Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Web We Have to Save

Have you noticed that the web seems to have changed in the last few years?  Do you feel that it's become more of a broadcast medium where you consume (often by passively watching) pre-prepared content, than a place where you used to go exploring for content. Canadian/Iranian author and blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, who was imprisoned in Iran for 6 years and recently released, has written a thought provoking article called "The Web We Have to Save". His incarceration enabled him to view todays web with fresh eyes since he was denied Internet access for 6 years. He believes that the web has become much more passive and that, for example, your Facebook news feed encourages you to merely "like" things, whereas previously by blogging and actively creating links to other webpages you could explain the relationships between ideas and their significance to you.
Hossein recognises that the web content you view is increasingly being curated for you, often by algorithms, which he and others call "the Stream". He says "the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies. The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking." 
As someone who has been using the web since the mid 1990s I can see where Hossein is coming from. But I also recognise that for many people who are not writers, journalists, academics, or are politically active, the web has become just a means by which they watch TV and movies, listen to music, read the equivalent of a never ending personalised magazine, and exchange photos with their friends. It is perhaps the web's great strenght that it can operate in both these modes.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Get Smart exhibition at MOTAT

MOTAT in Auckland has a new exhibition called Get Smart - NZ Wired in the Digital World. The museum says "Get Smart will take visitors on an immersive journey of discovery and nostalgia as they explore the origins of the smart devices that surround us today. Learn about how networks and computing have come together to provide instant connectivity and take a closer look at the Kiwi innovators and entrepreneurs who have contributed to this thrilling digital age. Get Smart investigates the growth of computing, gaming and communications to illustrate how the powerful machines now carried in pockets and purses have become faster, cheaper, and smarter." If you've never visited MOTAT perhaps now you should and if you've not been for years it's obviously time to return. MOTAT is located at Western Springs, a short bus ride from downtown Auckland.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chapter 13 of my book, The Universal Machine, opens with a description of a person starting their day and being helped along by their intelligent personal digital assistant. Not a physical robot, but an AI embedded in their digital world. This assistant, like a good butler, anticipates a persons every need and smooths their interaction with the world enabling them to achieve more and relax more. A recent article in Time predicts that this fight for personal AIs will be the next big tech war between Apple and Google. We already see it starting with Siri, Google Now, Amazon's Echo and other products. Personally I can't wait.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Japanese accept the US challenge

Recently I blogged about a challenge from a US mega robot manufacturer to participate in a duel with a Japanese robot company. Well the Japanese have accepted the challenge and it looks like the rumble is on! Watch this space.

Monday, July 13, 2015

BBC Micro Bit and history repeats

In 1981 the BBC released the BBC Micro computer. Yes that's right, the British TV and radio company released a micro computer to the pubic as part of its BBC Computer Literacy Project intended to encourage a whole generation to learn to program. I was one who did their first programming on a BBC Micro and I have fond memories of the machine. The BBC didn't just partner with the Acorn Computer Company to design and produce the BBC Micro, they also ran a series of TV shows to introduce the public to the computer and its potential. This is credited with kick-starting the British gaming industry for one. Over thirty years later the BBC is repeating history with the BBC Micro Bit, a pocket-sized computer set to be given to about one million UK-based children in October. Designed by an organisation called Technology Will Save Us the Micro Bit is intended to introduce another generation of Brits to computing. I think this is a great idea.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

MegaBots - giant fighting robots

MegaBots Inc. is planning to create giant robots that will fight each other in arena duels. They've recently laid down a challenge to a Japanese robotics company for a duel in a years time. They've also partnered with the CAD company AutoDesk to run a robot design challenge with a  top prize of $2,500. Details of the competition are here.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Live Coding

Have you ever wondered what computer programmers actually do? Well now you can watch people code in an activity called "live coding." Wikipedia states that live coding "is a programming practice centred upon the use of improvised interactive programming. Live coding is often used to create sound and image based digital media, and is particularly prevalent in computer music, combining algorithmic composition with improvisation.[3] Typically, the process of writing is made visible by projecting the computer screen in the audience space, with ways of visualising the code an area of active research.[4] There are also approaches to human live coding in improvised dance.[5] Live coding techniques are also employed outside of performance, such as in producing sound for film[6] or audio/visual work for interactive art installations." There is also now a live coding video streaming website ( where you can watch people code online.