Tag: Vinay Gupta

Your liberty will not survive combat drones

Back in 2008, Vinay Gupta wrote The Second Amendment in Iraq, Combat Robotics, and the Future of Human Liberty. He shortened this long title in his blog sidebar to ‘your liberty will not survive combat robots’. I think he was spot on, but the technology is not robots, but drones.

Over the last couple of days I’ve seen tweets like these about fairly disturbing developments in the news:

I don’t want terrorists threatening the peace and stability of where I live any more than the next person. But I also don’t want a situation where a government I disagree with has the technology to hunt me down and kill me with drones.

As Vinay states in that article:

Developing robotic combat capabilities will have three effects. Firstly, it will enable governments to successfully fight insurgencies abroad… Secondly, those combat robotics capabilities are very similar technologically to the capabilities required to control and oppress the domestic population… Finally, use of these technologies in foreign wars will force those who wish to do battle with the US for their political autonomy to strike at the US civilian population, as there will be no effective way of combatting US foreign policy in the field.

Our liberties are being slowly eroded and chipped away in the name of convenience and the ‘war on terror’. And, right now, I (and many other people like me) feel pretty much powerless to stop it.

First world problems (or, On buying a house in 2014)

No video embedded above? Click here!

We’re currently in the process of buying a house. It’s actually the one we ended up renting after our plans to move abroad fell through. As the saying goes: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Previously when we’ve bought houses we’ve known that the chances of us being in it for more than a few years were quite slim. This was for a number of factors: the ‘housing ladder’ <shudder>, changing jobs, and just being in our twenties without an absolutely clear plan of what we wanted to do with our lives.

The house we’re planning to buy is situated in a market town within the North-East of England. I can see us staying here a while now that our eldest is in school and our youngest starts full-time next year. Knowing this means we’re thinking less of the ‘value’ we can add to the house and more about how to make it liveable as a family home.

We can (just) afford to live here because I work remotely rather than from an office. The house we’re buying may only be going for an amount just less than the national average but, if I had to commute every day, we’d be struggling to afford it. And it’s not anything spectacular: just a two-bedroom terraced house with a small front garden. Our generation was screwed over by my parents’ generation – and goodness knows what the economic crisis has to the next.

By this point in my life, I kind of expected to live in a reasonable sized family home with a garden large enough for my kids to run around in. But that hasn’t happened – and it isn’t likely to happen any time soon. We’re not alone in this. If you haven’t watched the video above yet, then now’s the time to do so. Skip to about 3m 54s and watch Vinay Gupta pick apart the western dream piece by piece.

The implicit assumption, he states, is that we work in the city until we have kids, and then move to the countryside to bring them up in rural bliss. The trouble with that, of course, is it remains a dream for most people. Given intense competition (in housing, in jobs, socially…) it’s difficult to generate enough money to do anything more than remain within commuting distance of the city centre.

Vinay’s point is that in developed countries, the current and next generations become ‘trapped’ in cities. Due to the increases in population, the concentration of wealth, and increasing resource scarcity, we simply cannot afford a middle-class lifestyle for everyone no matter where they live.

What we can do though, I suppose, is make cities nicer places to live. Cities are actually pretty good per square mile in terms of efficiency. Making them nicer places to live, though, would mean jettisoning our rugged individualism and inherent competitiveness with peers. These are the kinds of things that lead to families buying two cars and driving everywhere instead of demanding better public transport. And, you know, if we pooled together we could all work 21 hour weeks while providing a minimum basic income for all. We could end poverty, at least in our own country.

But we don’t do any of this. Why? Because we’re trapped and immobilised by a nostalgic mythology. Instead of demanding and working towards something different and better, we’re spurred on by consumer culture that tells us we ‘deserve’ more of the same. The truth is that most of us aren’t going to attain the dream they’re peddling. All we get to do is silently, seethingly observe in the media other people doing things presented as ‘normal’. The truth for most of us is that those things are increasingly merely a distant dream.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Jonathon Hurley

What’s the project?

Never mind the day job, what’s your project? What dent are you trying to make in the universe? How are you making the world a better place?

Here’s Vinay Gupta’s about page with one of the clearest meta-level lifelong goals I’ve seen:

I am trying to keep you alive.

There are lots of threats which governments are either ignoring or causing. I am filling in the gaps.

I’m currently reading his blog post archive. It’s such a rich seam that I’m only a couple of years through. I really like the way Vinay rabbitholes on something but then zooms back out to see the bigger picture.

For example, here’s what he had to say in August 2008 in a post entitled Making course corrections:

Deep reexamination of my field of projects, figuring out what stays and what goes, what prospers and what should be killed.

I’m feeling very close to the end of this round of work on household infrastructure and called back towards the state level infrastructure stuff.

I like the idea of seeing oneself as a (networked) one man think tank. However I tend to over-rotate on a single piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle, missing how all the parts fit together. Perhaps I need to sort out my information aesthetics:

I’ve been doing a broad “read the highlights” strategy now for about 10 years, with occasional binges of hundreds-of-pages-a-day web scraping. In theory this social software stuff ought to make that process less time consuming. Instead, what happens is that it becomes more rewarding, producing greater connectedness with the high-level good-stuff in other fields, because of the prefiltering and information percolation functions, resulting in greater and greater rewards for maintaining a hyper-extended awareness of the network feeds.

And the task can’t be effectively farmed, because no two people have identical information aesthetics. Nobody knows that I have a puzzle that requires… XYZ to fit the pieces together – and if I could express XYZ, I’d already have XYZ, and there would be no issue.

At some level, there’s no substitute for reading the stream yourself, and that gets to be overloading. A task that plausibly can’t be collectivized, and probably can’t be mechanized without implying a Strong-AI system.

That, to me, implies that this kind of feed-monitoring, world-modelling function will become a profession. It probably won’t be called Blogger, but I think it’s clear that far-sighted organizations would have people in the Crow’s Nest, looking all over the world, looking at the future, modeling.

I’d need to get in that Crow’s Nest more often. Thankfully, Vinay’s got some thoughts on how to do that:

If you want to change the world, get serious, get educated, and get to work. Pick a problem, whether it’s water quality or organic agriculture, and get good and educated. A lot you can get online – start with TED talks for an overview, then progress to UN reports and similar documents. It might take a year or two to master the language and get a sense of what’s going on in the field because, well, it’s a hobby – you’re doing this in the time you might be fishing.

I’m really interested in the work being done around learning pathways at the moment, especially by the team being led by my colleague Chloe Varelidi. I think I’m going to start paying more attention to that. It might not change the world on the level that Vinay’s aiming at, but if it improves the way people learn it’s got to be a good thing. 🙂

Weeknote 29/2013

This week I’ve been:

  • Editing the skill descriptors and examples in preparation for the beta launch of the Web Literacy Standard next week
  • Writing about the Web Literacy Standard launch (including listing all the competencies and skills)
  • Talking to David Ascher and Vinay Gupta about the future of Firecloud (and getting our ‘pitch’ right).
  • Helping Wikimedia UK think through how they could use Open Badges.
  • Mapping the links between the Web Literacy Standard skills using post-its.
  • Trying to get the intermittent fault with the DisplayPort of my MacBook Pro fixed. Unsuccessfully.
  • Getting ready to sell our house. More on that soon.
  • Sorting out my expenses.
  • Giving feedback to Chris Appleton on designs related to the Web Literacy Standard.
  • Attending the Webmaker, Open Badges and All-Staff calls.
  • Preparing for a work week with my colleagues in Maine, USA that we’re affectionately calling ‘Badge Camp’.
  • Planning to update the Mozilla/P2PU School of Webcraft with Vanessa Gennarelli, Chloe Varelidi and Laura Hilliger.
  • Updating the Mozilla wiki to ensure a consistent structure for the Web Literacy Standard.

Next week, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be in Maine, USA for Badge Camp with my colleagues. I’m planning to travel as little as possible for the rest of the school summer holidays.

Weeknote 25/2013

This week I’ve been:

  • Hosting the Web Literacy Standard community call. Audio and etherpad here.
  • Communicating with the people behind Grimwire and +PeerServer about potentially contributing towards Firecloud.
  • Interviewed for a potential upcoming piece in PandoDaily about the Web Literacy Standard.
  • Talking to Sara Mörtsell about Open Badges for her upcoming MOOC.
  • Presenting at the Learning & Skills Group conference in London. Slides here.
  • Moderating a session – and feeding back from it to the EC Digital Agenda Assembly in Dublin.
  • Messing about with, and getting used to, my new Geeksphone Keon running Firefox OS. It’s a developer preview but I’ve got it on the expectation that I’ll be ‘dogfooding’ – i.e. using it as my ‘daily driver’.
  • Trying (and failing) to set up my new 24″ Dell monitor. The different digital display technologies are confusing (e.g. Thunderbolt and Mini-DisplayPort same physical size but are incompatible?)
  • Answering questions from the community about Open Badges and the Web Literacy Standard.
  • Talking to Erin Knight about a potential new role for me at Mozilla.
  • Tidied up and added questions to the Web Literacy Standard FAQ wiki page.
  • Meeting for coffee with someone who is thinking of joining Mozilla and wanted to know what it’s like working inside the belly of the beast.
  • Putting together a short slidedeck on Firecloud with Vinay Gupta.
  • Enquiring about the possibility of running another Maker Party (as I did last year) at the Centre for Life.
  • Meeting up with a teacher at my wife’s school to talk through how they can use Webmaker tools to deliver part of the new Primary Computing curriculum.
  • Checking out some books that MIT sent me in their Essential Knowledge series. They’ve asked me to put together a proposal for one on digital/web literacy.

Next week I’ve got a bit of a three-day tour of the UK. I’m in Sheffield to run an Open Badges workshop for the White Rose Learning Technologists’ Forum on Monday. On Tuesday I’m in Glasgow to speak at an SQA event entitled Innovations in Assessment for Schools before an epic train journey to Bath to speak at IWMW13 on Open Badges and the Web Literacy Standard. I’ve another three events the week after next as well…

Weeknote 22/2013

This week I’ve been:

  • Recovering from jetlag. I was in Toronto last week for the Mozilla All-Hands and coming back (i.e. forwards in time) is always a bit rough.
  • Ending #LettingGrow. I wrote about that decision here. I now have significantly less hair.
  • Chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool (well, my version of it at least). It was Bank Holiday Monday and then I took four days’ holiday from work so I’ve been off all week.
  • Collaborating with Vinay Gupta on Firecloud after we got the go-ahead from the Mozilla Hatchery to develop the idea further.
  • Ordering a Firefox OS phone. As a Mozilla employee I’ll get one eventually anyway, but they’re also offering them for free now to those willing to use the device as a ‘daily driver’. I’m in.
  • Trying to figure out my tax return (it was corporation tax for the now-defunct Synechism Ltd). I am not a details man.
  • Looking after the children while my wife does some marking for Edexcel.
  • Playing a lot of Battlefield 3. I am quite possibly the world’s deadliest virtual sniper.
  • Putting on 6lbs in weight. Eating healthily and exercising haven’t been high on my agenda this week!

Next week I’m presenting on Open Badges at the CILIPS conference up in Dundee on Tuesday, getting stuck back into the Web Literacy standard work, and going into Seaton Burn College on Friday to talk badges.

Weeknote 18/2013

This week I’ve been:

Next week it’s Bank Holiday (woo!) then I’m in London on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning for a meeting with Lord Jim Knight. Then on Friday I’m in Salford to talk to the BBC about Open Badges for their CPD programme(s).

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