Technology

China's All-Seeing Credit Score System

Charles Rollet, writing for WIRED:

In the UK, credit scores are mostly used to determine whether people can get a credit card or loan. But in China, the government is developing a much broader “social credit” system partly based on people’s routine behaviours with the ultimate goal of determining the “trustworthiness” of the country’s 1.4 billion citizens.

It might sound like a futuristic dystopian nightmare but the system is already a reality. Social credit is preventing people from buying airline and train tickets, stopping social gatherings from happening, and blocking people from going on certain dating websites. Meanwhile, those viewed kindly are rewarded with discounted energy bills and similar perks.

China is going full-blown Black Mirror with its social credit system. It's pretty fucked up to outright ban people from buying airline and train tickets due to unpaid debts or prevent them from getting loans because they cheat in a video game.


Book Review - Virtually Human

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The times they are a-changin'. Advances in technology have brought us the Internet, smartphones, the sharing economy, cryptocurrencies, and automation. Every day, people all around the world are uploading their thoughts, memories, preferences, beliefs, and history to social media websites, essentially creating "mindfiles" of themselves. Software engineers across the globe are working to create "mindware" that will combine this mindfile data with humanlike consciousnesses in computer software to create "cyberconsciousness". Within the next few decades, the combination of mindfiles and mindware will result in something called "mindclones", which will essentially be an extension of our own human consciousnesses. That is the premise of Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality, and Martine Rothblatt goes into great detail about the societal implications of this technological innovation.

This is the sort of book that needs to be read multiple times to fully comprehend. I would definitely recommend it to others, but would caution them that it can be a bit slow to get into. For the first third of the book, I just wasn't hooked. But things definitely picked up and I became really interested in the discussion. It seems like Rothblatt has a deep understanding of where things are headed in the future, especially when it comes to artificial intelligence. Her arguments are well thought-out and thoroughly-researched, and definitely worth considering. If you have any interest in the concept of extending our consciousness past physical bodies and into the realm of computers, this is a must read.

4/5 stars. 350 pages.

How to Send Overdrive.com eBooks to Your Kindle

   Image  by  Megan Trace , courtesy of  Creative Commons  licensing.

Image by Megan Trace, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

As a frequent library patron and a recent Kindle owner, I was excited about the possibility of checking out eBooks from my library that I would be able to read on my Kindle Paperwhite. I was vaguely aware of Overdrive.com, a website that allows you to do sign into your library account and check out eBooks and audiobooks just like checking out physical media.

However, as I embarked on the process, I couldn't find sufficient help documentation that would give me step-by-step instructions about how to check out an eBook from my library (within Overdrive) and send it to my Kindle. To put it bluntly, my experience fumbling around until I figured it out was a frustrating nightmare. That's why I decided to write a simple help article that will show you how to be reading eBooks on your Kindle in no time! Here are the steps that you will need to follow:

   Image  by  Multnomah County Library , courtesy of  Creative Commons  licensing.

Step 1: Sign up for a library card (which takes like 15 minutes or so) at your local library and set up a PIN for the card (most libraries have you do this during the sign up process).

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Step 2: Create an Overdrive account on Overdrive.com with an email address and password. Do NOT use the “Sign up using library card” option, especially if you have multiple libraries that you belong to. Creating your own user account seemed to be the best way to go.

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Step 3: Log into your Overdrive account and authenticate your library membership by searching for your library (by location or name) and then entering your card number and PIN.

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Step 4: Search for eBooks "in the library" while logged into your Overdrive account and add them to a wish list or opt to “borrow” them. Each library will have a different selection of eBooks to choose from. In both of my libraries, the selection is small and it is easier to browse by category than searching fruitlessly for specific authors or titles.

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Step 5: When you check out a book, you can choose “Kindle Book” as your download option and "Confirm & get Kindle Book", and then Overdrive will shoot you over to an Amazon login to authenticate your Amazon account.

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Step 6: Under the "Deliver to" step, choose the Kindle device you would like to send the eBook to, and click the "Get library book" button.

   Image  by  Zhao ! , courtesy of  Creative Commons  licensing.

Image by Zhao !, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.

Step 7: The book will start downloading automatically when you open the device, and you can immediately start reading! Once your loan period has ended, you will be able to check the book out again, or place it on hold if it is no longer available.

I hope this guide will help some of you put your library's eBook lending to good use. In addition to eBooks, Overdrive offers audiobooks that can be listened to using their app. It is compatible with iOS, Android, Chromebook, Mac OS, Windows, and Windows Phone. What are you waiting for? Go ahead, get to reading!

Book Review - Distrust That Particular Flavor

  Cover image photo taken by David Wilder.

Cover image photo taken by David Wilder.

William Gibson is best known for his fictional works, including best-selling novels like Neuromancer and Zero History. He also has a fascinating Twitter account, that includes a lot of interesting quips and retweets. It's well worth following, in my opinion. I have read all three of his trilogies (Sprawl trilogy, Bridge trilogy, and Blue Ant trilogy), a short-story compilation titled Burning Chrome (in which he coined the term "cyberspace"), and a collaborative novel he wrote with Bruce Sterling called The Difference Engine, and this book was next in the queue for me (I am in the ongoing process of reading many authors' works in chronological order, Gibson included).

Distrust That Particular Flavor is different from the rest of Gibson's works because it is non-fictional: a collection of essays, articles, speeches, introductions, book and music reviews, travel journalism, etc. that he wrote over the past few decades. It's a refreshing take from an author that I have grown to admire over the past decade or so for his fictional works.

The book takes us to foreign lands like Singapore and Tokyo, analyzes the evolution of communication media, observes of the early forms of the Internet, pays tribute to famous writers like H.G. Wells and George Orwell, details Gibson's obsessive quest to find wrist watches on premodern eBay, and many more interesting tidbits. I especially liked how autobiographical some of the pieces were at times. This was a really easy read for me, which is exactly what I was looking for at this point in time.

For now, Distrust That Particular Flavor provided an excellent set of pieces that should tide me over until I re-dose with Gibson's latest novel, The Peripheral, published in 2014, which I am greatly looking forward to tackling sometime in the (hopefully) near future.

5/5 stars. 260 pages.

Book Review - Manna by Marshall Brain

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Marshall Brain (founder of HowStuffWorks) and his novel Manna: Two Visions of Humanity's Future were recently featured on KMO's C-Realm Podcast. In episode 457: Techno Extortion, KMO and Brain talk about the book as well as the United States' current trajectory with regard to jobs, automation, profitability, and societal well-being. I was intrigued by the conversation and decided to read Manna. Although the book is available for free at the above link, you can also purchase the Kindle version for $0.99, which is what I did.

Manna shows us two very different worlds. Each is possible for us to create (or find ourselves in) from the current world we live in. In the first world, robots begin eliminating human jobs in places like retail stores, fast food restaurants, construction sites, and transportation. The key technology that fuels this is inexpensive computer vision systems, and more than half of the jobs in the United States are eliminated. Tasks like restocking shelves, cleaning bathrooms, and taking out the trash are dictated by a management software called "Manna" that speaks through an earpiece each employee wears while on the job. All human managers are eventually replaced by this software. Without getting too much into detail about this world, it could be described as dystopian, and it certainly seems plausible to me, especially because I have experience working in similar jobs. I could definitely see how the management team could be stripped from the job and replaced by a cheaper, more efficient, less forgiving computer system.

The second world is more of a utopian society, where robots are not in control of the humans. Instead, the humans control the robots and use them to make life easier. People living in this world must agree with the following core principles of that society:

  1. Everyone is equal.
  2. Everything is reused.
  3. Nothing is anonymous.
  4. Nothing is owned.
  5. Tell the truth.
  6. Do no harm.
  7. Obey the rules.
  8. Live your life.
  9. Better and better.

There are drastic differences in economics, transparency, energy usage, ownership, honesty, and life quality between the two worlds. It certainly seems to me like we are headed more in the direction of the dystopian world rather than the utopian world, but in the book's Postscript, Brain mentions that the utopian world is still a possibility for us to manifest.

I enjoyed the book. It's a very quick read, and it is thought-provoking. The writing left a little to be desired, because it seemed a bit over-simplified and repetitive to me. I've tried my best to not give away too much of the plot in this review, because there isn't much plot or character development to find in the book itself. I would definitely suggest this book though, because I imagine that it would be eye-opening for the average person. For me, it painted a stark contrast between the two different roads our global society could take, and highlighted a lot of the current issues that we face.

4/5 Stars. 79 pages.