I have said that the internet is a wilderness, where predators roam. Sure, sex predators, spammers and scammers, but there are sites that are mostly quite reputable — and yet they host con artists. This kind of thing is “very internet.” There is a hothouse atmosphere of haste and desperation, that sizzles around finding ways to monetize websites. CNN dot com, even MSNBC online, BBC news — they’ll monetize by putting up sponsored “stories” and flatout ads, without checking the companies (or “companies”) out. In fact, cable channels do the same thing — ads for fly by night, often outright fraudulent products they should know perfectly well are bullshit…but the online links, if you accidentally click on them or are seduced to do so, are worse, because they’ve more fully drawn you into the world of their bogus ad. The initial “headline” makes it seem like an actual news or “scientific discovery” link… they’re often with a group of other links and I have three times clicked on one when trying to click on a legit link, just a slip of the finger. In one case I found myself in a website that seems to advertise something and then turned out to be a delivery system for actual ransomware/malware. I was able to defeat said ransomware, but it made me furious that it was caused by a link these ransomware scumbags had paid for at a reputable site. But that’s rarer, I think. Mostly what you end up at is fraudulent product sales, often taking advantage of the dotty elderly or poorly educated people.
This happens because CNN or CBS, whomever, has a separate sub sub sub dept that sells ads, and gets to put them up wherever, to make the website profitable, without any oversight. No one seems to vet the ads and it’s crazy irresponsible. I just ran into one that sent me to an ad for a fake substance (a fake herb, which does not appear in any legit place if you google it, I checked when I reported it to the FTC) for losing bellyfat and there was an “endorsement” by Oprah Winfrey — only, she never endorsed it. It’s really common for these online con men to have a made-up, utterly fallacious endorsement — one was for a brain enhancement pill “endorsed by Stephen Hawking”! Oh yeah, Hawking “takes it every day!” they told us. The celebs being used this way — Neil Degrasse Tyson was another — should work to take these guys down.
There is no address given for the “company” selling these goods. Just an online ordering system. By allowing scumbags to sell via their site, CNN and others — even the Raw Story — are in effect lending credibility to these con artists…One common “story” repeated with variations is about how “veterans don’t know about special twenty thousand dollar payment due them” — if you follow it, as I did once to confirm my suspicion, it’s a come-on for a company that says it’ll help you get the money, if you pay a fee. But they don’t actually exist, except as an entity taking your fee. So they’re screwing over veterans. And CNN and pals are blindly, stupidly, helping them do that. The internet’s hothouse of monetization desperation has grown some strange fungi. It has allowed in predators, or, if you like, invasive species of scammers who could be easily weeded out. But somehow the whole “anything goes on the internet” myth allows otherwise decent websites to shrug off responsibility..
I don’t think anyone would have suspected it back in the ’60s and ’70s, but the author Robert Anton Wilson may have emerged as the most influential counterculture figure of those times. Who else has massive followings of fans fighting over the implications of his politics and philosophy? I can’t think of anyone.
RAW requires no introduction with this crowd but for those of you stumbling in, here’s a wikipedia page with a full bibliography.
PROP ANON is the author of the upcoming Chapel Perilous: The Life and Thought Crimes of Robert Anton Wilson, the first official biography of the late counterculture philosopher. He started his career as a Hip-Hop artist whose 2010 albumSquat the Condos presaged the Occupy movement. In 2014, Prop switched musical gears and released a Stoner Rock album called HAIL ERIS! with his band, HAIL ERIS!
R.U. Sirius: Is there anything about Bob’s childhood that indicates that he will become a counterculture philosopher of note?
Prop Anon: Bob was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn and spent his childhood in one of its most remote neighborhoods, Gerritsen Beach. He described the one-road-town as an “Irish Catholic Ghetto,” as he grew up a prodigious youth who survived two bouts of Polio, child abuse at the hands of the nuns who ran his grammar school, and a narrow-minded working-class neighborhood. The polio that nearly killed him was almost completely cured by The Sister Kenny Method — which today is considered ‘alternative’ medicine, but in 1935 denounced as quackery by the medical establishment. Sister Kenny proved everyone wrong and eventually was considered an alternative medicine pioneer. More indirectly he received inspiration from his favorite contemporary artist, Orson Welles. Welles played with the notion of uncertainty in nearly all his work, and this spoke to Bob. Bob was a fan of Welles’ since his 1938 ‘War of the World’s” was performed on the radio, which catapulted the then 23-year-old Welles to fame. Events like these, and more, sent the message early on to Bob that a keen sense of self was a necessary survival tool. He possessed the desire and capacity to live counter to the dominant culture, and he did. Wilson, like many of his generation, faced some serious existential threats living in a society deeply immersed in bullshit. As a response he developed a highly functional ‘Bullshit Detector.”
RUS: Were you able to learn much about Bob’s time at Playboy? Fun stories from the Bunny Empire? Did he like Hef?
PA: There are some stories about Bob’s time at Playboy, which he never wrote about in his books. One story he called ‘How I became a Paranoid,’ which began when a mysterious Playboy executive visited his office during a workday and told him that his name was added to Chicago PD’s ‘Red Squad,’ which was a list of radical people the authorities put under surveillance. An early example of Red Squad behavior was seen in 1886, when Chicago agents targeted Anarchists with surveillance directly after the Haymarket Affair in 1886. 85 years later, there were specific Red Squad agents that targeted people like Bob, who they would have called a ‘closet hippie.’ In others, a person who had a regular job and didn’t dress like a hippie yet were protesting the Vietnam War. During this visit, Bob and Arlen, were at their peak of political activism. Both were involved with local Anarchist groups; Arlen was an early member of the Anarcho-Feminist group and magazine, Siren. She was also a part of the Chicago Woman Liberation Union (CWLU) Bob was exploring a Surrealist angle of Anarchism, through his associations with Franklin Rosemont and the Chicago Surrealist Group. They were both part of an Anarchist group that changed its name for every event. On top of that, Arlen and Bob were sociable people who hosted parties and discussion groups at their apartment.
In Bob’s office the mysterious executive had shut the door and told him that a police informant had tipped the Chicago PD off to Bob’s activities as a gunrunner for the Black Panthers. Bob said that he and Arlen were actually helping the Panthers with their influential Free Breakfast program for local children. After Bob denied the accusation he asked how Playboy was able to find out about police informants circulating through radical circles within Chicago. The executive told Bob that Playboy had their own cadre of informants, who heard the whispers of police informants and then reported to Playboy, especially when it concerned someone who worked at Playboy. Perhaps this Playboy editor was playing a prank on Bob. There was never any tip to the ‘Red Squad,’ just a great bullshiter who wanted to test Bob Wilson. However, the FBI’s COINTELPRO was going strong during this time, and the extent of the spying on activist communities by law enforcement agencies was not fully known to the public as of 1971. Bob later said this conversation sparked the idea for the character Tobias Knight from Illuminatus! Knight is a quintuple-agent and is the punchline to the joke highlighting about how many agents and informants there were in resistance movements of the late 60s, and continue to be today.
As far as Wilson and Hefner went, from my research, it seems like Bob did not really know Hefner on a personal level. He and Arlen, did however, attend some of Hefner’s movie nights at the Playboy mansion while Bob worked at Playboy. Wilson appreciated Hefner’s stance on Civil Liberty issues within the United States. Both were committed to the First Amendment, and Playboy was a progressive voice within the media when it came to such issues. Something about his job at Playboy must have worked because Bob was able to harness his ability as a writer. He honed his craft while working at Playboy, wrote Illuminatus! with his co-worker and friend, Robert Shea, and managed to provide full medical and dental insurance for his family while getting paid, Playboy worked well for Bob and his family.
R.U.S:Robert Shea — coauthor of Illuminatus Triology — sort of ended up being “the quiet one”. What can you tell us about Shea and he and Bob’s relationship?
PA:Wilson and Shea became fast friends at Playboy. They would hang out together at the bar on payday. They, and their wives, would all hang out, smoke weed, watch TV or listen to records and think of funny sketches that made each other laugh. They had a lot in common: Both raised Irish Catholic, both left the Church young, both seeking to become full time free-lance writers. They both really dug into the Anarchist perspective. After Illuminatus!, Shea went on to start an Anarchist newsletter called No Governor, which Wilson contributed to. Wilson had a talent for collaborating with like-minded artists and thinkers; his and Shea’s collaboration resulted in Illuminatus! and that was itself a further collaboration out of their involvement with The Discordian Society. The two continually spoke of writing their sequel, Bride of Illuminatus, which they barely started before Shea was diagnosed with cancer. Shea’s death left Bob deeply distraught. Michael Shea, described seeing Bob at his father’s funeral looking shook by the whole event. Bob’s eulogy, Chimes at Midnight, published in Cosmic Trigger vol. III, written shortly after Shea provides a glimpse into Bob’s thoughts about his dead friend. Read more “Chapel Perilous: The Life and Thought Crimes of Robert Anton Wilson — An Interview with Prop Anon”
This essay was written for an exhibition by Marion Garrido at Art Centre La Casa Encendida in Madrid designed around the online adventures of “John Titor” — an alleged time traveler who lit up the web and conspiracy radio at the start of the 2000s. Keep in mind that this was written for a Spanish audience and some of the things I say about U.S. culture may seem a little obvious.
On November 2, 2000 an obscure group called Time Travel Institute received a note on their website from someone calling himself TimeTravel_0. The person claimed to be a US military time traveler from 2036. He discussed some of the details of the time machine that had brought him.
This “arrival” remained obscure until January 27, 2001 when this (virtual) person showed up on the bbs of the Art Bell Show under the name John Titor, writing, “Greetings. I am a time traveler from the year 2036.” Titor claimed that he had been sent back in time by the US government to 1975 to grab an ancient IBM 5100 so that a legacy UNIX problem that was causing future trouble could finally be debugged.
On his way back to 2036, Titor had stopped off in 2000/2001 to visit with family. The alleged time traveler proceeded to entertain, inform and enrage Art Bell show users with details about the future and the time machine, which he described as “a stationary mass, temporal displacement unit manufactured by General Electric… powered by two top-spin, dual-positive singularities that produce a(n) … off-set Tipler sinusoid.” Titor provided images and descriptive specifications of said time machine.
Additionally, Titor warned of a US civil war in 2004 and a nuclear war in 2015 – with Russia and the US on the same side. He told that he was living in a future that was a mishmash of post-apocalyptic poverty — with people in survivalist mode, growing their own foods and fending for their own survival as individuals and in small groups — and pockets of advanced technology; advanced enough, for example, to build the Tippler time machine.
Titor remained on the Art Bell BBS for about four months, answering any and all questions about his life and his machine. He did not come on like a man with an important message from a more enlightened or chastened future civilization. He was casual. Titor seemed like a regular fellow who was just passing through and felt like chatting.
The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet. –William Gibson
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote. Like a lot of people, I first interpreted it as the father of cyberpunk making a statement against income, and technology, disparity: that only the wealthy could afford the future.
But then I began to rethink that supposition. First of all, how could the future be here, in the present? Making this subjective, I like to think of a present future as being a current environment where someone from the past would find few places of reference: a place where old, and flawed systems have been replaced with new perspectives.
it can’t just be just about technology. After all, everyone has friends or relatives who can afford the newest [fill in the blank] yet are clueless in how to use it to affect their lives for the better.
Home automation falls squarely into this camp. Yes, the wealthy can spent serious bucks getting their intelligent personal assistant to do everything from turn on their lights to play their favorite music, but does it make any real shifts in how they live? At it’s core this tech is basically just a more elaborate way of flipping a switch or scrolling through a playlist.
So, after going on for a good while about software agents you’re probably wondering why I have such an interest in them. I started experimenting with my own software agents in the fall of 1996 when I first started undergrad. When I went away to college I finally had an actual network connection for the first time in my life (where I grew up the only access I had was through dialup) and I wanted to abuse it. Not in the way that the rest of my classmates were but to do things I actually had an interest in. So, the first thing I did was set up my own e-mail server with Qmail and subscribed to a bunch of mailing lists because that’s where all of the action was at the time. I also rapidly developed a list of websites that I checked once or twice a day because they were often updated with articles that I found interesting. It was through those communication fora that I discovered the research papers on software agents that I mentioned in earlier posts in this series. I soon discovered that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, especially when some mailing lists went realtime (which is when everybody started replying to one another more or less the second they received a message) and I had to check my e-mail every hour or so to keep from running out of disk space. Rather than do the smart thing (unsubscribing from a few ‘lists) I decided to work smarter and not harder and see if I could use some of the programming languages I was playing with at the time to help. I’ve found over the years that it’s one thing to study a programming language academically, but to really learn one you need a toy project to learn the ins and outs. So, I wrote some software that would crawl my inbox, scan messages for certain keywords or phrases and move them into a folder so I’d see them immediately, and leave the rest for later. I wrote some shell scripts, and when those weren’t enough I wrote a few Perl scripts (say what you want about Perl, but it was designed first and foremost for efficiently chewing on data). Later, when that wasn’t enough I turned to C to implement some of the tasks I needed Leandra to carry out.
Due to the fact that Netscape Navigator was highly unreliable on my system for reasons I was never quite clear on (it used to throw bus errors all over the place) I wasn’t able to consistently keep up with my favorite websites at the time. While the idea of update feeds existed as far back as 1995 they didn’t actually exist until the publication of the RSS v0.9 specification in 1999, and ATOM didn’t exist until 2003, so I couldn’t just point a feed reader at them. So I wrote a bunch of scripts that used lynx -dump http://www.example.com/ > ~/websites/www.example.com/`date ‘+%Y%m%d-%H:%M:%S’`.txt and diff to detect changes and tell me what sites to look at when I got back from class.
That was one of the prettier sequences of commands I had put together, too. This kept going on for quite a few years, and the legion of software agents I had running on my home machine grew out of control. As opportunities presented themselves, I upgraded Leandra as best I could, from an 80486 to an 80586 to P-III, with corresponding increases in RAM and disk space. As one does. Around 2005 I discovered the novel Accelerando by Charles Stross and decided to call this system of scripts and daemons my exocortex, after the network of software agents that the protagonist of the first story arc had much of his mind running on through the story. In early 2014 I got tired of maintaining all of the C code (which was, to be frank, terrible because they were my first C projects), shell scripts (lynx and wget+awk+sed+grep+cut+uniq+wc+…) and Perl scripts to keep them going as I upgraded my hardware and software and had to keep on top of site redesign after site redesign… so I started rewriting Exocortex as an object-oriented framework in Python, in part as another toy project and in part because I really do find myself enjoying Python as a thing that I do. I worked on this project for a couple of months and put my code on Github because I figured that eventually someone might find it helpful. When I had a first cut more or less stable I showed it to a friend at work, who immediately said “Hey, that works just like Huginn!”
I took one look at Huginn, realized that it did everything I wanted plus more by at least three orders of magnitude, and scrapped my codebase in favor of a Huginn install on one of my servers.
Porting my existing legion of software agents over to Huginn took about four hours… it used to take me between two and twelve hours to get a new agent up and running due to the amount of new code I had to write, even if I used an existing agent as a template. Just looking at the effort/payoff tradeoff there really wasn’t any competition. So, since that time I’ve been a dedicated Huginn user and hacker, and it’s been more or less seamlessly integrated into my day to day life as an extension of myself. I find it strange, somewhat alarming when I don’t hear from any of them (which usually means that something locked up, which still happens from time to time) but I’ve been working with the core development team to make it more stable. I find it’s a lot more stable than my old system was simply due to the fact that it’s an integrated framework, and not a constantly mutating patchwork of code in several languages sharing a back-end. Additionally, my original exocortex network was comprised of many very complex agents: One was designed to monitor Slashdot, another Github, another a particular IRC network; Huginn offers a large number of agents, each of which carries out a specific task (like providing an interface to an IMAP account or scraping a website). By customizing the configurations of instances of each agent type and wiring them together, you can build an agent network which can carry out very complex tasks which would otherwise require significant amounts of programming time. Read more “Semi-autonomous software agents: A personal perspective.”
what did Aaron do to get in so much trouble? Well, you’re not going to believe this:
Aaron downloaded a bunch of journal articles over an open network at MIT.
No, seriously. That’s what he did.
By Lisa Rein
I’m here to tell you about this weekend’s hackathon and celebratory festivities, and also explain a few things about how these things all weave in and out of our existing MONDO-world. It’s a TRIP.
I co-founded this event with Brewster Kahle, after Aaron’s death, in 2013. The Aaron Swartz Day and International Hackathon is an annual event that encompasses an entire weekend — celebrating Aaron’s life and providing yearly updates for many of Aaron’s collaborative projects that are still thriving today.
Who was Aaron Swartz? Well, the Aaron Swartz that I knew really well was just a 15 year old kid that helped me do my job better at Creative Commons, when I was its Technical Architect, working with Lawrence Lessig, in 2001-2002. We were using RSS news feeds to describe copyright licenses.
Yeah. It’s as boring as it sounds, and that’s why people don’t think about it unless they have to. Our job was to make it easy for them to insert some information about their Creative Commons license in the existing places — metadata fields in a .jpg file, or an mp3 file, etc. Aaron and Matt Haughey came up with the idea of asking a series of questions that help people determine what license they want, which turned out to be the hard part for artists. (Here’s a table I have a actually that makes that choice a bit easier.)
But I digress…
Aaron allowed me to be successful in my Creative Commons “mission” from Lawrence Lessig. We used RSS to describe copyright law, and, as it happened, so much more. It happened. Perfectly. Because Aaron knew just how to do it, and Lawrence and I let him, even though he was 15 years old.
I’ve also worked with Brewster digitizing some of the Timothy Leary Archives, since I am Timothy’s Digital Librarian, and now, also, Chelsea Manning’s Archivist. (Not to be confused with Michael Horowitz, who is Timothy Leary’s Archivist. Michael and I collaborate on the Timothy Leary Archives and Michael’s Own Archives, from that time period. Over these last two years, since I’ve been Chelsea’s Archivist, he’s given me oodles of excellent advice.
The Open Library, which is one of the projects people can hack on at the hackathon this year, started out small, although its goals were quite large: aspiring to create “a web page for every book.” Now, just over ten years later (Started circa 2007 by Aaron), Open Library is the world’s free digital library with over 2M public domain books and another 500k+ books available to be borrowed and read in the browser. Even when the Open Library itself doesn’t have a digital copy, it can connect readers to libraries that do have copies. So far, Open Library has collected information about over 25M book records.
After the Open Library, Aaron went to Stanford for a semester, dropped out and founded a Y-combinator startup, that later was spun into Reddit. Reddit was bought by Conde Nast, which wasn’t quite Aaron’s style, so he left. He was an Ethics Fellow at Harvard when the famous altercation took place.
So, what did Aaron do to get in so much trouble? Well, you’re not going to believe this:
Aaron downloaded a bunch of journal articles over an open network at MIT.
No, seriously. That’s what he did.
The actions that the U.S. government took against Aaron: making up hacking charges, stressing him out with surveillance and concern that those he loved would be interrogated as witnesses in his case. It seems like it all made him feel like his life, and his entire future, was somehow ruined.
He was kind of a genius and had a lot of projects that are still going. The Aaron Swartz Day community just worked hard to secure Chelsea Manning’s release — and she is our guest speaker.
TICKETS(Use the Promotional Code “MONDO” & save $35.)
How Aaron Swartz Day started:
It was on the eve of the San Francisco Memorial for Aaron, that Brewster, myself, and several others that night all had the same idea: Let’s keep up the momentum from all of this inspired action with some kind of event every year. So, for five years going now, we gather in November for an entire weekend of events on what would have been his birthday weekend. There are two goals. One is raising awareness about what happened to him — in order to protect other innovative students from government over prosecution — and future “hackers” that are exemplifying the true nature of curiosity and improvement. The other is to draw attention to his projects that are still going strong, such as SecureDrop and the Open Library.
At the same time, in the months that followed, memorial hackathons started popping up all over the world. We approached Yan Zhu, a friend of Aaron’s who was organizing them, about combining forces in November, and she agreed.
As Brewster and I began to create the first event (2013), many people had the same requirement: that the event be forward-thinking and uplifting, should not be sad or pessimistic, or dwell on what we would have done, had we known — except to the extent where doing so might help us protect others in the future.
After a few years of these events, we decided to step it up a notch, and try to think of ways that we could really use our event to make a difference. So, Brewster and I decided we would reach out to Chelsea, see if we could archive her writings or letters or something, if she’d be up for it, and just basically try to find different creative ways to try to make Chelsea Manning’s life in prison a little more livable.
Both Chelsea and Aaron stood up for the ideals of transparency and accountability. Ideals that Brewster and myself had taught them were so important. Yet, when Chelsea and Aaron stood up for these ideals, they were crushed by the full weight of the government.
There’s more to this than first meets the eye. Our community has always felt bad about not being able to do more to help Aaron. We wish we would have pressed him further about his case, when he was reluctant to discuss it. We wish we would have done this… We wish we would have tried that. We all drive ourselves crazy thinking these thoughts, still, to this day.
All of us that knew Aaron told each other privately that we would have done anything to help him, had we realized the severity of the situation. When I heard Chelsea’s voice over the phone, I realized it was happening again. Except we had a chance this time; Chelsea was still alive, and we could still save her.
The question was, what could we really do? We didn’t know yet – but I knew that if I could find out what she needed, our entire community was ready and willing to help her. So, we decided that we would start by writing her and ask her if she’d like to prepare a statement for Aaron Swartz Day. She accepted. (2015 Statement) (2016 Statement).
The rest, as they say, is history.
That’s why this year’s event is especially incredible: because Chelsea Manning is attending in person, after only being able to send us statements from afar, in prison, for two years running. Her speaking to us in person, as a free woman, is definitely nothing less than a dream come true.
Evening Program of Speakers with special guest Chelsea Manning
Saturday, after the San Francisco hackathon, at 6pm, there will be a reception and we will toast to our community’s accomplishments this year! The program upstairs will begin promptly at 7:30 pm. I’ve just added 50 tickets just for you Mondo 2000 readers! When you go to buy tickets enter the promotional code “MONDO” to get a $35 discount off of the $75 ticket price 🙂
Each of this year’s evening event speakers was asked to attend for a very specific reason. Some speakers knew Aaron and worked with him directly, others were inspired by him, or were working on projects inspired by him (such as Barrett Brown’s Pursuance Project). Barrett Brown is fresh out of prison and ready to stir up more folks to become aware of their surroundings.
Other speakers, such as Chelsea Manning, we know Aaron “gushed about” and thought was “so cool.” Jason Leopold is going to teach us about FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and about the FOIA requests that Aaron submitted. Also Jason just got a new dump of files from the Secret Service that look interesting. It’s almost as if we were given a present before the event. Daniel Rigmaiden will be there, who exposed the Stingray from prison, in the course of representing himself, once he was able to determine that the Feds had used a Stingray on him illegally, in order to determine his location.
Here is the complete line-up of speakers with their bios:
Chelsea Manning – Network Security Expert, Transparency Advocate
Chelsea E. Manning is a network security expert, whistleblower, and former U.S. Army intelligence analyst. While serving 7 years of an unprecedented 35 year sentence for a high-profile leak of government documents, she became a prominent and vocal advocate for government transparency and transgender rights, both on Twitter and through her op-ed columns for The Guardian and The New York Times. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area, where she writes about technology, artificial intelligence, and human rights.
Lisa Rein – Chelsea Manning’s Archivist, Co-founder, Aaron Swartz Day & Creative Commons
Daniel Rigmaiden became a government transparency advocate after U.S. law enforcement used a secret cell phone surveillance device to locate him inside his home. The device, often called a “Stingray,” simulates a cell tower and tricks cell phones into connecting to a law enforcement controlled cellular network used to identify, locate, and sometimes collect the communications content of cell phone users. Before Rigmaiden brought Stingrays into the public spotlight in 2011, law enforcement concealed use of the device from judges, defense attorneys and defendants, and would typically not obtain a proper warrant before deploying the device.
Barrett Brown – Journalist, Activist, and Founder of the Pursuance Project
Barrett Brown is a writer and anarchist activist. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, the Guardian, The Intercept, Huffington Post, New York Press, Skeptic, The Daily Beast, al-Jazeera, and dozens of other outlets. In 2009 he founded Project PM, a distributed think-tank, which was later re-purposed to oversee a crowd-sourced investigation into the private espionage industry and the intelligence community at large via e-mails stolen from federal contractors and other sources. In 2011 and 2012 he worked with Anonymous on campaigns involving the Tunisian revolution, government misconduct, and other issues. In mid-2012 he was arrested and later sentenced to four years in federal prison on charges stemming from his investigations and work with Anonymous. While imprisoned, he won the National Magazine Award for his column, The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Prison. Upon his release, in late 2016, he began work on the Pursuance System, a platform for mass civic engagement and coordinated opposition. His third book, a memoir/manifesto, will be released in 2018 by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.
Jason Leopold, Senior Investigative Reporter, Buzzfeed News
Jason Leopold is an Emmy-nominated investigative reporter on the BuzzFeed News Investigative Team. Leopold’s reporting and aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act has been profiled by dozens of media outlets, including a 2015 front-page story in The New York Times. Politico referred to Leopold in 2015 as “perhaps the most prolific Freedom of Information requester.” That year, Leopold, dubbed a ‘FOIA terrorist’ by the US government testified before Congress about FOIA (PDF) (Video). In 2016, Leopold was awarded the FOI award from Investigative Reporters & Editors and was inducted into the National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame by the Newseum Institute and the First Amendment Center.
Jennifer Helsby, Lead Developer, SecureDrop (Freedom of the Press Foundation)
Jennifer is Lead Developer of SecureDrop. Prior to joining FPF, she was a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Data Science and Public Policy at the University of Chicago, where she worked on applying machine learning methods to problems in public policy. Jennifer is also the CTO and co-founder of Lucy Parsons Labs, a non-profit that focuses on police accountability and surveillance oversight. In a former life, she studied the large scale structure of the universe, and received her Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Chicago in 2015.
Gabriella (Biella) Coleman holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University. Trained as an anthropologist, her scholarship explores the politics and cultures of hacking, with a focus on the sociopolitical implications of the free software movement and the digital protest ensemble Anonymous. She has authored two books, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (Princeton University Press, 2012) and Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (Verso, 2014).
Caroline Sinders – Researcher/Designer, Wikimedia Foundation
Caroline Sinders is a machine learning designer/user researcher, artist. For the past few years, she has been focusing on the intersections of natural language processing, artificial intelligence, abuse, online harassment and politics in digital, conversational spaces. Caroline is a designer and researcher at the Wikimedia Foundation, and a Creative Dissent fellow with YBCA. She holds a masters from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program from New York University.
Brewster Kahle, Founder & Digital Librarian, Internet Archive
Brewster Kahle has spent his career intent on a singular focus: providing Universal Access to All Knowledge. He is the founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, which now preserves 20 petabytes of data – the books, Web pages, music, television, and software of our cultural heritage, working with more than 400 library and university partners to create a digital library, accessible to all.
Steve Phillips, Project Manager, Pursuance Project
Steve Phillips is a programmer, philosopher, and cypherpunk, and is currently the Project Manager of Barrett Brown’s Pursuance Project. In 2010, after double-majoring in mathematics and philosophy at UC Santa Barbara, Steve co-founded Santa Barbara Hackerspace. In 2012, in response to his concerns over rumored mass surveillance, he created his first secure application, Cloakcast. And in 2015, he spoke at the DEF CON hacker conference, where he presented CrypTag. Steve has written over 1,000,000 words of philosophy culminating in a new philosophical methodology, Executable Philosophy.
Mek Karpeles, Citizen of the World, Internet Archive
Mek is a citizen of the world at the Internet Archive. His life mission is to organize a living map of the world’s knowledge. With it, he aspires to empower every person to overcome oppression, find and create opportunity, and reach their fullest potential to do good. Mek’s favorite media includes non-fiction books and academic journals — tools to educate the future — which he proudly helps make available through his work on Open Library.
The San Francisco Hackathon is leading the way for the hackathons around the world. This year, we are integrating remote hackers from all over the world to work on our projects, and we are going to stay organized, so we can keep hacking on them in the days and weeks to come.
SecureDrop is an open-source whistleblower submission system managed by Freedom of the Press Foundation and originally created by Kevin Poulsen and Aaron Swartz. The goal of SecureDrop is to help media organizations simplify the process of securely accepting documents from anonymous sources. Dozens of news organizations, including: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Vice, The Guardian, AP, The Intercept, BuzzFeed and Forbes, are now running SecureDrop servers to communicate securely with sources.
The Pursuance System software enables you to create a pursuance (which is a sort of organization), invite people to that pursuance (with the level of permissions and privileges that you choose), assign those people tasks (manually, or automatically based on their skill set!), brainstorm and discuss what needs to be done.
Next, you’ll be rapidly recording exciting ideas or strategies in an actionable format (namely as tasks), share files and documents, be notified when relevant events occur (e.g., you are assigned a task or mentioned), and effectively get help from others. Here’s an interview with Barrett Brown and Steve Phillips explaining Pursuance in more detail.
OpenArchive is a free, open source application for android, available on the Google Play Store that enables you to send your mobile media directly to the Internet Archive over Tor (Orbot), and choose what metadata and Creative Commons license to include with it. The primary goal of the app is to empower the user to easily archive photos, video and audio from their mobile device to a secure, trustworthy, and remote storage service.
Come join members of the Open Library team, and work directly with them on Sunday, November 5th and together we’ll turn your ideas and suggestions into empowerment for an international audience.
Open Library is the world’s free digital library with over 2M public domain books and another 500k+ books available to be borrowed and read in the browser. Started circa 2007 by Aaron, the vision of Open Library is to be an open wiki catalog of every work ever published. So far, Open Library has collected information about over 25M book records, empowering readers with data to locate books even when Open Library doesn’t have a digital copy. Over 100,000 readers borrow books on Open Library each month, but there’s a lot we aspire to do to make our library experience more accessible and useful to readers world-wide.
Right now, citizens have to play a guessing game with Law Enforcement in their town. Police Departments are not required to have a policy on the purchase and use of surveillance equipment unless there is public outcry for them to do so. At Aaron Swartz Day this year, we aim to provide a public outcry model, automate the process for filing multiple public records requests, asking for every known variation of surveillance equipment, providing a template for the requests, and also another template to demand that your city government implement a policy regarding how surveillance is used on the citizens of any given town. Then, we’re going to split up in to “follow up groups,” whose job it is to keep making calls and sending emails until the local governments are taking action.
Efforts are in the final stages in both Oakland and Berkeley, and both should have laws by the end of the year. So, we’re going to use them as examples for the rest of the country.
This post is intended to be the first in a series of long form articles (how many, I don’t yet know) on the topic of semi-autonomous software agents, a technology that I’ve been using fairly heavily for just shy of twenty years in my everyday life. My goals are to explain what they are, go over the history of agents as a technology, discuss how I started working with them between 1996e.v. and 2000e.v., and explain a little of what I do with them in my everyday life. I will also, near the end of the series, discuss some of the software systems and devices I use in the nebula of software agents that comprises what I now call my Exocortex (which is also the name of the project), make available some of the software agents which help to expand my spheres of influence in everyday life, and talk a little bit about how it’s changed me as a person and what it means to my identity.
So, what are semi-autonomous agents?
One working definition is that they are utility software that acts on behalf of a user or other piece of software to carry out useful tasks, farming out busywork that one would have to do oneself to free up time and energy for more interesting things. A simple example of this might be the pop-up toaster notification in an e-mail client alerting you that you have a new message from someone; if you don’t know what I mean play around with this page a little bit and it’ll demonstrate what a toaster notification is. Another possible working definition is that agents are software which observes a user-defined environment for changes which are then reported to a user or message queuing system. An example of this functionality might be Blogtrottr, which you plug the RSS feeds of one or more blogs into, and whenever a new post goes up you get an e-mail containing the article. Software agents may also be said to be utility software that observes a domain of the world and reports interesting things back to its user. A hypothetical software agent may scan the activity on one or more social networks for keywords which a statistically unusual number of users are posting and send alerts in response. I’ll go out on a limb a bit here and give a more fanciful example of what software agents can be compared to, the six robots from the Infocom game Suspended.
In the game, you the player are unable to act on your own because your body is locked in a cryogenic suspension tank, but the six robots (Auda, Iris, Poet, Sensa, Waldo, and Whiz) carry out orders given them, subject to their inherent limitations but are smart enough to figure out how to interpret those orders (Waldo, for example, doesn’t need to be told exactly how to pick up a microsurgical arm, he just knows how to do it). So, now that we have some working definitions of software agents, what are some of the characteristics that make them different from other kinds of software? For starters, agents run autonomously after they’re started up. In some ways you can compare them to daemons running on a UNIX system or Windows services, but instead of carrying out system level tasks (like sending and receiving e-mail) they carry out user level tasks. Agents may event in a reactive fashion in response to something they encounter (like an e-mail from a particular person) or in a proactive fashion (on a schedule, when certain thresholds are reached, or when they see something that fits a set of programmed parameters). Software agents may be adaptive to new operational conditions if they are designed that way. There are software agents which use statistical analysis to fine tune their operational parameters, sometimes in conjunction with feedback from their user, perhaps by turning down keywords or flagging certain things as false positives or false negatives. Highly sophisticated software agent systems may incorporate machine learning techniques to operate more effectively for their users over time, such as artificial neural networks, perceptrons, and Bayesian reasoning networks. Software agent networks may under some circumstances be considered to be implementations of machine learning systems because they can exhibit the functional architectures and behaviors of machine learning mechanisms. I wouldn’t make this characterization of every semi-autonomous agent system out there, though. Read more “Semi-autonomous agents: What are they, exactly?”