Surveillant Anxiety in the Age of Snowden and Normcore

5 Intriguing Things is a curated collection of links that help us think about the future. Subscribe to the daily newsletter.
More

1. Surveillant anxiety may not catch on as a term, but Kate Crawford's essay on the topic is outstanding.

"Surveillant anxiety is always a conjoined twin: The anxiety of those surveilled is deeply connected to the anxiety of the surveillers. But the anxiety of the surveillers is generally hard to see; it’s hidden in classified documents and delivered in highly coded languages in front of Senate committees. This is part of why Snowden’s revelations are so startling: They make it possible for us to see the often-obscured concerns of the intelligence agencies. And while there is an enormous structural power asymmetry between the surveillers and surveilled, neither are those with the greatest power free from being haunted by a very particular kind of data anxiety: that no matter how much data they have, it is always incomplete, and the sheer volume can overwhelm the critical signals in a fog of possible correlations."

 

2. Drug-trafficking drones. Just think about that for a minute

"In the case of drug drones, the wings need to fold up so that it will fit in a semi-truck both before and after flight so that it can be serviced, reloaded and flown from another site. It’s a lot easier and less expensive than running a drug submarine. You can build and operate two dozen drone aircraft for the price of one submarine. The swarm effect also makes it unlikely that more than one at most will be apprehended by American law enforcement at any one time. The assembly line for narcotics drones is located in the Santa Fe District of Mexico City and near the Bombardier factory at Queretaro where aircraft factory workers can moonlight and double their money."

 

3. A single synapse is mind-bogglingly complex, even if we *can* model it in simple ways.

"The downside of the cartoon synapse is that it gives a false impression. It makes it seem as if the synapse is simple and all figured out, when actually it’s mostly baffling. I was reminded of its complexity by a study published in today’s issue of Science. Researchers in Germany used an array of techniques— including Western blotmass spectrometryelectron microscopy, and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy—to create a three-dimensional model of a typical synapse in the adult rat brain... The model shows some 300,000 individual proteins, and remember—they’re all hanging out at a single synapse!"

 

4. Design thinking is a certain kind of application of engineering.

"There is, however, a part of the story that seems to be slipping away (especially in the business press and in business schools) that I think is important to tell, and that executives, students, and journalists often don't seem to realize: Engineers and engineering schools are one of the main driving forces behind this movement. You can see the impact of engineers clearly in the development of two iconic design thinking organizations that I know well and have been involved in for many years: IDEO, the magnificent innovation firm, and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, which everyone calls the Stanford d.school."

 

5. The currency of living matter.

"As part of opti-ME*s investigation into embodied value, identity economics, and human exchange, artist Sascha Pohflepp presents a speculative executive toy modeled on the body’s very own ‘molecular currency’. Converting organic into digital ‘money’, he maps in a closed circuit the energy needed for the bio-mechanical production of five US dollars worth of Bitcoins – the market value of the digital rendering of the molecule itself... Drawing inspiration from Georges Bataille’s writings on flows of energy and excess, the Currency of Living Matter re-imagines a model of the ATP molecule, bought on the internet for five US dollars, as a desk accessory for biotech executives of the near future."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

bottleneck. Fig. something that checks progress; in good standing, but overworked.

 

Subscribe to 5 Intriguing Things

The Downside of the Cartoon Synapse

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Is Technology Shifting Our Moral Compass?

"The experience of taking another human life becomes much more trivial."


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In