Google Street-Level Photos and Privacy

It’s generating lots of talk:

As someone who has done image processing research I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t run the images through some code to automatically detect and blur license plates, faces and maybe other things.  That’s a challenging problem but not outside the realm of possibility (call me, Google). 🙂

On Google and privacy generally, see also Ann Bartow: The Google Threat.

One more: Farhad Manjoo has a pretty good recap at his all-new Machinist blog at Salon: Google is watching you (but so is everyone else).

New Books

A Culture of Improvement: Technology and the Western Millennium by Robert Friedel is a new book on the history of technology in the West, written with an eye to social aspects.  I picked it up last week and am really looking forward to reading it.  It’s drawing comparisons to Lewis Mumford’s books, but Friedel is thankfully less verbose and this book is more modern in its content and historical approach.  More links: publisher’s page, New York Times review.

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll read William Langewiesche’s The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor.  I’ve been overdosing on reading about nuclear weapons lately — aside from the odd article on our current predicaments, Theatomicbazaar I recently read Gerard Degroot’s excellent history of nuclear weapons, The Bomb: A Life, and Nevil Shute’s classic novel of post-nuclear apocalypse,
On the Beach.  I wasn’t that impressed with Langewiesche’s Colbert Report interview (I love Colbert, but the interviews often
don’t work).  From all accounts Langewiesche is an excellent journalist
and writer, though, and this is a vitally important topic.

Speaking of weapons, I’ve been reading Sharon Weinberger’s Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon’s Scientific Underworld, which just came out in paperback.  She writes about the often far-fetched ideas for weapons that get researched at the Pentagon.  In particular she follows the story of the hafnium bomb, a failed attempt in recent years to develop a new kind of nuclear bomb that could be delivered in a much smaller package (e.g. a hand grenade).  The book is fascinating reading.  Sharon Weinberger has a blog and has also been blogging about defense technology at Wired.

Scott Berkun’s The Myths of Innovation looks interesting.  The premise seems similar to Bob Seidenstecker’s Future Hype,
but directed more towards a business audience.  Scott Berkun has a website.

Steve Talbott has a new book that collects essays from his NetFuture newsletter: Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines.  Talbott draws largely from philosopher Albert Borgmann but has a more accessible writing style.

Going Nucular

In These Times has a good article about the renewed efforts in the US since 9-11 to develop new, "more usable" types of nuclear weapons.  Excerpt:

Nearly 20 years after the Berlin Wall crumbled, the United States is
allocating more funding, on average, to nuclear weapons than during the
Cold War. The Bush administration is pumping this money—more than $6
billion this year—into renovating the nuclear weapons complex and
designing new nuclear weapons. Such hypocrisy is one of the main
obstacles to nuclear arms reductions because it runs the risk of
shattering the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in which the
nuclear-armed states pledged to begin the process of disarmament if the
non-nuclear states opted not to pursue the deadly technology.

Link: Duck and Cover: The Bush administration’s "Complex 2030" plan is reviving the nuclear threat.

This article is from the May issue.  Some good news is that last week the house panel voting on funding for the "RRW" program rejected it.  From a statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists:

WASHINGTON (May 23, 2007) – In a dramatic rebuke to the Bush
administration’s plans for new nuclear weapons, the House Energy and
Water Appropriations subcommittee today eliminated funding for the
so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, calling instead
for a comprehensive nuclear strategy and stockpile plan. The RRW
program called for spending $119 million to design the first of a new
generation of nuclear warheads.

Link: House Panel Zeroes Out New Nuclear Warhead Program.

Google Decider (Beta)

Eric Schmidt discusses Google’s future:

how Google might look in five years’ time, Mr Schmidt said: “We are
very early in the total information we have within Google. The
algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation.

goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as
‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ”


Mr Schmidt told journalists in
London: “We cannot even answer the most basic questions because we
don’t know enough about you. That is the most important aspect of
Google’s expansion.”

Link: Google’s goal: To organize your daily life (Financial Times),

via Rough Type.

I look forward to offloading all my big decisions onto Google.

Amateurs and Other Internauts

Scott Rosenberg has a recap of tonight’s Berkeley Cybersalon with "Cult of the Amateur" author Andrew Keen:

“Is it always like this?” A business acquaintance who I chatted with briefly at the Berkeley Cybersalon earlier this evening asked me as the panel discussion — titled “New Media Wars: Amateur versus Auteur” — wound down.

“Quite often, actually,” I answered him.

I assumed he was referring to the heated back-and-forth between the
attendees and the panelists — and, occasionally, among the panelists
themselves (Dan Gillmor, Katie Hafner, Robert Scoble
and Andrew Keen). The event’s hook was Keen’s new book, “The Cult of
the Amateur.” Keen’s self-described “polemic” is not yet available, and
I haven’t read it, so I won’t comment directly on it. But the book’s
subtitle tells you where Keen’s coming from: “How today’s Internet is
killing our culture.”


Keen has lobbed his bombs before — and in the same place, yet — but I find it hard to take them seriously. (I should mention that he did a podcast interview with me
about my book — and he’s charming when he’s not lobbing grenades and
building stockades around the ancien regime.) I don’t think he honestly
believes that, as his book’s subtitle has it, “The Internet is killing
our culture.” Ironically, of course, Keen himself used his own blog
as a launch pad for his ideas. He admitted tonight that he is, himself,
an “amateur writer.” He claims to be motivated by a desire to “annoy
libertarians of the left and libertarians of the right.”

Something tells me he might win a little less attention but a lot
more credibility if he stopped trying so hard to annoy. There must be
some valuable criticism lodged among all the bluster.

Link: Amateur Hour.

I must admit I’m a bit tired of Keen’s shtick already, just from all the publicity and blogging about it.

Rosenberg mentions another new book that it seems everyone in that incestuous A-list Silicon Valley/Wired blogger world is gushing over: David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous.  Publisher’s Weekly says Weinberger "joins the ranks of social thinkers striving to construct new theories around the success of Google and Wikipedia."  In other words it’s the latest half-baked "the internet is changing everything!" business claptrap to keep the venture capitalists excited.  I think I’ll pass.

On the Internet, the Big Get Bigger

Excerpt from an article by Nicholas Carr in the Guardian last week:

On the internet, the big get bigger. It wasn’t supposed to be like
that. When the web arrived in the early 1990s, it was heralded as a
liberating force that would free us from the confines of gated
communities like AOL and Compuserve. The internet was supposed to be an
open, democratic medium, an information bazaar putting individuals on
the same footing as big companies.

In the end, though, the
internet seems to be following the same pattern that has always
characterised popular media. A few huge outlets come to dominate
readership and viewership and smaller, more specialised ones are
consigned to the periphery. Most of the largest sites are now in the
midst of acquisition sprees or expansion programs intended to extend
their dominion.

Link: The net is being carved up into information plantations.

See also the discussion at Nicholas Carr’s blog, and the cartoon by Oliver Widder.

DNA Testing For Dogs

From Technology Review’s blog:

A new genetic test, marketed by Maryland-based MetaMorphix,
can determine a dog’s mix of breeds with 90 percent accuracy. The
company has processed thousands of tests since the product went on the
market in February, CEO Edwin Quattlebaum said at the Biotechnology
Industry Convention in Boston earlier this week.

Because many canine diseases are linked to particular breeds, the
results could help owners make health decisions about their dogs. The
test has also garnered interest from animal shelters: shelter employees
say that being able to provide a bit of a dog’s "back story" encourages
people to adopt. "Owners get a kick out of knowing the heritage of
their dogs," says Quattlebaum.

Link: Uncovering your dog’s genetic history.

It seems like this opens up some of the same medical ethics dilemmas that genetic testing in people does.  And maybe I’m being a bit too negative, but when I read about knowing a dog’s heritage before adopting, I think more about the flip-side — that this will result in more dogs of mixed or less popular breeds being euthanized.

I’m surprised at that accuracy rating — 90 percent accuracy at identifying only 38 breeds doesn’t seem very impressive.

Update: In the comments, Angela has pointed to an earlier story in the Washington Post on the troubled history of MetaMorphix: Independent Biotech Follows DNA to Dollars.  (Thanks Angela!)