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The Cloud rains on all parades

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A parking ticket leads our Sunday Comics author to wonder how much of our lives have migrated Up There

Jim Gabour
1 June 2014

The Cloud and its inhabitants know where I live.  

My unconscious knowledge of this fact was affirmed and magnified by a related bit of electronica, a computer program that is after my wallet.  It happened just this morning, as I finally and personally got very very angry about police cameras appearing on every street corner in this town, those electronic eyeballs whose main purpose is recording images of supposed traffic violations.  

It seems we recently received a letter from a private out-of-state government contractor,

Violation Processing Center
PO Box 22091
Tempe, AZ 85285-2091

a snappy little bit of letterheaded correspondence reprimanding us for our car turning a corner without stopping, this fact of course deduced by a computer from a still image.  Included in the quasi-official epistle were both three printed color pictures of the car in mid-turn from the rear, and a $135 ticket charged by the City of New Orleans for its alleged illegal turn.  Also enclosed was a notice that (insert sly governmental wink here) if we paid it promptly and without question, the offense would never show up on our insurance records as a moving violation.  This overt blackmail is intended by the Violation Processing Center, a very-honorable-I-am-sure commercial firm administrating the citations, to encourage quick and uncontested, unquestioning settlements.

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That paper envelope spurred an even deeper anger that has lain festering in my feeble media-encrusted brain, an ongoing annoyance with the ubiquitous surveillance cams I have now noticed adorning every paranoid storefront and cowering residence in my own neighborhood, dozens and dozens of machines recording a complete copy of all activity in each and every corner of their known and unknown universes.  I do not fault most of these places.  

As a matter of fact this one is close by, mostly inside of the notorious Buffa’s Bar on Esplanade Avenue and you can watch the acts there every night without paying the cover:

http://gobefore.me/cams/buffas_bar/
Harmless enough. And nice folks

But the street camera, whether it works or not, is an actual minimal dose of protection, as even the fools among the Bad Guys now realize.   It is common knowledge amongst such folks that being recorded in flagrante delicto with a pillowcase of someone else’s silverware and a 10-shot Mac 9 in hand insures a locked-down real estate move to ongoing 24/7 residence in a tiny concrete suite. In the slammer because of a ten-second video clip.  I myself have contemplated buying a fake camera, very inexpensive, to accompany our fake burglar alarm system sign.  (Indiscreet as ever, I would ask that you need not send word of this ploy out to the break-in practitioners of the City.  Most of whom, however, would not care to, or be able to, read this bit of prattle.)

But I am worried about all this.  I decided that I needed to find out how rampant the unreal reality recording is.  I figure that I should start by researching how many devices there are, and where they are, and how they got there.  I type in “street+cameras” into the search slot on my computer. And… all the results that emerge are angled at my home town.  The whole first page of results lists cameras surrounding my neighborhood here in New Orleans.

So the very same company that has these tiny camera-mounted cars driving the streets of the city day and night recording every house and every person who happens to be in front of a house, and every person inside the house who might have their windows or doors open, is sending those pictures up to the Big Cloud in the Sky.  Where those images nest.  That bunch of desensitized, sterilized paratechnical voyeurs in northern California… know where I live.  And respond in like measure, sensing and utilizing my location even when I am initiating a generalized search about street cameras.

Big Surprise, you say.  You have already accepted that as a given, have you? And I should, too, I suppose.  All the information in the world is up there, circling our heads, and we shouldn’t be startled when the auto-mechanism starts using it.  It is, after all, the Cloud.  A capital “C” is required, just like the reference to the “G” in God.

If only to confirm the capitalization, I offer another eerie sign of our omni-observed times:  if you type in “cloud” in a Google® search, you will find that the very first reference to the natural meteorological phenomenon is on page seven of the search results. Page seven.  The first six, and most of the following pages, are about this new place where everything about everything lives. The Cloud.

Interestingly enough, these accompanied by alternating pictures of the airborne mist and information diagrams.

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You will notice the classic iconography loses a tad of metaphoric power in the diagram.

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As a further BTW, an ongoing view of the streets of the world is already maintained up there, and the list of live traffic cams is overwhelming.

TrafficLand took mere seconds to show views of all the most important traffic cameras nearby my own house.

And the information collection keeps regenerating, accumulating, referencing, building a database.  

Watching and waiting for your car to pass.

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And there are people who are actively and continuously looking for things to happen out there like “Japanese Accident Live”, who use their collection of mayhem and death to promote, of all things, the dissemination of “Full dance movies”.  This from just last week (the red title is mine, to expedite in locating the body):

They state their purpose with much enthusiasm:

“Our Channel is all about Live accident in world . There is a lot of dangerous accidents, most dangerous accidents, world dangerous accidents, dangerous videos, dangerous videos, car crashes, car crashes caught on camera, most danger accident, car crashes, car accident, accidents, car accidents, truck accidents, world accident, amazing dangerous videos, 10 most dangerous crashes, and other accidents stuff. Here all latest accidents video 2014. Motor bike accidents, accidents in pakistan. You can also free download these Full dance movies . So Subscribe Our Channel.”

I did not make this up.  The material gathering is done by innocuous city, state and federal governments.  The storage is Up There. The assimilation is by creatures down here.  Emphasis on the word “down”.

There is much debate of what the cloud actually is.  Infoworld thinks that:  

Cloud computing is all the rage. “It's become the phrase du jour,” says Gartner senior analyst Ben Pring, echoing many of his peers. The problem is that (as with Web 2.0) everyone seems to have a different definition.

 

As a metaphor for the Internet, “the cloud” is a familiar cliché, but when combined with ‘computing,’ the meaning gets bigger and fuzzier. Some analysts and vendors define cloud computing narrowly as an updated version of utility computing: basically virtual servers available over the Internet. Others go very broad, arguing anything you consume outside the firewall is "in the cloud," including conventional outsourcing.

 

But Balaji Srinivasan of WIRED believes that “cloud formations could lead to physical nations”.  This leads him to some pretty spectacular conclusions, none of which have to deal with the traffic ticket that started this discussion, at least not directly:

… With our bodies hemmed in, our minds have only the cloud — and it is the cloud that has become the destination for an extraordinary mental exodus. Hundreds of millions of people have now migrated to the cloud, spending hours per day working, playing, chatting, and laughing in real-time HD resolution with people thousands of miles away … without knowing their next-door neighbors.

 

The concept of migrating our lives to the cloud is much more than a picturesque metaphor, and actually amenable to quantitative study. Though the separation between our bodies is still best characterized by the geographical distance between points on the surface of the earth, the distance between our minds is increasingly characterized by a completely different metric: the geodesic distance, the number of degrees of separation between two nodes in a social network. Importantly, this geodesic distance is just as valid a mathematical metric as the geographical. In fact, there are entire conferences devoted to cloud cartography, in which research groups from Stanford to Carnegie Mellon to MIT present the first maps of online social networks — mapping not nation states but states of mind.

 

Perhaps the single most important feature of these states of mind is the increasing divergence between our social and geographic neighbors, between the cloud formations of our heads and the physical communities surrounding our bodies. An infinity of subcultures outside the mainstream now blossoms on the Internet — vegans, body modifiers, CrossFitters, Wiccans, DIYers, Pinners, and support groups of all forms. Millions of people are finding their true peers in the cloud, a remedy for the isolation imposed by the anonymous apartment complex or the remote rural location.

Mr Srinivasan sees the vision.   He knows that, if I want, I can find other people in there who also will gladly to spend their lives as minimal governmental martyrs, whining away the days discussing pending traffic tickets.  And I can make them my sole companions.

So why go out there and drive a car and risk yet another ticket.  They are watching, watching, watching, and soon enough I might make another mistake. A record of which will then be indelibly imprinted in the Cloud. Forever.

It all seemed so sci-fi just a brief while ago.  But “Matrix”-like levels of reality are getting closer and closer.  In 2014 you truly no longer have to go outside. Your food, your work, your play, your companions, your life, all are right here at this keyboard.  On this wall-sized monitor, or these wrap-around eyeglasses. Which are also conveniently Google-ized and like to Up There. Put on the Beat headphones, which are now owned by Apple, crank the volume and swim about.  

Save your world in your own personally reserved and decorated cloud space. If need be, buy a few more gigabytes to add a virtual room or two so you can invite more friends over to jam, so you can save your multiple avatars in your on-line game system. Why open the door ever again?

There is a ticket out there waiting.  With your name on it.

Just stay inside, why don’t you?

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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