Codes and legals

Code is a useful term, not least as it has several meanings: rules, laws, computer programs, hidden messages. You can code and decode messages. The terminology around cryptographic ciphers is more restricted. It invokes meanings related to hidden writing. According to Simon Singh in The Code Book, “A cipher is the name given to any…More

Urban cryptography

I’ve been investigating city life through the lens of cryptography. Here are some of the claims I think I can make on behalf of an “urban cryptography.” The most obvious contribution is that cryptography (digital encryption) addresses and resolves challenges of securing data and information flows in the city. But there’s more. Cities rely on…More

How the Meta(verse) stokes division

The release of the trove of papers (“The Facebook Papers”) by whistle-blower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen in 2021 suggests that Facebook manipulates and displays its content to polarise opinion and keep people engaged, if not “addicted,” in their social media news feeds. Social media platform developers configure their systems to encourage controversy. At…More

Life in the metaverse

Technology companies such as Facebook have committed to developing the “metaverse.” According to a Facebook report the metaverse is “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.” Facebook’s parent company is now called Meta. Skeptics say this is an excuse…More

Greening the blockchain

While the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 takes place in Glasgow this week, attention turns to the energy waste of cryptocurrency transactions. A substantial part of the cost resides with the “proof of work” (PoW) process by which validating nodes on a blockchain compete to solve a numerical puzzle the solution to which…More

Urban affordances

The term affordance was invented by the psychologist James J. Gibson (1904-1997): “The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill” (1979, p.27). He introduced the concept by referring to the relationship between the non-human animal (water bugs and bears) and its environment,…More

“Smart city” claims

A “smart” public transportation network is one where schedules and real-time data are delivered on demand to smartphone users. Such an effective and “smart” system enables a traveller to transition from bus to train to tram without having to wait due to missed connections. The system adapts its information flows to the traveller’s changing needs…More

Cybersecurity at the front

The Cybersecurity Bible by Hugo Hoffman encourages anyone who would be a cybersecurity specialist to “think like the enemy” (604). The guide counsels vigorous defence against potential attackers: purveyors of phishing attacks, de-authentication attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, etc. Cybersecurity inevitably associates with defence, conflict, contest and war. Surface vulnerabilities Concepts of cybersecurity instil a sense of…More

Ethics and feature detection

Automated feature detection within images (described in my previous post) deploys “machine learning” techniques. A machine learning algorithm scans thousands of “training” images that are pre-labelled with relevant feature descriptors. The algorithm adjusts the parameters in its network data structure to reproduce those same labels when presented with the same images. It thereby “learns” to…More

Feature detection: Cows, cars and red motorcycles

Automated feature detection in images is big business. Amazon offers a service for businesses to identify features in large collections of images. According to their website at aws.amazon.com/rekognition the service provides automatic labelling of elements in a picture (e.g. this is a person on a bike, here is a mountain peak, etc). You can identify…More