Archive for July 2016

DNC Hack Unleashes Whirlwind of Criticism

A few days back, 19,000 emails and several private voice mail recordings stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s private server were released and published on WikiLeaks. The¬†leaked data, which represents yet another way that technology has played a major role in the 2016 elections, has since been thoroughly sifted through by reporters and civilians alike, with fairly damning results.

dnc2The emails reveal the many embarrassing deals made between donors and campaign officials, demonstrating the way that fundraising higher-ups are in charge of approving and denying access to Barack Obama and other top officials.

The emails also validated concerns expressed by Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign that the DNC favored Hillary Clinton in the race to become the¬†Democratic presidential nominee.

The voice mail recordings are no less embarrassing; two different US ambassadors left messages for the DNC to speak about personal meetings with the president; one message is left by disgraced DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who sought to confirm plans to attend a “small dinner” with President Obama. Another was from a staffer who wanted tickets to a St. Patrick’s Day event with the president.

“We’ve received an invitation to the vice president’s breakfast but not the White House reception,” complained the staffer in a voice mail dated back from February. That same staffer later called to confirm that the invitation had been received.

The leak, which many experts believe to have been carried out by Russian state-sponsored hackers, are also heavily composed of email exchanges that discuss a large range of donor data and transactions. Among these exchanges include emails about donors hoping to get seats next to Obama at roundtable discussions. One such email facilitated the bump of a donor with cancer from the seat next to Obama, allowing a more generous donor to take his place.

dnc leak2“A lot of people unfortunately get sick,” finance director Jordan Kaplan said of the switch via leaked email. After the email was revealed to the public, Kaplan admitted to being “embarrassed” by the leak:

“It was a conversation we were having amongst our team, and again, I’m sorry people have read them, and I’m embarrassed it’s out there,” he conceded.

The leaked emails also show Kaplan asking other finance staffers to compile a list of major league donors who wanted to play golf with President Obama. The resulting drafted list is also available via email.

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta believes the most significant aspect of the leak to be that donors’ personal information was exposed to the world:

“What was disclosed is personal information of our donors, and it’s always worrisome when personal information is stolen,” he stated. “And that’s true whether it’s Target or Sony or, or the DNC.”

Among the files leaked is a large spreadsheet titled “Big Spreadsheet of All Things” that lists every donation made to the party and each event where money was raised.

Some emails even demonstrate the process by which donors were vetted. Many donors found that their support was not accepted due to past scandals involving the donor, all of which was laid out clearly in the emails.

While Democratic fundraisers are displeased with the leak, many say that what the leak demonstrates has been commonplace for decades.

Takeout App to Use Delivery Robots

Just Eat is a takeout food delivery service and app generally manned by a staff or restaurant employees. However, the company has recently revealed its plans to use delivery robots developed by Starship Technologies for orders in limited neighborhoods from a small selection of restaurants in London.

stAccording to Just Eat, the robots have already been utilized in cities on other continents. The delivery bots that underwent beta testing in these other locations have already traveled a combined 5,000 miles without a single accident.

Starship Technology developed robots that are small, autonomous and capable of carrying small packages over short distances. The robots have onboard cameras that keep the device aware of its changing surroundings and can be over ridden by human operators in a command center given complicated situations. The compartment in which the packages are kept (meal orders, in this case) are secured and can only be accessed through entering the correct access code.

“There is a lot of talk in the industry of this sort of automation, and the use of drones as well, but there are many health and safety and compliance issues to overcome,” explained Bryan Roberts, analyst at TCC Global. “Unleashing these robots on the street carries an inherent risk, and may even show a naive view of human nature and people’s desire to interfere with this type of technology.”

That said, Starship Technologies’ chief executive Ahti Heinla has responded to this alleged threat before, stating that there have yet to be examples of the general public interfering with or hijacking the robots.

“People do not actually interfere with it on the pavement,” he explained. “We have driven thousands of miles with robots like this… and the vast majority of people just ignore it.”

st2Metro Group, a German retailer, as well as parcel delivery company Hermes and London-based food delivery service Pronto are also testing the robots, hoping to be the first companies to discover a new and more efficient way around hiring employees.

Other companies like Deliveroo help match companies with people willing to run deliveries, allowing freelancers to receive a small payment for every meal that they deliver.

“It’s a laudable and adventurous idea,” posited Roberts, “but I also wonder how this could be rolled out at scale when there is already a very low cost human alternative.”

It’s true that implementing a new technology that no doubt requires a high cost initial investment and cannot promise consistent success is likely to be a challenge. After all, how well are these robots actually understood and is it smart to put such valuable technology to work unsupervised in the streets? While the robots may have worked well without incident, I would be curious as to the cities where they were tested. Were those little autonomous delivery bots to be set free holding potentially valuable packages and even takeout food in dangerous areas of Chicago or Oakland, they would likely not have the same incident-free success record.

Perhaps autonomous flying drones would work better, as they could at least remain out of reach during deliveries.

Pavlov and High-Tech Appliances

You’ve likely heard of Pavlov’s dog, but what was Pavlov’s theory really all about, and how does it relate to you as you move through life in our modern era? Perhaps disconcertingly, what Pavlov called “classical conditioning” is more relevant than ever in our day and age, especially given the way that our technological appliances have become so closely threaded into our lives.

Classical conditioning as Pavlov defined it is a reflexive or automatic type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus. Pavlov demonstrated that this process occurred and could potentially be made to happen on purpose through the research he conducted in the early 20th century.

These ideas are based on the existence of different kinds of learning, the most relevant of which is called associative learning. Associative learning occurs when a person makes a new association between events in the environment in which he or she lives. There are two forms of associative learning called classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

dog shikFamously, Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment in which the feeding schedule of particular dogs was paired with the ringing of a bell. After some time of this, Pavlov found that he could trigger the dogs’ salivation simply be sounding the bell. Through this discovery, Pavlov found that a neural stimulus that was not originally associated with triggering salivation was ultimately wedded with the physical response, proving that stimulus-response bonds (considered by some as the basic building blocks of learning) can be formed in such a way. The unconditioned stimulus (meat powder) triggered the dogs’ salivation, which constituted an unconditioned response. The bell became a conditioned stimulus that triggered the salivation, or conditioned response.

So how does that process affect human beings in our era? Doubtless it affects them in a myriad of ways, but perhaps one of the simplest and most widespread examples of this phenomenon distinct to our era would be the text, Facebook notification, or other form of pop-up sound or image that notifies a person that something has changed in terms of their virtual presence.

fb stockWhile texts and phone calls are plenty distracting, notifications in either form are signs that a person has made a genuine effort to reach out to another party directly. This is immensely helpful, through there are of course people who use the technology in a way that’s unhealthy.

Perhaps the more disturbing cases are those tethered to social media, when notifications are meant to make noises and trigger bright lights once found solely in casinos. The beeps and whistles of these signs have been shown to light up reward centers for the people who receive them as they seem like indicators of social well-being and interest. However, more and more often notifications are unrelated to the actual social media account user, or are notifications of very shallow and uninteresting changes in the person’s account. At the end of the day, they’re meant to be addictive more than they’re meant to deliver social satisfaction.