These early and overlooked books revealed Facebook was plagued from the start — and are crucial to understanding it now

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Hardly a week goes by without another Facebook scandal. Frustration with Facebook and criticism of it — even despair over it and outright hatred of it — seems constant, evergreen. It’s been this way since at least the 2016 election. …


What it meant to grow up as a lurker on the information superhighway

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Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In an excerpt from Lurking, a history of being a user online, Joanne McNeil remembers the profound impact of coming of age in the small communities forged on the early internet.

“Information Superhighway” once had a valence of provocative optimism, sort of like “Green New Deal” does today. It was an idealistic term, glamorizing the “highway,” an American romance, the physical expression of ambition — the texture, plotting, and substance extending to the near future. Forget the gridlock; online was endless on-ramps.

The cacophony of a 2400-baud modem announced my passage to a secret world. It felt like my spirit traveled through the wires, dialing, dinging, convulsing, and thrashing its way to a mind-meld connection with my invisible friends. The internet was an alternate vector for expression, at a time when I felt I had no connection to the physical world, just a body in space with little to say. I was shy, and in any previous era, I might have spent my teen years as a shut-in, totally bored and completely lonely. Maybe I wasted the years just the same, but the internet was more than civilization had ever offered youth with my privilege and spare time and disposition. It was an escape hatch from the trials of my adolescence: uncertain identity, no autonomy, nowhere to go, nowhere to be. (The car-versus-computer evaluation in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off seemed less settled 10 years later.) I wasn’t even in with a cool exclusive BBS or Internet Relay Chat (IRC); my internet experience up until college was plain old AOL. …


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On December 1st, I joined a crowd of hundreds of artists, activists, writers, and technologists (and people who identify as all four) at the School for Poetic Computation for the New York Tech Zine Fair. It was a day-long event and the first of its kind.

Entering the classroom nearest to my right, I came across the BubbleSort Zines table. The zine series, created by Amy Wibowo, includes sunny and informative guides with titles like “How Does the Internet” and “Hip Hip Array!” Each issue breaks down a technical subject with welcoming but thorough descriptions and playful illustrations. …


Discussing the implications of face recognition technology with artist and researcher Adam Harvey

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Illustration: https://ahprojects.com/projects/hyperface/

Artist and researcher Adam Harvey launched a project known as CV Dazzle in 2010. It involved a series of abstract hairstyles and jagged makeup patterns designed to spoof facial-recognition surveillance. It camouflaged him to a camera, yet it made him even more visible to other people on the street, revealing the gap between human and computer vision. In the past year, face-detection algorithms have grown more robust, so Harvey is exploring ways to adapt and refine his camo techniques. He has a new project in collaboration with Hyphen Labs called HyperFace Camouflage, which spoofs face detection by offering a “perfect face” in a patterned garment. …


Navigating data, unconscious bias, and our own human feelings while developing emotion recognition technology

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Illustration: Anders Pearson

Most of us have at one point felt anger toward an automated system. An incoherent chatbot. A GPS automated voice that misdirects. A self-checkout scale that calibrates the weight of your purse instead of a bunch of bananas. Generally, we expect that anger to go unnoticed by the machine. But technology is increasingly advancing to detect and categorize an angry look on your face or recognize frustration in your voice as you interact with an automated device or program.

One of the largest emotion AI companies, Affectiva, has long surveilled faces to categorize the reactions of users. Gabi Zijderveld, chief marketing officer at Affectiva, told me there are “seven emotions and 20 facial expressions,” which can be detected across multicultural and multigenerational populations. Now the company is working to recognize emotion in a person’s voice. It has just launched a cloud-based API designed to track changes in tone, volume, speed, and other vocal qualities. The company interprets this data as anger, laughter, arousal, and other emotional states. …


Mary Lou Jepsen is inventing the future of seeing inside your head.

Mary Lou Jepsen was an executive at Oculus, led “moonshots” at Google, founded the low-power computer display company Pixel Qi, and co-founded One Laptop Per Child. But the company she launched last year, Openwater, is her most ambitious project yet. The plan is to use optoelectronics and LCDs to create an affordable MRI alternative. Among the technology’s manifold possibilities is a provocative goal: mind reading. If you are alarmed by this prospect, Jepsen welcomes this feedback. Rather than cloaking Openwater’s research in mystery, she is establishing a conversation around the ethics before that moonshot lands.

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“Wearables” seems insufficient to describe Openwater. I know there are buzzwords like neurotech and BCI. How do you talk about your company?

Mary Lou Jepsen: What we’re talking about is diagnostics for the body to replace MRI into a wearable or pad or CT, and also telepathy — communicating with thought—lowering drug development costs, lowering all kinds of diagnostic costs that relate to digging into your body. …


An Interview with Crystal Nwaneri, explorer of the boundaries between law, intellectual property, and high-tech public policy.

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“Where Is the Future?” is a series of interviews with industry leaders considering the potential and complexity of technology on the horizon.


An interview with data scientist, Courtenay Cotton.

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“Where Is the Future?” is a series of interviews with industry leaders considering the potential and complexity of technology on the horizon.


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#newtopics at Eyebeam. Photo by Jessie Daniels

A few weeks ago, I held the sixth and final panel in a series I hosted at Eyebeam called New Topics in Social Computing. The series was an attempt to reset the clock on the discourse around internet and technology in culture. This is a moment of transition and uncertainty and I wanted to gather the greatest minds to think through where society is heading. It just so happens that the greatest minds — the nineteen speakers invited to these events — were women.

It began as an idea for a single panel. I wanted my friend, the labor reporter Sarah Jaffe to meet another friend of mine, the artist Lauren McCarthy. Their ideas on the automation of labor and the emerging field “affective computing” were complementary in ways a panel format could demonstrate. While I was planning the event, I met the designer Sabrina Majeed and I wanted her to be part of the conversation too. …


An ongoing series looking at tech culture in film and television.

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About

Joanne McNeil

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