Bull Session

Storytelling and AI

April 20, 2017          

Episode Summary

On The Digital Life this week we explore storytelling, creativity, and artificial intelligence. Our cultural evolution is reflected in our ability to communicate through stories, creating shared experiences and meaning. Recent research from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide used an AI to classify the emotional arcs for 1,327 stories from Project Gutenberg’s fiction collection, identifying six types of narratives. Could these reverse-engineered storytelling components be used to build automated software tools for authors, or even to train machines to generate original works? Online streaming service Netflix already uses data generated from users’ movie and television preferences to help choose its next shows. What might happen when computers not only pick the shows, but also write the scripts for them?

Resources:
The Six Main Arcs in Storytelling, as Identified by an A.I.
The strange world of computer-generated novels
A Japanese AI program just wrote a short novel, and it almost won a literary prize

Bull Session

Hacking Infrastructure

April 13, 2017          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss our vulnerable infrastructure, in light of the recent hacking attack on the Dallas emergency sirens. Our real world infrastructure — from power plants to airports to dams — is increasingly subject to both online and offline security breaches, which represents a significant problem in a world where the Internet of Things (IoT) is just beginning to take hold.

While the Dallas hack was accomplished via a radio or telephone signal — not an online breach — it nonetheless provides a prime example of how such attacks disrupt municipal emergency response. Over 4,000 calls flooded the city’s 911 system, forcing real emergencies to wait. Unfortunately, the spectrum of these attacks runs from malicious prank to terrorism and it’s hard to know what kind of attack is happening as it occurs.

Potential outcomes, including the difficulties brought on by service disruptions for electricity, water, transportation, etc., not to mention increased skepticism of emergency systems, could potentially be life threatening. What are the solutions for such hacks on critical infrastructure? And how should we view these types of events and react to them in a resilient fashion in the future?

Resources:
Hacking Attack Woke Up Dallas With Emergency Sirens, Officials Say
Sirens in Dallas, Texas Maybe Civil Defense Tests? Hackers?
Culprit broadcast signal that triggered Dallas’ emergency sirens Friday night
Someone hacked every tornado siren in Dallas. It was loud.

Bull Session

Privacy Overturned

April 6, 2017          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life, in light of Congress overturning online privacy rules created by the FCC, we discuss the potential consequences of corporations tracking people’s online activities and selling their data. Last week, House Republicans overturned privacy rules — slated to go into effect later this year — that required broadband providers to receive consumers’ permission before collecting data on their online activities. Because consumers often don’t have many options for high-speed internet providers, and because ISPs can monitor nearly everything about consumers’ digital lives — from the sites they visit to the applications they use — these rules were seen as a privacy backstop, giving people the power to prevent companies from profiting from their personal information.

Resources:
Congress Moves to Overturn Obama-Era Online Privacy Rules