‘Eddie’ the robot, US National Security Agency talks back to Ed Snowden, at TED 2014′s Session 8: Hacked

The session started 30 minutes earlier than originally scheduled and as a consequence I got to the party a little late. First up, Marco Tempest, magician and technoillusionist, introduced and played with EDI (electronic deceptive intelligence; pronounced Eddy), a large, anthropomorphic robot (it had a comic book style face on the screen used for its face and was reminiscent of Ed Snowden’s appearance in a telepresent robot). This was a slick presentation combining magic and robotics bringing to mind Arthur C. Clarke’s comment, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,which I’m sure Tempest mentioned before I got there. Interestingly, he articulated the robot’s perspective that humans are fragile and unpredictable inspiring fear and uncertainty in the robot. It’s the first time I’ve encountered our relationship from the robot’s perspective,. Thank you Mr. Tempest.

Rick Ledgett, deputy director of the US National Science Agency (NSA), appeared on screen as he attended remotely but not telepresently as Ed Snowden did earlier this week to be interviewed by a TED moderator (Chris Anderson, I think). Technical problems meant the interview was interrupted and stopped while the tech guys scrambled to fix the problem. Before he was interrupted, Ledgett answered a question as to whether or not Snowden could have taken alternative actions. Ledgett made clear that he (and presumably the NSA) does not consider Snowden to be a whistleblower. It was a little confusing to me but it seemed to me that Ledgett was suggesting that whistleblowing is legitimate only when down to the corporate sector. As well, Ledgett said that Snowden could have reported to his superiors and to various oversight agencies rather than making his findings public. These responses, of course, are predictable so what made the interview interesting was Ledgett’s demeanour. He was careful not to say anything inflammatory and seemed reasonable. He is the right person to representing the NSA. He doesn’t seem to know how dangerous and difficult whistleblowing whether it’s done to a corporate entity or a government agency. Whether or not you agree with Snowden’s actions, the response to them is a classic response. I went to a talk some years ago and the speaker, Mark Wexler who teaches business ethics at Simon Fraser University, said that whistleblowers often lose their careers, their relationships, and their families due to the pressures brought to bear on them.

Ledgett rejoins the TED stage after Kurzweil and it sounds like he has been huddling with a communications team as he reframes his and Snowden’s participation as part of an important conversation. Clearly, the TED team has been in touch with Snowden who refutes Ledgett’s suggestions about alternative routes. Now. Ledgett talks tough as he describes Snowden as arrogant. He states somewhere in all this that Snowden’s actions have endangered lives and the moderator presses him for examples. Ledgett’s response features examples that are general and scenario-based. When pressed Ledgett indulges in a little sarcasm suggesting that things would be easier with badboy.com as a site where nefarious individuals would hang out. Ledgett makea some valid points about the need for some secrecy and he does state that he feels transparency is important and the NSA has not been good about it. Ledgett notes that every country in the world has a means of forcing companies to reveal information about users and he notes that some countries are using  the notion (effectively lying) that they don’t force revelations as a marketing tool. the interview switches to a discussion of metadata, its importance, and whether or not it provides more information about them individually than most people realize. Ledgett refutes that notion. I have to go, hope to get back and point you to other reports with more info. about this fascinating interview.

Ed Yong, uber science blogger, from his TED biography,

Ed Yong blogs with a mission: igniting excitement for science in everyone, regardless of their education or background.

The award-winning blog Not Exactly Rocket Science (hosted by National Geographic) is the epicenter of Yong’s formidable web and social media presence. In its posts, he tackles the hottest and most bizarre topics in science journalism. When not blogging, he also manages to contribute to Nature, Wired, Scientific American and many other web and print outlets. As he says, “The only one that matters to me, as far as my blog is concerned, is that something interests me. That is, excites or inspires or amuses me.”

Yong talked about mind-controlling parasites such as tapeworms and Gordian worms in the context of his fascination with how the parasites control animal behaviour. (i posted about a parasite infecting and controlling honey bees in an Aug. 2, 2012 piece.) Yong is liberal with his sexual references such as castrating, mind-controliing parasites in a very witty way. He also suggests that humans may in some instances (estimates suggest up to 1/3 of us) be controlled by parasites and our notions of individual autonomy are a little over-blown.

Ray Kurzweil, Mr. Singularity, describes evolution and suggests that humans are not evolving quickly enough given rapidly changing circumstances. He focuses on human brains and the current theories about their processing capabilities and segues into artificial intelligence. He makes the case that we are preparing for a quantitative leap in intelligence as our organic brains are augmented by the artificial.

Kurzweil was last mentioned here in a Jan. 6, 2010 posting in the context of reverse-engineering brains.

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