My thinking about Synesthesia (from Alvin Mao)

After reading the materials, I feel that I haven’t found too much synesthesia yet. However, I suddenly find some synesthesia, which, in fact, most of us can feel in our daily life. Our lives have always been unconsciously intertwined with our feelings.

Let’s start with literature, which I think is the most mature. When we say ‘icy words’, we associate touching and hearing. When we ‘smile sweetly’, we interweave sight and taste. Literature is one of the most basic forms of culture because people need to record things. As soon as the words appeared and were used to record the sensations of the various organs, synesthesia was more or less adopted.

Another example is color and mood. People think of blue when they are depressed, red when they are in high spirits, and green when they are jealous and resentful. Although there is not much connection, but different colors give people a very different feeling, which is also a sense of synesthesia.

Program Earth

Many of the more successful companies are tech companies that can contribute most of their profits to collecting user data. Examples of these companies include Alibaba and Google. By tracking user data, they can predict user behaviour and draw connections between their actions that may not be obvious through casual observation. These companies want to collect as much data as possible so that they can gain a deeper understanding of their users. User behaviour is not limited to the users own actions, they are influenced by external forces, sometimes out of their control. By tracking external, or as one could say, environmental forces, companies can relate the cause to a reaction. People base their decisions on the weather, so by tracking the weather, and comparing it against user data, a company can obtain a more comprehensive understanding of a user’s actions. In addition, scientists have drawn correlations between pollution and mental health. Like tracking the weather, companies could also draw correlations between differing pollution levels and user behaviour.

Another commonly proposed way companies can track user behaviour that extends beyond their phones or web page is to track foot traffic to determine an optimal location for a storefront. However, because this sort of tracking and the action can extend beyond the scope of a phone or an app eventually, companies will have to work with city governments to track people in public or build and buy a storefront. Collecting and using environmental data and paring it with citizen’s data in this way lends itself to the being used to create smart cities.

Smart cities use sensors to collect data about the environment and the entities inhabiting the space. After analyzing data, the cities or city planners can react to changes in the environment to improve the way the city works. This efficiency, in theory, can lead to a better life for all. The video What are Smart Cities” explains the benefits and even necessity for developing cities as “smart cities” and the links one could make to corporations being responsible for implementing many of these changes. Essentially, the current lifestyle people live has issues with waste: wasting energy, food, time, ect. This waste can also have a monetary value. If corporations can find a way to reduce the waste, they can profit off of the money saved. Because smart cities rely on many devices communicating with each other and analyzing large amounts of data, technology companies such as the aforementioned Alibaba and Gooogle are more equipt to develop concepts, devices, and implement smart city technology. They already based on the internet and deal primarily with facilitating connections and analyzing user data. 

While these groups are more equipt to be creating smart cities, the line between governing body and corporation becomes blurred. This relates to the last book we read The Stack because it talks about an interface for an interacting with and reacting to the environment. These corporations facilitate connections to make life more efficient. They build the infrastructure for the smart cities and can eventually exert control over these places and people. This sort of control over people could be seen as another problem for society because if the governing body is a corporation with a goal of earning profit, rather than a governing counsel, put in place to benefit it’s citizens, people could lose their voice in society.


CMT: Stack Reflection – TA

The block chain first came into being in 2009, when Satoshi Nakamoto released the open-source software known as Bitcoin.  The principle behind this block chain was to allow individuals to store currency and transfer it without the need for a separate institution or government.  Instead, everything to do with the currency would be verified through a distributed network of computers running the Bitcoin software, which anyone could set up and use.  It was, in other words, a peer-to-peer currency system meant to provide an alternative to the poor practices of established financial institutions that led to the 2008 financial crash.  The image below is a visualization from an Economist article from October 2015 describing how a block chain works.  The block chain fits very neatly into Benjamin Bratton’s definition of platforms, which “rationalize the self-directed maneuvers of Users without necessarily superimposing predetermined hierarchies onto their interactions.” (p48)  On top of that, the block chain also allows for numerous kinds of interactions (which I will expand upon later), another key feature of Bratton’s definition of a platform.

Around the time this Economist article was published, a new block chain called Ethereum was released that promised to expand the capabilities of the block chain even further.  The release video itself is titled “Ethereum: the World Computer” and describes Ethereum as “a planetary scale computer” and “the world’s first zero-infrastructure platform” (which seems to simply mean that third parties aren’t required for transactions).  Ethereum, unlike Bitcoin, is designed specifically to facilitate other forms of interaction than just monetary transactions.  In addition to the process diagrammed above, Ethereum includes a byte-code area which can execute more sophisticated code and even build up applications.  This is a prime example how Bratton envisions a platform: “The centrifugal standardization of how individual components interrelate and assemble into higher-order systems, whether physical or informational, is as important as what any part or component may be. This is how platforms can scale up.” (p45)

The particular implementation of the block chain, whether Bitcoin or Ethereum or something else, isn’t what makes it a platform.  The block chain itself is the platform, and Ethereum happens to be a recent manifestation of that platform.  The Ethereum version of the block chain platform also allows much more expansion than the bitcoin version, has more “generative mechanisms” (p44), and so is likely to replace other versions like bitcoin.  In the future, an even more generative version of the block chain may come about that replaces Ethereum, because it is able to facilitate new kinds of interactions.

One of these new interactions can be found in the smart contract.  Using, for example, the byte code section of the Ethereum block chain, computer code can be embedded that will make automatic transactions.  When set up cleverly, these automatic transaction programs can handle the purchase of automobiles or real estate, crowdfunding campaigns, distribution of wages to employees, and much more.  [see the DAO for an example]  It could even be possible to replace some or all of the functions of modern governments, including taxation and elections.  This is what Bratton means when he says “platforms are not just technical models but institutional models as well. Their drawing and programming of worlds in particular ways are means for political composition as surely as drawing a line on a map.” (p44)  The current platforms of the legal and political realm (often in-person or via mailed paperwork) have already been disrupted by the internet, and now may be completely blown open by the platform of the block chain.

Still, the block chain platform is not perfect, especially its current versions.  From technical limitations regarding sending the entire global transaction history (reaching gigabytes in size) to every computer in the network, to the unresolved risks of this burgeoning technology (which has led to several “hard forks”), there is much to be resolved before the block chain takes over from more traditional platforms.  That said, it seems likely that the block chain will have a huge impact on human interaction in the future in ways that are “unplanned and perhaps even unplannable.” (p44)

Gabrys Response

Source: Cryosphere EarthData from NASA Wolrdview


NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), an arm of its Earth Data Science program, is distributed among twelve data centers tasked with archiving and distributing information received from sensors affixed to dozens of NASA’s past and present satellites. NASA claims that all of its data is “available fully, openly, and without restrictions.” The online tools for accessing and analyzing this information are rife with acronyms and technical jargon. Their interfaces require tutorials to decode, and further knowledge to understand the data they present. According to the tools’ “Featured Users” page, they are official instruments used by smart people doing scientific things.

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The Sensor Technology in Vehicles

The vehicles that we drive – regardless of whether or not this expression is appropriate – are on their way to becoming autonomous mobile environments of their own. The Tesla Model X, unveiled by Elon Musk in 2014, was the first car to incorporate a HEPA style filtration system into its production. Tesla, a corporation whose reach and influence spans from aerospace technology to energy and transportation, saw the feature as a crucial standard for its vehicles. It’s implementation goes beyond that of traditional HEPA filter, and holds within it the ability to neutralize and eliminate pollen, viruses, bacteria, mold, and pollution.

In order to test the highest setting of the Model X’s air filter, Tesla engineers placed a Model X in a large bubble contaminated with extreme levels of pollution (1,000 µg/m3 of PM2.5 vs. the EPA’s “good” air quality index limit of 12 µg/m3). They then closed the falcon doors and activated Bioweapon Defense Mode.

What this chart shows is that the influence of the Model X extends beyond its contained environment, and seeps past its steel and carbon fiber chassis into the world that it drives within. It is this ability of the Tesla to act in three capacities – as an agent of sensing, an agent of environmental filtration, and as a gateway for both indoor and outdoor environmental regulation – that make it such an interesting object in the sphere of citizen sensing technologies.

Beyond the capabilities of Model X is the question of the car itself. Today’s cars are complex systems of sensors. They know how large they are, where they fit, and where they don’t. When and where they can and can’t open their doors. How fast they should be traveling, and when to yield. Today’s cars know how to get to their destination, and they can do it on their own. But it wasn’t always that way. The first cars had no capacity for interpretation. They used combustible engines, and were controlled by wheels and levers that mechanically altered their performance. Turning the steering wheel of a car used to literally turn the wheels of the car. The wheel itself was only a physical extension that shortened the distance between you and the gears below your feet.

From the time that the car was introduced in the mid 1800s until the 1960s, there were no major ‘updates’ to its operation. The first was electronic fuel injection, which gauged and moderated the injection of fuel into the pistons of the engine. Then came the automatic transmission, which moderated the gears and RPM. Then in quick succession were anti-lock braking systems, electronic airbags, and GPS navigation systems. What should be noted here is that in the first vehicles, the humans were the sensors. This is nothing new to those who learned to drive stick shift growing up, where you are taught to sense the vibrations of the motor in order to properly time and execute a shift. Going even further, the need for precise multi-limb coordination was replaced by the automatic transmission, the importance of a good sense of direction was replaced by GPS, and so on. In a sense, each new and important iteration of the automobile was born out of the implementation of a new sensor. And each one of those sensors removed a responsibility of the human to be an engaged actor within the vehicle.

Reflection on the Stack, Contemporary Media Theory

This is the written reflection to The Stack for the course Contemporary Media Theory.

This reflection focuses mainly on P2P networks and how they manage to continue operating even if all six layers in Bratton’s model were controlled by some sovereignty.

I would first like to clarify what the term “P2P network” actually means. Usually, it refers to file sharing programs such as eMule and BitTorrent. In this reflection, this term is used in reference to the algorithm on which these applications are built, and the network layered upon clients communicating through these algorithms. For example, BitTorrent is built upon DHT (Distributed Hash Table) and eMule is built upon KAD (Kademelia). Other instances include I2P and Tor, both of which providing anonymous network access to everyone (or every user, in Bratton’s term).

Now we can begin to look into the apparatuses of P2P networks and how, at every layer of Bratton’s model, they could circumvent the ubiquitous surveillance agents of the sovereignty, beginning from User. In his elaboration of this section, Bratton particularly maintained that the identification of a user should not rely on the physical presence of an intelligent form, whose only known agent being human, but on the ability to initiate columns in the Stack. P2P networks approach in a similar way to the goal of hiding the actual identities of their users, by mimicking the behaviour of automated bots. More specifically, they randomize their behaviour so that they do not feature common characteristics of human involvement. This drastically increases the cost of the sovereignty to interfere with their operation based on behavioural patterns, for that the sovereignty itself also relies heavily on automated surveillance agents and computational units, whose observable behaviour indistinguishable from the P2P networks and whose mission too important to abort. The same reasoning applies to Interface as well. By providing a minimalistic interface that accepts nothing but essential commands, P2P networks gives no chance that additional information is gathered during the interaction. Whether it is human A, human B or Wiki-bot C or even monkey D, there is no way to tell, not even the P2P networks per se.

Continuing to Adress. This is where P2P networks bear the least resemblance to traditional networks. In the book, Bratton quotes that “whatever that can be addressed can be ruled”. In the same way, we can say that “whatever that cannot be ruled must not be addressable”. Being able to address and access the concerned entities is one fundamental premise of a sovereignty’s authorisation over it, either electronically or geographically. P2P networks, on the contrary, have no such entity that could be addressed and approached. Put in a plainer term, there’s no one complete entity that corresponds to an end user. Each functional unit is sliced, duplicated and distributed across multiple, usually hundreds of end users. This strategy takes advantage of the fact that millions of millions of addressing takes place at a very low level in terms of the position on the network hierarchy. Such tremendous amount makes impossible the surveilling of each and single one of them. Again, similar approach on City level. P2P networks respond to regimes where thorough and constant inspection is employed, by slicing, duplicating and adhering small pieces of itself onto “clean” contents so that the inspection would not yield any fruit.

Now to Cloud and Earth. Imagine a world where Cloud have essentially been Earth, that is, where various Cloud platforms have penetrated the entirity of non-paper world. It’s either one or another, with no choice of none of the above. These platforms have access to all of the traffic and interaction and the ability to compute across time, for that they archive everything ever happened. The solution to this is to dive deeper down into Earth, where millions of physical elements now engage in the computation as well. By again dividing themselves into pieces and modules which, when alone, are just arbitrary and meaningless data, whereas when properly combined, could turn into functional units. Data and information are no longer the target, but the order and structure they are positioned, which turns out to be incalculable given the total number of computing agents involved in Earth level, let alone their geographical sparsity.

To some extent, all these solutions are the same, or at least similar in essence. They all exploit the inborn incapability of the soverignty that even though it could exercise power wherever it wants and in whatever way it wishes, it could not do this to all units on all scales simultaneously. In fact, no sovereignty would do this were there any sense left. This gives the chance for P2P networks to hide by making sure that their units would never aggregate either geographically or temporally, leaving no chance for the sovereignty to acknowledge the whole picture, let alone to control them.

The Stack

In class we discussed the tension between platforms and the state as platforms grow to have more control over people’s daily lives. Platforms as Bratton describes them are a third way to organize society along with markets and states. An example a platform, functioning almost on the level of a stack would be one of the two giant applications in China, WeChat and Alipay.

Alipay’s most obvious function is as an app which allows users to exchange money. Most establishments, from your streetside tailor to foreign franchise like Starbucks accept Alipay. It’s more than minor transactions, people pay rent, their phone bills, utilities, phone bills, calling cabs, group discounts, and more on Alipay. Alipay is owned by Alibaba Group, an e-commerce group which also owns other brands such as Taobao/T-mall and Aliexpress for international customers. Alibaba Group’s reach extends beyond e-commerce to the operations that support the sale and transportation of goods. For example, Alibaba owns or partners with delivery companies. On both Taobao and Alipay, one can check the status of your orders, which city the package is located in, ect. They also own a grocery store with a similar function, and has opened a grocery store, Hema grocery store, where one purchases grocery stores only through Alipay or wechat. Due to its focus on creating networks to facilitate monetary transactions, Alibaba has become the biggest e-commerce group in the world. Alibaba has shaped consumer habits to an extent that festivals they have created, dedicated to buying items, such as Singles Day (11/11) are eagerly anticipated and observed in China as well as other parts of Asia.

Platforms like Alibaba hold much power and influence over Chinese society. However, they are in part state owned, thus the goals of the shareholders will align with that of the state, and the platforms will be bound by the rules of the nation. They also rely on State controlled infractures such as electricity, internet, and roads to function. The nation state as we experience it finds its roots it the Treaty of Westphalia. The treaty of Westphalia is cited as the beginning of creating the world order as we know it now, the beginning of the nation state. The nation state unites people with the same historical background and ties it to a piece of land. It gives the people in the nation state a shared identity, allowing them to want collaborate to protect their land and people. The state creates infrastructure and public goods for the sake of it’s people, so that society can function. Countries are compared on a number of metrics, GDP, population, carbon footprints, ect.

Some companies, at this point have metrics that rival that of countries. These companies are contribute to another country’s overall statistics, but that these companies can compare on any level to entire countries is astounding. Nations rose to power because of their state owned companies, for example the Dutch East India Company.  Alibaba is in part state owned and has contributed greatly towards China’s growth into a global powerhouse. At the same time, Alibaba has vowed to donate 10 billion RMB towards China’s goal of reducing poverty. Alibaba function on a level in which it can compete with countries add legitimacy to its places as an entity that could  potentially govern society.

At this moment, platforms like Alipay collaborate and work within state legislation. Similar platforms like Google have also made choices that could simulate those of the state. In creating Google Fiber, it creates and installs its own broadband internet. They reduce their reliance on state mandated infrastructure. Google has also recently reached it’s 100% renewable energy goal. By using or buying energy from renewable sources, Google further separates itself from state infrastructure and control. Tesla, another US based company offered to re-build Puerto Rico’s powergrid after Hurricane Maria left the island powerless. If this plan is execute, Tesla may have more power Puerto Rico than the US.

Our current world order is in a period of transition where these companies or platforms develop “technology that comes to absorb functions of the state and work of governance” (7).These companies/platforms are developing the technologies that answer the needs of the current era. Google provides internet related services, Tesla generates and develops energy and transportation, Alibaba provides fundamental infrastructure for commerce and data technology. These companies creating the infrastructure for the next way of structuring society.


Platform Characteristics of Buildings

“Buildings are the wealth of nations, our largest capital asset, the ornament of cultures, and where we spend most of our lives.” – Stewart Brand

On the 14th of July, 1988, President Mitterand of France announced his intention to build a library in Paris for the modern world. He passed the logistics of this task onto the committee of the “Association pour la Bibliothèque de France,” who over the following months deliberated over the proposals of 244 internationally renowned architects. Four of these proposals were brought to President Mitterand for comment, and Dominique Perrault – a lesser known 36 year old French architect at the time – was chosen to complete the task.

Inaugurated in December of 1996, the French National Library’s four towers stand at 259 feet tall. Their 2,690,978 square feet of surface area is often categorized by its lack of decoration, where thick sheets of glass – intended to refract the sun’s rays – enclose it and its users in a greenhouse where temperatures rise high enough to increase the aging of books on the shelves. As a result, slabs of wood were added at each window, giving users their necessary shade. This monumentally increased the construction costs of the FNL, and caused the French Finance Ministry to cut the budget for book purchasing in the following years.

The question of buildings as platforms is complex. The ‘building codes’ that guide construction and the political systems through which these considerations are formulated, the architects, planners, contractors, and labor demanded, the users who inhabit and modify, and the physical construction – wood, concrete, and metal hide beneath, creating an exoskeleton of services – are all at play.

Looking to the example of the French National Library above, we see an instance in which various actors made predictions that resulted in disaster for various users, and where these decisions brought with them new platform rules. Using this same conceptual framework we are pushed to evaluate who acts as a user in the platform of the FNL. Professors and students? Books?

As platforms, buildings organize human activity, display a manifestation of tradeoffs, and profess user identity. Buildings are only started and never completed. They are in a constant stage of transformation. They moderate and compete with their users, like platforms, locking and unlocking possibilities. Buildings come and go, in the most severe form, of demolition and reconstruction.

Buildings as platforms constantly take up roles never intended by their designers. Coffee shops, for example, can serve as meeting venues, napping spaces, and concert halls all while still being coffee shops.

Buildings in certain ways are also stacks. We see this through British journalist Stewart Brand’s investigation of the shearing layers of a building in his 1997 documentary “How Buildings Learn”. Working from the outside in, a building begins with a site. This location is eternal. Next follows the skin, a thin layer of visible of material that composes the facade, physically visible from the outside. Behind this facade is the structure of the building, which is composed of all load bearing elements. Between the the inner facade and the outer facade – or the interior design – is the service layer, where pipes and wiring intertwine to give the building life. And on the innermost point is the stuff. These layers are constantly in conversation with each other, sometimes moderated by the user, and sometimes not.

Bratton Response

In the vast stretches of the agrarian countryside in the Indian state of Gujarat, massive projects in globally-fueled urbanization are taking place. In contrast to the historical polarity between city and not, scholars argue that the municipal government, under the pressures of neoliberalism, now sees its villages and undeveloped land as urban areas not yet “deruralized,” or, as Benjamin Bratton would call it, transformed into an inevitable “urban totality.” One of these projects is the Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR), a 920 sq. km smart city masterplanned by the Gujarat Industrial Corridor Corporation and sanctioned by the state in 2012. A six-minute animation created by the visual communication firm Studio Trika introduces this megacity of the future.

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Written Reflection on Updating to Remain the Same

<Written Reflection on Updating to Remain the Same>

There’re two examples as Updating to Remain the Same is concerned.

Last year, the famous K-pop star, G-Dragon, who owns 15 million followers on Instagram, had his private account got hacked. And some of the private photos were leaked. Among those photos, the public could easily tell the fact that the seemingly single k-pop superstar was actually dating a Japanese Model(It is really important for an idol to be single in Asian Entertainment Culture). However, there’re several doubtful points about this “crisis” : First of all, after this happened, fans gathered together and raised money, trying to find out the hacker. Much money has been devoted to this, but no result even until today. Second, during the hacking period, the private account was set as a public account, but only a few photos were leaked. As some pointed out that, there’s no way to simply “hack” a private Instagram account, but the idea is that you just need the password anyway. Leave this aside, also thinking about who should be responsible for this “crises”. Are big companies responsible for taking care of our privacy id worth thinking about. As Wendy Hui Kyong Chun put it in Chapter Two “The Friend of My Friend is My Enemy” that, “This safety, based on the transformation of users into reciprocal and reciprocation ‘friends,’ was and is no safety, for online friends are an extremely leaky technology.” Is it possible that it is actually some friend of G-Dragon leaked out the photos? Furthermore, Instagram, as a photo sharing platform, supposedly should be regarded as a public sphere, where people authentically present themselves. And then there’s the “set your account to private” feature in it, where people would also expect to enjoy seemingly absolute privacy within that space. But is it true that we could then get privacy in private account is to be questioned. With our telephone, it’s nothing new to do a screenshot anymore, and what were posted as private would easily spread out through our “friends” both intentionally or unintentionally.

Another example comes from some phenomenon that I noticed when I use Weibo. There’re generally two types of people on Weibo: one that think of Weibo as a semiprivate space and use Weibo to share their private lives; one that totally fake themselves, anonymously on Weibo, and some might even own several Weibo accounts, creating different characters on those accounts. As for the first type of people, they share their daily lives, assuming that only their close friends would know about their account name and pay attention to what they post out there. However, this causes problems. As Hui Kyong Chun pointed out that, “With ‘transparency’,we have seen not only an explosion of e-commerce but also a blossoming of dataveillance, cyberbullying, and cyberporn…, Cyberbullying takes place most effectively within the trusted structure of “friend’ networks, for it is most traumatic when both parties are know or are assumed to be ‘friends of friends’.” With Weibo also recommending some accounts that your friend is following, it is easy to know your friend’s friend, and by looking through their Weibo accounts, you get to see their private lives, what they may never expected you to know. You, now as a person owning all these information are actually in a position of possible cyberbullying. As for the other type of people, the ones faking their information online, as far as I noticed, they did behave worse than “genuine” accounts, and they only behave well when sometime they were cyberbullying back and was “human fresh searched.” It is true that people sometimes “do good for good’s sake.”