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Character and Nature of Technology

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It’s probably best to have the president of one of the world’s largest tech companies write a book about the “promise and Peril of the digital age” (the subtitle of the book).

Tools and Weapons, published by CITIC Publishing House in February of this year, with Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith as lead author, seems to be such a book.

Smith discusses the development, possible pitfalls, and solutions for emerging digital technologies and AI in a comprehensive way from the perspective of a company leader.

Most of the chapters in the book start with real-life cases or vivid stories, and then offer in-depth analyses and solutions.

Smith talks about wiretapping related to the Snowden incident, technology and public safety issues, how governments protect individual privacy, how companies protect consumer privacy, cyberattacks, disinformation, the talent divide, social media, digital diplomacy, face recognition and unemployment issues arising from artificial intelligence.

He also talks positively about measures and ideas for how emerging technologies can protect democracy, advance data sharing, and help build internet broadband that will empower rural development.

The author talks about Microsoft’s early self-awareness, recognizing the need for ethical self-regulation in the application of technology, as well as some of the principles for self-regulation.

Moreover, the author is acutely aware that, because of the global nature of digital technology, it is not enough to rely on the moral self-discipline of a single tech company.

What is needed is the communication and collaboration of multiple transnational corporations, a proactive pursuit of government regulation, and international cooperation and oversight claims.

He is aware of the difficulty of enforcing agreements on international rules: there would always be countries that might be in violation, but he believes that if international norms and standards existed, it would be easier for other countries to respond effectively.

I quite appreciate the author’s efforts and negotiation principles for resolving issues primarily through legal means.

Smith agrees with McTaggart, an American who has struggled to establish a privacy law: “The law needs to keep up with technology or people will keep breaking the bottom line.”

Microsoft even sued the US government five times in an effort to push for legislation that would establish appropriate boundaries.

And in all legal disputes and negotiations, he adheres to the simple principle, “never let negotiations be limited to an issue that produces only one winner”, but rather, put more issues on the table, creating more opportunities for exchange and concessions, and make round after round of compromises, so that all parties have a winning side.

Compromise is not weakness, but rather the search for the middle path that can solve problems.

The author doesn’t advocate a complete one-off solution, like a complete ban on something, but rather seeks partial control first, and then a viable path utilizing the kind of in-depth detail that “requires a scalpel, not a meat cleaver”.

When dealing with all these issues, people need to be aware of the characteristics of technology. The author clearly articulates two properties of technology. It can be a powerful tool for humans to use and control, while on the one hand, it can also be a dangerous weapon.

While people mostly appreciate and enjoy technology as a tool of convenience, the author pays close attention to the other side of it as a weapon and sets about solving some tough issues.

When it comes to public safety and imminent danger to people’s lives, technology can often play a huge role.

For example, when two killers broke into the Paris headquarter of Charlie’s Weekly on January 7, 2015 and shot 12 people, Microsoft quickly provided the killers’ emails and account records to the French National Police through the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, including IP addresses that showed the location of a computer and phone when a user logged in. A day later, French police found and killed the suspects.

But should companies respond to all government requests for user information? In the past, a court warrant was needed to search a home, but now monitoring email or searching a cell phone generally requires no application.

Today, a person’s cell phone may contain more private information than his home. If power is abused, new technologies can become weapons that harm the fundamental rights of citizens.

Smith is aware of the need for clear regulations on this issue. He sued the US government once again on behalf of Microsoft on this issue, trying to find a delicate balance between public safety, national interest, and civil rights.

We’ve seen both sides of cyber technology during the COVID-19 outbreak. On one hand, it has brought us great convenience.

It is hard to imagine the days when hundreds of millions of people were confined to their homes without Internet, without all the information that connects the world, without the entire online shopping, etc.

There is also information tracking to discover the pathway of virus transmission, potential patients, etc.

But, on the other hand, we also see that the Internet brings with it all sorts of rumors and misinformation, and even all sorts of personal attacks, human searches, etc.

As the author says, some social media may constitute “the freedom that divides us”. It is also questionable whether some of the stringent electronic surveillance measures taken by government agencies in special times will become routine practice.

The issues addressed by the author are real issues, but the level of importance will still vary. On the question of whether super-intelligent machines are possible, or whether the “singularity” will come, the author tends to think it is still too far away.

He quotes Dave Hefner as saying that this issue takes up too much of people’s time and attention and distracts them from more important and pressing issues.

The “singularity” issue does not appear to be a pressing one, particularly as it is less likely to be on the agenda of pragmatic leaders, but whether it is less important is open to question.

The author does a fairly good job of presenting and dealing with the pressing problems that technology encounters, expressing the characteristics of technology: the twofold properties of both tools and weapons that technology has.

However, we can also pay attention to technology, especially the nature or essence of technology that has developed into modern technology. Indeed, this is a question that belongs to philosophy, and is one of fundamental importance.

Heidegger once argued that the essence of technology is that it is a “pedestal” in which man is situated and from which it is almost impossible, or impossible on his own, to free himself.

If one looks at the nature of modern technology, it has at least two characteristics in its essential manifestation: first, it has the power to involve almost everyone, even all human activity.

Second, it is a powerful force for one-way progress. It has an inherent urge to keep moving forward, not stopping on its own and growing faster and faster.

For example, it is easy to see that all technology products are constantly being demanded, replaced and renewed. It will die without renewal.

It not only adapts and meets people’s needs, but constantly creates new ones. And the sweep of technology is getting wider and wider, even for those who would otherwise avoid it.

For example, when cars were first invented and manufactured, people who were willing to walk could still walk their own way leisurely, but with the popularity of cars, it was almost impossible to go out without running into a swarm of cars.

The main roads were turned into car lanes. The distance between the workplace and home is now measured in time by car.

However, as the author is also keenly aware, the tremendous increase in technological capacity has not resulted in a corresponding increase in human self-control and organizational management capabilities.

He quoted Einstein as saying that “if the development of the human organizational capacity could keep pace with the advance of science and technology”, then scientific and technological progress “would have already made it possible for us to live happy and carefree lives”.

Instead, “these hard-won achievements of the Big Machine Age are in our hands, but are as dangerous as handing a razor to a three-year-old.”

So, the author also addresses the key of today’s challenge: “can the future technology be controlled by the world (humanity) as it continues to advance?”

The question to be asked using the author’s two-sided characterization of technology is: since technology has both tool and weapon properties, will the weapon’s properties slowly overtake those of the tool, to the point where it is completely beyond human control?

With technology so appealing, even nesting people, even that we have to use it as we eliminate its evils, will the day come when technology will be reversed to fully master humanity? What is the way out?

In the summer of 2018, I had a conversation with the author, Brad Smith, in Beijing. He also mentions this conversation in his book “Tools and Weapons“.

He introduces my view that Westerners believe more in progress as a straight line, that technology keeps moving forward, and are optimistic about continuous improvement.

In (traditional) China, on the other hand, it may be that a view of cyclical change in all things prevails. At some point in the future, everything will return to its original point.

I once detailed how the traditional notion of circular time was replaced by a unilinear progressive view of time in my book “Electoral Society”.

I am currently even considering that this may also be a possible form of the longevity of the human race. The West began as a linear conception of time, including chronology, that pointed to a path of salvation in the first place in Christianity. In recent times, this idea of linear time has been given a secular “progress” orientation, and one of the most important of these advances, and one that has indeed been achieved and realized, is that of technology. But is it in danger of “snapping” at some high point?

We can still go back to a traditional, even ancient, wisdom. I don’t think that the kind of eternal cycle of thought is unique to China, and similar thoughts can be found in the Upanishads, in the wisdom of the Buddha, and even in Greek philosophers like Heraclitus.

Among modern thinkers, Nietzsche says that the basic idea of his major work, Charlathustra As Such, the idea of eternal reincarnation, the highest affirmative formula we can get, was formed in August 1881.

He was on a lake in Switzerland at the time, and the thought came so suddenly that he wrote excitedly in a letter to a friend: “The thought has risen, and such a thought as has never been seen … I must indeed live some years!”

Heidegger, in his reading of Nietzsche’s work, argues that it is the strong will that is the essential characteristic of all beings, and that it is the eternal reincarnation that is the supreme rule of existence.

However, they have only addressed this idea at the metaphysical level, and even philosophically, they have not done much.

Heidegger talks about how the doctrine of eternal reincarnation at first seems so dull, desperate and intolerable that people immediately adopt a rejectionist attitude or ignore it.

“By its very nature, the doctrine has always been something of a surprise.” Modern people, who are particularly convinced of progress, can hardly stand this view.

But it may not only be philosophical, it may be what people experience on a daily basis through the history of nature and civilization.

Perhaps there are various cycles, universal cycles, cycles of life, cycles of civilization, cycles of dynasties, cycles of ideas.

Even these loops, layered on top of each other, may contain multiple loops. While we are at a certain high point in terms of technology, we may be at a certain low point spiritually.

The opposite is also possible. Perhaps technology can still return to a certain high point, even if it hovers low, but human civilization will not be interrupted.

The author is a professor in the Philosophy Department of Peking University. 

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How to Avoid Dangers With Mobile Money Transfers- Worldremit

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it. Crucially, we have seen a marked acceleration in the global adoption of online and digital platforms in a variety of sectors ranging from education to work collaboration tools to financial services, all of which brings about new sets of cyber security challenges.

Online and digital business platforms are, of course, nothing new, and they certainly predate the advent of the pandemic.

However, the global crisis has given impetus to trends that were already becoming an integral part of life in the 21st century even in countries traditionally less reliant on technology.

Africa is now one of the fastest growing regions taking part in the digital economy where people across the continent have become quick and enthusiastic adopters of global innovation trends.

But this rapid change comes with significant risks, not least of which is the potential for cybercrime, as greater numbers of the African population move online and become increasingly reliant on digital platforms to conduct business, access product and services, and transact financially.

According to a recently released document from the global police agency Interpol, the African Cyberthreat Assessment Report, there are five types of cybercrimes that have become more prevalent than ever before on the continent: online scams, digital extortion, business email compromise, ransomware and botnets.

Africa has more than 500 million internet users, placing the continent ahead of regions such as North America, South America, and the Middle East in terms of the absolute number of people online.

This volume equates to 38% of Africa’s population, which implies there is room for growth in the continent’s use of internet services in the coming years, as levels of connectivity and uptake trend upwards. These will be driven by lower connection costs, greater innovation and rising digital literacy.

According to the report, the leading countries are Kenya with 83% of its population online, Nigeria with 60% and South Africa with 56%.

Mobile banking in particular is noted to be used widely within these three countries, contributing to Africa’s active role in digital financial services, the report finds.People who use online banking, cross-border money transfers, and other financial services, must remain vigilant in order to remain safe online.

WorldRemit, a leading global payments company, advises that users adopt a few basic safety protocols to avoid falling victim to any of the various forms of cybercrime.

Confirm receipt of identity and method: Whether it is cash pickup, mobile money, or bank transfer, it is important that customers ensure they include the recipient’s full legal name, as the bank in the receiving country will match their identification with the transfer information.

Speed is of the essence: Pick a service that ensures your money reaches its intended destination quickly and safely.

Also check if the platform you are using has a 24-hour customer care service that is operational.

There is a simple 3-step process to help avoid online fraud:

Stop: take a moment to think before sending money or providing any information.

Challenge: it’s okay to ignore or refuse requests for funds. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

Protect: contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve wired money to a scammer and report it to the relevant authorities.

WorldRemit operates in 44 African countries through partnerships with local mobile network operators (MNOs)

While these partnerships offer an extra layer of protection to mobile money transfers and other online transactions, WorldRemit advises users to confirm the identity of the person they are transacting with and to take advantage of the mobile service’s security protocols to protect their identities and online accounts.

The rise in cybercrime and online scams is the corollary to the rapid digital growth fueled and accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In African countries where, notably, mobile banking and mobile money transfer have leapfrogged to unprecedented levels, it is incumbent on all of us to stay vigilant and beware of fraud by following the safety protocols in place and reporting suspicious activities through the proper channel.

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Four Attorneys General Sue Google For ‘Deceptive’ Location Tracking

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A bipartisan group of attorneys general sued Google on Monday, alleging that the technology giant has used “dark patterns” and deceptive practices to track users’ physical location even when those users have made efforts to block Google from doing so.

The parallel lawsuits by the District of Columbia, Texas, Indiana and Washington state zero in on Google’s collection of location data, which can be used to target advertising and build profiles on internet users.

The DC Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that since 2014, Google (GOOG) has made misleading public statements about how users can opt out of location tracking.

Despite offering settings in users’ Google accounts that promised to restrict location data tracking, Google allegedly failed to mention how certain other settings — such as in individual apps or in other areas of Google’s settings panel — might continue to allow the tech giant to keep collecting location data unbeknownst to the user.

According to the complaint, Google also allegedly tried to circumvent users’ expressed preferences with workarounds, such as using IP addresses to determine a user’s location or collecting location data via Google’s apps installed on mobile devices. The allegedly illegal behavior affects virtually all mobile users who interact with Google, according to the complaint, whether they own an Android device, an iPhone, a PC or a tablet.

To facilitate its data collection, Google allegedly relied on “dark patterns” — subtle design choices intended to guide users toward adopting behavior favorable to Google.

“Google makes extensive use of dark patterns,” the complaint reads, “including repeated nudging, misleading pressure tactics, and evasive and deceptive descriptions of location features and settings, to cause users to provide more and more location data (inadvertently or out of frustration).

In a statement Monday, Google spokesman José Castañeda said the lawsuits were based on “inaccurate claims and outdated assertions about our settings.”

“We have always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data,” Castañeda said. “We will vigorously defend ourselves and set the record straight.”

In 2019, Google launched a feature that would, if enabled, automatically delete account activity data after a certain period of time.

The following year, Google said it would expand that feature by enabling it by default for all new accounts created on its platform. Monday’s lawsuits, however, target Google conduct that predates those changes.

Earlier this year, a state judge in Arizona declined to issue summary judgement in a similar case brought by Arizona officials against Google, saying that it was not an “obvious and straightforward” conclusion that Google misled or deceived consumers.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking Google’s allegedly illegal conduct and disgorgement of profits linked to the allegedly misleading practices.

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Understanding Physics of Hot air Balloon

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Rwanda has cultivated herself as a country of interesting surprises keeping her as a destination of interest from media, researchers, first time visitors and various fans.

From aligning with Arsenal football club, Paris Saint-Germain Football Club to introducing drones to facilitate the country’s health sector and many more others, this week Rwanda introduced hot air balloons onto offers for tourists at Akagera National Park.

“We are pleased to partner with Royal Balloon Rwanda to add yet another exciting product to Rwanda’s adventure tourism experiences,” said Clare Akamanzi, CEO of Rwanda Development Board.

For most Rwandans and other visitors, the hot air balloon may trigger so many questions on how they can really embrace it while visiting  Akagera National Park.

Phyisics of hot air balloon

In simplistic terms, a hot air balloon is a lighter-than-air aircraft consisting of a bag, called an envelope, which contains heated air. The heated air inside the envelope makes it buoyant, since it has a lower density than the colder air outside the envelope. As with all aircraft, hot air balloons cannot fly beyond the atmosphere.

The principle behind hot air balloon physics is the Archimedes Principle which states that the buoyant force on a submerged object is equal to the weight of the fluid that is displaced by the object.

For a hot air balloon, the upward buoyant force acting on it is equal to the weight of air displaced. The density of air is 1.2 kg per cubic meter; therefore to lift a balloon is going to be necessary to displace a great volume of air so its weight exceeds the weight of the envelope, plus the weight of passengers, and the upward force is greater than the downward force of gravity.

Also an object floating in water stays buoyant using the same principle as a hot air balloon.

As shown in the figure above, the center of buoyancy acts through point C, which is the centroid of the volume V of the object. This volume is equal to the displaced volume of the fluid. The upward buoyant force FB is equal to the weight of the displaced volume of fluid V.

For the object to remain in an unconditionally stable orientation (i.e. not rotate) the center of mass of the object G must be directly below point C.

This means that if the object were to be rotated by any amount, it will automatically rotate back to the original position where point G lies directly below point C. This is what is meant by unconditional stability.

For a hot air balloon, the upward buoyant force acting on it is equal to the weight (or mass) of the cooler surrounding air displaced by the hot air balloon.

Since the air inside the envelope is heated it is less dense than the surrounding air, which means that the buoyant force due to the cooler surrounding air is greater than the weight of the heated air inside the envelope.

And for lift to be generated, this buoyant force must exceed the weight of the heated air, plus the weight of the envelope, plus the weight of the gondola, plus the weight of passengers and equipment on board.

As a result, the hot air balloon will experience sufficient buoyant force to completely lift off the ground.

As shown in the figure below, the weight of the hot air balloon is more concentrated near the bottom of the balloon (at the location of passengers and equipment), so the center of mass G of the hot air balloon is always below the center of buoyancy C.

Therefore, the balloon is always stable during flight (i.e. it will always remain in the upright position).

Hot Air Balloon Physics – Operation

If the balloon operator wishes to lower the hot air balloon, he can either stop firing the burner, which causes the hot air in the envelope to cool (decreasing the buoyant force), or he opens a small vent at the top of the balloon envelope (via a control line).

This releases some of the hot air, which decreases the buoyant force, which also causes the balloon to descend.

To maintain a steady altitude, the balloon operator intermittently fires and turns off the burner once he reaches the approximate altitude he wants. This causes the balloon to ascend and descend (respectively).

This is the only way he can maintain an approximately constant altitude, since maintaining a strictly constant altitude by way of maintaining a net zero buoyant force (on the balloon) is practically impossible.

If the balloon operator wishes to move the balloon sideways (in a horizontal direction) he must know, ahead of time, the wind direction, which varies with altitude. So he simply raises or lowers the hot air balloon to the altitude corresponding to the wind direction he wants, which is the direction he wants the balloon to go.

The balloon stays inflated because the heated air inside the envelope creates a pressure greater than the surrounding air.

However, since the envelope has an opening at the bottom (above the location of the burner), the expanding hot air is allowed to escape, preventing a large pressure differential from developing.

This means that the pressure of the heated air inside the balloon ends up being only slightly greater than the cooler surrounding air pressure.

An efficient hot air balloon is one that minimizes the weight of the balloon components, such as the envelope, and on board equipment (such as the burner and propane fuel tanks).

This in turn minimizes the required temperature of the air inside the envelope needed to generate sufficient buoyant force to generate lift. Minimizing the required air temperature means that you minimize the burner energy needed, thereby reducing fuel use.

Hot Air Balloon Physics – Analysis

Let’s examine the physics of a hot air balloon using a sample calculation.

The heated air inside the envelope is at roughly the same pressure as the outside air. With this in mind we can calculate the density of the heated air at a given temperature, using the Ideal gas law, as follows:

P = ρRT

Where:

P is the absolute pressure of the gas, in Pa

ρ is the density of the gas, in kg/m3

R is the gas constant, in Joules/kg.K

T is the absolute temperature of the gas, in Kelvins (K)

Now,

Normal atmospheric pressure is approximately 101,300 Pa

The gas constant for dry air is 287 Joules/kg.K

The air inside the envelope is typically heated to an average temperature of about 100 degrees Celsius, which is 373 K

Substituting the above three values into the Ideal gas law equation and solving for ρ we get ρ = 0.946 kg/m3. This is the density of the heated air inside the envelope. Compare this to normal (ambient) air density which is approximately 1.2 kg/m3.

Next, for an average size balloon with an envelope volume of 2800 m3 we wish to determine the net upward buoyant force generated by the envelope.

The net buoyant force is defined here as the difference in density between the surrounding air and the heated air, multiplied by the envelope volume. Thus,

FB,net = (1.2−0.946)×2800 = 711 kg (1565 lb)

This is the net buoyant force pushing upwards on the heated air inside the envelope. The hot air balloon components (such as envelope, gondola, burner, fuel tanks, and passengers) can at most weigh 711 kg in order for the buoyant force to be able to completely lift the hot air balloon off the ground.

 

compiled by Taarifa 

Royal Balloon Launches Rwanda First Hot Air Balloon

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