempting to help an adult friend or family member with mental health issues has probably run into well-intentioned HIPAA rules (regulations that ensure privacy of medical records) that unfortunately also restrict the ways you can assist them. Big data gives and the fear of big data takes away.

Big data does not big relationships make. Over the last 20 years as our data keeps getting stronger, our customer relationships keep getting weaker. Eighty-six percent of consumers trust corporations less than they did five years ago. Customer retention across industries has fallen about 30 percent in recent years. Is it actually possible that we have unwittingly contributed in the undermining of our customer relationships? How could that be? For one thing, as companies keep getting better at targeting messages to specific groups and those groups keep getting better at blocking their messages. As usual, the power to resist trumps the power to exert.

No matter how powerful big data becomes, if it is to realize its potential, it must build trust on three levels. First, customers must trust our intentions. Data that can be used for us can also be used against us. There is growing fear institutions will become a part of a “surveillance state.” While organizations have gone to great length to promote protection of our data — the numbers reflect a fair amount of doubt. For example, according to MainStreet, “87 percent of Americans do not feel large banks are transparent and 68 percent do not feel their bank is on their side.:

Second, customers must trust our actions. Even if they trust our intentions, they might still fear that our actions put them at risk. Our private information can be hacked, then misused and disclosed in damaging and embarrassing ways. After the Sandy Hook tragedy a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of over 33,000 licensed gun owners along with an interactive map that showed exactly where they lived. In response names and addresses of the newspaper editor and writers were published on-line along with information about their children. No one, including retired judges, law enforcement officers and FBI agents expected their private information to be published in the midst of a very high decibel controversy.

Third, customers must trust the outcome — that sharing data will benefit them. Even with positive intentions and constructive actions, the results may range from disappointing to damaging. Most of us have provided email addresses or other contact data — around a customer service issue or such — and then started receiving email, phone or online solicitations. I know a retired executive who helps hard-to-hire people. She spent one evening surfing the Internet to research about expunging criminal records for released felons. Years later, Amazon greets her with books targeted to the felon it believes she is. Even with opt-out options, we felt used. Or, we provide specific information, only to repeat it in the next transaction or interaction — not getting the hoped for benefit of saving our time.

It will be challenging to grow the trust at anywhere near the rate we grow the data. Information develops rapidly, competence and trust develop slowly. Investing heavily in big data and scrimping on trust will have the opposite effect desired. To quote Dolly Parton who knows a thing or two about big: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”

‘Networked Minds’ Require Fundamentally New Kind of Economics (Science Daily)

Mar. 20, 2013 — In their computer simulations of human evolution, scientists at ETH Zurich find the emergence of the “homo socialis” with “other-regarding” preferences. The results explain some intriguing findings in experimental economics and call for a new economic theory of “networked minds”.

In their computer simulations of human evolution, scientists at ETH Zurich find the emergence of the “homo socialis” with “other-regarding” preferences. The results explain some intriguing findings in experimental economics and call for a new economic theory of “networked minds”. (Credit: © violetkaipa / Fotolia)

Economics has a beautiful body of theory. But does it describe real markets? Doubts have come up not only in the wake of the financial crisis, since financial crashes should not occur according to the then established theories. Since ages, economic theory is based on concepts such as efficient markets and the “homo economicus”, i.e. the assumption of competitively optimizing individuals and firms. It was believed that any behavior deviating from this would create disadvantages and, hence, be eliminated by natural selection. But experimental evidence from behavioral economics show that, on average, people behave more fairness-oriented and other-regarding than expected. A new theory by scientists from ETH Zurich now explains why.

“We have simulated interactions of individuals facing social dilemma situations, where it would be favorable for everyone to cooperate, but non-cooperative behavior is tempting,” explains Dr. Thomas Grund, one of the authors of the study. “Hence, cooperation tends to erode, which is bad for everyone.” This may create tragedies of the commons such as over-fishing, environmental pollution, or tax evasion.

Evolution of “friendliness”

Prof. Dirk Helbing of ETH Zurich, who coordinated the study, adds: “Compared to conventional models for the evolution of social cooperation, we have distinguished between the actual behavior – cooperation or not – and an inherited character trait, describing the degree of other-regarding preferences, which we call the friendliness.” The actual behavior considers not only the own advantage (“payoff”), but also gives a weight to the payoff of the interaction partners depending on the individual friendliness. For the “homo economicus”, the weight is zero. The friendliness spreads from one generation to the next according to natural selection. This is merely based on the own payoff, but mutations happen.

For most parameter combinations, the model predicts the evolution of a payoff-maximizing “homo economicus” with selfish preferences, as assumed by a great share of the economic literature. Very surprisingly, however, biological selection may create a “homo socialis” with other-regarding preferences, namely if offsprings tend to stay close to their parents. In such a case, clusters of friendly people, who are “conditionally cooperative”, may evolve over time.

If an unconditionally cooperative individual is born by chance, it may be exploited by everyone and not leave any offspring. However, if born in a favorable, conditionally cooperative environment, it may trigger cascade-like transitions to cooperative behavior, such that other-regarding behavior pays off. Consequently, a “homo socialis” spreads.

Networked minds create a cooperative human species

“This has fundamental implications for the way, economic theories should look like,” underlines Professor Helbing. Most of today’s economic knowledge is for the “homo economicus”, but people wonder whether that theory really applies. A comparable body of work for the “homo socialis” still needs to be written.

While the “homo economicus” optimizes its utility independently, the “homo socialis” puts himself or herself into the shoes of others to consider their interests as well,” explains Grund, and Helbing adds: “This establishes something like “networked minds”. Everyone’s decisions depend on the preferences of others.” This becomes even more important in our networked world.

A participatory kind of economy

How will this change our economy? Today, many customers doubt that they get the best service by people who are driven by their own profits and bonuses. “Our theory predicts that the level of other-regarding preferences is distributed broadly, from selfish to altruistic. Academic education in economics has largely promoted the selfish type. Perhaps, our economic thinking needs to fundamentally change, and our economy should be run by different kinds of people,” suggests Grund. “The true capitalist has other-regarding preferences,” adds Helbing, “as the “homo socialis” earns much more payoff.” This is, because the “homo socialis” manages to overcome the downwards spiral that tends to drive the “homo economicus” towards tragedies of the commons. The breakdown of trust and cooperation in the financial markets back in 2008 might be seen as good example.

“Social media will promote a new kind of participatory economy, in which competition goes hand in hand with cooperation,” believes Helbing. Indeed, the digital economy’s paradigm of the “prosumer” states that the Internet, social platforms, 3D printers and other developments will enable the co-producing consumer. “It will be hard to tell who is consumer and who is producer”, says Christian Waloszek. “You might be both at the same time, and this creates a much more cooperative perspective.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas Grund, Christian Waloszek, Dirk Helbing. How Natural Selection Can Create Both Self- and Other-Regarding Preferences, and Networked Minds.Scientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01480

Cracking the Semantic Code: Half a Word’s Meaning Is 3-D Summary of Associated Rewards (Science Daily)

Feb. 13, 2013 — We make choices about pretty much everything, all the time — “Should I go for a walk or grab a coffee?”; “Shall I look at who just came in or continue to watch TV?” — and to do so we need something common as a basis to make the choice.

Half of a word’s meaning is simply a three dimensional summary of the rewards associated with it, according to an analysis of millions of blog entries. (Credit: © vlorzor / Fotolia)

Dr John Fennell and Dr Roland Baddeley of Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology followed a hunch that the common quantity, often referred to simply as reward, was a representation of what could be gained, together with how risky and uncertain it is. They proposed that these dimensions would be a unique feature of all objects and be part of what those things mean to us.

Over 50 years ago, psychologist Charles Osgood developed an influential method, known as the ‘semantic differential’, that attempts to measure the connotative, emotional meaning of a word or concept. Osgood found that about 50 per cent of the variation in a large number of ratings that people made about words and concepts could be captured using just three summary dimensions: ‘evaluation’ (how nice or good the object is), ‘potency’ (how strong or powerful an object is) and ‘activity’ (whether the object is active, unpredictable or chaotic). So, half of a concept’s meaning is simply a measure of how nice, strong, and active it is. The main problem is that, until now, no one knew why.

Dr Baddeley explained: “Over time, we keep a running tally of all the good and bad things associated with a particular object. Later, when faced with a decision, we can simply choose the option that in the past has been associated with more good things than bad. This dimension of choice sounds very much like the ‘evaluation’ dimension of the semantic differential.”

To test this, the researchers needed to estimate the number of good or bad things happening. At first sight, estimating this across a wide range of contexts and concepts seems impossible; someone would need to be observed throughout his or her lifetime and, for each of a large range of contexts and concepts, the number of times good and bad things happened recorded. Fortunately, a more practical solution is provided by the recent phenomenon of internet blogs, which describe aspects of people’s lives and are also searchable. Sure enough, after analysing millions of blog entries, the researchers found that the evaluation dimension was a very good predictor of whether a particular word was found in blogs describing good situations or bad.

Interestingly, they also found that how frequently a word was used was also a good predictor of how much we like it. This is a well-known effect — the ‘mere exposure effect’ — and a mainstay of the multi-billion dollar advertising industry. When comparing two options we just choose the option we like the most — and we like it because in the past it has been associated with more good things.

Analysing the data showed that ‘potency’ was a very good predictor of the probability of bad situations being associated with a given object: it measured one kind of risk.

Dr Fennell said: “This kind of way of quantifying risk is called ‘value at risk’ in financial circles, and the perils of ignoring it have been plain to see. Russian Roulette may be, on average, associated with positive rewards, but the risks associated with it are not for everyone!”

It is not the only kind of risk, though. In many situations, ‘activity’ — that is, unpredictability, or more importantly uncontrollability — is a highly relevant measure of risk: a knife in the hands of a highly trained sushi chef is probably safe, a knife in the hands of a drunk, erratic stranger is definitely not.

Dr Fennell continued: “Again, this different kind of risk is relevant in financial dealings and is often called volatility. It seems that the mistake that was made in the credit crunch was not ignoring this kind of risk, but to assume that you could perfectly guess it based on how unpredictable it had been in the past.”

Thus, the researchers propose that half of meaning is simply a summary of how rewarding, and importantly, how much of two kinds of risk is associated with an object. Being sensitive not only to rewards, but also to risks, is so important to our survival, that it appears that its representation has become wrapped up in the very nature of the language we use to represent the world.

Journal Reference:

  1. John G. Fennell, Roland J. Baddeley. Reward Is Assessed in Three Dimensions That Correspond to the Semantic DifferentialPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (2): e55588 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0055588

New research discovers the emergence of Twitter ‘tribes’ (University of London)

Public release date: 14-Mar-2013

Tanya Gubbay – University of London 

A project led by scientists from Royal Holloway University in collaboration with Princeton University, has found evidence of how people form into tribe-like communities on social network sites such as Twitter.

In a paper published in EPJ Data Science, they found that these communities have a common character, occupation or interest and have developed their own distinctive languages.

“This means that by looking at the language someone uses, it is possible to predict which community he or she is likely to belong to, with up to 80% accuracy,” said Dr John Bryden from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway. “We searched for unusual words that are used a lot by one community, but relatively infrequently by the others. For example, one community often mentioned Justin Bieber, while another talked about President Obama.”

Professor Vincent Jansen from Royal Holloway added: “Interestingly, just as people have varying regional accents, we also found that communities would misspell words in different ways. The Justin Bieber fans have a habit of ending words in ‘ee’, as in ‘pleasee’, while school teachers tend to use long words.”

The team produced a map of the communities showing how they have vocations, politics, ethnicities and hobbies in common. In order to do this, they focused on the sending of publically available messages via Twitter, which meant that they could record conversations between two or many participants.

To group these users into communities, they turned to cutting-edge algorithms from physics and network science. The algorithms worked by looking for individuals that tend to send messages to other members of the same community.

Dr Bryden then suggested analysing the language use of these discovered communities.

Dr Sebastian Funk from Princeton University said: “When we started to apply John’s ideas, surprising groups started to emerge that we weren’t expecting. One ‘anipals’ group was interested in hosting parties to raise funds for animal welfare, while another was a fascinating growing community interested in the concept of gratitude.”

Online Records Could Expose Intimate Details and Personality Traits of Millions (Science Daily)

Mar. 11, 2013 — Research shows that intimate personal attributes can be predicted with high levels of accuracy from ‘traces’ left by seemingly innocuous digital behaviour, in this case Facebook Likes. Study raises important questions about personalised marketing and online privacy.

Research shows that intimate personal attributes can be predicted with high levels of accuracy from ‘traces’ left by seemingly innocuous digital behaviour, in this case Facebook Likes. Study raises important questions about personalised marketing and online privacy. (Credit: Graphic from mypersonality app, Cambridge Psychometrics Centre)

New research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that surprisingly accurate estimates of Facebook users’ race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, substance use and political views can be inferred from automated analysis of only their Facebook Likes — information currently publicly available by default.

In the study, researchers describe Facebook Likes as a “generic class” of digital record — similar to web search queries and browsing histories — and suggest that such techniques could be used to extract sensitive information for almost anyone regularly online.

Researchers at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre, in collaboration with Microsoft Research Cambridge, analysed a dataset of over 58,000 US Facebook users, who volunteered their Likes, demographic profiles and psychometric testing results through the myPersonality application. Users opted in to provide data and gave consent to have profile information recorded for analysis.

Facebook Likes were fed into algorithms and corroborated with information from profiles and personality tests. Researchers created statistical models able to predict personal details using Facebook Likes alone.

Models proved 88% accurate for determining male sexuality, 95% accurate distinguishing African-American from Caucasian American and 85% accurate differentiating Republican from Democrat. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82% of cases, and good prediction accuracy was achieved for relationship status and substance abuse — between 65 and 73%.

But few users clicked Likes explicitly revealing these attributes. For example, less that 5% of gay users clicked obvious Likes such as Gay Marriage. Accurate predictions relied on ‘inference’ — aggregating huge amounts of less informative but more popular Likes such as music and TV shows to produce incisive personal profiles.

Even seemingly opaque personal details such as whether users’ parents separated before the user reached the age of 21 were accurate to 60%, enough to make the information “worthwhile for advertisers,” suggest the researchers.

While they highlight the potential for personalised marketing to improve online services using predictive models, the researchers also warn of the threats posed to users’ privacy.

They argue that many online consumers might feel such levels of digital exposure exceed acceptable limits — as corporations, governments, and even individuals could use predictive software to accurately infer highly sensitive information from Facebook Likes and other digital ‘traces’.

The researchers also tested for personality traits including intelligence, emotional stability, openness and extraversion.

While such latent traits are far more difficult to gauge, the accuracy of the analysis was striking. Study of the openness trait — the spectrum of those who dislike change to those who welcome it — revealed that observation of Likes alone is roughly as informative as using an individual’s actual personality test score.

Some Likes had a strong but seemingly incongruous or random link with a personal attribute, such as Curly Fries with high IQ, or That Spider is More Scared Than U Are with non-smokers.

When taken as a whole, researchers believe that the varying estimations of personal attributes and personality traits gleaned from Facebook Like analysis alone can form surprisingly accurate personal portraits of potentially millions of users worldwide.

They say the results suggest a possible revolution in psychological assessment which — based on this research — could be carried out at an unprecedented scale without costly assessment centres and questionnaires.

“We believe that our results, while based on Facebook Likes, apply to a wider range of online behaviours.” said Michal Kosinski, Operations Director at the Psychometric Centre, who conducted the research with his Cambridge colleague David Stillwell and Thore Graepel from Microsoft Research.

“Similar predictions could be made from all manner of digital data, with this kind of secondary ‘inference’ made with remarkable accuracy — statistically predicting sensitive information people might not want revealed. Given the variety of digital traces people leave behind, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to control.

“I am a great fan and active user of new amazing technologies, including Facebook. I appreciate automated book recommendations, or Facebook selecting the most relevant stories for my newsfeed,” said Kosinski. “However, I can imagine situations in which the same data and technology is used to predict political views or sexual orientation, posing threats to freedom or even life.”

“Just the possibility of this happening could deter people from using digital technologies and diminish trust between individuals and institutions — hampering technological and economic progress. Users need to be provided with transparency and control over their information.”

Thore Graepel from Microsoft Research said he hoped the research would contribute to the on-going discussions about user privacy:

“Consumers rightly expect strong privacy protection to be built into the products and services they use and this research may well serve as a reminder for consumers to take a careful approach to sharing information online, utilising privacy controls and never sharing content with unfamiliar parties.”

David Stillwell from Cambridge University added: “I have used Facebook since 2005, and I will continue to do so. But I might be more careful to use the privacy settings that Facebook provides.”

Journal Reference:

  1. M. Kosinski, D. Stillwell, T. Graepel. Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behaviorProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1218772110

Revolução nas universidades (OESP)

JC e-mail 4656, de 30 de Janeiro de 2013.

Artigo de Thomas Friedman* no The New York Times, publicado no O Estado de São Paulo

Avanço do ensino superior online nas melhores escolas tornará o conceito de diploma algo arcaico; e isso é bom
Deus sabe que há muitas más notícias no mundo atual que nos derrubam, mas está ocorrendo alguma coisa formidável que me deixa esperançoso com relação ao futuro. Trata-se da revolução, incipiente, no ensino superior online.

Nada tem mais potencial para tirar as pessoas da pobreza – oferecendo a elas um ensino acessível que vai ajudá-las a conseguir trabalho ou ter melhores condições no seu emprego.
Nada tem mais potencial para libertar um bilhão de cérebros para solucionar os grandes problemas do mundo.

E nada tem mais potencial para recriar o ensino superior do que as MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), plataformas desenvolvidas por especialistas de Stanford, por colegas do MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) e por empresas como Goursera e Udacity.

Em maio, escrevi um artigo sobre a Goursera – fundada por dois cientistas da computação de Stanford, Daphne Koller e Andrew Ng. Há duas semanas, retornei a Paio Alto para saber do seu progresso. Quando visitei a Goursera, em 2012, cerca de 300 mil pessoas participavam de 38 cursos proferidos por professores de Stanford e de outras universidades de elite.

Hoje, são 2,4 milhões de alunos e 214 cursos de 33 universidades, incluindo 8 internacionais. AnantAgarwal, ex-diretor do laboratório de inteligência artificial do MIT, hoje é presidente da edX, uma plataforma sem fins lucrativos criada em conjunto pelo MIT e pela Univer-sidade Harvard. Anant disse que, desde maio, cerca de 155 mil alunos do mundo todo participam do primeiro curso da edX: um curso introdutório sobre circuitos do MIT.

“E um número superior ao total dos alunos do MIT em sua história de 150 anos”, afirmou.
Claro que somente uma pequena porcentagem desses alunos completa o curso, mas estou convencido de que, dentro de cinco anos, essas plataformas alcançarão um público mais amplo. Imagine como isso poderá mudar a ajuda externa dos EUA.

Gastando relativamente pouco, o país poderia arrendar um espaço num vilarejo egípcio, instalar duas dezenas de computadores e dispositivos de acesso à internet de alta velocidade via satélite, contratar um professor local como coordenador e convidar todos os egípcios que desejarem ter aulas online com os melhores professores do mundo e legendas em árabe.

É preciso ouvir as histórias narradas pelos pioneiros dessa iniciativa para compreender seu potencial revolucionário. Uma das favoritas de Daphne Koller é sobre Daniel, um jovem de 17 anos com autismo que se comunica por meio do computador. Ele fez um curso online de poesia moderna oferecido pela Universidade da Pensilvânia.

Segundo Daniel e seus pais, a combinação de um currículo acadêmico rigoroso, que exige que ele se concentre na sua tarefa, e do sistema de aprendizado online, que não força sua capacidade de se relacionar, permite que ele administre melhor o autismo.

Daphne mostrou uma carta de Daniel em que ele escreveu: “Por favor, relateà Goursera e à Universidade da Pensilvânia a minhahistória. Souumjovem saindo do autismo. Ainda não consigo sentar-me numa sala de aula, de modo que esse foi meu primeiro curso de verdade.

Agora, sei que posso me beneficiar de um trabalho que exige muito de mim e ter o prazer de me sintonizar com o mundo.” Um membro da equipe do Goursera, que fez um curso sobre sustentabilida-de, me disse que foi muito mais interessante do que um estudo similar que ele fez na faculdade. Do curso online participaram estudantes do mundo todo e, assim, “as discussões que surgiram foram muito mais valiosas e interessantes do que os debates com pessoas iguais de uma típica faculdade americana. Mitch Duneier, professor de sociologia de Princeton, escreveu um ensaio sobre sua experiência ao dar aula num curso da Coursera.

“Há alguns meses, quando o campus de Princeton ficou quase em silêncio depois das cerimônias de graduação, 40 mil estudantes de 113 países chegaram aqui via internet para um curso grátis de introdução à sociologia. Minha aula de abertura, sobre o clássico de C. Wright Mills, de 1959, The Sociological Imagination, foi concentrada na leitura minuciosa do texto de um capítulo-chave. Pedi aos alunos para seguirem a análise em suas cópias, como faço em sala de aula. Quando dou essa aula em Princeton, normalmente, são feitas algumas perguntas perspicazes. Nesse caso, algumas horas depois de postar a versão online, os fóruns pegaram fogo, com centenas de comentários e perguntas. Alguns dias depois, eram milhares. Num espaço de três semanas, recebi mais feed-back sobre minhas ideias 11a área de sociologia do que em toda a minha carreira de professor, o que influenciou consideravelmente cada uma das minhas aulas e seminários seguintes.”

Anant Agarwal, da edX, fala sobre um estudante no Cairo que teve dificuldades e postou uma mensagem dizendo que pretendia abandonar o curso online. Em resposta, outros alunos no Cairo, da mesma classe, o convidaram para um encontro numa casa de chá, onde se ofereceram para ajudá-lo. Um estudante da Mongólia, de 15 anos, que estava na mesma classe, participando de um curso semipre-sencial, hoje está se candidatando a uma vaga no MIT e na Universidade da Califórnia, em Berkeley.

À medida que pensamos no futuro do ensino superior, segundo o presidente do MIT, Rafael Reif, algo que hoje chamamos “diploma” será um conceito relacionado com “tijolos e argamassa” – e as tradicionais experiências 110 campus, que influenciarão cada vez mais a tecnologia e a internet para melhorar o trabalho em sala de aula e no laboratório.

Ao lado disso, contudo, muitas universidades oferecerão cursos online para estudantes de qualquer parte do mundo, em que eles conseguirão “credenciais” – ou seja, certificados atestando que realizaram o trabalho e passaram, em todos os exames.

O processo de criação de credenciais fidedignas certificando que o aluno domina adequadamente o assunto – e no qual um empregador pode confiar ainda está sendo aperfeiçoado por todos os MOOCs. No entanto, uma vez resolvida a questão, esse fenômeno realmente se propagará muito.

Posso ver o dia em que você criará o seu diploma universitário participando dos melhores cursos online com os mais capacitados professores do mundo todo – de computação de Stanford, de empreendedorismo da Wharton, de ética da Brandeis, de literatura da Universidade de Edimburgo – pagando apenas uma taxa pelo certificado de conclusão do curso. Isso mudará o ensino, o aprendizado e o caminho para o emprego.

“Um novo mundo está se revelando”, disse Reif. “E todos terão de se adaptar”.

* Thomas Friedman é colunista do The New York Times. (O texto foi traduzido por Terezinha Martinho do O Estado de São Paulo)

Partido del futuro (LaVanguardia.com)

Su proyecto es cambiar la forma de hacer política mediante democracia directa instrumentada a través de internet

12/01/2013 – 00:00h

Por Manuel Castells

El 8 de enero se anunció en internet la creación del “partido del futuro”, un método experimental para construir una democracia sin intermediarios que sustituya a las actuales instituciones deslegitimadas en la mente de los ciudadanos. La repercusión ciudadana y mediática ha sido considerable. En tan sólo el primer día del lanzamiento, y a pesar de que se colapsó el servidor tras recibir 600 peticiones por segundo, hubo 13.000 seguidores en Twitter, 7.000 en Facebook y 100.000 visitas en YouTube. Medios extranjeros y españoles, incluyendo este diario, se han hecho eco de una conferencia de prensa desde el futuro que anuncia el triunfo electoral de su programa: democracia y punto (http://partidodelfuturo.net).

Señal de que ya no se puede ignorar lo que surge del 15-M. Porque este partido emerge del caldo de cultivo creado por el movimiento aunque en ningún caso pueda asimilarse al mismo. Porque no hay “el movimiento” con estructura organizativa ni representantes, sino personas en movimiento que comparten una denuncia básica de las formas de representación política que han dejado inermes a la gente ante los efectos de una crisis que no han causado pero que sufren cada día. El 15-M es una práctica colectiva e individual cambiante y diversificada, que vive en la red y en las calles, y cuyos componentes toman iniciativas de todo tipo, desde la defensa contra el escándalo de las hipotecas a la propuesta de ley electoral que democratice la política.

Pero hasta ahora, muchas de estas iniciativas parecen abocadas a un callejón sin salida. Por un lado, las encuestas reflejan que una gran mayoría de ciudadanos (en torno a un 70%) están de acuerdo con las críticas del 15-M y con muchas de sus propuestas. Por otro lado, toda esta movilización no se traduce en medidas concretas que alivien a las personas porque hay un bloqueo institucional a la adopción de dichas propuestas. Los dos grandes partidos españoles son corresponsables de la sumisión de la política a los poderes financieros en el tratamiento de la crisis, compartiendo, por ejemplo, la gestión irresponsable de los directivos del Banco de España, con un gobernador socialista, en el caso de Bankia y del sistema de cajas, que ha conducido a la ruina a miles de familias. De ahí que el 15-M se expresó en el espacio público, en acampadas, en manifestaciones, en asambleas de barrio y en acciones puntuales de denuncia. Pero aunque esta intervención es esencial para crear conciencia, se agota en si misma cuando se confronta a una represión policial cada vez más violenta.

Afortunadamente, el 15-M ha frenado cualquier impulso de protesta violenta, jugando de hecho un papel de canalizador pacífico de la rabia popular. El dilema es cómo superar las barreras actuales sin dejar de ser movimiento espontáneo, autoorganizado, con múltiples iniciativas que no son programa y por eso pueden congregar potencialmente al 99% que saben lo que no quieren, es decir lo que hay, y que se acuerdan en buscar en conjunto nuevas vías políticas de gestión de la vida.

Para avanzar en ese sentido, ha surgido una iniciativa espontánea de ir ocupando el único espacio en el que el movimiento apenas esta presente: las instituciones. Pero no en lo inmediato, porque su proyecto no es el de ser una minoría parlamentaria, sino de cambiar la forma de hacer política, mediante democracia directa instrumentada mediante internet, proponiendo referéndums sobre temas clave, coelaborando propuestas legislativas mediante consultas y debates en el espacio público, urbano y cibernético, planteando medidas concretas a debatir entre la ciudadanía y sirviendo a la vez de plataforma para propuestas que salgan de la gente.

En realidad, no es un partido, aunque esté inscrito en el registro de partidos, sino un experimento político, que se va reinventando conforme avanza. En el horizonte sí se vislumbra un momento en que el apoyo de la ciudadanía a votar contra todos los políticos a la vez y en favor de una plataforma electoral que tenga ese solo punto en el programa permita una ocupación legal del Parlamento y el desmantelamiento del sistema tradicional de representación desde dentro del mismo. No es tan descabellado. Es en gran medida lo sucedido en Islandia, referente explícito del partido que nos habla desde el futuro.

Pero ¿cómo evitar reproducir el esquema de partido en el proceso de conquistar la mayoría electoral? Aquí es donde se plantea la decisión, criticada desde la clase política y algunos medios, de las personas que han tomado esta iniciativa de mantenerse en el anonimato. Porque si no hay nombres, no hay líderes, ni cargos, ni comités federales, ni portavoces que dicen hablar por los demás pero que acaban representándose a si mismos. Si no hay rostros, lo que queda son ideas, son prácticas, son iniciativas. De hecho, es la práctica de la máscara como forma de creación de un sujeto colectivo compuesto de miles de individuos enmascarados, como hicieron los zapatistas en su momento, o como hace Anonymous con su famosa máscara reconocible en todo el mundo pero con múltiples portadores. Incluso el anonimato de la protesta se encuentra en nuestros clásicos: “Fuenteovejuna, todos a una”. Tal vez llegue un momento en que las listas electorales requieran nombres, pero incluso entonces no necesariamente serían líderes, porque se pueden sortear los nombres entre miles de personas que estén de acuerdo con una plataforma de ideas. En el fondo, se trata de poner en primer plano la política de las ideas con la que se llenan la boca los políticos mientras se hacen su carrera a codazos entre ellos. La personalización de la política es la mayor lacra del liderazgo a lo largo de la historia, la base de la demagogia, de la dictadura del jefe y de la política del escándalo basada en destruir a personas representativas. La X del partido del futuro no es para esconderse, sino para que su contenido lo vayan rellenando las personas que proyecten en este experimento su sueño personal de un sueño colectivo: democracia y punto. A codefinir.

Leer más: http://www.lavanguardia.com/opinion/articulos/20130112/54361811362/manuel-castells-partido-del-futuro.html#ixzz2Hmhz1wZo

Favelas: preservar o quê? (riorealblog.com)

By Julia Michaels

Posted on December 23, 2012

Um mundo na van

SONY DSC

Não existe ônibus direto para Copacabana, vindo da avenida Brasil, altura da passarela nove, Parque União.  Então, o jeito é andar de van. Só que o caminho até o ponto é um desafio mortal.

“Há cracudos,” avisa Jailson de Souza e Silva, fundador do Observatório de Favelas, “e eles avançam. Conhecem as caras das pessoas, e avançam em quem tem cara de gringo.” Ele pede para uma funcionária fazer o papel de guardacostas. No caminho, a acompanhante opina que o governo devia colocar os viciados para trabalhar. “Podiam estampar camisetas,” sugere.

thinktank Observatório de Favelas é localizado na beirada do Complexo da Maré, uma coleção de 16 favelas e conjuntos habitacionais espremidos entre a avenida Brasil e a baía de Guanabara. A pacificação não chegou ainda à Maré. Souza e  Silva morou lá sete anos, e mais onze numa favela perto da Penha.

O interior da van, quase totalmente ocupada, é escuro, fresco, sonorizado de samba. O ar está ligado e os vidros estão abertos, para aproveitar a brisa de uma das últimas tardes de primavera carioca. Não se demora muito para sair, mas na hora da partida aparece uma mulher negra, repleta de curvas e megahair. O motorista, rapaz sólido de olhos doces e redondos, para, desce, e deixa-a subir para se sentar na metade de um lugar na frente, junto a ele e mais duas mulheres.

Mas nem se andou meio metro e alguém lembra que a polícia está por aí na avenida, entre os viciados, de moto, sirene, e revólver, feita pastor de zumbi– espalhando fieis. O motorista para novamente, a bonitona desce, dá volta, e sobe na parte traseira da van, para ficar em pé junto ao cobrador.

Ponto de van e de mototáxi

Ponto de van e de mototáxi

Co-autor do recém-lançado livro O Novo Carioca, Souza e Silva faz parte de um grupo de pensadores e agitadores no Rio de Janeiro, que observa e encoraja o surgimento do tal “Novo Carioca”. Trata-se de pessoas, na sua maioria jovens, que aproveitam cada vez mais a cidade. Aventuram-se por bairros e morros, fazendo conexões e amizades, criando e participando em uma gama de manifestações culturais. A integração urbana– e a cara futura da cidade– dizem os autores do livro, dependem muito do novo carioca.

De acordo com Souza e Silva, “[…] não existe uma identidade carioca independente das favelas […] a cidade tornou-se uma referência nacional e internacional também em função do peso arquitetônico, cultural e social de seus espaços favelados. A garantia dessa riqueza paisagística e dessa pluralidade cultural é central para o Rio de Janeiro”, conforme ele escreve no livro.

Jailson de Souza e Silva

Dali a alguns metros, passados vários cracudos solitários e em grupo, alguns no meio fio,  depois da polícia, a van encosta. O motorista e a moça descem, ela dá volta,  e sobe para ficar novamente no meio, ao lado dele, na frente. E o samba brada. A viagem recomeça, a van entrando numa passarela de retorno ao outro lado da avenida. Do alto, mais cracudos a vista.

“Vamos parar pro diesel,” avisa o cobrador. Ninguém diz nada, mas ele– saradão, de tênis, regata e bermuda, cabeça raspada menos um topete aloirado e encaracolado, de tatuagens, pede desculpas. O motorista queria encher o tanque antes, mas não deu. O cobrador desliza a porta e desce para cuidar do combustível. O posto também vende empadas, e pela porta aberta o motorista e o frentista trocam comentários engraçadinhos porém herméticos para quem é de fora, sobre empadões.

Passa uma mulher negra de soutien roxo e micro saia de material elástico e barato, descalça, pedindo esmola no balcāo das empadas. Passa um rapaz de muletas, faltando uma perna.

Há pouco, Souza e Silva disse que nunca quis sair da favela. “Não é verdade que as pessoas queiram sair da favela,” falou. “Eu sou o exemplo mais concreto. Eu só me mudei da favela– eu fiz uma ótima casa na favela– porque a guerra tornou impossível criar meu filho na favela […] se fóssemos só eu e minha mulher não sairíamos, mas criar um filho com isso, com bala perdida o tempo inteiro, sem poder andar na rua, porque tem jovens com fuzis, e a policia desrespeitando o morador– foi isso que me fez sair da favela. Onde eu morava tinha coleta de esgoto, calçamento, comercio imenso, grau de solidariedade com as pessoas, grau de intensidade de vida, de festa muito forte, de envolvimento, pertencimento grande, e cada vez mais criando opções [culturais].”

Para o americano nascido num subúrbio de casas com quintal para brincar, grama para cortar, e folhas para juntar, soa familiar a descrição de vida comunitária de favela. No subúrbio americano, os vizinhos sabem quem está doente, quem precisa de canja de galinha, carona, uma visita. Lá, o estado é mais eficaz do que no Brasil– as escolas públicas geralmente são boas, por exemplo– mas fora das grandes cidades as pessoas vivem espalhadas, precisando de apoio, e dando apoio, nas horas de dificuldade. Vizinhos limpam a neve da entrada da casa dos mais velhos, andam de porta em porta distribuindo panfletos de candidatos, dão carona para a igreja, fazem babysitting, passeiam cachorros, regam plantas, distribuem balas às crianças no Halloween.

Pit stop

Pit stop

O carioca do asfalto conhece e cumprimenta vizinhos, porteiros, entregadores, feirantes, comerciantes do bairro. Brinca, zoa o time do outro. Participa de bloco de carnaval, e de festa junina na praça. Compartilha praia, cerveja, galeto, pelada de futebol. Mas raramente se junta aos vizinhos para providenciar algo necessário e de utilidade geral: água, luz, casa. No Brasil, quem mora no asfalto paga imposto, paga porteiro, paga pedreiro, passeador e empregada– e assim resolve a vida.

No Brasil, o nivel de confiança no outro é baixo, sobretudo quando o outro não é parente ou colega. Mas na favela a confiança é maior do que em geral, porque há menos desigualdade. O outro é mais parecido, menos assustador, disse Souza e Silva. E a vida é mais pública.

A van tem termometro. No painel acima da cabeça da moça de megahair, marca mais de 36 graus. Mas a brisa é fresca, o samba incita, e Mara, a moça do lado, está negociando com o motorista o transporte de um grupo em janeiro, para Jacarepaguá. Haverá um casamento. “Seu?” pergunta o cobrador, com um sorriso malicioso. Pelo tom de voz e a plenitude de expressões faciais, mais a roupa, conclui-se que ele é homossexual.

“É ruim, hein!” exclama Mara. “Eu casar em Jacarepaguá? Vou casar no Copacabana Palace!” Ela pede um preço do motorista. Ele diz que está pensando.  E para num ponto de ônibus. Sobe um rapaz de pele enrugado pelo sol, que fica em pé ao lado do cobrador. No próximo ponto, o cobrador abre a porta para revelar uma loira, segurando uma grande sacola. Ela faz não com a cabeça. O motorista diz que tem lugar. “Vem, sim!” ele exorta, dobrando-se por cima das três moças no banco de frente para que sua voz chegue aos ouvidos da cliente em potencial. Mas ela se recusa.

“Agora mete o pé!” diz um passageiro, ao passo que a van engrena na avenida Brasil.

“Vou meter,” responde o motorista. “Tem que estar em Copacabana às duas horas.”

As vans surgiram nos anos 90 no Rio de Janeiro, como resposta informal à falta de transporte entre bairros afastados e áreas centrais da cidade. “Sem a van Copacanana-Maré, nao sei o que seria da gente, galera que circula dia e noite construindo novas formas de viver a cidade,” comentou Souza e Silva.

Hoje, milicianos controlam grande parte do negócio e o prefeito Eduardo Paes tenta racionalizar o transporte urbano. Para reduzir o número de veículos nas ruas, fariam muito mais sentido linhas de ônibus ou de metrô. A questão não é tāo diferente da de ocupaçāo do solo. Já existem prédios em favelas.

S

“Quanto, então?” pergunta a Mara. “Vinte,” diz o motorista.

“Por pessoa? Isso sai do meu bolso!” Ela mexe com o celular e mostra alguma coisa, uma foto talvez, à moça do lado dela.

Neste momento, quatro anos após o início da pacificação no Rio de Janeiro, com vários reflexos economicos e imobiliarios dela em curso, fala-se muito na preservação da favela, sobretudo das na Zona Sul. Sabe-se que um número crescente de jovens estrangeiros brinca de casinha no Vidigal, na Rocinha, no Pavão-Pavãozinho e no Cantagalo. Uma breve caminhada em qualquer um desses morros revela sacas de cimento, tijolos recém-colocados. A vida ficou mais segura em muitas favelas pacificadas. As pessoas investem, a cidade se transforma. A barreira entre morro e asfalto fica um tanto menos nítida.

O que deveria ser preservado, nestas áreas da cidade tão longamente negligenciadas? “Uma grande confusão que se faz,” disse mais cedo Souza e Silva na sala dele no Observatório, “é de considerar, quando se fala em preservar a favela como habitat, [que trata-se de] preservar  paisagem.”

A paisagem, mesmo nas favelas mais cinematográficas, mesmo onde as crianças hoje brincam tranquilamente na rua e faz-se churrasco de Reveillon para turista, ainda é frequentemente feia e malcheirosa.

“Tem que garantir todas as condições básicas: saneamento, luz, água, esgoto, coleta de lixo, crêche, educação, equipamentos culturais,” acrescentou Souza e Silva. “Tudo que se tem para viver com dignidade num centro urbano tem que ter na favela. Só que isso não quer dizer eliminar a favela,” explicou. “Significa reconhecer que a favela tem uma geografia particular, que pode ser preservada como as cidades medievais foram preservadas […] podemos ter vários tipos de habitat, de estrutura urbana, sem perder a dignidade.”

SONY DSC

E, supondo que a favela ganhe essa dimensão toda nos próximos anos– pois o programa Morar Carioca, financiado pelo BID, pretende justamente urbanizar todas as favelas cariocas até 2020– o que Souza Silva e outros representantes das regiões populares da cidade querem preservar é um estilo de vida.

O cobrador manda a Mara tomar nota do celular dele, no dela. “Agora liga para mim,” ele diz. ” Para eu ter teu número também.” A negociação será demorada.

“Alguém vai para o Aterro?” pergunta o motorista. “Eu,” diz a moça do outro lado da Mara.

“Serve o Largo do Machado?”

“Serve.”

“Você que vai casar?” pergunta o cobrador novamente, como se fosse policial tentando desvendar mentiras. “So no Copa Palace,” reitera a Mara.

“Faz tempo que não vejo sua namorada,” provoca a amiga da Mara ao motorista.

“Que namorada!” ele corrige. “Sou casado.”

O próximo é próximo: cobrador e passageiro

A van passa pela estação de trem Leopoldina, pelo Sambódromo, e finalmente encosta no Largo do Machado. A temperatura já baixou um grau. O samba ameniza, e a brisa idem. A amiga da Mara desce. Mara diz que vai para São Conrado, mas para chegar lá terá que descer antes do Shopping Rio Sul e pegar outro transporte.

O passageiro de pele enrugado quer pagar seus três reais ao cobrador. “Na saída,” afirma este.

Cariocas do asfalto criam e mantém vínculos no bairro, na cidade. Os vínculos entre moradores de favela, disse Souza e Silva, precisam ser preservados. Muitas vezes, advêm de fortes experiências de vida.

Não devem ser muito diferentes dos vínculos comunitários evidentes na pequena cidade de Sandy Hook, por exemplo, cidade norte americana recentemente atingida por uma tragédia terrível. Vizinhos lá estranharam nunca terem entrado na casa da māe do matador, de acordo com reportagens. Pois lá, entra-se na casa de vizinho, mesmo que não seja amigo. Tomar essa liberdade, e sentir a confiança embutida no ato, fazem parte da democracia americana.

No Brasil, tal comportamento pode ser considerado uma intrusão. Na Zona Sul do Rio de Janeiro, pede-se licença, cheio de dedos, para conferir a criatividade de um decorador ou arquiteto, num apartamento de layout igual.

“Reconhecer que a favela é mais do que paisagem é reconhecer esses vínculos,” finalizou Souza e Silva.

O passageiro de rugas chegou no destino. A van para, o cobrador desce, o passageiro paga na calçada. “Não quer receber antes,” lamenta o motorista. “Só viado, mesmo.”

S

Não casa em Jacarepaguá

A van chega na praia do Flamengo, e descem vários passageiros, criando mais espaço. “Onde você trabalha em São Conrado?” pergunta o motorista, agora sozinho no banco da frente, para Mara.

“No Fashion Mall?” aposta o cobrador. É o shopping mais chique do Rio de Janeiro. Ela diz que sim. “Qual loja?” ele pergunta. Agora resolve receber de todo mundo. O dinheiro é passado adiante, troco feito.

“Armani,” responde a Mara. A van passa por um túnel pequeno. Na saída, Mara está colocando um óculos de sol com um AX no haste. Logo a van para no ponto, ela desce, e daí aparece no vão da porta aberta um jovem de topete e sobrancelha feita, mão sugestivamente na cintura, um pé esticado à frente do outro para ressaltar um quadril amplo.

“Seu irmão?” pergunta o motorista ao cobrador. O rapaz sobe requebrando para o assento de carona agora vazio, e o cobrador, de sorriso maroto, desce para comprar água gelada para ele e o colega de trabalho.

Enquanto os dois bebem das garrafinhas suadas de plástico azul, a van chega em Copacabana, o bairro mais denso do Rio de Janeiro. A brisa do mar adentra os vidros; o samba flui para fora. Fazem 33 graus, de acordo com os números vermelhos do painel. Os últimos descem na altura da Francisco Sá, e lá vai a dupla Copacabana-Maré pelo retorno, pela praia, de volta ao Parque União.

Social Synchronicity: Research Finds a Connection Between Bonding and Matched Movements (Science Daily)

A new study finds that body-movement synchronization between two participants increases following a short session of cooperative training, suggesting that our ability to synchronize body movements is a measurable indicator of social interaction. (Credit: © Yuri Arcurs / Fotolia)

Dec. 12, 2012 — Humans have a tendency to spontaneously synchronize their movements. For example, the footsteps of two friends walking together may synchronize, although neither individual is consciously aware that it is happening. Similarly, the clapping hands of an audience will naturally fall into synch. Although this type of synchronous body movement has been observed widely, its neurological mechanism and its role in social interactions remain obscure. In a new study, led by cognitive neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), researchers found that body-movement synchronization between two participants increases following a short session of cooperative training, suggesting that our ability to synchronize body movements is a measurable indicator of social interaction.

“Our findings may provide a powerful tool for identifying the neural underpinnings of both normal social interactions and impaired social interactions, such as the deficits that are often associated with autism,” says Shinsuke Shimojo, Gertrude Baltimore Professor of Experimental Psychology at Caltech and senior author of the study.

Shimojo, along with former postdoctoral scholar Kyongsik Yun, and Katsumi Watanabe, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo, presented their work in a paper published December 11 inScientific Reports, an online and open-access journal from the Nature Publishing Group.

For their study, the team evaluated the hypothesis that synchronous body movement is the basis for more explicit social interaction by measuring the amount of fingertip movement between two participants who were instructed to extend their arms and point their index fingers toward one another — much like the famous scene in E.T. between the alien and Elliott. They were explicitly instructed to keep their own fingers as stationary as possible while keeping their eyes open. The researchers simultaneously recorded the neuronal activity of each participant using electroencephalography, or EEG, recordings. Their finger positions in space were recorded by a motion-capture system.

The participants repeated the task eight times; the first two rounds were called pretraining sessions and the last two were posttraining sessions. The four sessions in between were the cooperative training sessions, in which one person — a randomly chosen leader — made a sequence of large finger movements, and the other participant was instructed to follow the movements. In the posttraining sessions, finger-movement correlation between the two participants was significantly higher compared to that in the pretraining sessions. In addition, socially and sensorimotor-related brain areas were more synchronized between the brains, but not within the brain, in the posttraining sessions. According to the researchers, this experiment, while simple, is novel in that it allows two participants to interact subconsciously while the amount of movement that could potentially disrupt measurement of the neural signal is minimized.

“The most striking outcome of our study is that not only the body-body synchrony but also the brain-brain synchrony between the two participants increased after a short period of social interaction,” says Yun. “This may open new vistas to study the brain-brain interface. It appears that when a cooperative relationship exists, two brains form a loose dynamic system.”

The team says this information may be potentially useful for romantic or business partner selection.

“Because we can quantify implicit social bonding between two people using our experimental paradigm, we may be able to suggest a more socially compatible partnership in order to maximize matchmaking success rates, by preexamining body synchrony and its increase during a short cooperative session” explains Yun.

As part of the study, the team also surveyed the subjects to rank certain social personality traits, which they then compared to individual rates of increased body synchrony. For example, they found that the participants who expressed the most social anxiety showed the smallest increase in synchrony after cooperative training, while those who reported low levels of anxiety had the highest increases in synchrony. The researchers plan to further evaluate the nature of the direct causal relationship between synchronous body movement and social bonding. Further studies may explore whether a more complex social interaction, such as singing together or being teamed up in a group game, increases synchronous body movements among the participants.

“We may also apply our experimental protocol to better understand the nature and the neural correlates of social impairment in disorders where social deficits are a common symptom, as in schizophrenia or autism,” says Shimojo.

The title of the Scientific Reports paper is “Interpersonal body and neural synchronization as a marker of implicit social interaction.” Funding for this research was provided by the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s CREST and the Tamagawa-Caltech gCOE (global Center Of Excellence) programs.

Journal Reference:

  1. Kyongsik Yun, Katsumi Watanabe, Shinsuke Shimojo.Interpersonal body and neural synchronization as a marker of implicit social interactionScientific Reports, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/srep00959

Overwhelming Public Support for Whistleblowers (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 19, 2012) — New research by the University of Greenwich shows 4 out of 5 Britons think that people should be supported for revealing serious wrongdoing, even if it means revealing inside information. However, under half of the respondents (47%) thought whistleblowing is an acceptable thing to do in our society. Hence, people think society is less supportive of it than it should be.

Three quarters of respondents, who are employees or members of an organisation, also indicated that if they observed wrongdoing, they would feel personally obliged to report it to someone in their organisation. However, a smaller proportion were confident their organisation would stop wrongdoing if they reported it, and less than half thought management in their organisation were serious about protecting people who report wrongdong. Still, almost 9 out of 10 in Britain believe whistleblowers should be able to use the media to draw attention to wrongdoing (either as a first resort, when there become specific reasons to do so or as a last resort).

Dr Wim Vandekerckhove from the Work and Employment Relations Unit (WERU) at the University of Greenwich, who leads the research, believes that at a time where a change in the UK legislation on whistleblower protection is demanded by different actors and in different directions, it is important to take stock of how citizens feel about whistleblowing. Any changes to the legislation should be in line with attempts to close the gaps identified by this research.

Dr Vandekerckhove concludes that this research shows people will raise concern inside their organisation, but adds: ‘If we don’t make it safer for employees to speak up inside their organisations, people will support those who blow the whistle to the media.’ Political, business and community leaders must accept this new reality, and develop and implement legislation and policies that make it safe and effective to speak up about wrongdoing inside the organisation.

This research was funded by the University of Greenwich Business School. ComRes interviewed 2,000 adults online from 26th to 28th October 2012. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables are available at ComRes.co.uk.

Dr Wim Vandekerckhove is Senior Lecturer at the University of Greenwich where he researches and teaches on whistleblowing, business ethics, and organisational behaviour. He has published widely in academic journals and books, and is a regular international speaker at conferences and events on whistleblowing and business ethics.

The survey is part of an ongoing international project measuring public attitudes to whistleblowing. Findings in Australia show a similar thrust as these from Britain.

Working paper: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2176193

Kinsey Reporter: Free App Allows Public to Anonymously Report, Share Information On Sexual Behavior (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 5, 2012) — Indiana University has released Kinsey Reporter, a global mobile survey platform for collecting and reporting anonymous data about sexual and other intimate behaviors. The pilot project allows citizen observers around the world to use free applications now available for Apple and Android mobile platforms to not only report on sexual behavior and experiences, but also to share, explore and visualize the accumulated data.

The Kinsey Reporter platform is available free from Apple iOS and Google Play (for Android) online stores. Reports made by anonymous citizen scientists will be used for research and shared with the public at the Kinsey Reporter website. (Credit: Image courtesy of Indiana University)

“People are natural observers. It’s part of being social, and using mobile apps is an excellent way to involve citizen scientists,” said Julia Heiman, director of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. “We expect to get new insights into sexuality and relationships today. What do people notice, what are they involved in, and what can they relate to us about their lives and their communities?”

The project will collect anonymous data and then aggregate and share it openly. Kinsey Reporter is a joint project between The Kinsey Institute and the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, or CNetS, which is part of the IU School of Informatics and Computing and the Pervasive Technology Institute. Both Kinsey and CNetS are based on the IU Bloomington campus.

CNetS director Filippo Menczer called development of the citizen reporting platform an opportunity to gather information on important issues that may have been difficult to examine in the past.

“This new platform will allow us to explore issues that have been challenging to study until now, such as the prevalence of unreported sexual violence in different parts of the world, or the correlation between various sexual practices like condom use, for example, and the cultural, political, religious or health contexts in particular geographical areas. These were some of our initial motivations for the project,” he said.

Users simply download the free app and begin contributing observed information on topics such as sexual activity, public displays of affection, flirting, unwanted experiences and birth control use. Even though no information identifying users submitting reports is collected or stored, the time and general location of the report is collected and input into the database. Users also have the option of selecting their own geographic preference for the report by choosing city/town, state/region or country.

Surveys will change over time, and users can view aggregated reports by geographic region via interactive maps, timelines or charts. All of these reporting venues can be manipulated with filters that remove or add data based on specific survey topics and questions selected by the user.

Both Heiman and Menczer said The Kinsey Institute’s longstanding seminal studies of sexual behaviors created a perfect synergy with research going on at CNetS related to mining big data crowd-sourced from mobile social media. The sensitive domain — sexual relations — added an intriguing challenge in finding a way to share useful data with the community while protecting the privacy and anonymity of the reporting volunteers, they added.

Reports are transmitted to Kinsey Reporter using a secure, encrypted protocol, and the only data collected are a timestamp, the approximate geo-location selected by the user, and the tags the user chooses in response to various survey questions. The protections and anonymity provided to those responding to surveys allowed IU’s Institutional Review Board to classify the research as “exempt from review,” which allows the data to be used for research and shared without requiring informed consent from users of the apps.

The Kinsey Reporter platform is now in public beta release. Apps are available for free download at both the Apple iOS and Android app stores. Accompanying the app release are a Kinsey Reporter website, a Twitter feed and a Facebook page. The four resources also provide links to information about sexuality, such as blogs and podcasts from the Kinsey Confidential website. YouTube videos on “What Is the Kinsey Reporter App” and “Making the Kinsey Reporter App” are also available for viewing.

The Kinsey Institute receives support from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at IU Bloomington, which is dedicated to supporting ongoing faculty research and creative activity and developing new multidisciplinary initiatives to enhance opportunities for federal, state and private research funding.

Violent Video Games Not So Bad When Players Cooperate (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 4, 2012) — New research suggests that violent video games may not make players more aggressive — if they play cooperatively with other people.

In two studies, researchers found that college students who teamed up to play violent video games later showed more cooperative behavior, and sometimes less signs of aggression, than students who played the games competitively.

The results suggest that it is too simplistic to say violent video games are always bad for players, said David Ewoldsen, co-author of the studies and professor of communication at Ohio State University.

“Clearly, research has established there are links between playing violent video games and aggression, but that’s an incomplete picture,” Ewoldsen said.

“Most of the studies finding links between violent games and aggression were done with people playing alone. The social aspect of today’s video games can change things quite a bit.”

The new research suggests playing a violent game with a teammate changes how people react to the violence.

“You’re still being very aggressive, you’re still killing people in the game — but when you cooperate, that overrides any of the negative effects of the extreme aggression,” said co-author John Velez, a graduate student in communication at Ohio State.

One study was recently published online in the journalCommunication Research, and will appear in a future print edition. The second related study was published recently in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

The CBSN study involved 119 college students who were placed into four groups to play the violent video game Halo II with a partner. The groups differed in whether they competed or cooperated in playing the game.

First, all participants filled out a survey about their video game history and a measure of their aggressiveness.

Those in direct competition played in multiplayer mode and were told that their task was to kill their opponent more times than they were killed.

Those in indirect competition played in single-player mode, but were told their task was to beat their opponent by getting further in the game.

In the cooperative condition, participants were told to get as far as they could through the game by working with their partner in Halo II’s cooperative campaign mode. In this case, the pair worked together to defeat computer-controlled enemies.

The final group simply filled out the measures and played the game at the end of the study. Their game playing was not recorded.

After playing the violent video game, the same pairs of participants who played with or against each other took part in a real-life game where they had the opportunity to cooperate or compete with each other.

In this game, they played multiple rounds where they were given dimes which they could keep or share with their partner. The researchers were looking to see if they engaged in “tit for tat” behavior, in which the players mirrored the behaviors of their partner. In other words, if your partner acts cooperatively towards you, you do the same for him. Tit for tat behavior is seen by researchers as a precursor to cooperation.

The results showed that participants who played the video game cooperatively were more likely than those who competed to show cooperative tendencies in this later real-life game.

“These findings suggest video game research needs to consider not only the content of the game but also how video game players are playing the game,” Velez said.

The second study, published in Communication Research, extended the findings by showing that cooperating in playing a violent video game can even unite people from rival groups — in this case, fans of Ohio State and those of their bitter rival, the University of Michigan.

This study involved 80 Ohio State students who, when they came to the lab for the experiment, were paired with a person who they thought was another student participant. In fact, it was one of the experimenters who was wearing an Ohio State t-shirt — or one from the rival University of Michigan.

One of the researchers made sure to point out the t-shirt to the student participant.

The student and confederate then played the highly realistic and violent first-person-shooter video game Unreal Tournament III together — either as teammates or as rivals.

After playing the video game, the participants played the same real-life game used in the previous study with their supposed partner, who was really one of the researchers.

They also completed tasks that measured how aggressive they felt, and their aggressive tendencies.

The results showed the power of cooperatively playing violent video games in reducing aggressive thoughts — and even overcoming group differences.

As in the first study, players who cooperated in playing the video game later showed more cooperation than did those who competed against each other.

It even worked when Ohio State participants thought they were playing with a rival from the University of Michigan.

“The cooperative play just wiped out any effect of who you were playing with,” Velez said. “Ohio State students happily cooperated with Michigan fans.”

Also, those participants who played cooperatively showed less aggressive tendencies afterwards than those who played competitively, at least at first. In fact, those who played competitively with a rival actually showed less aggression than those who played with a supporter of their own team.

“If you’re playing with a rival, and that rival is cooperating with you, that violates your expectations — you’re surprised by their cooperation and that makes you even more willing to cooperate,” Ewoldsen said.

Eventually, even those who competed with each other in the video games started cooperating with each other in the real-life games afterwards.

“The point is that the way you act in the real world very quickly overrides anything that is going on in the video games,” Ewoldsen said. “Video games aren’t controlling who we are.”

These results should encourage researchers to study not only how the content of violent video games affects players, but also how the style of play has an impact.

“What is more important: cooperating with another human being, or killing a digital creature?” Ewoldsen said.

“We think that cooperating with another human overrides the effects of playing a violent video game.”

Other authors of the CBSN paper were Cassie Eno of Waldorf College; Bradley Okdie of Ohio State’s Newark campus; Rosanna Guadagno of the University of Alabama; and James DeCoster of the University of Virginia.

Other authors of the Communication Research paper were Chad Mahood and Emily Moyer-Guse, both of Ohio State.

Journal References:

  1. J. A. Velez, C. Mahood, D. R. Ewoldsen, E. Moyer-Guse.Ingroup Versus Outgroup Conflict in the Context of Violent Video Game Play: The Effect of Cooperation on Increased Helping and Decreased Aggression.Communication Research, 2012; DOI:10.1177/0093650212456202
  2. David R. Ewoldsen, Cassie A. Eno, Bradley M. Okdie, John A. Velez, Rosanna E. Guadagno, Jamie DeCoster. Effect of Playing Violent Video Games Cooperatively or Competitively on Subsequent Cooperative Behavior.Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 2012; 15 (5): 277 DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2011.0308

How Language Change Sneaks in (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 4, 2012) — Languages are continually changing, not just words but also grammar. A recent study examines how such changes happen and what the changes can tell us about how speakers’ grammars work.

The study, “The course of actualization,” to be published in the September 2012 issue of the scholarly journal Language, is authored by Hendrik De Smet of the University of Leuven /Research Foundation Flanders.

Historical linguists, who document and study language change, have long noticed that language changes have a sneaky quality, starting small and unobtrusive and then gradually conquering more ground, a process termed ‘actualization’. De Smet’s study investigates how actualization proceeds by tracking and comparing different language changes, using large collections of digitized historical texts. This way, it is shown that any actualization process consists of a series of smaller changes with each new change building on and following from the previous ones, each time making only a minimal adjustment. A crucial role in this is played by similarity.

Consider the development of so-called downtoners — grammatical elements that minimize the force of the word they accompany. Nineteenth-century English saw the emergence of a new downtoner, all but, meaning ‘almost’. All but started out being used only with adjectives, as in her escape was all but miraculous. But later it also began to turn up with verbs, as in until his clothes all but dropped from him. In grammatical terms, that is a fairly big leap, but when looked at closely the leap is found to go in smaller steps. Before all but spread to verbs, it appeared with past participles, which very much resemble both adjectives and verbs, as in her breath was all but gone. So, changes can sneak into a language and spread from context to context by exploiting the similarities between contexts.

The role of similarity in language change makes a number of predictions. For one thing, actualization processes will differ from item to item because in each case there will be different similarities to exploit. English is currently seeing some nouns developing into adjectives, such as fun or key. This again goes by small adjustments, but along different pathways. For fun, speakers started from expressions like that was really fun, which they would adjust to that was very fun, and from there they would go on to a very fun time and by now some have even gone on to expressions like the funnest time ever. For key, change started from expressions like a key player, which could be adjusted to an absolutely key player, and from there to a player who is absolutely key. When the changes are over, the eventual outcome will be the same — fun and key will have all the characteristics of any other English adjective — but the way that is coming about is different.

Another prediction is that actualization processes will differ from language to language, because grammatical contexts that are similar in one language may not be in another. Comparing the development of another English downtoner, far from (as in far from perfect), to its Dutch equivalent, verre van, it is found that, even though they started out quite similar, the two downtoners went on to develop differently due to differences in the overall structure of English and Dutch. Importantly, this is one way in which even small changes may reinforce and gradually increase existing differences between languages.

Finally, this research can say something about how language works in general. Similarity is so important to how changes unfold precisely because it is important to how speakers subconsciously use language all the time. Presumably, whenever a speaker thinks up a new sentence and decides it is acceptable, they do so by evaluating its resemblance to previous sentences. In this respect, actualization processes are giving us a unique window on how similarity works in organizing and reorganizing speakers’ internal grammars, showing just how sensitive speakers are to all sorts of similarities. Strikingly, then, the same similarity judgments that speakers make to form acceptable and intelligible sentences allow their grammars to gradually change over time.

Journal Reference:

  1. Hendrik De Smet. The Course of Actualization.Language, 2012 (in press)

Reciprocity an Important Component of Prosocial Behavior: Scorekeeping of Past Favors Isn’t, However, a Factor (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 3, 2012) — While exchanging favors with others, humans tend to think in terms of tit-for-tat, an assumption easily extended to other animals. As a result, reciprocity is often viewed as a cognitive feat requiring memory, perhaps even calculation. But what if the process is simpler, not only in other animals but in humans as well?

Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have determined monkeys may gain the advantages of reciprocal exchange of favors without necessarily keeping precise track of past favors. Malini Suchak, a graduate student at Emory University, and Frans de Waal, PhD, director of the Living Links Center at Yerkes and C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory, led the study. Their findings will appear in an Early Online Edition of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

“Prosocial is defined as a motivation to assist others regardless of benefits for self, explained Suchak. “We used a prosocial choice test to study whether direct reciprocity could promote generosity among brown capuchin monkeys. We found one monkey willing to do another favors if the first monkey was the only one to choose, and we found the monkeys became even more prosocial if they could alternate and help each other. We did not find any evidence that the monkeys paid close attention to each other’s past choices, so they were prosocial regardless of what their partner had just done,” she continued.

Suchak and de Waal suggest the synchronization of the same actions in alternation creates a more positive attitude the same way humans who row a boat together or work toward a shared goal develop a more positive attitude about each other.

Another interesting finding according to the researchers is the capuchin monkeys were prosocial whether they were paired with a familiar partner from their own group {in-group} or a partner from a different social group {out-group}.

According to de Waal, “This research has several implications for better understanding human behavior. First, we observed an increase in prosocial behavior as a result of reciprocity, but the monkeys did not develop a contingency between their own and their partners’ behaviors. Like humans, the capuchins may have understood the benefits of reciprocity and used this understanding to maximize their own benefits. Second, that the capuchins responded similarly to in-group and out-group partners has implications for the commonly held view that humans are unique in their ability to cooperate with strangers,” de Waal explained.

According to the researchers, capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) are ideal subjects for this type of study given the numerous observations of cooperative and prosocial behavior in the field, their sensitivity to other monkeys’ efforts in coordination experiments, and their robust, spontaneous prosocial behavior in the prosocial choice test compared with, for example, chimpanzees, which seem more sensitive to methodological variables.

In this study, the researchers tested 12 brown capuchin monkeys in pairs on a prosocial choice task. The monkeys had the choice between a selfish token that benefited only them and a prosocial token that benefited themselves and a partner. By comparing each monkey’s behavior with a familiar partner from the monkey’s own group and a partner from a different social group, the researchers examined the influence of each monkey’s relationship outside the experimental context on prosocial behavior. There was no difference between in-group and out-group pairs in any of the test conditions. To test the role of reciprocity, the researchers allowed the monkeys to take turns making choices and found this greatly increased prosocial behavior, but the researchers did not observe any tit-for-tat behavior. The researchers also tested whether the monkeys could overcome their aversion for inequity by creating a situation in which both individuals could provide each other with superior rewards, making reciprocity an even more attractive strategy. The monkeys did, but again without keeping track of each other’s choices. Finally, through a series of control conditions, the researchers established the monkeys were responding to their partners’ behaviors, rather than the rewards delivered by their partners, and that the monkeys understood the values of the tokens and were flexibly responding to changing conditions throughout the test sessions.

This research opens several avenues for future research, including further examining the emergence of reciprocity among humans without the cognition required for tit-for-tat and the tendency to cooperate with out-group partners.

Journal Reference:

  1. Malini Suchak and Frans B. M. de Waal. Monkeys benefit from reciprocity without the cognitive burden.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1213173109

Pesquisa indica relação entre inclusão digital e felicidade (Exame)

JC e-mail 4576, de 04 de Setembro de 2012

Alguns anos atrás, foi muito divulgado um estudo que mostrava uma relação direta entre penetração de telefonia móvel e crescimento de Produto Interno Bruto (PIB) de um país. Agora, uma pesquisa realizada pela FGV indica uma correlação entre acesso a meios de comunicação (Internet, telefonias fixa e móvel) e felicidade.

O estudo reuniu dados globais do Gallup e, no caso brasileiro, do IBGE, e descobriu que, em média, a cada 10 pontos percentuais de penetração de Internet, telefonia fixa e/ou móvel há um aumento de 2.2 pontos percentuais na felicidade de um país.

“Entretanto, não se pode dizer que inclusão digitaltraz felicidade ou vice-versa”, ressalta Marcelo Neri, pesquisador da FGV que conduziu o estudo e apresentou os dados durante o painel “O crescimento do Brasil e as TICs”, durante o 56º Painel Telebrasil, na última quinta-feira (30), em Brasília. Neri alertou também que no Brasil, especificamente, a correlação não se apresentou tão claramente. Nos próximos dias, Neri deve tomar posse como presidente do Ipea.

Para esse levantamento, Neri e sua equipe criou um indicador, chamado ITIC (Indicador de Telefonia, Internet e Celular), que mescla as penetrações dos três referidos serviços. Em uma lista de 158 países, o Brasil ocupa a 72a posição, com ITIC de 51,25%. A média mundial é de 49,1%. O ranking é liderado por Suécia (95.8%), Cingapura (95.5%) e Islândia (95.5%). Nos últimos lugares estão República Centro Africana (5.5%), Burundi (5.75%) e Etiópia (8.25%). Se retirada a penetração de telefonia celular, o ITIC dos países africanos cai drasticamente. No caso da República Centro Africana, passa a ser de 0.7%.

Em sua palestra, Neri apresentou mapas do Brasil mostrando a evolução da penetração dos três serviços ao longo da última década, com destaque para a telefonia celular, cujos resultados chamam mais a atenção. “A plataforma celular pode promover a inclusão digital pois hoje dois terços dos pobres no Brasil têm um telefone móvel”, disse o pesquisador. Nesse dado, é considerado pobre quem vive com renda mensal familiar per capita abaixo de R$ 150.

No caso dos PCs, Hélio Rotenberg, presidente do grupo Positivo, disse que a revolução no Brasil aconteceu nos últimos sete anos, período em que o país subiu para a terceira colocação entre os maiores mercados de computadores pessoais no mundo. A razão para isso foi não apenas o barateamento do equipamento em função de políticas de desoneração, mas o acesso a financiamento, explicou.

“A grande virada aconteceu com o PC das Casas Bahia, vendido em 10 ou mais vezes”, afirmou. O mesmo Rotenberg, contudo, pontuou que a tecnologia não é a salvação para a educação no Brasil. “Temos problemas estruturais a serem resolvidos. Enquanto o professor não estiver preparado, não tem tecnologia que vá ajudar”, comentou.

Desigualdade – A diretora da LCA Consultores, Cláudia Viegas, alertou para o risco de o avanço tecnológico no Brasil agravar a desigualdade social, caso seja feito de maneira desordenada. “É claro que o número de acessos vai crescer. A questão é como isso vai acontecer ao longo de todo o País. Pode ocorrer um efeito perverso, agravando a desigualdade social em vez de reduzi-la”, disse.

Ela se refere ao risco de parte da população brasileira não acompanhar o avanço tecnológico e ficar ainda mais alijada do desenvolvimento econômico do País. Célio Bozola, presidente do Prodesp, responsável pelo projeto Poupa Tempo, confirma que nem mesmo no estado de São Paulo o acesso à tecnologia está distribuído de forma homogênea.

Para Cláudia, da LCA, é fundamental que haja uma política pública direcionadora do processo de inclusão digital no Brasil. Sobre a possibilidade de ajuda estatal para esse fim, o presidente da Telebrasil e da Telefônica/Vivo, Antônio Carlos Valente, comentou: “não tenho nada contra apoio estatal. Mas há diversas formas de apoio estatal. Uma delas é a disponibilidade de fundos públicos”.

(Fonte: Exame)

Twitter Data Crunching: The New Crystal Ball (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 29, 2012) — Fabio Ciulla from Northeastern University, Boston, USA, and his colleagues demonstrated that the elimination of contestants in TV talent shows based on public voting, such as American Idol, can be anticipated. They unveiled the predictive power of microblogging Twitter signals–used as a proxy for the general preference of an audience–in a study recently published in EPJ Data Science.

The authors considered the voting system of these shows as a basic test to assess the predictive power of Twitter signals. They relied on the overlap between Twitter users and show audience to collect extremely detailed data on social behaviour on a massive scale. This approach provided a unique and unprecedented opportunity to apply network science to social media. Social phenomena can thus be studied in a completely unobtrusive way. Previously, Twitter has already been used to forecast epidemics spreading, stock market behaviour and election outcomes with varying degrees of success.

In this study, the authors demonstrated that the Twitter activity during the time span limited to the TV show airing and the voting period following it correlated with the contestants’ ranking. As a result, it helped predict the outcome of the votes. This approach offers a simplified version helping to analyse complex societal phenomena such as political elections. Unlike previous voting systems, Twitter offers a quantitative indicator that can act as proxy for what is occurring around the world in real time, thereby anticipating the outcome of future events based on opinions.

Ciulla and colleagues also showed that the fraction of tweets that included geolocalisation information enabled to internationally map the fan base of each contestant. They identified a strong influence by the geographical origin of the votes, suggesting a different outcome to the show, if voting had not been limited to US voters.

Journal Reference:

  1. Fabio Ciulla, Delia Mocanu, Andrea Baronchelli, Bruno Goncalves, Nicola Perra, Alessandro Vespignani. Beating the news using Social Media: the case study of American IdolEPJ Data Science, 2012; 1 (1): 8 DOI:10.1140/epjds8

Sweden recognises new file-sharing religion Kopimism (BBC)

5 January 2012 Last updated at 13:49 GMT

Fingers nearly touchingFile-sharing is a religious ceremony according to the church leader

A “church” whose central tenet is the right to file-share has been formally recognised by the Swedish government.

The Church of Kopimism claims that “kopyacting” – sharing information through copying – is akin to a religious service.

The “spiritual leader” of the church said recognition was a “large step”.

But others were less enthusiastic and said the church would do little to halt the global crackdown on piracy.

Holy information

It doesn’t mean illegal file-sharing will become legal, any more than if ‘Jedi’ was recognised as a religion everyone would be walking around with light sabres” – Mark Mulligan, Music analyst

The Swedish government agency Kammarkollegiet finally registered the Church of Kopimism as a religious organisation shortly before Christmas, the group said.

“We had to apply three times,” said Gustav Nipe, chairman of the organisation.

The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.

It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.

“For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members,” he said in a statement.

“Being recognised by the state of Sweden is a large step for all of Kopimi. Hopefully this is one step towards the day when we can live out our faith without fear of persecution,” he added.

The church’s website has been unavailable since it broke the news of its religious status. A message urged those interested in joining to “come back in a couple of days when the storm has settled”.

Despite the new-found interest in the organisation, experts said religious status for file-sharing would have little effect on the global crackdown on piracy.

“It is quite divorced from reality and is reflective of Swedish social norms rather than the Swedish legislative system,” said music analyst Mark Mulligan.

“It doesn’t mean that illegal file-sharing will become legal, any more than if ‘Jedi’ was recognised as a religion everyone would be walking around with light sabres.

“In some ways these guys are looking outdated. File-sharing as a means to pirate content is becoming yesterday’s technology,” he added.

Piracy crackdown

The establishment of the church comes amid a backdrop of governmental zero-tolerance towards piracy.

The crackdown on piracy has moved focus away from individual pirates and more towards the ecosystem that supports piracy.

In the US, the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) aims to stop online ad networks and payment processors from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.

It could also stop search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites. Domain name registrars could be forced to take down the websites, and internet service providers forced to block access to the sites accused of infringing.

The government is pushing ahead with the controversial legislation despite continued opposition.

 

*   *   *

Kopimism: the world’s newest religion explained (New Scientist)

14:35 06 January 2012 by Alison George

Download this in memory of me <i>(Image: Lars Johansson)</i>Isak Gerson is spiritual leader of the world’s newest religion, Kopimism, devoted to file-sharing. On 5 January the Church of Kopimism was formallyrecognised as a religion by the Swedish government.

Tell me about this new file-sharing religion, Kopimism.
We were founded about 15 months ago and we believe that information is holy and that the act of copying is holy.

Why make a religion out of file-sharing? Why not just be an ordinary club without defining yourselves as being a religious community?
Because we see ourselves as a religious group, a church seems like a good way of organising ourselves.

Was it hard to become an official religion?
We have had this faith for several years and one day we thought, why not try and get it registered? It was quite difficult. The authorities were quite dogmatic with their formalities. It took us three tries and more than a year to get recognised.

What criteria do you have to meet to become an official religion?
The law states that to be a religion you have to be an organisation that practises moments of prayer or meditation in your rituals.

What are the Kopimist prayers and meditations?
We have a part of our religious practices where we worship the value of information by copying it.

You call this “kopyacting”. Do you actually meet up in a building, like a church, to undertake these rituals?
We do meet up, but it doesn’t have to be a physical room. It could be a server or a web page too.

I understand that certain symbols have special significance in Kopimism.
Yes. There is the “kopimi” logo, which is a K written inside a pyramid a symbol used online to show you want to be copied. But there are also symbols that represent and encourage copying, for example, “CTRL+V” and “CTRL+C”.

Why is information, and sharing it, so important to you?
Information is the building block of everything around me and everything I believe in. Copying it is a way of multiplying the value of information.

What’s your stance on illegal file-sharing?
I think that the copyright laws are very problematic, and at least need to be rewritten, but I would suggest getting rid of most of them.

So all file-sharing should be legal?
Absolutely.

Are you just trying to make a point, or is this religion for real?
We’ve had this faith for several years.

What has the reaction been from established churches?
I haven’t spoken to many of them, but those I have spoken to have been curious, and seen it as an interesting discussion.

Can you get excommunicated from the Church of Kopimism?
We have never thought about it. But if you don’t believe in our values then I guess there is no point in being a member, and if you do believe in our values you can’t really be excommunicated.

How many church members are there?
Around 3000.

How do you become a Kopimist?
Our site is down for moment, because there has been too much traffic, but when it is up, you just have to read about our values and agree with them, then you can register on the web page.

Is there a deity associated with Kopimism?
No, there isn’t.

Is Julian Assange a high priest of Kopimism?
No. We have had no communication with him.

Does Kopimism have anything to say about the afterlife?
Not really. As a religion we are not so focussed on humans.

It could be a digital afterlife.
Information doesn’t really have a life, but I guess it can be forgotten, but as long as it is copied it won’t be.

Profile

Isak Gerson is a 20-year-old philosophy student at Uppsala University, Sweden. Together with Gustav Nipe – a member of Sweden’s Pirate party – and others, he has founded the Church of Kopimism.

 

*    *    *

Kopimism, Sweden’s Pirate Religion, Begins to Plunder America (U.S.News)

‘Kopimism’ gives internet piracy a place to worship

April 20, 2012

The symbol of Kopimism, a religion dedicated to information sharing.The symbol of Kopimism, a religion dedicated to information sharing.

A Swedish religion whose dogma centers on the belief that people should be free to copy and distribute all information—regardless of any copyright or trademarks—has made its way to the United States.

Followers of so-called “Kopimism” believe copying, sharing, and improving on knowledge, music, and other types of information is only human—the Romans remixed Greek mythology, after all, they say. In January, Kopimism—a play on the words “copy me”—was formally recognized by a Swedish government agency, raising its profile worldwide.

“Culture is something that makes people feel much better and makes people appreciate their world in a different way. Knowledge is also something we should copy regardless of the law,” says Isak Gerson, the 20-year-old founder of Kopimism. “It makes us better when we share knowledge and culture with each other.”

More than 3,500 people “like” Kopimism on Facebook, and thousands more practice its sacred ritual of file sharing. According to its manifesto, private, closed-source software code and anti-piracy software are “comparable to slavery.” Kopimist “Ops,” or spiritual leaders, are encouraged to give counsel to people who want to pirate files, are banned from recording and should encrypt all virtual religious service meetings “because of society’s vicious legislative and litigious persecution of Kopimists.”

Official in-person meetings must happen in places free of anti-Kopimist monitoring and in spaces with the Kopimist symbol—a pyramid with the letter K inside. To be initiated new parishioners must share the Kopimist symbol and say the sacred words “copied and seeded.”

The gospel of the church has begun to spread, with Kopimist branches in 18 countries.

An American branch of the religion was recently registered with Illinois and is in the process of gaining federal recognition, according to Christopher Carmean, a 25-year-old student at the University of Chicago and head of the U.S. branch.

“Data is what we are made of, data is what defines our life, and data is how we express ourselves,” says Carmean. “Forms of copying, remixing, and sharing enhance the quality of life for all who have access to them. Attempts to hinder sharing are antithetical to our data-driven existence.”

About 450 people have registered with his church, and about 30 of them are actively practicing the religion, whose symbols include Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V—the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste.

It’s no surprise the religion was born in Sweden—it has some of the laxest copyright laws in the world. The Swedish Pirate Party has two seats in the European Parliament, and The Pirate Bay, a Swedish website that’s one of the world’s largest portals to illegal files, has avoided being shut down for years.

Gerson is happy to allow people who want to open their own branches of Kopimism to copy its symbols and religious documents.

“There’s been a couple people that asked me [to start congregations], but I tell them they shouldn’t ask. You don’t need permission,” he says. “It’s a project, and I want projects to be copied, so I’m happy when people copy without asking.”

Most Kopimists say they realized they were practicing the religion before they found it.

“There are many people who are like me, who always held the Kopimist ideals, but hadn’t yet heard of the official church,” says Lauren Pespisa, a web developer in Cambridge, Mass., who gave a speech about the religion in March to a group of anti-copyright activists called the Massachusetts Pirate Party. “I think some people are like me and have embraced it officially and publicly, but some people believe in it and don’t really want to mix religion and politics.”

That’s a big criticism of the religion—lawsuits brought upon Kopimists is a form of religious persecution, according to Gerson. But Pespisa says that crying persecution in court probably “wouldn’t hold up in reality.”

In a blog post in late March, Carmean wrote that people should not “bring a legal argument to a religion fight.”

“Expecting any religion to provide a logic-based mandate for every single action that one might take is absurd and offensive,” he wrote. “It insults the basic moral fiber of Kopimists and all of humanity to outright demand a total moral code of conduct from anyone purporting to have a new perspective on issues of our time.”

Although many Kopimists are practicing a “sacred” ritual whenever they download or share a movie, CD, or book, they also regularly meet in online chat rooms to discuss the religion. Many of them are also internet activists, working to make file sharing legal, regardless of copyright. Even if they’re unsuccessful, Gerson is happy to help the information flow in any way he can.

“I think we need to change the laws, but I don’t think we need to focus only on them. I think laws can, in many cases, be ignored,” he says. “We want to encourage people to share regardless of what the laws say.”

Argentine Invasion (Radiolab)

Monday, July 30, 2012 – 10:00 PM

From a suburban sidewalk in southern California, Jad and Robert witness the carnage of a gruesome turf war. Though the tiny warriors doing battle clock in at just a fraction of an inch, they have evolved a surprising, successful, and rather unsettling strategy of ironclad loyalty, absolute intolerance, and brutal violence.

Drawing of an Argentinte Ant

(Adam Cole/WNYC)

David Holway, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist from UC San Diego, takes us to a driveway in Escondido, California where a grisly battle rages. In this quiet suburban spot, two groups of ants are putting on a chilling display of dismemberment and death. According to David, this battle line marks the edge of an enormous super-colony of Argentine ants. Think of that anthill in your backyard, and stretch it out across five continents.

Argentine ants are not good neighbors. When they meet ants from another colony, any other colony, they fight to the death, and tear the other ants to pieces. While other kinds of ants sometimes take slaves or even have sex with ants from different colonies, the Argentine ants don’t fool around. If you’re not part of the colony, you’re dead.

According to evolutionary biologist Neil Tsutsui and ecologist Mark Moffett, the flood plains of northern Argentina offer a clue as to how these ants came to dominate the planet. Because of the frequent flooding, the homeland of Linepithema humile is basically a bootcamp for badass ants. One day, a couple ants from one of these families of Argentine ants made their way onto a boat and landed in New Orleans in the late 1800s. Over the last century, these Argentine ants wreaked havoc across the southern U.S. and a significant chunk of coastal California.

In fact, Melissa Thomas, an Australian entomologist, reveals that these Argentine ants are even more well-heeled than we expected – they’ve made to every continent except Antarctica. No matter how many thousands of miles separate individual ants, when researchers place two of them together – whether they’re plucked from Australia, Japan, Hawaii … even Easter Island – they recognize each other as belonging to the same super-colony.

But the really mind-blowing thing about these little guys is the surprising success of their us-versus-them death-dealing. Jad and Robert wrestle with what to make of this ant regime, whether it will last, and what, if anything, it might mean for other warlike organisms with global ambitions.

Search Technology That Can Gauge Opinion and Predict the Future (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2012) — Inspired by a system for categorising books proposed by an Indian librarian more than 50 years ago, a team of EU-funded researchers have developed a new kind of internet search that takes into account factors such as opinion, bias, context, time and location. The new technology, which could soon be in use commercially, can display trends in public opinion about a topic, company or person over time — and it can even be used to predict the future.

‘Do a search for the word “climate” on Google or another search engine and what you will get back is basically a list of results featuring that word: there’s no categorisation, no specific order, no context. Current search engines do not take into account the dimensions of diversity: factors such as when the information was published, if there is a bias toward one opinion or another inherent in the content and structure, who published it and when,’ explains Fausto Giunchiglia, a professor of computer science at the University of Trento in Italy.

But can search technology be made to identify and embrace diversity? Can a search engine tell you, for example, how public opinion about climate change has changed over the last decade? Or how hot the weather will be a century from now, by aggregating current and past estimates from different sources?

It seems that it can, thanks to a pioneering combination of modern science and a decades-old classification method, brought together by European researchers in the LivingKnowledge (1) project. Supported by EUR 4.8 million in funding from the European Commission, the LivingKnowledge team, coordinated by Prof. Giunchiglia, adopted a multidisciplinary approach to developing new search technology, drawing on fields as diverse as computer science, social science, semiotics and library science.

Indeed, the so-called father of library science, Sirkali Ramamrita Ranganathan, an Indian librarian, served as a source of inspiration for the researchers. In the 1920s and 1930s, Ranganathan developed the first major analytico-synthetic, or faceted, classification system. Using this approach, objects — books, in the case of Ranganathan; web and database content, in the case of the LivingKnowlege team — are assigned multiple characteristics and attributes (facets), enabling the classification to be ordered in multiple ways, rather than in a single, predetermined, taxonomic order. Using the system, an article about the effects on agriculture of climate change written in Norway in 1990 might be classified as ‘Geography; Climate; Climate change; Agriculture; Research; Norway; 1990.’

In order to understand the classification system better and implement it in search engine technology, the LivingKnowledge researchers turned to the Indian Statistical Institute, a project partner, which uses faceted classification on a daily basis.

‘Using their knowledge we were able to turn Ranganathan’s pseudo-algorithm into a computer algorithm and the computer scientists were able to use it to mine data from the web, extract its meaning and context, assign facets to it, and use these to structure the information based on the dimensions of diversity,’ Prof. Giunchiglia says.

Researchers at the University of Pavia in Italy, another partner, drew on their expertise in extracting meaning from web content — not just from text and multimedia content, but also from the way the information is structured and laid out — in order to infer bias and opinions, adding another facet to the data.

‘We are able to identify the bias of authors on a certain subject and whether their opinions are positive or negative,’ the LivingKnowledge coordinator says. ‘Facts are facts, but any information about an event, or on any subject, is often surrounded by opinions and bias.’

From libraries of the 1930s to space travel in 2034…

The technology was implemented in a testbed, now available as open source software, and used for trials based around two intriguing application scenarios.

Working with Austrian social research institute SORA, the team used the LivingKnowledge system to identify social trends and monitor public opinion in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Used for media content analysis, the system could help a company understand the impact of a new advertising campaign, showing how it has affected brand recognition over time and which social groups have been most receptive. Alternatively, a government might use the system to gauge public opinion about a new policy, or a politician could use it to respond in the most publicly acceptable way to a rival candidate’s claims.

With Barcelona Media, a non-profit research foundation supported by Yahoo!, and with the Netherlands-based Internet Memory Foundation, the LivingKnowledge team looked not only at current and past trends, but extrapolated them and drew on forecasts extracted from existing data to try to predict the future. Their Future Predictor application is able to make searches based on questions such as ‘What will oil prices be in 2050?’ or ‘How much will global temperatures rise over the next 100 years?’ and find relevant information and forecasts from today’s web. For example, a search for the year 2034 turns up ‘space travel’ as the most relevant topic indexed in today’s news.

‘More immediately, this application scenario provides functionality for detecting trends even before these trends become apparent in daily events — based on integrated search and navigation capabilities for finding diverse, multi-dimensional information depending on content, bias and time,’ Prof. Giunchiglia explains.

Several of the project partners have plans to implement the technology commercially, and the project coordinator intends to set up a non-profit foundation to build on the LivingKnowledge results at a time when demand for this sort of technology is only likely to increase.

As Prof. Giunchiglia points out, Google fundamentally changed the world by providing everyone with access to much of the world’s information, but it did it for people: currently only humans can understand the meaning of all that data, so much so that information overload is a common problem. As we move into a ‘big data’ age in which information about everything and anything is available at the touch of a button, the meaning of that information needs to be understandable not just by humans but also by machines, so quantity must come combined with quality. The LivingKnowledge approach addresses that problem.

‘When we started the project, no one was talking about big data. Now everyone is and there is increasing interest in this sort of technology,’ Prof. Giunchiglia says. ‘The future will be all about big data — we can’t say whether it will be good or bad, but it will certainly be different.’

Cyborg America: inside the strange new world of basement body hackers (The Verve)

The Verve, 8 August 2012

Shawn Sarver took a deep breath and stared at the bottle of Listerine on the counter. “A minty fresh feeling for your mouth… cures bad breath,” he repeated to himself, as the scalpel sliced open his ring finger. His left arm was stretched out on the operating table, his sleeve rolled up past the elbow, revealing his first tattoo, the Air Force insignia he got at age 18, a few weeks after graduating from high school. Sarver was trying a technique he learned in the military to block out the pain, since it was illegal to administer anesthetic for his procedure.

“A minty fresh feeling… cures bad breath,” Sarver muttered through gritted teeth, his eyes staring off into a void.

Tim, the proprietor of Hot Rod Piercing in downtown Pittsburgh, put down the scalpel and picked up an instrument called an elevator, which he used to separate the flesh inside in Sarver’s finger, creating a small empty pocket of space. Then, with practiced hands, he slid a tiny rare earth metal inside the open wound, the width of a pencil eraser and thinner than a dime. When he tried to remove his tool, however, the metal disc stuck to the tweezers. “Let’s try this again,” Tim said. “Almost done.”

The implant stayed put the second time. Tim quickly stitched the cut shut, and cleaned off the blood. “Want to try it out?” he asked Sarver, who nodded with excitement. Tim dangled the needle from a string of suture next to Sarver’s finger, closer and closer, until suddenly, it jumped through the air and stuck to his flesh, attracted by the magnetic pull of the mineral implant.

“I’m a cyborg!” Sarver cried, getting up to join his friends in the waiting room outside. Tim started prepping a new tray of clean surgical tools. Now it was my turn.

PART.01

With the advent of the smartphone, many Americans have grown used to the idea of having a computer on their person at all times. Wearable technologies like Google’s Project Glass are narrowing the boundary between us and our devices even further by attaching a computer to a person’s face and integrating the software directly into a user’s field of vision. The paradigm shift is reflected in the names of our dominant operating systems. Gone are Microsoft’s Windows into the digital world, replaced by a union of man and machine: the iPhone or Android.

For a small, growing community of technologists, none of this goes far enough. I first met Sarver at the home of his best friend, Tim Cannon, in Oakdale, a Pennsylvania suburb about 30 minutes from Pittsburgh where Cannon, a software developer, lives with his longtime girlfriend and their three dogs. The two-story house sits next to a beer dispensary and an abandoned motel, a reminder the city’s best days are far behind it. In the last two decades, Pittsburgh has been gutted of its population, which plummeted from a high of more than 700,000 in the 1980s to less than 350,000 today. For its future, the city has pinned much of its hopes on the biomedical and robotics research being done at local universities like Carnegie Mellon. “The city was dying and so you have this element of anti-authority freaks are welcome,” said Cannon. “When you have technology and biomedical research and a pissed-off angry population that loves tattoos, this is bound to happen. Why Pittsburgh? It’s got the right amount of fuck you.”

Cannon led me down into the basement, which he and Sarver have converted into a laboratory. A long work space was covered with Arduino motherboards, soldering irons, and electrodes. Cannon had recently captured a garter snake, which eyed us from inside a plastic jar. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been telling people that I want to be a robot,” said Cannon. “These days, that doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.” The pair call themselves grinders — homebrew biohackers obsessed with the idea of human enhancement — who are looking for new ways to put machines into their bodies. They are joined by hundreds of aspiring biohackers who populate the movement’s online forums and a growing number, now several dozen, who have gotten the magnetic implants in real life.

GONE ARE MICROSOFT’S WINDOWS INTO THE DIGITALWORLD, REPLACED BY A UNION OF MANAND MACHINE: THE IPHONE ORANDROID

COMPUTERS ARE HARDWARE. APPS ARE SOFTWARE. HUMANS AREWETWARE

“EVER SINCE IWAS A KID, I’VE BEEN TELLING PEOPLE THAT IWANT TO BE A ROBOT.”

Cannon looks and moves a bit like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, a languid rubberband of a man in baggy clothes and a newsboy cap. Sarver, by contrast, stands ramrod-straight, wearing a dapper three-piece suit and waxed mustache, a dandy steampunk with a high-pitched laugh. There is a distinct division of labor between the two: Cannon is the software developer and Sarver, who learned electrical engineering as a mechanic in the Air Force, does the hardware. The moniker for their working unit is Grindhouse Wetwares. Computers are hardware. Apps are software. Humans are wetware.

Cannon, like Sarver, served in the military, but the two didn’t meet until they had both left the service, introduced by a mutual friend in the Pittsburgh area. Politics brought them together. “We were both kind of libertarians, really strong anti-authority people, but we didn’t fit into the two common strains here: idiot anarchist who’s unrealistic or right-wing crazy Christian. Nobody was incorporating technology into it. So there was no political party but just a couple like-minded individuals, who were like… techno-libertarians!”

Cannon got his own neodymium magnetic implant a year before Sarver. Putting these rare earth metals into the body was pioneered by artists on the bleeding edge of piercing culture and transhumanists interested in experimenting with a sixth sense.Steve Haworth, who specializes in the bleeding edge of body modification and considers himself a “human evolution artist,” is considered one of the originators, and helped to inspire a generation of practitioners to perform magnetic implants, including the owner of Hot Rod Piercing in Pittsburgh. (Using surgical tools like a scalpel is a grey area for piercers. Operating with these instruments, or any kind of anesthesia, could be classified as practicing medicine. Without a medical license, a piercer who does this is technically committing assault on the person getting the implant.) On its own, the implant allows a person to feel electromagnetic fields: a microwave oven in their kitchen, a subway passing beneath the ground, or high-tension power lines overhead.

While this added perception is interesting, it has little utility. But the magnet, explains Cannon, is more of a stepping stone toward bigger things. “It can be done cheaply, with minimally invasive surgery. You get used to the idea of having something alien in your body, and kinda begin to see how much more the human body could do with a little help. Sure, feeling other magnets around you is fucking cool, but the real key is, you’re giving the human body a simple, digital input.”

As an example of how that might work, Cannon showed me a small device he and Sarver created called the Bottlenose. It’s a rectangle of black metal about half the size of a pack of cigarettes that slips over your finger. Named after the echolocation used by dolphins, it sends out an electromagnetic pulse and measures the time it takes to bounce back. Cannon slips it over his finger and closes his eyes. “I can kind of sweep the room and get this picture of where things are.” He twirls around the half-empty basement, eyes closed, then stops, pointing directly at my chest. “The magnet in my finger is extremely sensitive to these waves. So the Bottlenose can tell me the shape of things around me and how far away they are.”

The way Cannon sees it, biohacking is all around us. “In a way, eyeglasses are a body hack, a piece of equipment that enhances your sense, and pretty quickly becomes like a part of your body,” says Cannon. He took a pair of electrodes off the workbench and attached them to my temples. “Your brain works through electricity, so why not help to boost that?” A sharp pinch ran across my forehead as the first volts flowed into my skull. He and Sarver laughed as my face involuntarily twitched. “You’re one of us now,” Cannon says with a laugh.

HISTORY.01

In one sense, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, part man, part machine, animated by electricity and with superhuman abilities, might be the first dark, early vision of what humans’ bodies would become when modern science was brought to bear. A more utopian version was put forward in 1960, a year before man first travelled into space, by the scientist and inventor Manfred Clynes. Clynes was considering the problem of how mankind would survive in our new lives as outer space dwellers, and concluded that only by augmenting our physiology with drugs and machines could we thrive in extraterrestrial environs. It was Clynes and his co-author Nathan Kline, writing on this subject, who coined the term cyborg.

At its simplest, a cyborg is a being with both biological and artificial parts: metal, electrical, mechanical, or robotic. The construct is familiar to almost everyone through popular culture, perhaps most spectacularly in the recent Iron Man films. Tony Stark is surely our greatest contemporary cyborg: a billionaire businessman who designed his own mechanical heart, a dapper bachelor who can transform into a one-man fighter jet, then shed his armour as easily as a suit of clothes.

Britain is the birthplace of 21st-century biohacking, and the movement’s two foundational figures present a similar Jekyll and Hyde duality. One is Lepht Anonym, a DIY punk who was one of the earliest, and certainly the most dramatic, to throw caution to the wind and implant metal and machines into her flesh. The other is Kevin Warwick, an academic at the University of Reading’s department of cybernetics. Warwick relies on a trained staff of medical technicians when doing his implants. Lepht has been known to say that all she requires is a potato peeler and a bottle of vodka. In an article on h+, Anonym wrote:

I’m sort of inured to pain by this point. Anesthetic is illegal for people like me, so we learn to live without it; I’ve made scalpel incisions in my hands, pushed five-millimeter diameter needles through my skin, and once used a vegetable knife to carve a cavity into the tip of my index finger. I’m an idiot, but I’m an idiot working in the name of progress: I’m Lepht Anonym, scrapheap transhumanist. I work with what I can get.

Anonym’s essay, a series of YouTube videos, and a short profile in Wired established her as the face of the budding biohacking movement. It was Anonym who proved, with herself as the guinea pig, that it was possible to implant RFID chips and powerful magnets into one’s body, without the backing of an academic institution or help from a team of doctors.

 

“She is an inspiration to all of us,” said a biohacker who goes by the name of Sovereign Bleak. “To anyone who was frustrated with the human condition, who felt we had been promised more from the future, she said that it was within our grasp, and our rights, to evolve our bodies however we saw fit.” Over the last decade grinders have begun to form a loose culture, connected mostly by online forums like biohack.me, where hundreds of aspiring cyborgs congregate to swap tips about the best bio-resistant coatings to prevent the body from rejecting magnetic implants and how to get illegal anesthetics shipped from Canada to the United States. There is another strain of biohacking which focuses on the possibilities for DIY genetics, but their work is far more theoretical than the hands-on experiments performed by grinders.

But while Anonym’s renegade approach to bettering her own flesh birthed a new generation of grinders, it seems to have had some serious long-term consequences for her own health. “I’m a wee bit frightened right now,” Anonym wrote on her blog early this year. “I’m hearing things that aren’t there. Sure I see things that aren’t real from time to time because of the stupid habits I had when I was a teenager and the permanent, very mild damage I did to myself experimenting like that, but I don’t usually hear anything and this is not a flashback.”

MEDICAL NEED VERSUS HUMAN ENHANCEMENT

Neil Harbisson was born with a condition that allows him to see only in black and white. He became interested in cybernetics, and eventually began wearing the Eyeborg, a head-mounted camera which translated colors into vibrations that Harbisson could hear. The addition of the Eyeborg to his passport has led some to dub him the first cyborg officially recognized by the federal government. He now plans to extend and improve this cybernetic synesthesia by having the Eyeborg permanently surgically attached to his skull.

Getting a medical team to help him was no easy task. “Their position was that ‘doctors usually repair or fix humans’ and that my operation was not about fixing nor repairing myself but about creating a new sense: the perception of visual elements via bone-conducted sounds,” Harbisson told me by email. “The other main issue was that the operation would allow me to perceive outside the ability of human vision and human hearing (hearing via the bone allows you to hear a wider range of sounds, from infrasounds to ultrasounds, and some lenses can detect ultraviolets and infrareds). It took me over a year to convince them.”

In the end, the bio-ethical community still relies on promises of medical need to justify cybernetic enhancement. “I think I convinced them when I told them that this kind of operation could help ‘fix and repair’ blind people. If you use a different type of chip, a chip that translates words into sound, or distances into sound, for instance, the same electronic eye implant could be used to read or to detect obstacles which could mean the end of Braille and sticks. I guess hospitals and governments will soon start publishing their own laws about which kind of cybernetic implants they find are ethical/legal and which ones they find are not.”

PART.02

THE EXPERIENCE RANKED ALONGSIDE BREAKING MY ARM AND HAVING MY APPENDIX REMOVED

  

I had Lepht Anonym in the back of my mind as I stretched my arm out on the operating table at Hot Rod Piercing. The fingertip is an excellent place for a magnet because it is full of sensitive nerve tissue, fertile ground for your nascent sixth sense to pick up on the electro-magnetic fields all around us. It is also an exceptionally painful spot to have sliced open with a scalpel, especially when no painkillers are available. The experience ranked alongside breaking my arm and having my appendix removed, a level of pain that opens your mind to parts of your body which before you were not conscious of.

For the first few days after the surgery, it was difficult to separate out my newly implanted sense from the bits of pain and sensation created by the trauma of having the magnet jammed in my finger. Certain things were clear: microwave ovens gave off a steady field that was easy to perceive, like a pulsating wave of invisible water, or air heavy from heat coming off a fan. And other magnets, of course, were easy to identify. They lurked like landmines in everyday objects — my earbuds, my messenger bag — sending my finger ringing with a deep, sort of probing force field that shifted around in my flesh.

High-tension wires seemed to give off a sort of pulsating current, but it was often hard to tell, since my finger often began throbbing for no reason, as it healed from the trauma of surgery. Playing with strong, stand-alone magnets was a game of chicken. The party trick of making one leap across a table towards my finger was thrilling, but the awful squirming it caused inside my flesh made me regret it hours later. Grasping a colleague’s stylus too near the magnetic tip put a sort of freezing probe into my finger that I thought about for days afterwards.

Within a few weeks, the sensation began to fade. I noticed fewer and fewer instances of a sixth sense, beyond other magnets, which were quite obvious. I was glad that the implant didn’t interfere with my life, or prevent me from exercising, but I also grew a bit disenchanted, after all the hype and excitement the grinders I interviewed had shared about their newfound way of interacting with the world.

HISTORY.02

If Lepht Anonym is the cautionary tale, Prof. Kevin Warwick is the one bringing academic respectability to cybernetics. He was one of the first to experiment with implants, putting an RFID chip into his body back in 1998, and has also taken the techniques the farthest. In 2002, Prof. Warwick had cybernetic sensors implanted into the nerves of his arm. Unlike the grinders in Pittsburgh, he had the benefits of anesthesia and a full medical team, but he was still putting himself at great risk, as there was no research on the long-term effects of having these devices grafted onto his nervous system. “In a way that is what I like most about this,” he told me. “From an academic standpoint, it’s wide-open territory.”

I chatted with Warwick from his office at The University of Reading, stacked floor to ceiling with books and papers. He has light brown hair that falls over his forehead and an easy laugh. With his long sleeve shirt on, you would never know that his arm is full of complex machinery. The unit allows Warwick to manipulate a robot hand, a mirror of his own fingers and flesh. What’s more, the impulse could flow both ways. Warwick’s wife, Irena, had a simpler cybernetic implant done on herself. When someone grasped her hand, Prof. Warwick was able to experience the same sensation in his hand, from across the Atlantic. It was, Warwick writes, a sort of cybernetic telepathy, or empathy, in which his nerves were made to feel what she felt, via bits of data travelling over the internet.

The work was hailed by the mainstream media as a major step forward in helping amputees and victims of paralysis to regain a full range of abilities. But Prof. Warwick says that misses the point. “I quite like the fact that new medical therapies could potentially come out of this work, but what I am really interested in is not getting people back to normal; it’s enhancement of fully functioning humans to a higher level.”

It’s a sentiment that can take some getting used to. “A decade ago, if you talked about human enhancement, you upset quite a lot of people. Unless the end goal was helping the disabled, people really were not open to it.” With the advent of smartphones, says Prof. Warwick, all that has changed. “Normal folks really see the value of ubiquitous technology. In fact the social element has almost created the reverse. Now, you must be connected all the time.”

While he is an accomplished academic, Prof. Warwick has embraced biohackers and grinders as fellow travelers on the road to exploring our cybernetic future. “A lot of the time, when it comes to putting magnets into your body or RFID chips, there is more information on YouTube than in the peer-reviewed journals. There are artists and geeks pushing the boundaries, sharing information, a very renegade thing. My job is to take that, and apply some more rigorous scientific analysis.”

To that end, Prof. Warwick and one of his PhD students, Ian Harrison, are beginning a series of studies on biohackers with magnetic implants. “When it comes to sticking sensors into your nerve endings, so much is subjective,” says Harrison. “What one person feels, another may not. So we are trying to establish some baselines for future research.”

“IT’S LIKE THIS LAST, UNEXPLORED CONTINENT STARING US IN THE FACE.”The end goal for Prof. Warwick, as it was for the team at Grindhouse Wetwares in Pittsburgh, is still the stuff of science fiction. “When it comes to communication, humans are still so far behind what computers are capable of,” Prof. Warwick explained. “Bringing about brain to brain communication is something I hope to achieve in my lifetime.”For Warwick, this will advance not just the human body and the field of cybernetics, but allow for a more practical evaluation the entire canon of Western thought. “I would like to ask the questions that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein asked, but in practice, not in theory.” It would be another attempt to study the mind, from inside and out, as Wittgenstein proposed. But with access to objective data. “Perhaps he was bang on, or maybe we will rubbish his whole career, but either way, it’s something we should figure out.”

As the limits of space exploration become increasingly clear, a generation of scientists who might once have turned to the stars are seeking to expand humanity’s horizons much closer to home. “Jamming stuff into your body, merging machines with your nerves and brain, it’s brand new,” said Warwick. “It’s like this last, unexplored continent staring us in the face.”

On a hot day in mid-July, I went for a walk around Manhattan with Dann Berg, who had a magnet implanted in his pinky three years earlier. I told him I was a little disappointed how rarely I noticed anything with my implant. “Actually, your experience is pretty common,” he told me. “I didn’t feel much for the first 6 months, as the nerves were healing from surgery. It took a long time for me to gain this kind of ambient awareness.”

Berg worked for a while in the piercing and tattoo studio, which brought him into contact with the body modification community who were experimenting with implants. At the same time, he was teaching himself to code and finding work as a front-end developer building web sites. “To me, these two things, the implant and the programming, they are both about finding new ways to see and experience the world.”

“WE’RE TOUCHING SOMETHING OTHER PEOPLE CAN’T SEE; THEY DON’T KNOW
IT EXISTS.”Berg took me to an intersection at Broadway and Bleecker. In the middle of the crosswalk, he stopped, and began moving his hand over a metal grate. “You feel that?” he asked. “It’s a dome, right here, about a foot off the ground, that just sets my finger off. Somewhere down there, part of the subway system or the power grid is working. We’re touching something other people can’t see; they don’t know it exists. That’s amazing to me.” People passing by gave us odd stares as Berg and I stood next to each other in the street, waving our hands around inside an invisible field, like mystics groping blindly for a ghost.

CYBORGS IN SOCIETY

Last month, a Canadian professor named Steve Mann was eating at a McDonald’s with his family. Mann wears a pair of computerized glasses at all times, similar to Google’s Project Glass. One of the employees asked him to take them off. When he refused, Mann says, an employee tried to rip the glasses off, an alleged attack made more brutal because the device is permanently attached and does not come off his skull without special tools.

On biohacking websites and transhumanist forums, the event was a warning sign of the battle to come. Some dubbed it the first hate crime against cyborgs. That would imply the employees knew Mann’s device was part of him, which is still largely unclear. But it was certainly a harbinger of the friction that will emerge between people whose bodies contain powerful machines and society at large.

PART.03

After zapping my brain with a few dozen volts, the boys from Grindhouse Wetwares offered to cook me dinner. Cannon popped a tray of mashed potatoes in the microwave and showed me where he put his finger to feel the electromagnetic waves streaming off. We stepped out onto the back porch and let his three little puggles run wild. The sound of cars passing on the nearby highway and the crickets warming up for sunset relaxed everyone. I asked what they thought the potential was for biohacking to become part of the mainstream.

“That’s the thing, it’s not that much of a leap,” said Cannon. “We’ve had pacemakers since the ’70s.” Brain implants are now being used to treat Parkinson’s disease and depression. Scientists hope that brain implants might soon restore mobility to paralyzed limbs. The crucial difference is that grinders are pursuing this technology for human enhancement, without any medical need. “How is this any different than plastic surgery, which like half the fucking country gets?” asked Cannon. “Look, you know the military is already working on stuff like this, right? And it won’t be too long before the corporations start following suit.”

Sarver joined the Air Force just weeks after 9/11. “I was a dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic Republican. I wasn’t thinking about the military, but after 9/11, I just believed the dogma.” In place of college, he got an education in electronics repairing fighter jets and attack helicopters. He left the war a very different man. “There were no terrorists in Iraq. We were the terrorists. These were scared people, already scared of their own government.”

Yet, while he rejected the conflict in the Middle East, Sarver’s time in the military gave him a new perspective on the human body. “I’ve been in the special forces,” said Sarver. “I know what the limits of the human body are like. Once you’ve seen the capabilities of a 5000psi hydraulic system, it’s no comparison.”

“THIS IS JUST A DECAYING LUMP OF FLESH THAT GETS OLD, IT’S LEAKING FLUID ALL THE TIME”

“IT’S GOING TO BE WEIRD AND UNCOMFORTABLEAND SCARY. BUT YOU CAN DO THAT, OR YOU CAN BECOME OBSOLETE.”

The boys from Grindhouse Wetwares both sucked down Parliament menthols the whole time we talked. There was no irony for them in dreaming of the possibilities for one’s body and willfully destroying it. “For me, the end game is my brain and spinal column in a jar, and a robot body out in the world doing my bidding,” said Sarver. “I would really prefer not to have to rely on an inefficient four-valve pump that sends liquid through these fragile hoses. Fuck cheetahs. I want to punch through walls.”

Flesh and blood are easily shed in grinder circles, at least theoretically speaking. “People recoil from the idea of tampering inside the body,” said Tim. “I am lost when it comes to people’s unhealthy connections to your body. This is just a decaying lump of flesh that gets old, it’s leaking fluid all the time, it’s obscene to think this is me. I am my ideas and the sum of my experiences.” As far as the biohackers are concerned, we are the best argument against intelligent design.

Neither man has any illusions about how fringe biohacking is now. But technology marches on. “People say nobody is going to want to get surgery for this stuff,” admits Cannon. But he believes that will change. “They will or they will be left behind. They have no choice. It’s going to be weird and uncomfortable and scary. But you can do that, or you can become obsolete.”

We came back into the kitchen for dinner. As I wolfed down steak and potatoes, Cannon broke into a nervous grin. “I want to show you something. It’s not quite ready, but this is what we’re working on.” He disappeared down into the basement lab and returned with a small device the size of a cigarette lighter, a simple circuit board with a display attached. This was the HELEDD, the next step in the Grindhouse Wetwares plan to unite man and machine. “This is just a prototype, but when we get it small enough, the idea is to have this beneath my skin,” he said, holding it up against his inner forearm.

The smartphone in your pocket would act as the brain for this implant, communicating via bluetooth with the HELEDD, which would use a series of LED lights to display the time, a text message, or the user’s heart rate. “We’re looking to get sensors in there for the big three,” said Tim. “Heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. Because then you are looking at this incredible data. Most people don’t know the effect on a man’s heart when he finds out his wife is cheating on him.”

Cannon hopes to have the operation in the next few months. A big part of what drives the duo to move so fast is the idea that there is no hierarchy established in this space. “We want to be doing this before the FDA gets involved and starts telling us what we can and cannot do. Someday this will be commercially feasible and Apple will design an implant which will sync with your phone, but that is not going to be for us. We like to open things up and break them.”

I point out that Steve Jobs may have died in large part because he was reluctant to get surgery, afraid that if doctors opened him up, they might not be able to put him back together good as new. “We’re grinders,” said Cannon. “I view it as kind of taking the pain for the people who are going to come after me. We’re paying now so that it will become socially acceptable later.”

3rdi, 2010-2011Photographed by Wafaa Bilal, Copyright: Wafaa Bilal
Image of Prof. Kevin Warwick courtesty of Prof. Kevin Warick
Portrait of Prof. Kevin Warwick originally shot for Time Magazine by Jim Naughten