Tag Archives: data

Listening To The Visual Microphone

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Sound happens when things vibrate, displacing air and creating pressure waves that fall within the spectrum of waves the human ear can detect.

Researchers at MIT, working with Microsoft & Adobe, have developed an algorithm that reads video recordings of vibrating objects more or less like a microphone reads the vibrations of a diaphragm. I like to think it turns the world into a record: instead of vibrations etched in vinyl, the algorithm reads vibrations etched in pixels of light–it’s a video phonograph, something that lets us hear the sounds written in the recorded motion of objects. As researcher Abe Davis explains,

We’re recovering sounds from objects. That gives us a lot of information about the sound that’s going on around the object, but it also gives us a lot of information about the object itself, because different objects are going to respond to sound in different ways.

So, this process gives us info about both the ambient audio environment, and the materiality of the videorecorded objects–that’s a lot of information, info that could obviously be used for all sorts of surveillance. And that will likely be people’s primary concern with this practice.

But I think this is about a lot more than surveillance. This research reflects some general trends that cross both theory, pop culture, and media/tech:

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Facebook has Always Manipulated Your Emotions

 

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Emotional Contagion is the idea that emotions spread throughout networks. If you are around happy people, you are more likely to be happy. If you are around gloomy people, you are likely to be glum.

The data scientists at Facebook set out to learn if text-based, nonverbal/non-face-to-face interactions had similar effects.  They asked: Do emotions remain contagious within digitally mediated settings? They worked to answer this question experimentally by manipulating the emotional tenor of users’ News Feeds, and recording the results.

Public reaction was such that many expressed dismay that Facebook would 1) collect their data without asking and 2) manipulate their emotions.

I’m going to leave aside the ethics of Facebook’s data collection. It hits on an important but blurry issue of informed consent in light of Terms of Use agreements, and deserves a post all its own. Instead, I focus on the emotional manipulation, arguing that Facebook was already manipulating your emotions, and likely in ways far more effectual than algorithmically altering the emotional tenor of your News Feed. (more…)

Sniffing

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I walk my two dogs, Laika and Sputnik, once or sometimes twice a day. On these walks, they sniff around a lot. One day, while they were on a particularly strong sniff binge, I wondered how their olfactory interaction with the physical world translated into a metaphysics, specifically, into an understanding of time. Sputnik and Laika could smell this patch of sidewalk’s recent past–they knew that my neighbor Mickey and her dogs Bentley and Beauty had taken a walk earlier this afternoon (I’m guessing this was the case because they go nuts for their scent, as Mickey always gives them treats). That’s not something I would know unless I (a) talked to Mickey, or (b) had surveillance camera data from the car dealership by this particular patch of sidewalk. What, for me, was an imperceptible, unknowable “past” was for them a perfectly accessible fact. The past was physically present for them in a way it was not for me. Surely this different perceptual orientation to the physical world translates into a different metaphysical experience of time and, well, of reality more generally. When the world is sniffed rather than seen, different features and patterns of relationships emerge as the prominent, organizing factors of that world.

I wasn’t particularly interested in following up on that idea until I read that “sniffing” is a metaphor commonly used to describe a specific type of data surveillance.

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More eyes, different eyes: droning & Google Glass

Three articles came out this week that help me develop my concept of droning as a general type of surveilance that differs in important ways from the more traditional concept of “the gaze” or, more academically, “panopticism.” There’s Molly Crabapple’s post on Rizome, the NYTimes article about consumer surveillance, and my colleague Gordon Hull’s post about the recent NSA legal rulings over on NewAPPS. Thinking with and through these three articles helps me clarify a few things about the difference between droning and gazing: (1) droning is more like visualization than like “the gaze”–that is, droning “watches” patterns and relationships among individual “gazes,” patterns that are emergent properties of algorithmic number-crunching; and (2) though the metaphor of “the gaze” works because the micro- and macro-levels are parallel/homologous, droning exists only at the macro-level; individual people can run droning processes, but only if they’re plugged into crowds (data streams or sets aggregating multiple micro- or individual perspectives).

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What is the Quantified Self Now?

There's A LOT more to (self-)tracking than Quantified Self

There’s A LOT more to (self-)tracking than Quantified Self

When people ask me what it is that I’m studying for my PhD research, my answer usually begins with, “Have you ever heard of the group Quantified Self?” I ask this question because, if the person says yes, it’s a lot easier for me to explain my project (which is looking at different forms of mood tracking, primarily within the context of Quantified Self). But sometimes asking this return question makes my explanation more difficult, too, because a lot of people have heard the word “quantified” cozy up to the word “self” in ways that make them feel angry, uncomfortable, or threatened. They don’t at all like what those four syllables sometimes seem to represent, and with good reason: the idea of a “quantified self” can stir images of big data, data mining, surveillance, loss of privacy, loss of agency, mindless fetishization of technology, even utter dehumanization.

But this is not the Quantified Self that I have come to know. (more…)

Data Based

Data Based is a weekly Cyborgology feature producing original, insightful, and fun data visualizations.

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This is the second installment of Data Based,  a weekly Cyborgology feature producing original, insightful, and fun data visualizations.

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Data Based

Data Based is a brand new Cyborgology feature producing original, insightful, and fun data visualizations.

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