SPECIAL IDEAS REPORT

Technology Archive

21 July 2009 11:00 AM

Technology

Plugged In -- And Burned Out

Jacob Silverman:

In a recent essay in n+1, Benjamin Kunkel, in a wide-ranging consideration of technology's effects on contemporary culture and daily life, writes that the internet and its products feel forced upon us. For anyone who goes online daily--and increasingly that is most of us--there is a never-ending barrage of e-mail, articles of note (for their vulgarity or supposed profundity), amusing videos, invitations, profiles, photos, blog posts, news feeds, figurative "gifts," and the like--and most of it is free, available to be guzzled down with a click. It is nigh impossible to simply dip into the internet; the irony is that if you have any awareness of how to navigate it, this endless stream of content, digital companions, and e-communiques becomes more numerous and oppressive, its depths cavernous and alluring, rather than simpler and streamlined.

What does it take to separate us from these omnipresent digital phenomena, and will that separation one day be impossible, when gadgets, screens, and Wi-Fi are everywhere? Even now, the term "going off the grid" is often used as a jesting hypothetical, something done by eccentrics and believers in an impending apocalypse. As a regular feature of electronic social discourse, waiting a day or two to answer an e-mail requires an explanation, if not an apology.

13 July 2009 2:45 PM

Technology

Teaching Kids With Computer Games

Chris Wilson:

Logo is the most memorable in a lineage of games that have tried to make programming fun and intuitive. I was reminded of it recently when I saw a demonstration of Kodu, a newly released video game from Microsoft aimed at the 9-and-over crowd. Kodu is light years beyond Logo, with modern 3-D graphics, a world players can landscape to their liking, and a cast of characters that isn't limited to the Terrapene genus. But the mission is pretty much the same: to place kids in an open-ended environment and arm them with a simple language that lets them build things. At the risk of blaspheming my youth, I dare say that Kodu is more fun than Logo. It's also a reminder that the mission of games like these is not actually to teach kids how to write code. It's to teach them how to think like programmers.


09 July 2009 4:03 PM

Technology

Department of Tin Foil Hats

Wired reports:

Hackers who commandeer your computer are bad enough. Now scientists worry that someday, they'll try to take over your brain.

In the past year, researchers have developed technology that makes it possible to use thoughts to operate a computer, maneuver a wheelchair or even use Twitter -- all without lifting a finger. But as neural devices become more complicated -- and go wireless -- some scientists say the risks of "brain hacking" should be taken seriously.

"Neural devices are innovating at an extremely rapid rate and hold tremendous promise for the future," said computer security expert Tadayoshi Kohno of the University of Washington. "But if we don't start paying attention to security, we're worried that we might find ourselves in five or 10 years saying we've made a big mistake."

Yikes.


09 July 2009 1:59 PM

Technology

I Like to Ride My Bike

Why hasn't the Segway caught on?

...however impressive its technology, it was fulfilling an already-met need. There is nothing the Segway can do that that humble 19th-century technology, the bicycle, can't--except, of course, not give its user cardiovascular exercise (and any bike can be easily equipped with an electric engine). Kamen has said that eliminating pedestrianism, Wall-E style, was not his goal; as the New Atlantis noted, "Segway is intended to fill the gap between pedestrian travel and car travel; its niche is for those trips that are inconveniently far to walk and annoyingly close to drive." Reducing the shocking frequency with which Americans drive for trips of under a mile--the quart of gas for a quart of milk--is certainly a noble social goal; but again, a beat-up Trek on Craigslist does the same thing.
And you can fix a broken bicycle yourself.

09 July 2009 10:00 AM

Technology

Much Ado?

Ryan Tate:

The tech world is atwitter: Google just announced a new operating system, which will compete with Microsoft Windows. The only problem? It's not a new operating system, and it doesn't compete with Microsoft Windows.

The new "Google Chrome OS" is a nifty instance of branding, we'll give it that. But stripped of the marketing talk, here's what Google just introduced: A distribution of the Linux operating system, plus a "new windowing system" and a copy of Google's Web browser.

In geek parlance, Google built a "shell," not an OS. The kernel and, almost certainly, a large chunk of the "userland" programs that make up an OS come from elsewhere.

But it's in Google's interests to puff up its new technology. The press loves a nice, simple fight between tech industry giants; Google's branding is thus sure to generate loads of free buzz for Google's "operating system," as programmer and longtime tech pundit Dave Winer has pointed out.

08 July 2009 4:15 PM

Technology

G-OS

Alan Jacobs rounds up thoughts on what a Google operating system will be like.

08 July 2009 1:20 PM

Technology

The Teen Who Hacked the iPhone

The Wall Street Journal reports:

PHILADELPHIA -- Like many teenagers, Ari Weinstein spends his summers riding his bike and swimming. This year, the 15-year-old had another item on his to-do list: Foil Apple Inc.'s brightest engineers and annoy chief executive Steve Jobs.

Ari is part of a loose-knit group of hackers that has made it a mission to "jailbreak" Apple's iPhone and iPod touch. The term refers to installing unapproved software that lets people download a range of programs, including those not sanctioned by Apple.

It's a fascinating piece.


08 July 2009 12:45 PM

Technology

Should Remote Voting Be Allowed?

Jason Zengerle:

Why, in this day and age of teleconference and videoconference and now even telepresence technologies, do senators need to be physically present to cast votes anyway? Amazingly, the technological developments that have facilitated telecommuting in pretty much every white-collar profession in America have yet to take root among legislators. And it's not just the United States Congress. Even state legislatures, the laboratories of democracy, have been slow to embrace technological change. Only two chambers--the Florida House and the Pennsylvania Senate--allow remote voting, and it's decidedly 1.0, as the legislators must have a colleague cast their vote for them; in Florida, the "absent" member must actually be present in the chamber to authorize the proxy.

08 July 2009 2:59 AM

Business / Economics

Google's Big Announcement

PC World:

Alas, poor Microsoft. First Google dominates the search engine market. Then Google enters the Web-based e-mail market. Android invades Windows Mobile's turf. And then Google jumps into the browser market with Chrome. Tonight Google announced that it has upped the ante yet again, and will release a new operating system based on Google Chrome.

The new operating system, aptly named Google Chrome OS, will be an open-source operating system initially geared toward netbooks, Google announced in a press release this evening.

Google claims the new operating system, which should ship in the second half of next year, will be "lightweight" and heavily Web-centric.

With Chrome OS, Google plans to follow the same formula it used with its browser: "Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds," Google stated in its announcement. "The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web."

Google will also make security a high priority with Chrome, stating that they "are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work."

Good idea! See more here.

04 July 2009 10:53 PM

Festival Panels

ASPEN PANEL: What Drives Up the Cost of Health Care?

03 July 2009 8:00 AM

Idea of the Day

Ditch Your Cell-Phone Service

Dream with me: some day in the future, you'll be walking your child through a museum in some major city, and you'll slow-step through a gallery of old gadgets. "What's that, Mom?" "A typewriter," you'll say fondly. "It's like an old computer." "And that?" "A Walkman. It's like an iPod, but it played songs trapped in cartridges." "And that?" "Oh that's just an old-fashioned cell phone." Your child will press her nose against the glass and read the inscription: "Rollover minutes ... What are those?" And you'll laugh heartily. Read More

01 July 2009 10:15 AM

Technology

Web Next

Farhad Manjoo says the newest release of Firefox is so excellent it may change the Internet itself:

The best thing about the new Firefox is that it gives us a peek at the Internet of tomorrow. Since 2007, the World Wide Web Consortium, the international standards body that sets common technical definitions for the Web, has been working on HTML 5, an update to the coding language that defines every page you visit online. Although the consortium has yet to publish its final specifications for the new standard, many browser companies have been incorporating features of the language in their latest releases. Firefox 3.5 offers the best implementation of the standard--and because it's the second-most-popular Web browser in the world, the new release is sure to prompt Web designers to create pages tailored to the Web's new language. In other words, Firefox isn't just an upgrade for your computer; it could well prompt a re-engineering of the Web itself.

The best way to appreciate what HTML 5 can do is to install the new Firefox and run the collection of demos put together by Paul Rouget, Mozilla's European evangelist and a Web developer extraordinaire. Rouget's pages show off one particular aspect of the new language--its facility with video, which has always been a second-class citizen on the Web. Today, most of the clips you encounter online require plug-ins that you have to install alongside your browser; when you go to YouTube, for instance, your browser calls on Adobe Flash, the platform that actually knows how to play the clip.

HTML 5 will alter this process. Firefox 3.5 allows designers to add videos that require no third-party plug-ins; the clips, which can be coded in the open-standard Ogg format, are processed by the browser itself. This allows videos to become just as interactive as every other part of a page: You can rotate a video while it's playing, have a clip show up in a circular frame rather than a square one, or have a video respond to data pulled in from other parts of the Web.


29 June 2009 1:37 PM

Technology

Facebook vs. Google

Wired reports:

Today, the Google-Facebook rivalry isn't just going strong, it has evolved into a full-blown battle over the future of the Internet--its structure, design, and utility. For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google's algorithms--rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg's vision, users will query this "social graph" to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire--rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.