More musicians are taking aim at the rates paid by Spotify and Pandora, and warning whole genres are in danger

It’s not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical

It's not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical

David Byrne, Thom Yorke (Credit: Reuters/Hugo Correia/AP/Chris Pizzello/Photo collage by Salon)

After years in which tech-company hype has drowned out most other voices, the frustration of musicians with the digital music world has begun to get a hearing. We know now that many rockers don’t like it. Less discussed so far is the trouble jazz and classical musicians — and their fans — have with music streaming, which is being hailed as the “savior” of the music business.

But between low royalties, opaque payout rates, declining record sales and suspicion that the major labels have cut deals with the streamers that leave musicians out of the equation, anger from the music business’s artier edges is slowing growing. It’s further proof of the lie of the “long tail.” The shift to digital is also helping to isolate these already marginalized genres: It has a decisive effect on what listeners can find, and on whether or not an artist can earn a living from his work. (Music streaming, in all genres, is up 42 percent for the first half of this year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, against the first half of 2013. Over the same period, CD sales fell 19.6 percent, and downloads, the industry’s previous savior, were down 11.6 percent.)

Only a very few classical artists have been outspoken on the issue so far: San-Francisco-based Zoe Keating — a tech-savvy, DIY, Amanda Palmer of the cello — has blown the whistle on the tiny amounts the streaming services pay musicians. Though she’s exactly the kind of artist who should be cashing in on streaming, since she releases her own music, tours relentlessly, and has developed a strong following since her days with rock band Rasputina, only 8 percent of  her last year’s earnings from recorded music came from streaming. The iTunes store, which pays out in small amounts since most purchases are for 99 cent songs, paid her about six times what she earned from streaming. (More than 400,000 Spotify streams earned her $1,764; almost 2 million YouTube views generated $1,248.)

For jazz and classical players without Keating’s entrepreneurial energy or larger cult following, the numbers are even bleaker. “It feels awful,” says Christina Courtin, a Julliard-trained violinist who plays in classical groups and has put out albums on the Nonesuch and Hundred Pockets labels. “I don’t count on that as a way to make money — I don’t see how it makes sense for a musician. It’s pretty dark — no one’s selling as much as they were even five years ago.”



Some artists remember a very different world. “I used to sell CDs of my music,” says Richard Danielpour, a celebrated American composer who has written an opera with Toni Morrison and once had an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical. “And now we get nothing.”

It’s not just streaming, but the larger digital era that’s burying record stores, radio and recordings – and it’s hitting jazz and classical musicians especially hard. For some young musicians launching their careers, the “exposure” they get on Pandora or YouTube brings them employment or a fan base somewhere down the line. But many wait in vain. And like their counterparts in the pop world, musicians typically cannot opt out of streaming and the rest of the new world.

“One of the big reasons musicians kept control of their publishing was for the possibility that at least we would be paid when those songs were played in media outlets,” says jazz pianist Jason Moran, currently the jazz advisor for the Kennedy Center. “Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much more wider scale.”

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In some ways, the trouble in these genres resembles the problems experienced by any non-superstar musicians. Royalties on steaming services, for instance, are notoriously low. “All of my colleagues — composers and arrangers — are seeing huge cuts in their earnings,” says Paul Chihara, a veteran composer who until recently headed UCLA’s film-music program. “In effect, we’re not getting royalties. It’s almost amusing some of the royalty checks I get.” One of the last checks he got was for $29. “And it bounced.”

The pain is especially acute for indie musicians. While some jazz and classical labels are owned by one of the three majors — Blue Note and Deutsche Grammophon, for example, are now part of the Universal Music Group — the vast majority of musicians record for independent labels. And the indies have been largely left out of the sweet deals struck with the streamers. Most of those deals are opaque; the informed speculation says that these arrangement are not good for musicians, especially those not on the few remaining majors.

“Musicians in niche categories need to be fearful of the agreements that labels are signing with streaming services,” says music historian Ted Gioia, who has also recorded as a jazz pianist. Some of these deals, he suspects, allow the steamers to pay nothing at all to some artists, including most who record jazz and classical music. “The record labels could make a case that they don’t need to share royalties with artists whose sales don’t cross a certain threshold. If you’re Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, you have no problem. But otherwise, you would get no royalties. The nature of these deals are that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Labels that own substantial back catalog — old Pink Floyd and Eagles albums, and earlier music that no longer require royalty payments to musicians — have likely cut much better deals than labels that primarily put out new music, especially those in non-pop genres. Says Gioia: “I suspect we’d find agreements where the labels say, [to the streamers], ‘You can have our whole catalog for $5 million, plus you pay us a fraction of a penny for any song that streams more than a million times.’” You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think this way: The major labels have a number of weaselly little tricks like this one, sometimes called a “digital breakage,” in which musicians get nothing.

Moran compares the appearance of Spotify on the scene to the arrival of Wal-Mart to an American small-town: The new model undercuts the existing ones, and helps put smaller, independent stores out of business.

Indie labels are equally vulnerable. Pi Recordings is a jazz label that puts out recordings by the cream of the avant-garde, including Henry Threadgill, Marc Ribot and Rudresh Mahanthappa. It’s been described as one of the rare success stories in a dark time. But Yulun Wang, who co-runs the label, is not sure how they can stand up against the streaming onslaught.

“You have the guy who buys 20 jazz records a year — $300 a year,” Wang says. “He might buy one or two of our albums. If I convert that guy to Spotify – he’s now getting all-you-can-eat for $120. And the proportion that comes to me is literally pennies. That’s when it over. That’s will force labels like ours to either change the way we do things significantly.”

The digital enthusiasts say that labels need to “adjust” to the new world – by taking a piece of musicians’ touring, or cutting “360 deals” in which they get part of every strand of an artist’s revenue stream. But for jazz artists, touring outside New York and a few other cities does not yield much. “If I take 15 percent of someone making $30,000, it’s just less money in their pocket.” At a certain point, the artist can no longer pay the rent. “That’s when it’s game over.”

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But it’s not just a problem of scale. There are distinctive qualities to jazz and classical music that make it a difficult fit to the digital world as it now exists, and that punish musicians and curious fans alike. To Jean Cook, a new-music violinist, onetime Mekon, and director of programs for the Future Musical Coalition, it further marginalizes these already peripheral styles, creating what she calls “invisible genres.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, or Beats Music, she says. “Any music service that’s serving pop and classical music will not serve classical music well.” The problem is the nature of classical music, and jazz as well, and the way they differ from pop music. They all make different use of metadata – a term most people associate with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, but which have a profound importance to streaming services. Put most simply: Classical music and jazz are such a mismatch for existing streaming services, it’s almost impossible to find stuff. Cook realized this when she got a recommendation from a music lover, and found herself falling down an online labyrinth trying to find it.

Here’s a good place to start: Say you’re looking for a bedrock recording, the Beethoven Piano Concertos, with titan Maurizio Pollini on piano. Who is the “artist” for this one? Is it the Berlin Philharmonic, or Claudio Abbado, who conducts them? Is it Pollini? Or is it Beethoven himself? If you can see the entire record jacket, you can see who the recording includes. Otherwise, you could find yourself guessing.

Or, if you want music written the Russian late romantic, do you want Rachmaninoff, or Rachmaninoff? Chances are, your service will have one but not the other. And what do you call the movements of a symphony or chamber piece? By their Roman numeral? Or by names like andante or scherzo?

“These services are built to serve the largest segments of the marketplace — pop, country and hip hop,” says Cook. None of these have this kind of complicated structure.

Jazz offers similar difficulties, she says. Say you want to find recordings by pianist Bill Evans. You can find a bunch of them — but nothing linking him to “Kind of Blue,” perhaps the most important (and, in vinyl and CD form, certainly the bestselling) recording he was ever a part of. Evans shaped that album profoundly. You won’t find John Coltrane — another key voice on that session — there either, since it’s a Miles Davis record.

“Listing sidemen is something that is just not built into the architecture,” says Cook. It’s not a small problem. “I can’t think of a single example of a jazz musician who was not a sideman at one point in their career. We’re talking about a significant portion of jazz history that can’t get out.” It also makes you wonder — what are the chances that sidemen, or their heirs, get paid when things are streamed? And what do potential music consumers do when they can’t find what they’re looking for?

There used to be a solution to this. “Go back to the days of record stores,” says Gioia, “and customers could learn a lot from browsing the racks, or asking the serious music fans who worked there.” (Classical record stores, then and now, tended to have their recordings organized by composer rather than group.) The algorithms for specialized genres — classical, reggae, acoustic blues, Brazilian music —are hopeless, he says.

“These days, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for. If you want something by Beyonce or Miley Cyrus, it’s not hard. If you’re interested in niche music, you can be in the position of not knowing what’s out there. I still find myself missing important releases by musicians I care about. Streaming provides access to millions of hours of music, but it’s easy to get lost in it.”

If dedicated fans like Cook and Gioia have these problems, what will happen to the casual or new fans that every genre needs in order to stay alive? They’ll simply drift away to the stuff that’s being beamed at them by advertisers around the clock.

*

Even some of those frightened and demoralized by the digital transition think things can be improved for jazz and classical music.

So far, Wang’s solution has been to drop out. It’s nearly impossible for artists to withdraw, but as a label head, he can pull all of Pi’s music off Spotify. After three or four months on the service, two years back, he received a royalty statement of about $25 for all of it, and decided it just wasn’t worth it.

“What we found when we got out of Spotify — after these dire warnings — was that our sales went up; they absolutely jumped.”

He’s very familiar with the pressure to give art away. “We were always told you need to get as many audiences as possible … With the exposure argument, you’re told, ‘You could become the next Lady Gaga!’ It’s like playing Lotto — buy dollar tickets, and you could hit it big. In jazz, keep buying dollar tickets so you can win a dollar fifty.”

Cook sees the poor fit of these genres to streaming services as part of a larger phenomenon: Their radio playlists don’t show up in Billboard, their ticket receipts and album sales are often not reported to SoundScan and PollStar, and their awards on the Grammys are rarely televised. “This affects the visibility of jazz and classical music, and the way they are viewed by the rest of the industry.”

Part of a solution involves getting the data straight. “There is no database that tells you who played on what recording, and who wrote each song. ASCAP has one piece of the puzzle; iTunes has another. If you’ve got a music service, you need this, because you need to know who to pay. You need to tell listeners who they’re listening too. And if it’s not consistent, it’s not searchable.”

She wonders how it happens, though, even with open-source software that makes it easier. “The classical community needs to say, ‘This is a good index, instead of the crap the record labels are sending you. It requires a coordinated effort by a lot of different parties.”

Composer Danielpour says that classical people should not give up on recording work and trying to get on the radio. “Even though radio is a mid-20th century medium, for classical music it’s still a powerful source of revenue,” especially in Europe, where royalties are typically better. He recently returned from a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. “For European and Russian audiences, classical music is religion. For us in America, it’s entertainment.”

Gioia, a former businessman, is pragmatic and forward looking. “My view is that the only solution for this, that is equitable for everyone, is for the music labels, in partnership with the artists, to control their own streaming,” says Gioia. “They need to bypass Silicon Valley.

“They need to work together with a new model, to control distribution and not rely on Apple, Amazon and everyone else. The music industry has always hated technology — they hated radio when it came out — and have always dragged their feet. They need to embrace technology and do it better.”

 

Scott Timberg, a longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, runs the blog Culture Crash. His book, “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class” comes out in January. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMisreadCity

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/20/its_not_just_david_byrne_and_radiohead_spotify_pandora_and_how_streaming_music_kills_jazz_and_classical/?source=newsletter

Here are the states where you are most likely to be wiretapped

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court’s Wiretap Report, here’s where wiretapping occurs the most

 

Here are the states where you are most likely to be wiretapped

In terms of wiretapping — with a warrant — it turns out some states use the tactic far more than others.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Court released its “Wiretap Report” for the year 2013, and it turns out that Nevada, California, Colorado and New York account for nearly half of all wiretap applications on portable devices in the United States. Add in New Jersey, Georgia and Florida and you have 80 percent of the country’s applications for wiretaps. A chart from Pew Research can be viewed here.

Overall, according to the report, wiretaps were up in 2013:

“The number of federal and state wiretaps reported in 2013 increased 5 percent from 2012. A total of 3,576 wiretaps were reported as authorized in 2013, with 1,476 authorized by federal judges and 2,100 authorized by state judges.”

The report also found that in terms of federal applications The Southern District of California was responsible for 8 percent of the applications, approved by federal judges — the most by a single district in the country.

In terms of the nation, Pew Research reports:

“When we factor in population, Nevada leads the nation with 38 mobile wiretaps for every 500,000 people. Most Nevada wiretaps (187) were sought by officials in Clark County, home to Las Vegas; federal prosecutors in the state obtained authorization for 26 more, though only one was actually installed.”

The overwhelming majority of the wiretaps, nationwide — 90 percent, according to Pew Research — were requested to monitor drug-related criminal activity. Pew also reported that the wiretaps resulted in 3,744 arrests and 709 convictions.

Most of the wiretaps were for “portable devices” which included mobile phones and digital pagers, according to the report.



The states where no wiretaps were requested include Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont.

Of course, the report only highlights wiretaps that require a warrant, and not those done without.

h/t Gizmodo, Pew Research, U.S. Courts

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/14/here_are_the_sates_where_you_are_most_likely_to_be_wiretapped/?source=newsletter

 

The universe according to Nietzsche

Modern cosmology and the theory of eternal recurrence

The philosopher’s musings on the nature of reality could have scientific basis, according to a prominent physicist

The universe according to Nietzsche: Modern cosmology and the theory of eternal recurrence

Friedrich Nietzsche (Credit: AP/Salon)

Excerpted from “The Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos.” It originally appeared as a speech given by Steinhardt at an event in 2002.

If you were to ask most cosmologists to give a summary of where we stand right now in the field, they would tell you that we live in a very special period in human history where, thanks to a whole host of advances in technology, we can suddenly view the very distant and very early universe in ways we haven’t been able to do ever before. For example, we can get a snapshot of what the universe looked like in its infancy, when the first atoms were forming. We can get a snapshot of what the universe looked like in its adolescence, when the first stars and galaxies were forming. And we are now getting a full detail, three-dimensional image of what the local universe looks like today. When you put together this different information, which we’re getting for the first time in human history, you obtain a very tight series of constraints on any model of cosmic evolution.

If you go back to the different theories of cosmic evolution in the early 1990s, the data we’ve gathered in the last decade has eliminated all of them save one, a model that you might think of today as the consensus model. This model involves a combination of the Big Bang model as developed in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s; the inflationary theory, which Alan Guth proposed in the 1980s; and a recent amendment that I will discuss shortly. This consensus theory matches the observations we have of the universe today in exquisite detail. For this reason, many cosmologists conclude that we have finally determined the basic cosmic history of the universe.

But I have a rather different point of view, a view that has been stimulated by two events. The first is the recent amendment to which I referred earlier. I want to argue that the recent amendment is not simply an amendment but a real shock to our whole notion of time and cosmic history. And secondly, in the last year I’ve been involved in the development of an alternative theory that turns the cosmic history topsy-turvy: All the events that created the important features of our universe occur in a different order, by different physics, at different times, over different time scales. And yet this model seems capable of reproducing all the successful predictions of the consensus picture with the same exquisite detail.



The key difference between this picture and the consensus picture comes down to the nature of time. The standard model, or consensus model, assumes that time has a beginning that we normally refer to as the Big Bang. According to that model, for reasons we don’t quite understand, the universe sprang from nothingness into somethingness, full of matter and energy, and has been expanding and cooling for the past 15 billion years. In the alternative model, the universe is endless. Time is endless, in the sense that it goes on forever in the past and forever in the future, and in some sense space is endless. Indeed, our three spatial dimensions remain infinite throughout the evolution of the universe.

More specifically, this model proposes a universe in which the evolution of the universe is cyclic. That is to say, the universe goes through periods of evolution from hot to cold, from dense to under-dense, from hot radiation to the structure we see today, and eventually to an empty universe. Then, a sequence of events occurs that cause the cycle to begin again. The empty universe is reinjected with energy, creating a new period of expansion and cooling. This process repeats periodically forever. What we’re witnessing now is simply the latest cycle.

The notion of a cyclic universe is not new. People have considered this idea as far back as recorded history. The ancient Hindus, for example, had a very elaborate and detailed cosmology based on a cyclic universe. They predicted the duration of each cycle to be 8.64 billion years—a prediction with three-digit accuracy. This is very impressive, especially since they had no quantum mechanics and no string theory! It disagrees with the number I’m going suggest, which is trillions of years rather than billions.

The cyclic notion has also been a recurrent theme in Western thought. Edgar Allan Poe and Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, each had cyclic models of the universe, and in the early days of relativistic cosmology Albert Einstein, Alexander Friedmann, Georges Lemaître, and Richard Tolman were interested in the cyclic idea. I think it’s clear why so many have found the cyclic idea to be appealing: If you have a universe with a beginning, you have the challenge of explaining why it began and the conditions under which it began. If you have a universe that’s cyclic, it’s eternal, so you don’t have to explain the beginning.

During the attempts to try to bring cyclic ideas into modern cosmology, it was discovered in the 1920s and ’30s that there are various technical problems. The idea at that time was a cycle in which our three-dimensional universe goes through periods of expansion beginning from the Big Bang and then reversal to contraction and a Big Crunch. The universe bounces, and expansion begins again. One problem is that every time the universe contracts to a crunch, the density and temperature of the universe rises to an infinite value, and it is not clear if the usual laws of physics can be applied.

Second, every cycle of expansion and contraction creates entropy through natural thermodynamic processes, which adds to the entropy from earlier cycles. So at the beginning of a new cycle, there is higher entropy density than the cycle before. It turns out that the duration of a cycle is sensitive to the entropy density. If the entropy increases, the duration of the cycle increases as well. So, going forward in time, each cycle becomes longer than the one before. The problem is that, extrapolating back in time, the cycles become shorter until, after a finite time, they shrink to zero duration. The problem of avoiding a beginning has not been solved; it has simply been pushed back a finite number of cycles. If we’re going to reintroduce the idea of a truly cyclic universe, these two problems must be overcome. The cyclic model I will describe uses new ideas to do just that.

To appreciate why an alternative model is worth pursuing, it’s important to get a more detailed impression of what the consensus picture is like. Certainly some aspects are appealing. But what I want to argue is that, overall, the consensus model is not so simple. In particular, recent observations have forced us to amend the consensus model and make it more complicated. So, let me begin with an overview of the consensus model.

The consensus theory begins with the Big Bang: The universe has a beginning. It’s a standard assumption that people have made over the last fifty years, but it’s not something we can prove at present from any fundamental laws of physics. Furthermore, you have to assume that the universe began with an energy density less than the critical value. Otherwise, the universe would stop expanding and recollapse before the next stage of evolution, the inflationary epoch. In addition, to reach this inflationary stage, there must be some sort of energy to drive the inflation. Typically this is assumed to be due to an inflation field. You have to assume that in those patches of the universe that began at less than the critical density, a significant fraction of the energy is stored in inflation energy so that it can eventually overtake the universe and start the period of accelerated expansion. All of these are reasonable assumption, but assumptions nevertheless. It’s important to take into account these assumptions and ingredients, because they’re helpful in comparing the consensus model to the challenger.

Assuming these conditions are met, the inflation energy overtakes the matter and radiation after a few instants. The inflationary epoch commences, and the expansion of the universe accelerates at a furious pace. The inflation does a number of miraculous things: It makes the universe homogeneous, it makes the universe flat, and it leaves behind certain inhomogeneities, which are supposed to be the seeds for the formation of galaxies. Now the universe is prepared to enter the next stage of evolution with the right conditions. According to the inflationary model, the inflation energy decays into a hot gas of matter and radiation. After a second or so, there form the first light nuclei. After a few tens of thousands of years, the slowly moving matter dominates the universe. It’s during these stages that the first atoms form, the universe becomes transparent, and the structure in the universe begins to form—the first stars and galaxies. Up to this point, the story is relatively simple.

But there is the recent discovery that we’ve entered a new stage in the evolution of the universe. After the stars and galaxies have formed, something strange has happened to cause the expansion of the universe to speed up again. During the 15 billion years when matter and radiation dominated the universe and structure was forming, the expansion of the universe was slowing down, because the matter and radiation within it is gravitationally self-attractive and resists the expansion of the universe. Until very recently, it had been presumed that matter would continue to be the dominant form of energy in the universe and this deceleration would continue forever.

But we’ve discovered instead, due to recent observations, that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. This means that most of the energy of the universe is neither matter nor radiation. Rather, another form of energy has overtaken the matter and radiation. For lack of a better term, this new energy form is called dark energy. Dark energy, unlike the matter and radiation we’re familiar with, is gravitationally self-repulsive. That’s why it causes the expansion to speed up rather than slow down. In Newton’s theory of gravity, all mass is gravitationally attractive, but Einstein’s theory allows the possibility of forms of energy that are gravitationally self-repulsive.

I don’t think either the physics or cosmology communities, or even the general public, have fully absorbed the full implications of this discovery. This is a revolution in the grand historic sense—in the Copernican sense. In fact, if you think about Copernicus—from whom we derive the word “revolution”—his importance was that he changed our notion of space and of our position in the universe. By showing that the Earth revolves around the sun, he triggered a chain of ideas that led us to the notion that we live in no particular place in the universe; there’s nothing special about where we are. Now we’ve discovered something very strange about the nature of time: that we may live in no special place, but we do live at a special time, a time of recent transition from deceleration to acceleration; from one in which matter and radiation dominate the universe to one in which they are rapidly becoming insignificant components; from one in which structure is forming in ever larger scales to one in which now, because of this accelerated expansion, structure formation stops. We are in the midst of the transition between these two stages of evolution. And just as Copernicus’ proposal that the Earth is no longer the center of the universe led to a chain of ideas that changed our whole outlook on the structure of the solar system and eventually to the structure of the universe, it shouldn’t be too surprising that perhaps this new discovery of cosmic acceleration could lead to a whole change in our view of cosmic history. That’s a big part of the motivation for thinking about our alternative proposal.

With these thoughts about the consensus model in mind, let me turn to the cyclic proposal. Since it’s cyclic, I’m allowed to begin the discussion of the cycle at any point I choose. To make the discussion parallel, I’ll begin at a point analogous to the Big Bang; I’ll call it the Bang. This is a point in the cycle where the universe reaches its highest temperature and density. In this scenario, though, unlike the Big Bang model, the temperature and density don’t diverge. There is a maximal, finite temperature. It’s a very high temperature, around 1020 degrees Kelvin—hot enough to evaporate atoms and nuclei into their fundamental constituents—but it’s not infinite. In fact, it’s well below the so-called Planck energy scale, where quantum gravity effects dominate. The theory begins with a bang and then proceeds directly to a phase dominated by radiation. In this scenario you do not have the inflation one has in the standard scenario. You still have to explain why the universe is flat, you still have to explain why the universe is homogeneous, and you still have to explain where the fluctuations came from that led to the formation of galaxies, but that’s not going to be explained by an early stage of inflation. It’s going to be explained by yet a different stage in the cyclic universe, which I’ll get to.

In this new model, you go directly to a radiation-dominated universe and form the usual nuclear abundances; then go directly to a matter-dominated universe in which the atoms and galaxies and larger-scale structure form; and then proceed to a phase of the universe dominated by dark energy. In the standard case, the dark energy comes as a surprise, since it’s something you have to add into the theory to make it consistent with what we observe. In the cyclic model, the dark energy moves to center stage as the key ingredient that is going to drive the universe, and in fact drives the universe, into the cyclic evolution. The first thing the dark energy does when it dominates the universe is what we observe today: It causes the expansion of the universe to begin to accelerate. Why is that important? Although this acceleration rate is 100 orders of magnitude smaller than the acceleration thatone gets in inflation, if you give the universe enough time it actually accomplishes the same feat that inflation does. Over time, it thins out the distribution of matter and radiation in the universe, making the universe more and more homogeneous and isotropic—in fact, making it perfectly so—driving it into what is essentially a vacuum state.

Seth Lloyd said there were 1080 or 1090 bits inside the horizon, but if you were to look around the universe in a trillion years, you would find on average no bits inside your horizon, or less than one bit inside your horizon. In fact, when you count these bits, it’s important to realize that now that the universe is accelerating, our computer is actually losing bits from inside our horizon. This is something that we observe.

At the same time that the universe is made homogeneous and isotropic, it is also being made flat. If the universe had any warp or curvature to it, or if you think about the universe stretching over this long period of time, although it’s a slow process it makes the space extremely flat. If it continued forever, of course, that would be the end of the story. But in this scenario, just like inflation, the dark energy survives only for a finite period and triggers a series of events that eventually lead to a transformation of energy from gravity into new energy and radiation that will then start a new period of expansion of the universe. From a local observer’s point of view, it looks like the universe goes through exact cycles; that is to say, it looks like the universe empties out each round and a new matter and radiation is created, leading to a new period of expansion. In this sense it’s a cyclic universe. If you were a global observer and could see the entire universe, you’d discover that our three dimensions are forever infinite in this story. What’s happened is that at each stage when we create matter and radiation, it gets thinned out. It’s out there somewhere, but it’s getting thinned out. Locally, it looks like the universe is cyclic, but globally the universe has a steady evolution, a well-defined era in which, over time and throughout our three dimensions, entropy increases from cycle to cycle.

Exactly how this works in detail can be described in various ways. I will choose to present a very nice geometrical picture that’s motivated by superstring theory. We use only a few basic elements from superstring theory, so you don’t really have to know anything about superstring theory to understand what I’m going to talk about, except to understand that some of the strange things I’m going to introduce I am not introducing for the first time. They’re already sitting there in superstring theory waiting to be put to good purpose.

One of the ideas in superstring theory is that there are extra dimensions; it’s an essential element to that theory, which is necessary to make it mathematically consistent. In one particular formulation of that theory, the universe has a total of eleven dimensions. Six of them are curled up into a little ball so tiny that, for my purposes, I’m just going to pretend they’re not there. However, there are three spatial dimensions, one time dimension, and one additional dimension that I do want to consider. In this picture, our three dimensions with which we’re familiar and through which we move lie along a hypersurface, or membrane. This membrane is a boundary of the extra dimension. There is another boundary, or membrane, on the other side. In between, there’s an extra dimension that, if you like, only exists over a certain interval. It’s like we are one end of a sandwich, in between which there is a so-called bulk volume of space. These surfaces are referred to as orbifolds or branes—the latter referring to the word “membrane.” The branes have physical properties. They have energy and momentum, and when you excite them you can produce things like quarks and electrons. We are composed of the quarks and electrons on one of these branes. And, since quarks and leptons can only move along branes, we are restricted to moving along and seeing only the three dimensions of our brane. We cannot see directly the bulk or any matter on the other brane.

In the cyclic universe, at regular intervals of trillions of years, these two branes smash together. This creates all kinds of excitations—particles and radiation. The collision thereby heats up the branes, and then they bounce apart again. The branes are attracted to each other through a force that acts just like a spring, causing the branes to come together at regular intervals. To describe it more completely, what’s happening is that the universe goes through two kinds of stages of motion. When the universe has matter and radiation in it, or when the branes are far enough apart, the main motion is the branes stretching, or, equivalently, our three dimensions expanding. During this period, the branes more or less remain a fixed distance apart. That’s what’s been happening, for example, in the last 15 billion years. During these stages, our three dimensions are stretching just as they normally would. At a microscopic distance away, there is another brane sitting and expanding, but since we can’t touch, feel, or see across the bulk, we can’t sense it directly. If there is a clump of matter over there, we can feel the gravitational effect, but we can’t see any light or anything else it emits, because anything it emits is going to move along that brane. We only see things that move along our own brane.

Next, the energy associated with the force between these branes takes over the universe. From our vantage point on one of the branes, this acts just like the dark energy we observe today. It causes the branes to accelerate in their stretching, to the point where all the matter and radiation produced since the last collision is spread out and the branes become essentially smooth, flat, empty surfaces. If you like, you can think of them as being wrinkled and full of matter up to this point, and then stretching by a fantastic amount over the next trillion years. The stretching causes the mass and energy on the brane to thin out and the wrinkles to be smoothed out. After trillions of years, the branes are, for all intents and purposes, smooth, flat, parallel, and empty.

Then the force between these two branes slowly brings the branes together. As it brings them together, the force grows stronger and the branes speed toward one another. When they collide, there’s a walloping impact—enough to create a high density of matter and radiation with a very high, albeit finite, temperature. The two branes go flying apart, more or less back to where they are, and then the new matter and radiation, through the action of gravity, causes the branes to begin a new period of stretching.

In this picture, it’s clear that the universe is going through periods of expansion and a funny kind of contraction. Where the two branes come together, it’s not a contraction of our dimensions but a contraction of the extra dimension. Before the contraction, all matter and radiation has been spread out, but, unlike the old cyclic models of the 1920s and ’30s, it doesn’t come back together again during the contraction, because our three dimensions—that is, the branes—remain stretched out. Only the extra dimension contracts. This process repeats itself cycle after cycle.

If you compare the cyclic model to the consensus picture, two of the functions of inflation—namely, flattening and homogenizing the universe—are accomplished by the period of accelerated expansion that we’ve now just begun. Of course, I really mean the analogous expansion that occurred one cycle ago, before the most recent Bang. The third function of inflation—producing fluctuations in the density—occurs as these two branes come together. As they approach, quantum fluctuations cause the branes to begin to wrinkle. And because they’re wrinkled, they don’t collide everywhere at the same time. Rather, some regions collide a bit earlier than others. This means that some regions reheat to a finite temperature and begin to cool a little bit before other regions. When the branes come apart again, the temperature of the universe is not perfectly homogeneous but has spatial variations left over from the quantum wrinkles.

Remarkably, although the physical processes are completely different and the time scale is completely different—this is taking billions of years, instead of  10-30 seconds—it turns out that the spectrum of fluctuations you get in the distribution of energy and temperature is essentially the same as what you get in inflation. Hence, the cyclic model is also in exquisite agreement with all of the measurements of the temperature and mass distribution of the universe that we have today.

Because the physics in these two models is quite different, there is an important distinction in what we would observe if one or the other were actually true—although this effect has not been detected yet. In inflation when you create fluctuations, you don’t just create fluctuations in energy and temperature but you also create fluctuations in spacetime itself, so-called gravitational waves. That’s a feature we hope to look for in experiments in the coming decades as a verification of the consensus model. In our model, you don’t get those gravitational waves. The essential difference is that inflationary fluctuations are created in a hyperrapid, violent process that is strong enough to create gravitational waves, whereas cyclic fluctuations are created in an ultraslow, gentle process that is too weak to produce gravitational waves. That’s an example where the two models give an observational prediction that is dramatically different. It’s just difficult to observe at the present time.

What’s fascinating at the moment is that we have two paradigms now available to us. On the one hand, they are poles apart in terms of what they tell us about the nature of time, about our cosmic history, about the order in which events occur, and about the time scale on which they occur. On the other hand, they are remarkably similar in terms of what they predict about the universe today. Ultimately what will decide between the two is a combination of observations—for example, the search for cosmic gravitational waves—and theory, because a key aspect to this scenario entails assumptions about what happens at the collision between branes that might be checked or refuted in superstring theory. In the meantime, for the next few years, we can all have great fun speculating about the implications of each of these ideas and how we can best distinguish between them.

Paul Steinhardt is a  theoretical physicist, an Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University and coauthor (with Neil Turok) of “Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang.” This piece originally appeared as a speech by Steinhardt at an event in 2002. It has been excerpted here as it appears in “The Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos.” Copyright © 2014 by Edge Foundation Inc. Published by Harper Perennial

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/13/the_universe_according_to_nietzsche_modern_cosmology_and_the_theory_of_eternal_recurrence/?source=newsletter

Could you “free” yourself of Facebook?

A 99-day challenge offers a new kind of social media experiment

Could you "free" yourself of Facebook?
(Credit: LoloStock via Shutterstock)

Let’s try a new experiment now, Facebook. And this time, you’re the subject.

Remember just last month, when the monolithic social network revealed that it had been messing with its users’ minds as part of an experiment? Writing in PNAS, Facebook researchers disclosed the results of a study that showed it had tinkered with the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users, highlighting either more positive or more negative content, to learn if “emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people.” What they found was that “When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.” More significantly, after the news of the study broke, they discovered that people get pretty creeped out when they feel like their personal online space is being screwed with, and that their reading and posting activity is being silently monitored and collected – even when the terms of service they agreed to grant permission to do just that. And they learned that lawmakers in the U.S. and around the world question the ethics of Facebook’s intrusion.

Now, a new campaign out of Europe is aiming to do another experiment involving Facebook, its users and their feelings. But this time Facebook users aren’t unwitting participants but willing volunteers. And the first step involves quitting Facebook. The 99 Days of Freedom campaign started as an office joke at Just, a creative agency in the Netherlands. But the company’s art director Merijn Straathof says it quickly evolved into a bona fide cause. “As we discussed it internally, we noted an interesting tendency: Everyone had at least a ‘complicated’ relationship with Facebook. Whether it was being tagged in unflattering photos, getting into arguments with other users or simply regretting time lost through excessive use, there was a surprising degree of negative sentiment.” When the staff learned that Facebook’s 1.2 billion users “spend an average of 17 minutes per day on the site, reading updates, following links or browsing photos,” they began to wonder what that time might be differently applied to – and whether users would find it “more emotionally fulfilling.”



The challenge – one that close to 9,000 people have already taken – is simple. Change your FB avatar to the “99 Days of Freedom” one to let friends know you’re not checking in for the next few months. Create a countdown. Opt in, if you wish, to be contacted after 33, 66 and 99 days to report on your satisfaction with life without Facebook. Straathof says everyone at Just is also participating, to “test that one firsthand.”

Straathof and company say the goal isn’t to knock Facebook, but to show users the “obvious emotional benefits to moderation.” And, he adds, “Our prediction is that the experiment will yield a lot of positive personal experiences and, 99 days from now, we’ll know whether that theory has legs.” The anecdotal data certainly seems to support it. Seductive as FB, with its constant flow of news and pet photos, may be, you’d be hard-pressed to find a story about quitting it that doesn’t make getting away from it sound pretty great. It’s true that grand experiments, especially of a permanent nature, have never gotten off the ground. Four years ago, a group of disgruntled users tried to gather momentum for a Quit Facebook Day that quietly went nowhere. But individual tales certainly make a compelling case for, if not going cold turkey, at least scaling back. Elizabeth Lopatto recently wrote in Forbes of spending the past eight years Facebook free and learning that “If you really are interested in catching up with your friends, catch up with your friends. You don’t need Facebook to do it.” And writing on EliteDaily this past winter, Rudolpho Sanchez questioned why “We allow our successes to be measured in little blue thumbs” and declared, “I won’t relapse; I’ve been liberated. It’s nice not knowing what my fake friends are up to.” Writing a few weeks later in Business Insider, Dylan Love, who’d been on FB since he was an incoming college student 10 years ago, gave it up and reported his life, if not improved, remarkably unchanged, “except I’m no longer devoting mental energy to reading about acquaintances from high school getting married or scrolling through lots of pictures of friends’ vacation meals.” And if you want a truly persuasive argument, try this: My teenager has not only never joined Facebook, she dismissively asserts that she doesn’t want to because “It’s for old people.”

Facebook, of course, doesn’t want you to consider that you might be able to maintain your relationships or your sense of delight in the world without it. When my mate and I went away for a full week recently, we didn’t check in on social media once the whole time. Every day, with increasing urgency, we received emails from Facebook alerting us to activity in our feeds that we surely wanted to check. And since I recently gutted my friend list, I’ve been receiving a bevy of suggested people I might know. Why so few friends, lonely lady? Why so few check-ins? Don’t you want more, more, more?

I don’t know if I need to abandon Facebook entirely – I like seeing what people I know personally and care about are up to, especially those I don’t get to see in the real world that often. That connection has often been valuable, especially through our shared adventures in love, illness and grief, and I will always be glad for it. But a few months ago I deleted the FB app, which makes avoiding Facebook when I’m not at my desk a no-brainer. No more stealth checking my feed from the ladies’ room. No more spending time expressing my “like” of someone’s recent baking success when I’m walking down the street. No more “one more status update before bed” time sucks. And definitely no more exasperation when FB insistently twiddles with my news feed to show “top stories” when I prefer “most recent.” It was never a huge part of my life, but it’s an even smaller part of it now, and yeah, it does feel good. I recommend it. Take Just’s 99-day challenge or just a tech Sabbath or just scale back a little. Consider it an experiment. One in which the user, this time, is the winner.

Mary Elizabeth Williams Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/11/could_you_free_yourself_of_facebook/?source=newsletter

How Modern Houses Can Watch You

http://homedesignlover.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/best-modern-house-design.jpg
Presto Vivace (882157) links to a critical look in Time Magazine at the creepy side of connected household technology. An excerpt:
A modern surveillance state isn’t so much being forced on us, as it is sold to us device by device, with the idea that it is for our benefit. … … Nest sucks up data on how warm your home is. As Mocana CEO James Isaacs explained to me in early May, a detailed footprint of your comings and goings can be inferred from this information. Nest just bought Dropcam, a company that markets itself as a security tool allowing you to put cameras in your home and view them remotely, but brings with it a raft of disquieting implications about surveillance. Automatic wants you to monitor how far you drive and do things for you like talk to your your house when you’re on your way home from work and turn on lights when you pull into your garage. Tied into the new SmartThings platform, a Jawbone UP band becomes a tool for remotely monitoring someone else’s activity. The SmartThings hubs and sensors themselves put any switch or door in play. Companies like AT&T want to build a digital home that monitors your security and energy use. … … Withings Smart Body Analyzer monitors your weight and pulse. Teddy the Guardian is a soft toy for children that spies on their vital signs. Parrot Flower Power looks at the moisture in your home under the guise of helping you grow plants. The Beam Brush checks up on your teeth-brushing technique.
Presto Vivaci adds, “Enough to make the Stasi blush. What I cannot understand is how politicians fail to understand what a future Kenneth Starr is going to do with data like this.”
~Slashdot~

Let’s nationalize Amazon and Google

Publicly funded technology built Big Tech

They’re huge and ruthless and define our lives. They’re close to monopolies. Let’s make them public utilities

Let's nationalize Amazon and Google: Publicly funded technology built Big Tech
Jeff Bezos (Credit: AP/Reed Saxon/Pakhnyushcha via Shutterstock/Salon)

They’re huge, they’re ruthless, and they touch every aspect of our daily lives. Corporations like Amazon and Google keep expanding their reach and their power. Despite a history of abuses, so far the Justice Department has declined to take antitrust actions against them. But there’s another solution.

Is it time to manage and regulate these companies as public utilities?

That argument’s already been made about broadband access. In her book “Captive Justice,” law professor Susan Crawford argues that “high-speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago.”

Broadband as a public utility? If not for corporate corruption of our political process, that would seem like an obvious solution. Instead, our nation’s wireless access is the slowest and costliest in the world.

But why stop there? Policymakers have traditionally considered three elements when evaluating the need for a public utility: production, transmission, and distribution. Broadband is transmission. What about production and distribution?

The Big Tech mega-corporations have developed what Al Gore calls the “Stalker Economy,” manipulating and monitoring as they go. But consider: They were created with publicly funded technologies, and prospered as the result of indulgent policies and lax oversight. They’ve achieved monopoly or near-monopoly status, are spying on us to an extent that’s unprecedented in human history, and have the potential to alter each and every one of our economic, political, social and cultural transactions.

In fact, they’re already doing it.

Public utilities? It’s a thought experiment worth conducting.

Big Tech was created with publicly developed technology.

No matter how they spin it, these corporations were not created in garages or by inventive entrepreneurs. The core technology behind them is the Internet, a publicly funded platform for which they pay no users’ fee. In fact, they do everything they can to avoid paying their taxes.



Big Tech’s use of public technology means that it operates in a technological “commons,” which they are using solely for its own gain, without regard for the public interest. Meanwhile the United States government devotes considerable taxpayer resource to protecting them – from patent infringement, cyberterrorism and other external threats.

Big Tech’s services have become a necessity in modern society.

Businesses would be unable to participate in modern society without access to the services companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook provide. These services have become public marketplaces.

For individuals, these entities have become the public square where social interactions take place, as well as the marketplace where they purchase goods.

They’re at or near monopoly status – and moving fast.

Google has 80 percent of the search market in the United States, and an even larger share of key overseas markets. Google’s browsers have now surpassed Microsoft’s in usage across all devices. It has monopoly-like influence over online news, as William Baker noted in the Nation. Its YouTube subsidiary dominates the U.S. online-video market, with nearly double the views of its closest competitor. (Roughly 83 percent of the Americans who watched a video online in April went to YouTube.)

Even Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer argued that Google is a “monopoly” whose activities were “worthy of discussion with competition authority.” He should know.

As a social platform, Facebook has no real competitors. Amazon’s book business dominates the market. E-books are now 30 percent of the total book market, and its Kindle e-books account for 65 percent of e-book sales.  Nearly one book in five is an Amazon product – and that’s not counting Amazon’s sales of physical books. It has become such a behemoth that it is able to command discounts of more than 50 percent from major publishers like Random House.

They abuse their power.

The bluntness with which Big Tech firms abuse their monopoly power is striking. Google has said that it will soon begin blocking YouTube videos from popular artists like Radiohead and Adele unless independent record labels sign deals with its upcoming music streaming service (at what are presumably disadvantageous rates).   Amazon’s war on publishers like Hachette is another sign of Big Tech arrogance.

But what is equally striking about these moves is the corporations’ disregard for basic customer service. Because YouTube’s dominance of the video market is so large, Google is confident that even frustrated music fans have nowhere to go. Amazon is so confident of its dominance that it retaliated against Hachette by removing order buttons when a Hachette book came up (which users must find maddening) and lied about the availability of Hachette books when a customer attempts to order one. It also altered its search process for recommendations to freeze out Hachette books and direct users to non-Hachette authors.

Amazon even suggested its customers use other vendors if they’re unhappy, a move that my Salon colleague Andrew Leonard described as “nothing short of amazing – and troubling.”

David Stratfield of the New York Times asked, “When does discouragement become misrepresentation?” One logical answer: When you tell customers a product isn’t available, even though it is, or rig your sales mechanism to prevent customers from choosing the item they want.

And now Amazon’s using some of the same tactics against Warner Home Video.

They got there with our help.

As we’ve already noted, Internet companies are using taxpayer-funded technology to make billions of dollars from the taxpayers – without paying a licensing fee. As we reported earlier, Amazon was the beneficiary of tax exemptions that allowed it to reach its current monopolistic size.

Google and the other technology companies have also benefited from tax policies and other forms of government indulgence. Contrary to popular misconception, Big Tech corporations aren’t solely the products of ingenuity and grit. Each has received, and continues to receive, a lot of government largess.

The real “commodity” is us.

Most of Big Tech’s revenues come from the use of our personal information in its advertising business. Social media entries, Web-surfing patterns, purchases, even our private and personal communications add value to these corporations. They don’t make money by selling us a product. We are the product, and we are sold to third parties for profit.

Public utilities are often created when the resource being consumed isn’t a “commodity” in the traditional sense. “We” aren’t an ordinary resource. Like air and water, the value of our information is something that should be publicly shared – or, at a minimum, publicly managed.

Our privacy is dying … or already dead.

“We know where you are,” says Google CEO Eric Schmidt. “We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

Facebook tracks your visits to the website of any corporate Facebook “partner,” stores that information, and uses it to track and manipulate the ads you see. Its mobile app also has a new, “creepy” feature that turns on your phone’s microphone, analyzes what you’re listening to or watching, and is capable of posting updates to your status like “Listening to Albert King” or “Watching ‘Orphan Black.’

Google tracks your search activity, an activity with a number of disturbing implications. (A competing browser that does not track searches called DuckDuckGo offers an illustrated guide to its competitors’ practices.)  If you use its Chrome browser, Google tracks your website visits too (unless you’re in “private” mode.)

Yasha Levine, who is tracking corporate data spying in his “Surveillance Valley” series, notes that “True end-to-end encryption would make our data inaccessible to Google, and grind its intel extraction apparatus to a screeching halt.” As the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian points out: “It’s very, very difficult to deploy privacy protective policies with the current business model of ad supported services.”

As Levine notes, the widely publicized revelation that Big Data companies track rape victims was just the tip of the iceberg. They also track “anorexia, substance abuse, AIDS and HIV … Bedwetting (Enuresis), Binge Eating Disorder, Depression, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, Gonorrhea, Homelessness, Infertility, Syphilis … the list goes on and on and on and on.”

Given its recent hardball tactics, here’s a little-known development that should concern more people: Amazon also hosts 37 percent of the nation’s cloud computing services, which means it has access to the inner workings of the software that runs all sorts of businesses – including ones that handle your personal data.

For all its protestations, Microsoft is no different when it comes to privacy. The camera and microphone on its Xbox One devices were initially designed to be left on at all times, and it refused to change that policy until purchasers protested.

Privacy, like water or energy, is a public resource. As the Snowden revelations have taught us, all such resources are at constant risk of government abuse.  The Supreme Court just banned warrantless searches of smartphones – by law enforcement. Will we be granted similar protections from Big Tech corporations?

Freedom of information is at risk.

Google tracks your activity and customizes search results, a process that can filter or distort your perception of the world around you.  What’s more, this “personalized search results” feature leads you back to information sources you’ve used before, which potentially narrows our ability to discover new perspectives or resources.  Over time this creates an increasingly narrow view of the world.

What’s more, Google’s shopping tools have begun using “paid inclusion,” a pay-for-play search feature it once condemned as “evil.” Its response is to say it prefers not to call this practice “paid inclusion,” even though its practices appear to meet the Federal Trade Commission’s definition of the term.

As for Amazon, it has even manipulated its recommendation searches in order to retaliate against other businesses, as we’ll see in the next section.

The free market could become even less free.

Could Big Tech and its data be used to set user-specific pricing, based on what is known about an individual’s willingness to pay more for the same product? Benjamin Schiller of Brandeis University wrote a working paper last year that showed how Netflix could do exactly that. Grocery stores and other retailers are already implementing technology that offers different pricing to different shoppers based on their data profile.

For its part, Amazon is introducing a phone that will also tag the items around you, as well as the music and programs you hear, for you to purchase – from Amazon, of course. Who will be purchasing the data those phones collect about you?

They could hijack the future.

The power and knowledge they have accumulated is frightening. But the Big Tech corporations are just getting started. Google has photographically mapped the entire world. It intends to put the world’s books into a privately owned online library. It’s launching balloons around the globe that will bring Internet access to remote areas – on its terms. It’s attempting to create artificial intelligence and extend the human lifespan.

Amazon hopes to deliver its products by drone within the next few years, an idea that would seem preposterous if not for its undeniable lobbying clout. Each of these Big Tech corporations has the ability to filter – and alter – our very perceptions of the world around us. And each of them has already shown a willingness to abuse it for their own ends.

These aren’t just the portraits of futuristic corporations that have become drunk on unchecked power. It’s a sign that things are likely to get worse – perhaps a lot worse – unless something is done. The solution may lie with an old concept. It may be time to declare Big Tech a public utility.

 

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a writer and policy analyst. He is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and is host and managing editor of The Zero Hour on We Act Radio.

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/08/lets_nationalize_amazon_and_google_publicly_funded_technology_built_big_tech/?source=newsletter

Net neutrality is dying, Uber is waging a war on regulations, and Amazon grows stronger by the day

Why 2014 could be the year we lose the Internet

Why 2014 could be the year we lose the Internet
Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook (Credit: Reuters/Gus Ruelas/Robert Galbraith/Photo collage by Salon)

Halfway through 2014, and the influence of technology and Silicon Valley on culture, politics and the economy is arguably bigger than ever — and certainly more hotly debated. Here are Salon’s choices for the five biggest stories of the year.

1) Net neutrality is on the ropes.

So far, 2014 has been nothing but grim for the principle known as “net neutrality” — the idea that the suppliers of Internet bandwidth should not give preferential access (so-called fast lanes) to the providers of Internet services who are willing and able to pay for it. In January, the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s preliminary plan to enforce a weak form of net neutrality. Less than a month later, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company and broadband Internet service provider, announced its plans to buy Time-Warner — and inadvertently gave us a compelling explanation for why net neutrality is so important. A single company with a dominant position in broadband will simply have too much power, something that could have enormous implications for our culture.

The situation continued to degenerate from there. Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s new pick to run the FCC, a former top cable industry lobbyist, unveiled a new plan for net neutrality that was immediately slammed as toothless. In May, ATT announced plans to merge with DirecTV. Consolidation proceeds apace, and our government appears incapable of managing the consequences.

2) Uber takes over.

After completing its most recent round of financing, Uber is now valued at $18.2 billion. Along with Airbnb, the Silicon Valley start-up has become a standard bearer for the Valley’s cherished allegiance to “disruption.” The established taxi industry is under sustained assault, but Uber has made it clear that the company’s ultimate ambitions go far beyond simply connecting people with rides. Uber has designs on becoming the premier logistics connection platform for getting anything to anyone. What Google is to search, Uber wants to be for moving objects from Point A to Point B. And Google, of course, has a significant financial stake in Uber.



Uber’s path has been bumpy. The company is fighting regulatory battles with municipalities across the world, and its own drivers are increasingly angry at fare cuts, and making sporadic attempts to organize. But the smart money sees Uber as one of the major players of the near future. The “sharing” economy is here to stay.

3) The year of the stream.

Apple bought Beats by Dre. Amazon launched its own streaming music service. Google is planning a new paid streaming offering. Spotify claimed 10 million paying customers and Pandora boasts 75 million listeners every month.

We may end up remembering 2014 as the year that streaming established itself as the dominant way people consume music. The numbers are stark. Streaming is surging, while paid downloads are in free fall.

For consumers, all-you-can-eat services like Spotify are generally marvelous. But it remains astonishing that a full 20 years after the Internet threw the music industry into turmoil, it is still completely unclear how artists and songwriters will make a decent living in an era when music is essentially free.

We also face unanswered questions about the potential implications for what kinds of music get made in an environment where every listen is tracked and every tweet or Facebook like observed. What will Big Data mean for music?

4) Amazon shows its true colors.

What a busy six months for Jeff Bezos! Amazon introduced its own set-top box for TV watching, its own smartphone for insta-shopping, anywhere, any time, and started abusing its near monopoly power to win better terms with publishing companies.

For years, consumer adoration of Amazon’s convenience and low prices fueled the company’s rise. It’s hard, at the midpoint of 2014, to avoid the conclusion that we’ve created a monster. This year, Amazon started getting sustained bad press at the very highest levels. And you know what? Jeff Bezos deserves it.

5) The tech culture wars boil over.

In the first six months of 2014, the San Francisco Bay Area witnessed emotional public hearings about Google shuttle buses, direct action by radicals against technology company executives, bar fights centering on Google Glass wearers, and a steady rise in political heat focused on tech economy-driven gentrification.

As I wrote in April

Just as the Luddites, despite their failure, spurred the creation of worker-class consciousness, the current Bay Area tech protests have had a pronounced political effect. While the tactics range from savvy, well-organized protest marches to juvenile acts of violence, the impact is clear. The attention of political leaders and the media has been engaged. Everyone is watching.

Ultimately, maybe this will be the biggest story of 2014. This year, numerous voices started challenging the transformative claims of Silicon Valley hype and began grappling with the nitty-gritty details of how all this “disruption” is changing our economy and culture. Don’t expect the second half of 2014 to be any different.

Wealthy venture capitalist Tom Perkins is nostalgic for the old Silicon Valley

 — whorehouses and all

The venture capitalist was made infamous for warning of a “progressive” Kristallnacht

Wealthy venture capitalist Tom Perkins is nostalgic for the old Silicon Valley -- whorehouses and all
Tom Perkins (Credit: Bloomberg TV)

Tensions between the wealthy tone-deaf tech world and folks being priced out of San Francisco have been mounting — protests, evictions, Google glass altercations — and they’re the subject of a feature in this week’s New Yorker.

In it writer Nathan Heller interviews a man who has spouted infamous and offensive opinions about these issues: venture capitalist Tom Perkins.

Perkins, as you may recall, wrote a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal, saying this:

“Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

“From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?”

In the New Yorker piece, titled “California Screaming,” Perkins seems to have changed his tune a bit. He reminisced about the artists, the Beats, the jazz, the spirit, and yes, the whorehouses of the Silicon Valley he first knew. Here it is below via ValleyWag:



“Perkins considers Ron Conway a friend, and admires the pro-business policies that Conway and Sf.Citi have pushed through [in San Francisco]. He also admires the country of Australia, which he believes approaches the free-wheeling, entrepreneurial bliss of Northern California at the time he arrived, in 1957. ‘I was twenty-two, twenty-three,’ he explained. ‘I lived in Sausalito, which back then had a functioning whorehouse—one of the last ones in the Bay Area. It was a loose town where anything went, and I loved it. San Francisco was that way. It was artistic, outrageous. The gays had a lot to do with that.’ Perkins had brought his forehead to rest on his fingertips and closed his eyes, smiling. ‘I knew writers and artists. North Beach. The Beats. The jazz. It’s still a great city, but I think it was better then.’”

While it’s still not a full admission of understanding why people are so outraged by the rising inequality in the city, he does seem to miss some of the aspects that protesters are trying to keep from disappearing in a city known for its beautiful counterculture. ValleyWag points out that both Perkins and the protesters see the importance of “artistsmusicians, and, yes, sex workers” that the tech world is pricing out of the city.

Though he may long for days gone by, Perkins doesn’t think the culture can be saved. (Thus, revealing his bias: He may love the olden days, but still he makes his massive earnings from the tech world):

“I asked Perkins whether he saw a way to preserve communities of writers and artists in town. He sighed and thought for several long moments. ‘I don’t see how,’ he said at last.”

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/02/tom_perkins_is_nostalgic_for_the_old_silicon_valley_whorehouses_and_all/?source=newsletter

Do we control our brains? Our do our brains control us? Research sheds light on this age-old question

The truth about free will: New answers to humanity’s biggest riddle

, Scientific American

The truth about free will: New answers to humanity's biggest riddle
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific AmericanPhilosophers have debated for years whether we deliberately make each of the many decisions we make every day, or if our brain does it for us, on autopilot. Neuroscientists have shown, for example, that neurons in the brain initiate our response to various stimuli milliseconds before we’re even aware that we’re taking such an action.

This heady debate has hit a very practical road in the past decade: whether individuals who commit crimes are actually responsible for them. Lawyers have argued in court that if the brain determines the mind, then defendants may not be responsible for their transgressions.

Michael Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is at the forefront of the research into free will, and its implications in courtroom trials and in the expectations of different societies. His thoughts and proclamations are captured in an engaging video called Free Will, created by Joseph LeDoux, a well-known expert on the emotional brain at New York University. The video is the second in a series he is putting together with director Alexis Gambis called My Mind’s Eye. (The first episode featured Ned Block on the mind-body problem.) They have given Scientific American the chance to post these videos first, on our site.

The conversation between LeDoux and Gazzaniga (who is also an editorial adviser toScientific American) runs about 12 minutes, and Gambis has inserted some compelling imagery, including clips of creepy old movies in which scientists probe the brains of live people. The film then morphs into a four-minute music video of the song “How Free Is Your Will?,” performed by LeDoux’s band, the Amygdaloids. A few highlights of the interview, offered freely, by me:



2:55  Split-brain patients. Gazzaniga explains what has happened to these people, and what they can teach us about how we make decisions.

6:50  Personal responsibility. This is the crux of the argument about whether responsibility for our actions lies in the neuronal structures of the brain or in our conscious minds, and whether biological mechanisms or society’s norms are most important in defining acceptable behavior. “There’s no reason to not hold people accountable for their actions,” Gazzaniga maintains. He then discusses how society can more intelligently decide on what to do with people who violate its rules.

9:05  Criminal trials. Gazzaniga discusses problems in referring to brain scans in courtroom trials and in sentencing people who are convicted, and considers the effectiveness of capital punishment, given what we know about free will.

12:00  Music video of “How Free Is Your Will?”

Further reading, suggested by Michael Gazzaniga:

For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything. Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 359, 1775-1785; 2004.

The Law and Neuroscience, Michael S. Gazzaniga in Neuron, 60:412-415; 2009.

Who’s in Charge?  Free Will and the Science of the Brain. Michael S. Gazzaniga. Ecco, Harper Collins, New York; 2011.

Neuroscience in the Courtroom, Michael S. Gazzaniga in Scientific American, April 2011.

A Primer on Criminal Law and Neuroscience: A Contribution of the Law and Neuroscience Project. Oxford Series in Neuroscience, Law, and Philosophy; eds. Stephen J. Morse and Adina L. Roskies; 2013.

Image from this video courtesy of Imaginal Disk

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/01/the_truth_about_free_will_new_answers_to_humanitys_biggest_riddle_partner/?source=newsletter

The lost promise of the Internet

Meet the man who almost invented cyberspace

In 1934, a little-known Belgian thinker published plans for a global network that could have changed everything

The lost promise of the Internet: Meet the man who almost invented cyberspace
Paul Otlet with model of the World City, 1943 (Credit: Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium)

Tales of lost horizons always spark the imagination. From the mythical kingdom of Shangri-La to the burning of the library at Alexandria, human history is rife with longing for better worlds that shimmered briefly before slipping out of reach.

Some of us may be starting to feel that way about the Internet. As a handful of corporations continue to consolidate their grip over the network, the optimism of the early indie Web has given way to a much-chronicled backlash.

But what if it all had turned out differently?

In 1934, a little-known Belgian bibliographer named Paul Otlet published his plans for the Mundaneum, a global network that would allow anyone in the world to tap into a vast repository of published information with a device that could send and receive text, display photographs, transcribe speech and auto-translate between languages. Otlet even imagined social networking-like features that would allow anyone to “participate, applaud, give ovations, sing in the chorus.”

Once the Mundaneum took shape, he predicted, “anyone in his armchair will be able to contemplate creation, in whole or in certain of its parts.”

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Unpublished drawing of the Mundaneum, 1930s © Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium.

Conceived in the pre-digital era, Otlet’s scheme relied on a crazy quilt of analog technologies like microfilm, telegraph lines, radio transmitters and typewritten index cards. Nonetheless, it anticipated the emergence of a hyperlinked information environment — more than half a century before Tim Berners-Lee released the first Web browser.

Despite Otlet’s remarkable foresight, he remains largely forgotten outside of rarefied academic circles. When the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1940, they destroyed much of his work, helping ensure his descent into historical obscurity (although the Mundaneum museum in Belgium is making great strides toward restoring his legacy). Most of his writing has never been translated into English.



In the years following World War II, a series of English and American computer scientists paved the way for what would become the present-day Internet. Pioneering thinkers like Vannevar Bush, J.C.R. Licklider, Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, Vinton G. Cerf and Robert E. Kahn shaped the contours of the present-day Internet, with its famously flat, open architecture.

Tim Wu recently compared the open Internet to the early American frontier, “a place where anyone with passion or foolish optimism might speak his or her piece or open a business and see what happens.” But just as the unregulated frontier of the 19th century gave rise to the age of robber barons, so the Internet has seen a rapid consolidation of power in the hands of a few corporate winners.

The global tech oligopoly now exerts so much power over our lives that some pundits — like Wu and Danah Boyd — have even argued that some Internet companies should be regulated like public utilities. The Web’s inventor Tim Berners-Lee has sounded the alarm as well, calling for a great “re-decentralization” of his creation.

Otlet’s Mundaneum offers a tantalizing picture of what a different kind of network might have looked like. In contrast to today’s commercialized — and increasingly Balkanized — Internet, he envisioned the network as a public, transnational undertaking, managed by a consortium of governments, universities and international associations. Commercial enterprise played almost no part in it.

Otlet saw the Mundaneum as the central nervous system for a new world order rooted squarely in the public sector. Having played a small role in the formation of the League of Nations after World War I, he believed strongly that a global network should be administered by an international government entity working on behalf of humanity’s shared interests.

That network would do more than just provide access to information; it would serve as a platform for collaboration between governments that would, Otlet believed, help create the necessary conditions for world peace. He even proposed the construction of an ambitious new World City to house that government, with central offices and facilities for hosting international events (like the Olympics), an international university, a world museum and a headquarters of the Mundaneum that would involve a vast documentary operation staffed by a small army of “bibliologists” — a sort of cross between a blogger and a library cataloger — who would collect and curate the world’s information.

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Otlet with model of the World City, 1943 © Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium.

Today, the role that Otlet envisioned for the Mundaneum falls largely to for-profit companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, who channel the vast majority of the world’s intellectual output by exerting an enormous asymmetric advantage over their users, exploiting their vast data stores and proprietary algorithms to make consumers dependent on them to navigate the digital world.

Billions of people may rely on Google’s search engine, but only a handful of well-paid engineers inside the Googleplex understand how it actually works. Similarly, the Facebook newsfeed may sate our appetite for quizzes and cat videos, but few of us will ever plumb the mysteries of its algorithm. And while Amazon may provide book readers with easy access to millions of titles, it is hardly a public library: The company’s primary goal will always be to drive sales, not to support scholarly research.

Otlet saw the network not as a tool for generating wealth, but as a largely commercial-free system to help spur intellectual and social progress. To that end, he wanted to make its contents as freely available and easily searchable as possible. He created an innovative classification scheme called the Universal Decimal Classification, a highly precise system for pinpointing particular topics and creating deep links between related subjects contained in documents, photographs, audio-visual files and other evolving media types.

Otlet coined a term to describe this process of stitching together different media types and technologies: “hyper-documentation” (a term he first used almost 30 years before Ted Nelson invented the term “hypertext” in 1963). He envisioned the entire scheme as a kind of open source catalog that would allow anyone to “be everywhere, see everything … and know everything.”

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Overview of Otlet’s cataloging scheme, 1930s © Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium.

Instead of knowing everything, we now seem to know less and less. The sheer mass of data on the Internet — and the difficulty of archiving it in any coherent way — imposes a kind of collective amnesia that makes us ever more reliant on search engines and other filtering tools furnished mostly by the private sector, placing our trust in the dubious permanence of the so-called cloud.

Otlet’s ideas about organizing information may seem anachronistic today. In an age of billions of Web pages, the idea of cataloging all the world’s information seems like a fool’s dream. Moreover, the premise of a single, fixed cataloging scheme — predicated on an assumption that there is a single, knowable version of the Truth — undoubtedly rankles modern sensibilities of cultural relativism.

Otlet’s empirical, top-down approach was rooted squarely in the 19th century ideals of positivism and in the then-prevalent belief in the superiority of scientifically advanced Western culture. But if we can look past the Belle Epoque trappings of these ideas, we can find a deeper, more hopeful aspiration at work.

This is why Paul Otlet still matters. His ideas are more than just a matter of historical curiosity, but rather a kind of Platonic ideal of what the network could be: not a channel for the fulfillment of worldly desires, but a vehicle for nobler pursuits: scholarship, social progress and even spiritual liberation. Shangri-La indeed.

Alex Wright is the author of “Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age.”

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/29/the_man_who_almost_invented_the_internet_and_the_lost_promise_of_the_world_wide_web/?source=newsletter