Category: psychology

Has This Man Unlocked The Secret To Internet Anonymity?:

I’ve met Jonathan Hirshon. I know what Jonathan Hirshon looks like. You probably don’t, and neither does Google or Facebook. That’s just how the PR professional wants it.

Hirshon is shorter than most, and balding. He wears glasses. He’s friendly, and well liked in the tech industry. Back in the late ’90s, he did in-house PR for Apple.

At 48, Hirshon was an adult well before the Internet was a mainstream tool. Though he’s a pro when it comes to getting his clients publicity, he’s dead-set against his own image being online.

It must have worked, since a Google image search for his name doesn’t return a single picture that’s actually him.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 6: Faceless

Experience: my face was stolen online:

I was clearing out an old email address a couple of years ago when I spotted a message from a woman I didn’t know. She had been talking to a man online and had become suspicious of his identity. When she did a search on his profile picture, my name came up. She sent me a link to a Google+ account that had my photo and somebody else’s name, but I couldn’t see much else. I had never been particularly strict with online privacy, so I thanked her and reported it to Google. It didn’t seem like a big deal.

Things got weirder when she invited me to join a Facebook group: 20 young women – who had all been talking online to a man called “Paul Green” – were trying to figure out his true identity. They were sharing his profile pictures and the photos he’d emailed them. They were all of me. He’d cropped my new baby niece out of a very recent photo. There was one of me from school, fooling around with a piano keyboard on my head; it was so old I’d forgotten it. It must have been from my deleted Myspace account.

He had talked to these women on teenage forums, dating sites, Facebook, Twitter, Google… and from multiple email addresses. Some had spoken to him on Skype – without video. One girl forwarded me email after email of their conversations. They had been talking for four years. They’d told each other, “I love you.” He said that – like me – he was 22. The young women ranged in age from mid-teens to early 20s. He’d talked of sending them gifts and persuaded some to send pictures back. One message read, “Thank you for those photos, my body shivered a little.” It was creepy.

He came across as intelligent. He liked poetry and literature, and spoke Spanish. He had gained their trust and some of them thought they were in a relationship with him. One said to me, “Oh, it was you we’ve been talking to.” But I had to say, “No. Not at all. These aren’t my interests. This is not me.”

I went to the police, but they weren’t interested. The law doesn’t cover you to protect your face…

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 6: Faceless

FACELESS short documentary was produced on request of Jos de Putter for De Correspondent.

As follow up of the exhibition that Bogmor Doringer curated in collaboration with Brigitte Felderer and staged on the topic of hidden faces in contemporary society after 9-11.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 6: Faceless

Professor Benjamin Zeller was talking about the similarities between tech culture and religious thinking in this week’s Digital Human podcast, but his research on new religou and religious engagement with science is fascinating enough for it’s own series. 

In this video he talks about the Heaven’s Gate Cult, so be aware there will be potentially triggering conversation about suicide, particularly suicide as a religious act. It’s a captivating interview.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah

Mental Illness: A History:

Ancient Egyptians seem to be the most forward-thinking in their treatment of mental illness; they recommended that those afflicted with mental pathology engage in recreational activities such as concerts, dances, and paintings in order to relieve symptoms and achieve some sense of normalcy.

All good in ancient Egypt until you realise they went in for the ol’ wandering womb theory. But it’s shocking to see how much suffering has been inflicted on people with mental illness throughout human history.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 4: Devotion

A short film outlining the themes of the exhibition and images from the opening on 6th September 2013 at Djanogly gallery, Nottingham. Featuring curators Victoria Tischler and Esra Plumer.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 4: Devotion

A Constructive Look At TempleOS:

TempleOS is somewhat of a legend in the operating system community. Its sole author, Terry A. Davis, has spent the past 12 years attempting to create a new operating from scratch. Terry explains that God has instructed him to construct a temple, a 640×480 covenant of perfection. Unfortunately Terry also suffers from schizophrenia, and has a tendency to appear on various programming forums with a burst of strange, paranoid, and often racist comments. He is frequently banned from most forums.

This combination of TempleOS’s amateurish approach and Terry’s unfortunate outbursts have resulted in TempleOS being often regarded as something to be mocked, ignored, or forgotten. Many people have done some or all of those things, and it’s understandable why.

I’m reminded of a movie I once saw called Lars And The Real Girl, in which a man buys a RealDoll and treats her as his real girlfriend. Rather than laughing at him, the residents of his town instead band together and treat her as if she were a real person too. When I started watching it, I expected some Will Ferrell-esque comedy where this guy would be played only for laughs. Instead, I found an incredibly compassionate story within. The writer, Nancy Oliver, got the idea after thinking:

“What if we didn’t treat our mentally ill people like animals? What if we brought kindness and compassion to the table?”

There are many bad things to be said about TempleOS, many aspects of it that seem poorly constructed or wouldn’t work in the “real world”. I’m going to ignore them here. It’s very easy to be negative, but you will never learn anything new by doing so.

Many might consider TempleOS a waste of time, compared to more fully-featured OSs such as Linux, because it will never have the same success. Plan 9, developed by Bell Labs, was a research OS designed to be a successor to Unix. Despite some big names and big ideas, it was never any kind of commercial success. Was Plan 9 therefore a waste of time? Many would argue not, as some of its ideas have since found their way into other products.

Perhaps we should instead look at TempleOS as a research operating system: what can be accomplished if you’re not locked into established thinking, backwards compatibility, and market demands.

What can we learn if we are only willing to listen?

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 4: Devotion

The gospel of Elon Musk, according to his flock:

Last year, hospitalized and bedridden for several months following a suicide attempt, Salina Marie Gomez turned on individual notifications for Elon Musk’s tweets. Her interest had been piqued in late 2016, after hearing about Musk at work. She looked him up and watched an interview — the one where he’s talking about SpaceX and the challenges it faces as a company. The one where he tears up a little. A few months later, while she was stuck in bed recovering, her admiration grew into something more. 

“That was the only thing that was giving me hope, you know, to keep going,” she told me over the phone earlier this month. “I realized, like, ‘This is why I haven’t made a whole lot of progress with my own career, my own endeavors, because I haven’t been seeing the whole picture. I’ve just been seeing what humanity has been doing wrong, and not what we’ve been doing right.’”

Today, Gomez, a 39-year-old artist living in Westmont, Illinois, is working on Tweeting Me Softly, an illuminated book of Musk’s tweets. She considers herself more of a follower than a fan, explaining that fandom is for artists. “Not that I don’t consider him an artist,” she says. “I consider him one of the best artists. But I wouldn’t consider myself a fan because [the word] implies a kind of a blind obsession with a celebrity.” She is, however, a fan of what he’s doing. “Specifically getting us away from fossil fuels, getting us away from the addiction to oil,” she says. “[He has] a bigger, complete vision of where we’re going as a species, and is helping people remember that progress is good, and it doesn’t have to be this terrible thing.”

Gomez describes Musk fans as “woke” and unafraid of what’s wrong with the world. She believes Musk is making our planet a better place, and that his detractors are just consumers who “don’t want to be inconvenienced.” Journalists, she says, “cherry-pick” stories to piss him off. “They use them as weapons,” she says. “And it’s inappropriate, because what he’s doing is dire and essential for human survival … Sometimes media is there to really stop what he’s doing.” Gomez continues: “As a supporter of what he’s doing, [I’ve] become enraged because this is my future, too. And this is my planet, too.”

Gomez isn’t alone. She’s one member of a vast, global community of people who revere the 46-year-old entrepreneur with a passion better suited to a megachurch pastor than a tech mogul. With followers like her, Elon Musk — the South African-born multibillionaire known for high-profile, risky investments such as Tesla (electric cars), SpaceX (private space travel), the Boring Company (underground travel), and Neuralink (neurotechnology) — has reaped the benefits of a culture in which fandom dominates nearly everything. While his detractors see him as another out-of-touch, inexpert rich guy who either can’t or won’t acknowledge the damage he and his companies are doing, to his fans, Musk is a visionary out to save humanity from itself. They gravitate toward his charisma and his intoxicating brew of extreme wealth, a grand vision for society — articulated through his companies, which he has an odd habit of launching with tweets — and an internet-friendly playfulness that sets him apart from the stodgier members of his economic class. Among his more than 22 million followers, all of this inspires a level of righteous devotion rarely glimpsed outside of the replies to a Taylor Swift tweet.


Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah 

Theranos and the cult of personality in science and tech | OUPblog:

lizabeth Holmes was a chemical engineering student who dropped out of Stanford to found Theranos: a silicon-valley start-up company that, at one point, was valued at US$9 billion. Her plan was to be another Steve Jobs and, for a while, it looked like that would happen. She made the cover of magazines like Forbes, Fortune, and even Glamour, wearing black polo-neck shirts and was touted as being the next big thing. Former President Clinton was a fan. Former Secretary-of-State George Schultz was an investor and on the Theranos board as were Henry Kissinger and James (Mad Dog) Mattis who stepped down as Secretary of Defense last year.

Today, she is facing fraud and other criminal charges.

It’s a long, fascinating story. Essentially, her technology was supposed to revolutionise health care: automatically performing hundreds of blood tests on a couple of drops of blood in just a few minutes. In reality, it was no more carefully thought out than an undergraduate research project. She lied to her staff, lied to her investors, lied to her board, and lied to her company’s potential customers. Her company claimed it was using new technology to perform blood tests when, in fact, it was using the same equipment as every other lab (except Theranos got poorer results because they did not have enough blood to do the tests properly).

All this is detailed in the book Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who broke the story with the help of whistle-blowers.

What fascinates me about this saga is how the scam was able to go on for so long: more than 10 years. In that time there was an incredible rate of staff turnover (including one suicide), endless lawsuits, countless missed deadlines, and a seeming inability to finish any serious studies that demonstrated the technology worked. At one stage, Holmes was even asked to step down by members of her board but managed to talk them out of it.

The cult of personality that grew up around Elizabeth Holmes accounts for both her success and failure. By all accounts she is an incredibly magnetic person and – at least to begin with – most people found her an inspiring leader and visionary. This is what made it possible to raise millions of dollars, get such prominent people on her board, and attract a lot of incredibly talented people to work with and for her.

Steve Jobs, of course, was famous for a similar kind of charisma and bullying (also an issue at Theranos), so perhaps it’s not surprising that the ‘reality-distortion field’ associated with him was present here too. But, of course, Steve Jobs wasn’t alone. He had Steve Wozniak, the technical brains that made Apple possible. Jobs could play the visionary, safe in the knowledge that Woz (and others that followed) would look after the details.

Elizabeth didn’t have that: in fact, the cult of personality built up around her made it impossible for her Woz to emerge…

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 5: Messiah

Not quite a lecture, but a really well down examination of Terry Davis’ life, well worth watching during lunch break.

Digital Human, Series 18, Episode 4: Devotion