Google fails to not be evil

Google devil

“Google” by William Blake

Now we know why Google has scrubbed almost all mention of “Don’t be evil” from its code of conduct:

Google bosses have forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China, The Intercept has learned.

The memo, authored by a Google engineer who was asked to work on the project, disclosed that the search system, codenamed Dragonfly, would require users to log in to perform searches, track their location — and share the resulting history with a Chinese partner who would have “unilateral access” to the data. […]

The memo identifies at least 215 employees who appear to have been tasked with working full-time on Dragonfly, a number it says is “larger than many Google projects.” It says that source code associated with the project dates back to May 2017, and “many infrastructure parts predate” that. Moreover, screenshots of the app “show a project in a pretty advanced state,” the memo declares.

Most of the details about the project “have been secret from the start,” the memo says, adding that “after the existence of Dragonfly leaked, engineers working on the project were also quick to hide all of their code.”

It’s pretty simple, if you want to operate in China you have to play by the CPC’s rules. There is no way for Google to do that while successfully upholding the values it pretends to care about. Hence the secrecy.

Observatory reopens, but I still believe in aliens

Mulder aliens

An update on that mysterious observatory closure last week is aptly summarized by the Buzzfeed headline, “New Mexico’s Solar Observatory Is Finally Reopening But The Whole Thing Is Still Pretty Weird”:

A solar observatory in the mountains of New Mexico has reopened 10 days after it was suddenly closed and its employees evacuated for a mysterious security threat, baffling locals, the internet, and whipping conspiracy theorists into a frenzy.

On Sunday, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), announced that it is reopening the Sunspot Observatory, which it manages, and that employees and the residents who had been forced to leave their homes on the site are now allowed to return.

“AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents,” Shari Lifson, an AURA spokesperson, said in a statement Sunday. “For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location.”

The statement provided no further details on the nature of the presumed threat, or on the status of the investigation. […]

Of course, that’s just what the authorities would say if the telescope had detected aliens or an apocalyptic solar storm, isn’t it? 🤔

But even some former NSO employees and other scientists have raised questions about the mysterious shutdown, calling it “fishy” and “pretty weird.”

“Nothing like this has ever happened before at an observatory,” John Varsik, a data scientist and telescope operator at Big Bear Solar Observatory who worked at Sunspot about two decades ago, said Friday.

“It’s all very fishy,” he said.

Here’s a nice rundown of the top theories on the closure.

Perhaps we’ll learn more when the new presidential alert system is rolled out this week:

The Trump administration will send a message to all US mobile phones on Thursday, as it tests an unused alert system that warns the public about national emergencies.

Phones will make a loud tone and have a special vibration according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which will send the alert.

The test message will be headlined “Presidential Alert” and will go on to read “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

US mobile phone users will not be able to opt out of the test.

Are we quite sure that’s what the message will say? Because I’m predicting a very special message of a different sort… and the famous five-tone sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind would make for a perfect alert sound.

Mysterious observatory closure

Deep Impact observatory

A terrible discovery?

If you were to write a movie screenplay in which some cosmic disaster befalls mankind, you could do worse than lifting the opening scene from news reports of what happened at a New Mexico observatory last week:

A space observatory at the centre of swirling alien conspiracy theories has asked for “patience” as it continues to be locked down.

The Sunspot Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico caught the attention of the world when it was shut down by FBI agents who reportedly swooped on the facility after arriving in elite Blackhawk helicopters.

It led immediately to suggestions the advanced technology inside of the facility spotted something it shouldn’t – such as proof of extraterrestrials, UFOs or even some baseless speculation that the observatory had spotted that the sun has started dying. The fact the observatory is only about 120 miles from the site of the Roswell UFO incident has only fuelled speculation.

The FBI and the administrators of the facility have said only that the shutdown happened because of a “security issue”.

In the days since, the sheriff’s department has said it has no idea what is going on. And the lockdown continues with no new information.

Could the observatory have detected something that has the authorities spooked? Like a catastrophic solar storm? (The director denies this.)

Another theory:

The Sunspot observatory on Sacramento Peak overlooks Holloman Air Force Base and an observer could potentially see out to the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Test range. That has raised questions about possible espionage. “New Mexico is a center of national-security-related science, and for that reason it has also been a prominent venue for foreign espionage,” says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “Spies go where the secrets are, and there are plenty of secrets in New Mexico.”

But, Aftergood says, a solar observatory might not be the best place to conduct such activity. “I imagine most or all of its sensors are directed up.” He wonders if someone at the Sunspot observatory somehow inadvertently spotted a classified satellite or transmission, triggering the shutdown.

It wasn’t aliens, I tell ya:

A spokeswoman for the nonprofit group that runs the facility said the organization was addressing a “security issue,” but would offer no additional information, other than, “I can tell you it definitely wasn’t aliens.”

Q

No, I don’t mean this guy:

I mean the “QAnon” phenomenon, the open-source investigation into alleged Deep State crimes which is either a deranged conspiracy cult, or a mass awakening to the truth (depending on whether you ask the media or QAnon’s followers, respectively). In a brilliant article, tech entrepreneur Jordan Greenhall analyzes Q in the context of the sweeping cognitive and cultural changes brought about by the internet:

But if I pull up to 40,000 feet, I can start to make sense of what kind of thing this is and what it means in the context of the larger changes discussed above: Q is the most recent and most important example of a widely distributed self-organizing collective intelligence.

We’ve actually seen many precursors. Cicada 3301 is a famous example. Even the I Love Bees ARG for Halo 2. Perhaps Bitcoin is the most important precursor to Q.

These “self-organizing collective intelligences” (SOCI), are a new kind of socio-cultural phenomenon that is beginning to emerge in the niche created by the Internet. They involve attractive generator functions dropped into the hive mind that gather attention, use that attention to build more capacity and then grow into something progressively real and self-sustaining.

The Q SOCI is, for the most part, about sensemaking. It is combing through the billions of threads of “what might be real” and “what might be true” that have been gathered into the Internet and it is slowly trying to weave them into a consistent, coherent and congruent fabric. In the transition from Wonderland, sensemaking is so obviously needed that millions of people are viscerally attracted to the SOCI. The shared desire to wake up from Wonderland and have some firm notion of what is real and true is proving a powerful attractor.

“Wonderland” is Greenhall’s term for the world created by television over the past few generations: “A land of affect, artifice, viscerality, and aphasia. Where it is much more important to ‘look presidential’ than to be presidential.” Wonderland is a product of “broadcast analog” media, most notably TV. The Q phenomenon stems from the transition to a “decentralized digital” medium (the internet), which creates a radically different cognitive landscape: “We are witnessing the birth of an entirely new kind of sensemaking.”

The emergence of this new collective intelligence is of course frightening to the mainstream media, whose traditional role as information gatekeepers and manufacturers of consent is gravely threatened by it, which may help explain the massive blizzard of negative media coverage that greeted QAnon in early August. (By the way, Greenhall’s article does not concern itself with assessing the factual merits or political implications of Q, so if that’s the kind of “take” you’re looking for, go elsewhere.)

For me, Greenhall’s analysis sheds new light on the truly terrible effects of television, which created multiple generations of Americans with diminished cognitive capacity and a tenuous grasp of reality. I think history will look unkindly on the Era of TV. This is not to dismiss the many fine TV shows that exist, but overall, as our primary medium of news and entertainment, the boob tube has been an absolute disaster for the human mind.

That era is manifestly coming to an end, giving way to the internet era, which has spawned Q — and it does seem that Q is, for better or worse, an early application of a radically new type of collective thinking. That’s why attacking Q as a baseless conspiracy theory feels a bit like arguing against a swarm of bees. It’s a category error. Q is the vanguard of the online hive mind. It cannot be stopped, any more than the mass printing of books could be stopped in Renaissance Europe. Things will only get crazier from here on out, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.