Bad Marketing Persists

Palantir is undoubtedly an artificial intelligence powerhouse, but the way it chooses to advertise itself in the Wall Street Journal is questionable. Palantir has yet to turn a profit 18 years after its founding, its clientele is composed almost solely of the Department of Defense, and it is entirely unknown whether its product line is broadly applicable to business, especially if any of it is critical to national security. What sense is there, then, in Palantir advertising the fact that it is booking more AI sales than companies that are profitable? Asserting that one specializes in an area that is not profitable is hardly reassuring.

Wasted Energy

Cut Back on Emails If You Want to Fight Global Warming

Searching the mountain of emails accumulated in your Gmail—or another email—box does not consume much energy, but if hundreds of millions of people are doing so billions of times daily, then the all of that energy adds up to a measurable sum that happens to be gargantuan, as the Bloomberg News article linked above demonstrates.

This is another hallmark of our age of excess. In the era of 9600 baud modems and text-based internet, the average user needed to exercise much consideration in replying because he or she needed to make all compositions thoughtful, relevant and brief in order to justify the time and cost it takes to transmit the message. One actually expected a response in those days, too, so you wanted to make the email considerate enough to elicit a response.

In the era of broadband, the graphical internet has inundated users with an unbounded deluge of emails that cannot be managed by any human. Consequently, large corporations have devised brilliant algorithms to help us manage the deluge of unwanted emails. We marvel and consume the convenience without every asking ourselves if it’s worth resorting to these brilliant algorithms in order to organize shit we never care to read. To make matters worse, wading through all this shit to get to the few emails that are worth reading is now consuming so much energy. We have managed excess very, very poorly.

It’s time to take the pledge, then, to use the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of unwanted emails. If you want your mailbox to be relevant again, unsubscribe from all email lists, stop subscribing to new email lists–especially the commercial ones like Banana Republic, who sends out 10 emails a day–and start using an email client on your computer. Stop using the web interface to email services. This way you preserve your sanity and the earth. You turn the vicious cycle (get more mail, get lost in your mailbox, use sorting algorithms, get more mail) cycle into a virtuous one (get less mail, read and reply to relevant emails, unsubscribe from irrelevant emails, get less mail). You stop wasting the grid’s energy and your own.

Where are the Borders in the Computing Cloud?

Nominally, the case (linked at the end) is about “privacy”, but the underlying questions are far deeper and far more relevant to anyone who is using any form of “cloud” service: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, etc. The government insists that it can access data belonging to a suspect even if that data is stored on a server in another country, but the service company, Microsoft in this case, insists that it cannot provide that data because that act violates the terms under which it operates its servers in Ireland. The question is, therefore, where is the virtual border drawn? Is material belonging to an American subject but stored on a server in a foreign country under a foreign account that was created in that country subject to US law or the laws of the country in which the account was created. A question in the affirmative leads to the following conundrum.

“If U.S. law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what’s to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in a blog post on Monday.

Where is the line drawn? Does the account belong to the person and, thus, subject to the laws of whichever country in which the person is residing, or is the data owned by the provider and, thus, subject to the laws of the country in which that provider is operating? If the former, then, indeed, foreign countries can have free access to data stored on American servers. This will please Chinese officials who want to identify dissidents. If the latter, then some country–perhaps Ireland–may well become a haven for data akin to the way Switzerland is a haven for money. Neither branch of the dilemma is particularly satisfying. Not solving this problem is an invitation to disaster in the not too distant future as our data slowly come to represent the totality of our existence.

What do we  want as users? Do we want our data to be ours, or do we want to relinquish control to technology companies in order to relieve ourselves of the responsibility of living with the consequences of the data? The breakneck pace of progress in technology doesn’t leave much time for the deep discussion that the subject demands. When the shit hits the fan, it’s going to get really messy. Wear your best virtual rubbers.

Source: U.S. Supreme Court to decide major Microsoft email privacy fight