I slapped together a little something (g) for Germany's Legal Times Online about the Snowden case. The editor pepped up the language a bit, but that's fine with me, it's supposed to be a popular format.
What I said is that the Fourth Amendment guarantees US citizens privacy in situations in which they have a 'reasonable expectation of privacy'. Email and (especially) phone calls certainly belong in that sphere. So if the NSA is collecting massive amounts of emails and telephone data randomly, without a specific search warrant, then it is violating the privacy rights of US citizens. According to recent revelations, the NSA has developed internal 'minimization procedures' that instruct agents to stop listening or reading if they find out that they are spying on a US citizen, similar to regulations the German Federal Constitutional Court has required in cases of spying on telephone calls or private apartments. But since the court meets in secret, we have no way of independently verifying these claims. Also, since the Obama administration has blocked all privacy lawsuits with the legal doctrine of the state secrets privilege, no American court has yet ruled on whether these programs are constitutional.
However, the situation in Germany is not very different. German spy agencies have extremely broad powers under existing law, and will gain new ones under the new Telecommunications Law which takes effect on 1 July. There is a parliamentary committee which provides general oversight of requests for surveillance and a so-called G-10 committee which rules on individual requests. They are supposed to follow strict minimization procedures and insist on adequate proof of possible wrongdoing before authorizing spying measures. However, since both of these committees operate in secret, we have no way of knowing how carefully these guidelines are respected. Plus, since there have been no German whistleblowers, we have no real insight into the scope of German programs. As the Green Party speaker Konstantin von Notz recently remarked, it is high time that Germans learned more about what their own spy agency is up to.
One thing that has really angered Germans is the fact that communication to and from and even within Germany are being spied on by the US and the UK. The official position of the US government (in the form of a Senate report) is that foreigners 'foreigners outside the United States generally are not entitled to the protections of the Fourth Amendment.' Thus, the current version of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides no protection for the privacy rights of foreigners. The secret court which orders surveillance can authorize blanket data collection on all foreigners, everywhere. The only limitations kick in when it appears that an American citizen may be involved. In the words of the report itself, 'Section 702 thus enables the Government to collect information effectively and efficiently about foreign targets overseas and in a manner that protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans'.
Of course, this wouldn't matter so much if American and the UK didn't have, and use, spying technology that can sweep up massive streams of data from everywhere and anywhere. As far as remedies for Germany, it's not clear what Germany can do, except send sternly-worded letters (g) to American officials. I'm not aware of any treaty that the US has ratified without reservation which would give Germany a basis for complaint before international tribunals. But I'm happy to be corrected in comments if I've overlooked something.
Kevin Drum has an insightful piece predicting that artifical intelligence will be here before you think and will radically change the economy:
We've moved from computers with a trillionth of the power of a human brain to computers with a billionth of the power. Then a millionth. And now a thousandth. Along the way, computers progressed from ballistics to accounting to word processing to speech recognition, and none of that really seemed like progress toward artificial intelligence. That's because even a thousandth of the power of a human brain is—let's be honest—a bit of a joke. Sure, it's a billion times more than the first computer had, but it's still not much more than the computing power of a hamster.
This is why, even with the IT industry barreling forward relentlessly, it has never seemed like we were making any real progress on the AI front. But there's another reason as well: Every time computers break some new barrier, we decide—or maybe just finally get it through our thick skulls—that we set the bar too low. At one point, for example, we thought that playing chess at a high level would be a mark of human-level intelligence. Then, in 1997, IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer beat world champion Garry Kasparov, and suddenly we decided that playing grandmaster-level chess didn't imply high intelligence after all.
So maybe translating human languages would be a fair test? Google Translate does a passable job of that these days. Recognizing human voices and responding appropriately? Siri mostly does that, and better systems are on the near horizon. Understanding the world well enough to win a round of Jeopardy! against human competition? A few years ago IBM's Watson supercomputer beat the two best human Jeopardy! champions of all time. Driving a car? Google has already logged more than 300,000 miles in its driverless cars, and in another decade they may be commercially available.
... True artificial intelligence will very likely be here within a couple of decades. Making it small, cheap, and ubiquitous might take a decade more.
In other words, by about 2040 our robot paradise awaits.
...This isn't something that will happen overnight. It will happen slowly, as machines grow increasingly capable. We've already seen it in factories, where robots do work that used to be done by semiskilled assembly line workers. In a decade, driverless cars will start to put taxi hacks and truck drivers out of a job. And while it's easy to believe that some jobs can never be done by machines—do the elderly really want to be tended by robots?—that may not be true. Nearly 50 years ago, when MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum created a therapy simulation program named Eliza, he was astonished to discover just how addictive it was. Even though Eliza was almost laughably crude, it was endlessly patient and seemed interested in your problems. People liked talking to Eliza.
...Increasingly, then, robots will take over more and more jobs. And guess who will own all these robots? People with money, of course. As this happens, capital will become ever more powerful and labor will become ever more worthless. Those without money—most of us—will live on whatever crumbs the owners of capital allow us.
This is a grim prediction. But it's not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds. Economist Paul Krugman recently remarked that our long-standing belief in skills and education as the keys to financial success may well be outdated. In a blog post titled "Rise of the Robots," he reviewed some recent economic data and predicted that we're entering an era where the prime cause of income inequality will be something else entirely: capital vs. labor.
So, by 2040, we will have robots intelligent enough to perform hundreds of tasks that used to be performed by humans. Let me put on my heavy, black-framed armchair-sociologist glasses and predict how these developments will be received in Germany [snark]:
The problem of outdated laws inflicting unpredictable, massive penalties on people who use the Internet in unapproved ways (see Aaron Swartz) is also acute in Germany. Case in point: In 2000, a highly unusual-looking man, seeking attention, went out onto the streets of Berlin to dance in a techno-parade. Another attendee filmed him doing his thing. This is the result:
Notice that there's no attempt to conceal the filming. The filmer, Matthias Fritsch, decided to post the video online, figuring it might amuse other people. Indeed it did: the man in the video became known as the Technoviking, and his moves spawned an Internet subculture. Fritsch even made a modest amount of money from all the YouTube views.
And now, thirteen years later, he faces bankruptcy and jail. The Daily Dot reports:
[Fritsch stated:] "I am being accused for creation and publication of images connected to the Technoviking, therefore infringement of personality rights. They also say I am earning a lot of money by that. They argue that [I] gave him the name Technoviking, create 3D characters, comics and more to constantly increase the popularity in order to market Technoviking and therefore cause damage to the protagonist"
If Fritsch loses, so does the Internet. He'll have to scrub any original content he created that featured the Technoviking's likeness, and he'll be barred from creating new content. Worse, the lawsuit accuses him of creating numerous other derivative works, most of which Fritsch says he never touched....
Failing to do that, Fritsch would face a €250,000 ($334,441 U.S.) fine and up to six months in jail. Fritsch said the lawsuit only includes content he allegedly posted, so no matter the result of the trial, other Technoviking remixes around the Web are safe—for now.
"I can't say how far his intentions go for removing content that is posted by other people," Fritsch said. "It would be a Don Quixote action to try removing Technoviking from the Web."
Fritsch, who still won't reveal the Technoviking's identity despite the lawsuit, said he's not really worried about the trial. He doesn't take credit for the Technoviking character, which he believes was born out of the collaborative creativity of millions of Internet users.
"I am only worried that the judge might not understand contemporary web-culture and therefore judges from an old fashioned perspective," Fritsch said. "Artists are not rich usually and I am one of those artists. To put me in a financial emergency is really something I wouldn't like.
Technoviking's lawyer is almost certainly suing under German Persönlichkeitsrecht, which gives people control over how their own image is disseminated. The most famous case is the so-caller Herrenreiter (g) (dressage rider) decision from 1958, in which a professional horse rider's image was used without his permission in advertisements for a tonic thought to increase male potency. You could also sue for this under the common law, since this is appropriation of someone's unmistakable image without consent or payment to use in advertisements for a consumer product.
However, the common law has a different answer when it comes to people who are voluntarily putting themselves on display in public. In this case, the law generally says that if you volunarily go outside and expose your image to thousands of strangers, you are demonstrating that you don't wish that what you're doing should be kept secret, and therefore your image can be taken and used by others. There is, however, an exception for voyeuristic videos that attempt to reveal parts of your body you would wish to be kept secret (such as upskirt videos). That's obviously not an issue here. Some courts also have an exception when your image is used without your consent for a profit-making enterprise that you certainly would have demanded money for participating in had you known about it.
Under the common law, then the Technoviking video can be legally shared. Technoviking went out into a public festival, where certainly knew he might be filmed, and started dancing. He was sharing his image with thousands of strangers, and obviously enjoyed himself doing so. The artist was not using the Technoviking's image to sell a product, and the money he earned from it was merely incidental to its unexpected success. And it was, of course, money for something he created -- the video of an interesting person dancing on the street.
The idea that this could lead to jail time is an absurd consequences of Germany's outdated privacy and intellectual property laws, which also subject you to hefty fines, believe it or not, if someone else (g) posts a copyrighted picture to your Facebook page. The problem here is uncertainty. Germans are normally obsessed with Rechtssicherheit, the notion that the law must be stable and clear, so that private persons can regulate their affairs in peace. But there's a huge hole in that protection when it comes to Internet users. The persistence of these old, overbroad definitions are a constant background threat that chills Internet freedom. Any of you who have a Facebook account could theoretically face a lawsuit tomorrow for something innocent you shared with your friends years ago. All that needs to happen is for someone to find out about it and contacts one of the many German lawyers who specialize in harassing German internet users with ludicrously exaggerated damages claims for infringements both real and alleged.
This is why I have a soft spot for the Pirate Party, for all their shenanigans. None of the mainstream German parties was giving much thought to these issues before the Pirate Party came along. This was due probably in equal measure to technological ignorance, the inherent conservatism of the German legal system, and effective lobbying by the content industry. The Pirates found resonance because they pointed out that outdated laws were making potential criminals of literally millions of citizens, an absurd state of affairs in a country that claims to be governed by the rule of law. The Pirates, in the best tradition of third parties, forced the mainstream to finally face an issue they'd been all to happy to ignore.
Last weekend, when the weather was almost surreally gorgeous (cool and sunny), I spent a day bicycling around the city and hanging out in various parks. During that time, I stupidly lost my mobile tunes setup, a Sansa Clip+ mp3 player and Klipsch Image S4 headphones. They're probably still lying there somewhere in the Düsseldorf Südpark, unless a magpie has already incorporated them into its nest.
To replace my mobile soundgear, I stuck with Klipsch, but decided to upgrade to the X10i in-ear headphones, which have an integrated remote control that only works with Apple stuff. So far, the sound quality, while predictably outstanding, is hardly distinguishable from the much-cheaper S4 headphones, but I haven't worn in my new ones. In general, though, Klipsch in-ears are head and shoulders above any others I've tried. Rich bass, beautifully distinguished mid-range, and crisp treble. But it's all pointless if the headphones aren't comfortable. Klipsch are specially designed to have an ear-friendly oval shape, and ship with a set of fully interchangeable ear-inserts in various shapes and sizes. You can easily switch until you find inserts that fit your ear. If you're just starting out, get the S4s. They deliver audiophile sound quality for 1/3 the price of the competition, and will probably be the only in-ears you'll ever need.
Now to my first-ever Apple product, an Ipod Nano. It gets rave reviews, looks beautiful, sounds beautiful, and isn't that much more expensive than the competition. Plus, it integrates with the remote control on the headphones cord, which is a huge plus. And, in fact, the Nano is a beautiful thing. Tiny, square, with a clear, bright screen, the famously intuitive controls, a solid clip, and excellent sound quality. But I have to say one thing: The fact that you must use iTunes to communicate with the Nano instantly claws back all of the user-friendliness. The no-frills Sansa Clip was so much easier: it showed up as a normal storage device, and you could just drag and drop audiobooks or music to the relevant folders, and the machine would automatically treat them accordingly. You have to spend hours navigating the hideous bloatware that is iTunes before you can reliably make sure you've put everything where you want it on the Nano. Nothing about iTunes works as you would expect it to, and workarounds to common problems are baffling and complex. Plus, you can only really manage the Nano with one computer. If you hook it up to another computer, the iTunes program on that machine huffily threatens to erase your Nano!
So, when it comes to the Nano itself, I have cautiously sipped the Apple Kool-Aid, and found it delicious. But when it comes to iTunes, I have spewed the Kool-Aid across the wall in a deadly crimson arc.
If my French were better, I would probably be laughing not only at the kids trying to text while driving, but also at all the Belgian slang in this video (especially 'crasher' pronounced crash-ay, tho' that may not be specifically Belgian):
Stuart Staniford predicts there will be more robots than people by 2030:
I thought about this over the weekend, when I held a seminar for translators. I think within about 20 years there will no longer be a significant market for human translators. The only things that will really still need human translators will be high-status but low-paid literary translation, where style counts. As for technical and legal translation, algorithms will probably be good enough to generate near-perfect rough drafts, which specialists will then correct. In 2020, you'll only need 1 human translator to do the work of 100, or 1000, today.
Other jobs that have no future: air-traffic controllers (possible pilots too), auto assembly-line workers, cashiers, non-specialized nurses and caregivers, bus drivers, accountants, car mechanics, pharmacists, radiologists, the list goes on. There will still be a market for some humans to oversee the robots, but brilliant algorithms and highly sophisticated robots will do 98% of the preliminary work and handle 98% of the non-problematic cases.
So get ready for, as Max Goldt calls it, our sad technological future...
My trusty 12-year-old Paradigm loudspeakers finally began showing their age, so I went shopping for some new speakers, and finally settled on a pair of Canton Chrono 509s. What convinced me was Canton's solid reputation, and the unanimity of the 5-star reviews on German Amazon (g). These speakers have delighted both punters and pros. Plus, the price has been cut in half (g) since Canton brought out newer series. They were getting ratings of 'oustanding' price/performance ration even when they used to cost over €1000, and now you can get them for under €400. An unbelievable bargain.
I've now had them for a week, and am absolutely delighted. The bass is rich and detailed, the highs crystal-clear, and the mid-ranges and tweeters handle Renaissance choral music (a big part of my collection) with aplomb, which is often a challenge for other speakers. The soundstage is magnificent -- I'm listening to Bernstein's recording of Mahler's 4th right now (my second-favorite after Tennstedt's magnificently joyous, spontaneous, albeit slightly messy version), and the horns are beautifully detailed, the strings mellifluous and glowing, and the climaxes smooth and swelling. The sleigh bells are so vivid and localized that you can almost reach out and touch them. Jazz and guitar-based pop also sounds quite good, although the Canton's give you a more well-rounded, slightly subdued sound than the aggressive, ripping tone you might get from more rock-oriented loudspeakers. House and drum & bass are just stunning: the mid-ranges and treble sounds float with millimeter-precise spatial placement over a magnificantly bulbous, tumescent bass that retains a clear tonal profile even as it rocks your world.
I also bought a Canton AS 85.2 subwoofer -- the first subwoofer I've ever bought -- which is also doing yeoman service. However, the bass is quite rich even without it -- the subwoofer just makes it bone-shaking. I probably didn't really need the subwoofer, but it is nice to have.
As for appearance, they're pretty much standard big black oblongs, but still relatively unobtrusive and extremely solidly-built and stable.
German precision engineering at its finest!
The very German-looking Philip Oltermann (the glasses!) asks whether Germans just don't get social media because they, er, don't get communication in general:
When news magazine Focus announced this week that Germans were finally cottoning on to Twitter – the site reaching a record 3.5 million users – it was met with the digital equivalent of a shrug. One blogger suggested that Germans just don't know how to deal with social media:
"What they fundamentally do not see and get is the obvious, namely that Social Media is about communication. Communication/conversation is a dark hole in German culture. For Germans, talking first and foremost means conveying information. Conversation as a bonding agent in any form of interpersonal encounter is literally a non-starter in Germany. (If you've ever been to an awkward German office party where people have no problem with facing one another without saying a word for, oooh half an hour, you'll know what I mean.)"
Most Germans will recognise at least a grain of truth in that. Even back in the late 19th century, the sociologist Friedrich Tönnies wrote in despair about the German inability to get its head around the concept of an open and interactive Gesellschaft or society – tight-knit, closed-off Gemeinschaften or communities was apparently all they could do. Few young Germans still keep up the Stammtisch tradition, though small talk can still be a struggle. I recently attended a German conference in which the last item on the programme was billed as Kommunikatives Beisammensein, "communicative socialisation". Or, as people might call it in Britain, "going to the pub".
The rest of the article tries to add some caveats to the stereotype, in my view not very convincingly. Germans are just plain much more reticent and cautious about sharing information than Anglo-Saxons. Again, as with all national traits, this is a matter of averages and bell curves. The chart below, which I stole from some website, shows light orange as the standard normal distribution of 'communicativeness' (or 'chattiness') among Anglo-Saxons on the right, and among Germans on the left, in darker orange.
No, really, this is exactly what the chart shows! This is Science, people! In any event, if makes my point: although you can always find some German who's chattier than an American, the modal German is much more taciturn than the modal American. I think the Brits would fit just about in the middle, but I'm no expert there.
A finalist for Best Amazon Review Ever has to be this one, for the $30,000 Hasselblad Hx4 digital camera. It starts with the fact that Goldman Sachs was giving away $30,000 cameras as party gifts, and then gets even stranger:
I am a landscaper and I work mostly in Bel Air. One of my clients neighbors sold me this camera, which he'd received as party gift at a Goldman Sachs function. I told him I couldn't afford it, but he said, "take it home, try it out before you say that."
Well, I did and he was right, the pictures are absolutely amazing. In many respects they are MORE, not less, realistic than the subjects.
I have no complaints whatsoever on that score - or not exactly on that score. There were a number of images left on the camera, either by the neighbor of my client, or whoever may have had it before him. I can't be too specific, there are all kinds of people who use this web site, children, those from here and there all types in short, and I've no wish to offend. I'll just say the images were of an erotic nature, and graphic, my God, on account of the subject matter, and the quality of this amazing camera, these picture were very, very disturbing. I had to be hospitalized in fact - only for four days, but I was unable to return to work for almost six weeks. I'm paying $700.00 a month now to the client's neighbor for the camera, even though the police have it as evidence, and will keep it until the Goldman Sachs dudes and the others involved come up for trial. It's been an hellish ordeal, but I can't wait to get that camera back - digitally wiped, the police have assured me, of those unforgettable atrocious images. The bulldog was put to sleep.
What can you say about a camera that beats reality at its own game? A camera that can send you to the hospital?
But why did the bulldog have to die? Was it the camera again?
Books I've written or translated