Technology

Long before Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook, a company called Simulmatics Corporation sought to predict and control human behaviour through the analysis of big data. If Then tells the story of that company, from its humble beginnings in a tiny office on Madison Avenue to the hallways of political power in Washington, DC.

... (read more)

Spare a thought for the other existential crises. Remember climate change? Wealth inequality? The rising tide of fascism? Then there’s our newest apocalypse: bad technology. When we look back, the three years from late 2016 to early 2020 will go down as the time the scales fell from our eyes. Maybe the devices we have insinuated into nearly every moment of our lives had their own aims for us all along – our time, our attention, our outrage. In 2018, the runner-up for the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year was ‘techlash’: ‘A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley.’

... (read more)

According to most accounts, the history of computing is a triumph of enterprise. This story starts in the 1950s and 1960s with commercial mainframe computers that, one stack of punch-cards at a time, assumed business tasks ranging from managing airline reservations to calculating betting odds ...

... (read more)

You probably own a smartphone. Chances are it’s in your pocket right now, or at least within arm’s reach – don’t pick it up. Fight the habit. Besides, you’ve probably checked it in the last fifteen minutes. If you are an average user, intentionally or not, you will spend three to four hours looking at its screen today. If you did check your phone after the second sentence, then well done for making it back to this piece, although (according to some research) it probably took you about twenty-five minutes to refocus.

... (read more)

Good books are like recurrent dreams: haunting the reader’s waking hours by sitting, tantalisingly, on the edge of conscious thought. Take, for example ...

... (read more)

What are the implications of the ever-accelerating revolution in information communication technology on our lives? Is the Internet a force for good, for increased freedom and democracy? Or are we so in thrall to the prophets of Silicon Valley that we have lost sight of the perils that lie in ‘big data’, the extension of algorithms and quantification into every ...

Although the World Wide Web was begun in 1990, it didn’t really get going in a big way until 1994, with the First International World Wide Web conference held at CERN in Switzerland. That was less than a decade ago. And that should give us pause. Think how important the Web has become in those few years. Consider, too, what sort of computer you were using in 1994 and compare it to what you deploy now (assuming you’re not a holdout). No pause there. It’s been an ongoing vertical projection that is no doubt just the beginning of an enormous change that will affect almost every aspect of our lives. Of course, we’ve heard this technological refrain over and over (with various apocalyptic shadings), and we probably believe it to be true. Still, we’re not likely to get excited about it. We’ll deal with it when it comes. In many instances, it’s already here, but we haven’t fully noticed. In part we’ve simply accustomed ourselves to some of the demands of a ubiquitous silicon-based technology, and in part we’ve remained unaware of what’s headed our way in the form of a techno-savvy younger generation. We seldom see into the future because we usually look in the wrong direction: the future’s not ahead, it’s behind us, and it’s coming up fast.

... (read more)