Category Archives: Thoughtful

From philosophy to the little more serious things in life.

Private Anonymity

Privacy isn't dead. Anonymity is.

Privacy isn't dead. Anonymity is.

Note: I wrote this about a week ago with the intention of posting it up with the appropriate photo when the mood stuck me. Given the recent celebrity nude photo leak/hack. I figure it would be a good time to put this up. Which also meant I had to get creative with the photo.

They say that privacy is dead. As someone who grew up during the early years of the internet, I always considered it to be an overly sensitive headline. Something people who can't keep up with the ever changing pace of technology would say. I say it differently. I say that privacy is not dead. It never was. Privacy is very much alive. It is anonymity that is dead.

I recently updated my phone to the latest version of Windows Phone and with it, finally bringing Microsoft's own digital personal assistant to the game, alongside iOS's Siri and Google's Google Now. The first most obvious thing I realised going through all the options is that for Cortana to work to its fullest potential, I have to allow her to access almost every part of my digital footprint. Location, emails, social networks, interests and most definitely by default, search metadata.

Thing is, I accepted these conditions right away, leaving them to default as they were. It was the same as when I activated Google Now on my Nexus 7, allowing Google to go through my data. As much as I, an educated and experienced user of the digital age, understand that I am allowing these companies to go through my data for their own profit, I am also being given a service that would help me make my life easier.

A lot of armchair privacy advocates would say that such casual openess with our personal information is a portent of doom and gloom, heck, my mother regularly chastises me with my openness on social networks. However I don't think this is necessarily true. Like how we have dealt with privacy in a pre-digital age, a lot of what we put out comes down to common sense. I like to think that this is why older non tech savvy relatives and inexperienced mobile phone generationals fail so badly when it comes to digital privacy. Both age groups have no idea what they are doing.

Let's put it in a simpler context. Whenever I am tasked with the option of sharing my information on a digital level, I always ask myself two important questions.

1. Am I comfortable with the possibility that everyone will know what I will be sharing online?
2. Are there any adverse consequences to myself and the people around me should people know what I will be sharing online?

If I answer yes for the first and no for the second, then I'm all set to put whatever I want up online. This doesn't mean that privacy is dead, it means you have a choice on what you want to leave as private.

So now, we'll put this in a non-digital context. Let's say I have a fairly offensive shirt that goes along the lines of "I hate black gay Jews" (Obvious disclaimer: I don't own a shirt like this and I have no bias against race, the LGBT community, and religion). I'll ask myself the very same questions as above. Am I comfortable wearing it in public? Of course I wouldn't be so that puts an end to publicly displaying it, but for the sake of argument, let's assume I'm one of the worst kinds of bigots. Are there any adverse consequences should I wear it in public? Given the polarising social backlash of the current climate, it's obvious there would be. So even if I am some kind of homophobic racist (I stress again, I am not one), common sense dictates I shouldn't wear something like that in public.

If people apply the same kind of common sense to the digital world, it is perfectly clear that privacy has never died. We have a choice, and we will always have a choice on what we choose to share with others. What internet takes away from us and I think that's what many people are struggling to realise is that you're no longer another face in the crowd.

Sure, at the end of the day, we can be catagorised as just part of a larger subset of data for corporations to make use of. However, in that data lies core information of who we are. Name, age group, income bracket, interests. People will argue that the knowledge of this alone is a violation of privacy, but it's no different from pre-digital era data mining. If that kind of personal detail is the basis of privacy violations, then privacy was dead a long time before the internet came of age.

It's thanks to the digital age, that it's easier to process large amounts of information to put a face to the data that corportations want. It doesn't mean that they will know your most intimate secrets (unless you lack the common sense to put it for all to see), it just means that they know enough to sell you the things it thinks you need. The more you're willing to let it identify who you are, the better those services are for you. It's a trade off in that your face, literally and metaphorically, will be the key to a more convienient lifestyle. Everything else about you is inconsequential, unless you're willing to share it, and that maintains a level of privacy that people seem to forget they still have.

Addendum: When the news broke that a lot of private celebrity photos were leaked online, the backlash and outrage naturally followed the wave. One side seems to think that it was stupid of them to upload their photos onto a secure cloud. Others think that there is no difference from this incident and having your own home burgled with your private and intimate life taken and shown for the world to see. I think that, realistically at the end of the day, even though celebrities are human like the rest of us, deserving of private moments, it is their very nature as celebrities that makes them a target for people who have nothing better to do in their lives, except to ruin someone else's day. It never excuses idiots from doing such a thing, but it means that as people in the spotlight, celebrities need to have an extra awareness of what goes on in their lives in order to maintain a standard of privacy.

To end it, let's go back to Siri/Google Now/Cortana, and why I'm fine with giving them just enough personal information for them to work. If we consider actual personal assistants who manage the schedules of the wealthy and perpetually busy, they manage their bosses schedule for up to months at a time, they know where their bosses are and should be at any present time, they take their phone calls and messages should their bosses be busy, and they know what their bosses tastes enough to show them what they need to know and how they need to know.

I now have the more affordable version of that assistant in my pants, I just have to give up a few things like having my own coffee delivered personally in the morning. I'm sure I can live with that.

Unforgettable Mistakes

You can never live your life without making mistakes. Yet your life after all is never defined by the mistakes you make, but what you do with them. While a black stroke will ensure that the best you will ever get in your life is a grey palette, it is up to you, the artist of your own canvas, to determine how best to accentuate the brightness in your masterpiece called life with shadows and highlights.

Unforgettable mistakes doesn't mean the end of the world. It just means you have to work a little harder to turn it into something that won't spoil the entire picture, and with time and experience, perhaps, turn it into something people would pay you a whole lot to see for themselves.

Beyond Being Human

The thing about Deus Ex is that it has always touched upon transhumanism. It is the west's own version to the the masterpiece of Japanese Anime, Ghost in the Shell (both the movies and series). With technology comes the ability to do the things we could never have done as mere human beings. Both Ghost in the Shell and Deus Ex touches upon the consequences of those abilities and they are pretty good at bringing those issues to light.

In DXHR though, one of the main issues is how will the rest of the world deal with the idea we can be capable of so much more through the technology we created. As a man of science, I'm more inclined to go with the idea that the progression of science and technology has dammning consequences only to those who aren't able to put it to good use.

Technology itself was never corruptible, but human beings are. We after all are a byproduct, locked into several million years of evolution thanks to our ability to change the environment to our needs, rather than the other way around. The human mind, through biology and ultimately culture has defined its own limitations of what we can or cannot do. As such many people place such mistrust on what technology, which has the ability to bypass those barriers, can do to the limitations that we have come to believe or even rely on for so long.

So in Deus Ex or Ghost in the Shell, I fully welcome the ability to be more than what's defined to be human. I fully welcome the idea that the human consciousness can be nothing more than a collection of unique data in a specialised hardware properly optimised for the user. What it means for me is that by mastering and perhaps surpassing my physical shell, I can attain a state where the infinite free flow of information will allow me to understand and accomplish anything. You know, answering the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

Of course that would mean that whatever beliefs, whatever ideals and compulsions and impulses that you have right now as a human being would have to be challenged, and most likely discarded. The real issue isn't whether or not we are able to transcend human flesh. It is whether we will be able to transcend the human mind. Whether we as human beings are able to put away notions and conceptions of an old world when a new one is upon our very bodies.

There will always be resistance and even more dangerously, there will always be people with old world minds in new world bodies, having all that power, for a cause that is as archaic as we we first established dominant communities. What is important is that we have to realise, whether through ignorance or a conviction of character and principle, majority of the people are not and will not be readily give up their definitions or conceptions as a human being. Through that will be the more powerful people who would take advantage of that ignorance and nature of those people for their own gain. It isn't technology allowing us to perpetuate this, it is ourselves that give this free reign. It is our human nature to, one centuries of technological advancement cannot run away from.

Ultimately transhumanism isn't about the technology we slap on ourselves regardless of whether we're biologically enhanced or mechanically augmented, it is in the mindset we hold on to. The responsibilities we partake when we carry the ability to do more than we are previously capable of doing. All the advancements in the world isn't going to change the fact we're still trying to fight the inner beast that has existed in ourselves for thousands of years. It time at least to start leaving that battle behind. To acknowledge and understand that it has served us well, then embrace and develop it to bring it in line to a world that has long tried to keep it in a dark box. When we've let go of that secret shame, only then can we start working towards a mindset that redefines what it means to be human, to be transhuman in more than just body.

Until that day comes, there will always be those that will be left behind, those that will want to control the people that are left behind, and those that are helpless to do anything about it because they are too far ahead to understand what the problem is about. Such is a long troublesome road.

To think there would be much thought and philosophizing from a simple game. You bet it's a damn good one.

Warning: The link I've posted contains endgame spoilers throughout the second half of the article. Read at your own risk if you haven't played or such things don't bother you. Feel free to go through it if you've already finished the game. Deus Ex: Human Revolution Is About DRM

I Dreamwalk Into The Crossroads Of Reality

Building a career is perhaps one of the the easiest things to achieve in life. At least I've always seen is as an simple thing to do. All you do is realise what it is you want to do and then reach for it without pausing, without any safety net to fall back on. Sure, it's often a hard road to traverse. Ambition after all, is not without it's price to pay, but it's hardly something that's complicated.

If you're single and not planning to be attached anytime soon.

Over the past few months, with time ticking down until I start a family of my own, a certain, something has been bugging me. As a person with relentless ambition, there was never a question of where I wanted to go. There were considerations on how far I could possibly achieve alone, then with someone in my life, but never a question of whether or not I should turn away from a path I have spent more than a decade preparing and executing for. Until now that is.

Due to circumstances, I've begun to wonder if I can earn enough to support a family and the lifestyle that we would desire. Truthfully, no one goes into science, especially that of the experimental or theoretical kind for the money. If anything, to live a good life on that road, someone else had to be the main provider. But what if your partner can't be the main provider in the relationship? What then?

I do have an option now, but it involves me giving up my ambition of being a scientist. It involves me walking away from more than a decade of constant scheming, plotting, ass-kissing, favour collecting and plain old hard work to get to this point. I honestly don't know if I can do it, but I know I am willing to do it, if only for the sake of something more than just my own dreams.

Could I give up my dream for a reality that works better? It is not a question anyone should be in a position to ask themselves, but here I am asking it. In an ideal world, things like dreams and love are all we ever need to see life through, but reality is a much harsher mistress. It still needs things like pragmatism and money to put a roof over your head, clothes on your back and food on the table, more so if you want luxuries to go with it.

At this point, I can't really tell because the road before me has too many variables to consider. But if anything, not doing anything until it's too late isn't going to be good for my career either. Even if people say taking a reactive role is easier than a proactive one, it's always those that are proactive that go get somewhere in life and it's somewhere that I want to be. If anything, I'm cutting it pretty close if any decision is going to be made and I doubt I'll be alone when making this choice.

Or I could once again be taking too many things over my shoulder. Now wouldn't that be a surprise.

Sweet Surrender

I know I'm tempting fate by saying that life right now is good. Given the circumstances of the past year, the loose ends to clean up is close to relaxing. Of course, I tend to forget that in my life, there is no such thing as peace and comfort. If we can extrapolate the events of my life so far, this part is the calm lull before some insane hurricane sweeps past, forcing me to once again batten down the hatches and weather it out.

Some days I am amazed how I've dealt the things in my life and came out. Sure I have no friends and I've had very bad things happen to me and would probably still happen, but somehow, regardless of the hypomanic/depression mood swings, I have handled every moment as they come and in many ways come out a little better because of it. Alright, at this point, I realise I may not fulfill my childhood dream of becoming ruler of the world. Yet given what I've earn thus far, it's hard not to take some fierce pride in it all.

During some of my more turbulent episodes, I remember that I used to have someone constantly giving me the advice that I should just surrender to the things that come with life and at the end of the day, I would be more happy because of it. I would often argue that in that surrender, we lose out on the potential of fulfilling not just what we could be, but who we could be. I could not live that life so full of regretful "what if's". However as time passed, I realised there maybe there was some merit to the surrender; and in that wisdom, a compromise between the two ideals became what has kept me going in these recent time.

I surrender to the idea that I would probably never experience a moment of peace in my lifetime. I surrender to the experiences that have taught me to be a soldier, a fighter. I surrender to the reality that I perceive in which all moments are part of a seemingly endless war. I surrender to the possibility that I have no hope and I am already dead.

So I keep fighting. I fight because I realise it is what I was bred to do. I fight because I realise I shouldn't have to hate the conflicts that I endure every moment. I fight because very few people are willing to do so. I fight because at the end of the day, the collective small victories are worth grinning for than a lifetime of regrets.

Yeah, so I'm a walking balance of contradictions. I surrender because it lets me fight better and I fight because it's the closest I can come to finding some measure of satisfaction and peace in my life. Not many people can understand it. In fact, I don't think anyone I know in my life actually gets why I do what I do (except for Mel who isn't considered as "anyone" in my life), which is probably why I don't have friends. I know it's not a particularly ideal nor is it mentally healthy for me to keep doing so, but until I can find another beneficial compromise that gets me a social life, I am probably going to remain the forced hermit.

Strangely enough, I'm alright with that at this point. It really doesn't bother me to know that no one is willing take my hand and let me show them a whole different world to the one they know. Then again, maybe it's because I'm not at one of my extreme moods. You know I'll be screaming a whole different tune in one of "those" episodes. For now though, let's just savour the lull. Rarity after all breeds pricelessness.