Data Mining Goes Mainstream

In Reaping Results: Data Mining Goes Mainstream, found in today's New York Times, Steve Lohr explores how, for the first time, data mining is being broadly employed throughout society. From police forces looking at historical data to understand how payday brings on crime to tracking communications within corporations to analyzing transaction data, the 1950s dreams of operations research and cybernetics have became part of everyday life under network culture.

Where is this going? To be sure, control becomes ever tighter within a framework of artificial freedom. The current regime has been amassing information for its own dubious purposes. That much is obvious. But what strikes me is that the stats packages that allow me to examine the behavior of the thousands of visitors this site has every month may be the beginning of personal data mining. What other tools might emerge in the future? Share your OMPL allow you to co-relate your micro-clustered media consumption patterns with others like yourself. But what iif I could turn Big Brother's surveillance against itself? With locative media (supposedly) right around the corner—or even with Google Maps—wouldn't it be possible to tag the physical and means of surveillance and choke points as the NYC Surveillance Camera Project did, for example? Might cryptome.org merely be a precursor to a massive counter-movement that employs the same techniques Big Brother does?

Utopian? Dystopian? But of course.

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fripp and eno

Robert Fripp and Brian Eno's classic series of recordings””?No Pussyfooting, Evening Star , and more recently The Equatorial Stars are all required listening, and not only for the stunning sound. Both of earlier projects””?over 30 years old by now””?deal with ambiance, distortion noise and feedback, all issues that network architects need to engage with headon.

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Also worth noting””?as if anything these two did isn't””?is a manifesto that Fripp wrote that could still be aptly used by the NetLab, available here as well as Eno's Oblique Strategies, a set of cards that could be used, like the i Ching, to break through everyday impasses. These can be found for as a widget or application for the Mac or as an application for your Palm-based PDA.

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Cubicle Culture

Fortune Magazine carries an article Robert Propst and the history of the cubicle. As moves away from physical offices toward more fluid, cybernetically conceived spaces, cubicles were an evolutionary step toward the networked workplace of our own day. Along with the fascinating history of this ubiquitous part of office design, the article makes some surprising observations about the present, most notably that 26 million Americans now telecommute via broadband. The article is, unfortunately, vague about whether this mean they just check their email once a day from home or whether they don’t bother going into the office at all.
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Project Cybersyn

On the topic of convergences between cybernetics and design, there's also the rather wild Chilean Cybersyn project. In 1970, Dr. Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile. Against the wishes of the United States, Allende and his Popular Unity government hoped to create "the Chilean Way to Socialism," La v??a chilena al socialismo. Allende and Fernando Flores, his 29-year-old minister of finance (now philosopher and management consultant) were faced with the challenge of managing newly nationalized industry but hoped to avoid the top-down methods of the Soviet model. As a doctor, Allende was attracted to scientific methods and when Flores proposed a technocratic means of controlling the industry, he agreed, hiring on his recommendation British management guru/scientist/visionary Stafford Beer to create Project Cybersyn, a system with which to monitor the output of factories, the flow of materials, rates of absenteeism, and other indicators on a daily basis. Through Project Cybersyn, Beer hoped to implant an electronic "nervous system" into Chilean society. The country would be linked together via a vast communications network to create what the Guardian calls a "socialist Internet." Finding about 500 abandoned TELEX machines in a factory, Beer networked these together to a provide input for software written by Chilean engineers in consultation with British engineers from Arthur Anderson called Cyberstrider that used Bayesian statistics to create a self-learning control system. cybersyn opsroom All this was fed into the Cybersyn Opsroom, designed by Grupo de Dise?±o Industrial, a government Industrial Design Group led by former Ulm School Professor Gui Bonsiepe. Although the room was never operational, it was understood at the time as "the symbolic heart of the project," to quote Eden Medina, a scholar who wrote her dissertation at MIT on the topic and presented the material at Bruno Latour's Making Things Public exhibit as well as in the catalog for the show. In a setting influenced by the design of 2001, seven swivel chairs with buttons in the armrests""?themselves influenced by Saarinen's Silla Tulip Chairs""?were clustered in a circle as advisors processed data from large projection screens. The armrests of each chair were outfitted with ash trays and spaces for drinks. Although there was no space for writing, which was prohibited, buttons allowed occupants to control the material on the screens and provide feedback. Since the advisors were used to secretaries doing the typing, there was no keyboard interface. Instead, large buttons, fit for pounding on, if necessary, allowed officials to make their decisions. But computer graphics was not yet ready for the job. The displays were not CRTs with computer generated data. Instead, industrial designers would painstakingly produce the diagrams by hand. These would be photographed and projected as slides onto the display screens. As Robert Sumrell mentioned to me, this proves that they had more faith in the computer than if they had actually had machines produce the renderings. cybersyn opsroom chair Even as it consumed massive amounts of the Chilean economy, Cybersyn initially appeared to be successful when, during October 1972, conservative small businessmen went on strike. Some 50,000 truck drivers blocked the streets of Santiago, but through Cybersyn the government was able to identify 200 trucks that remained loyal and coordinate food deliveries to the areas of the city that needed it most. A year later, however, on September 11, 1973, Allende's government was overthrown in a military coup with support from the United States government and, allegedly, telecommunications conglomerate ITT, which specialized in owning telecommunications monopolies outside the United States and owned 70% of the Chilean Telephone Company. Cybersyn's simplifications proved unable to comprehend what was to come and the Pinochet regime destroyed the Cybersyn project and the Opsroom. Technorati Tags: 1970s, computers, cybernetics, history of new media, object culture, ulm
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