Software that pushes the future to be better

Software that pushes the future to be better

Postby rodiponer » Fri Feb 04, 2011 12:00 pm

I am a computer nerd and have been thinking about people living in places like Egypt. Lawyers can sue corporations to stop them from encouraging regimes to torture people. Nerds can give people tools. This relates to Burning Man.

I could write an iPhone/Android app that allows people to exchange messages and photos via bluetooth. Imagine a crowd of people with phones, but no network access. Individuals take photos. The photos are copied between the phones with bluetooth. Soon everyone within 30' of each other has a copy of every photo taken. People who leave the crowd and wander the streets spread the photos wider. Exchange them with people from other parts of the city, who were in other crowds. Eventually someone connects to the Internet via WiFi or the cellular network. The phone contacts a server and sends it any photos that are not already on the server. Text messages could be passed in the same way.

The server makes a web page that puts the photos on a map, with a time slider. Photos that are tagged with GPS coordinates (an option in iPhone) could would allow one to see all oh the photos at a certain time looking at a certain thing. One could automatically make a movie of photos pointed at the man from people standing in about the same spot. More advanced algorithms could make a 3D environment from multiple photos taken.

There are some technical details. iPhones do not allow background applications to use bluetooth, so the application would have to be on someone's screen for it to be exchanging photos. This would wreck people's battery life. Bluetooth is somewhat slow, so the photos would have to be low resolution. People would have to install the application on their phones before they lose network coverage, on the way to Burning Man, or in the days before the revolution.

There could be difficult to predict emergent behaviors from hundreds of people using this software. It should be tested at a place like Burning Man.

Anyways, if this resonates with your nerdy interests, please contact me. There is a lot of work to do for the nerds if we want to push the future in a direction we want for our children, or humanity.

I feel that we are in the beginning of renaissance for software. It's hard for consumers of technology to see, but we are in the first steps of amazing structural changes in the way these machines are made. I think we are about three or four bubbles, maybe ten years, away from this being packaged into something you can buy at the store.

And just like the renaissance, wealthy people who fund projects completely lack vision. I sometimes feel like an Italian painter in 1500, where everyone with money wants another painting of Jesus with a knife in his stomach-- yet another me too clone of a Zynga, Quora, or whatever is hot in the current mini-bubble, before it pops. There are very few resources for projects that help people, or do not have potential to be commercial success in the short term.

And commercial products favor choke-points. They want to own the data on their server. This makes the system vulnerable to blocking or corruption. There is no room for spending time on things to protect people who use the software: public key cryptography could be added for environments with oppressive regimes: al-jazira, or whomever, could release a public key that protestors could encrypt their photographs with. Photos could be immediately encrypted with that key. Thus anyone who seizes a phone would not be able to view the photos. Encrypted text messages could similarly be exchanged.

So there is much work to do. And collaboration will make the tools even better: a PirateBox type device could be developed to collect and stage data, or software could be written for laptops to do this.

A public text message or photo upvoting system, like reddit, slashdot, and etc, could be hosted within the application. To help those in the midst of a crowd have situational awareness.

More platforms could be supported-- Blackberry, older J2ME devices, Windows, laptops.

And etc.

One of the things that Burning Man has taught me is that we have to make the future we want. We have to build the city every year.
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Postby Sasquatch » Fri Feb 04, 2011 2:38 pm

hmmm. that sounds interesting, but i dont think every one would play along. and there is already psudo-cell towers at burning man so everyone gets reception they just cant "call out" to people outside of BM. If you could set up a server that runs off of a cell phone that wont run out of power (solar or wind power) you could just pass around flyers asking people to send their pics to the number of the phone/server.
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Postby rodiponer » Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:00 pm

I like OpenBTS, the cell tower project that comes to Burning Man, but it can't help people living under a dictators thumb. OpenBTS needs expensive and hard to find hardware. It uses frequencies that governments regulate, so it can't run clandestinely in Iran or China. It is a single point of failure that is easy to shut down or, worse, take over and use as an intelligence or manipulation tool ("Everyone go home, the President capitulated.").

Corporations want control of their users and data. This is how they benefit economically from it, but it also makes their services easy to shut down or corrupt. Think of Twitter. Iran used twitter to investigate, arrest, and torture those who used it during protests. Egypt presumably turned off their Internet and SMS to stop people from communicating. HTTPS (SSL) is only good enough to protect credit card numbers, it offers very little to people whose governments strong arm the key authorities for root signing certificates.

What if, in the next six months, there is an app that's like Twitter, but does not need the Internet or a cellular network to function? People in Egypt, Syria, Iran, China, and wherever could use it in their daily lives. Even when nothing weird is happening. It is just their normal, legal, usual social media text message and photo sharing application. It could even be a Twitter client.

But during the times when their government does turn against them, natural disaster, or when they are at Burning Man, the application switches back to a networking layer that keeps the people, and the world, informed. It has options to make any posts anonymous, and encrypt them so that only the intended reader (CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, their Mom) can read them.

Burning Man is a great place to test and evolve technology like this because the usage is nearly the same. A lot of off network people taking photos and sending messages to each other.

But dissidents need more than that. And corporations have many reasons not to make features that will protect people in these situations. The messages and photos should be immediately encrypted with a one-way key for their destination, in case someone is arrested and their phone searched. People should be able to add public keys by taking a photograph of a QCode on their TV or in a newpaper. CNN, BBC, or Al-Jazeera could publish these keys with an embedded email address. People could then share those public keys between themselves. People should be able to anonymously post information to a real time shared message board that is hosted on the phones in their pockets ("They are using live bullets.").

No corporation is going to fund these kinds of features. This must be done by nerds. And I feel like we nerds have failed to make the right tools for people living in these situations. A few of us have done things like TOR, or the other dark nets, but that is not enough. This is not a huge piece of software, and it's not complicated. I am going to try and make this, and it will probably take me a couple months of full time work. With another Nerd we could add a laptop-satellite phone gateway, or port it to Android phones, or work on minimizing attacks on the network, and etc. We should be doing this, and I think the main reason we haven't is that most nerds are being paid very well to make Zynga clones or yet another 16th century painting of Mary cradling baby Jesus.
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Postby Sasquatch » Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:38 pm

Well its a great idea and Id like to see it happen, I just think that people at BM wouldn't go with it and have blue tooth crowds. its just too complicated and time consuming for people who are partying. On the other had in times of crisis it would be a very handy feature to have.
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Postby LLQchasm » Fri Feb 04, 2011 5:08 pm

rodiponer wrote:People could then share those public keys between themselves. People should be able to anonymously post information to a real time shared message board that is hosted on the phones in their pockets ("They are using live bullets.").


Back in the days of Yahoo and 15 other major search engines (before Google existed) like einet galaxy, webcrawler, alta vista, etc, there was something called PGP that was integrated into email clients. I still have a copy of Eudora 3.05 with PGP encryption and used to communicate securely without sending out what amounts to post cards on the internet with personal information that can be read by anyone. I'm sure that Phil Zimmerman (creator of PGP) sold out to the authorities because later versions of Eudora didn't have encryption that couldn't be cracked. But my friends and myself continued to use the older versions Eudora with PGP for years, but eventually it became incompatible with environments like Vista and I had to let go of Eudora with PGP encryption. Fortunately I still have a manual version of PGP 4.5 which is separate from any client and has the task of encrypting files which can be sent anywhere (but as attachments).

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Postby Elderberry » Fri Feb 04, 2011 6:43 pm

Great idea. I'd play.

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Postby Sasquatch » Sat Feb 05, 2011 10:24 pm

is this along the lines of what your talking about?



http://wiki.daviddarts.com/PirateBox
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Postby rodiponer » Mon Feb 07, 2011 11:08 am

Our Men In Black are a lot less scary than those in Iran or Egypt.

Encryption software is readily available, even as iPhone apps. But it doesn't have the extra step of working when the Internet and cellular networks have been turned off.

There is an effort to make software that I describe illegal. This would also make Skype and most other P2P software illegal, in their present form.

I don't believe in backdoors in open source encryption. It's not black magic: other nerds can read the source code and see how it works. They would have to be very subtle, like messing up the random number generator, but the problem with that is that other people see when someone else makes changes. The way to compromise a computer is through the hardware or closed source operating system. I'm sure if the NSA asked, that Apple, Microsoft, or Intel would not refuse a few lines here or there. Hell, I could probably do something in a video chip to compromise a computer. Gibson's idiocy aside, STUXNET proves that governments have access to operating system source code, can compromise certificate authorities, and have nerds smart enough to put this together.

And, to be honest, if there was a way to add a backdoor to my software for the NSA, and not, say, Saudi Arabia, China, or Iran, well, I would. It's not perfect, but I think we have to know whose side we are on. If they want a back door in all iPhones, I'm guessing one is already buried in the iOS encryption stack. Although I've just read Robert Baer's book and feel the CIA is a lot more like the DMV than I expected or want. We can only hope that the NSA is more competent.

Yes, I like the PirateBox. It is a step in a decentralized direction I think computing should go, for the people. Battery power is going to be a problem for a long time, and this limits the processing power of our mobile devices. This means we have to shift computation to the cloud, and I like a future where there are local cloud nodes built into every WiFi network. There are important performance reasons why you want a cloud node in your house, but it also gives people more control over their own data, because they can then inspect what is in their own box and control who has access to it. Under current US law, data in your house needs a warrant, data in the cloud does not. Your iPad, iPhone, or whatever in the future, can then instruct the app running on Amazon Web Services to replicate a piece of itself to run on your multi-processor WiFI router (or equivalent) and power your processor intensive augmented reality app that lets you cheat at Scrabble or have virtual sex with your Russian girlfriend. If the data lives in your house, then it's easy for people to understand, and make, a system where they own it.

The funny part is that breaking net neutrality, for the telecom companies to try and loot the Internet at this early stage, will motivate decentralized local networks (for people in urban areas) and sneaker net (for rural folks) technology that will, in some ways, be better for our society. Imagine Netflix being shut out by the last mile monopolies, and making a local Roku type box with two terabytes of storage, which joins a distributed ad-hoc WiFi net with your neighbors, or that plugs into your car and P2P transfers data as you commute.

Anyways, I am going to try and make this app to help people not be tortured. It's really all I can do to help. I am going to open source the entire thing, and try to make the off-grid networking layer something that, say, a New York Times iPhone APP, or Twitter, or Al-Jazeera, or whomever, can just add to their software. So if they ever decide to add a 'Upload photo to our newsroom' or 'Send message to our newsroom' type button to their apps, their software will be that much more powerful and safe for people to use. I also hope to make an Android version, so that, hopefully, other people will get the idea, and folks living in fascist states could make new versions of normal programs with these features hidden-- swipe your fingers a certain way in the Tetris app, and a young Iranian can honestly social network with her friends without worrying that the religious police are monitoring them.
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Postby TryptaNim » Tue May 17, 2011 11:39 pm

LLQchasm wrote:
rodiponer wrote:People could then share those public keys between themselves. People should be able to anonymously post information to a real time shared message board that is hosted on the phones in their pockets ("They are using live bullets.").


Back in the days of Yahoo and 15 other major search engines (before Google existed) like einet galaxy, webcrawler, alta vista, etc, there was something called PGP that was integrated into email clients. I still have a copy of Eudora 3.05 with PGP encryption and used to communicate securely without sending out what amounts to post cards on the internet with personal information that can be read by anyone. I'm sure that Phil Zimmerman (creator of PGP) sold out to the authorities because later versions of Eudora didn't have encryption that couldn't be cracked. But my friends and myself continued to use the older versions Eudora with PGP for years, but eventually it became incompatible with environments like Vista and I had to let go of Eudora with PGP encryption. Fortunately I still have a manual version of PGP 4.5 which is separate from any client and has the task of encrypting files which can be sent anywhere (but as attachments).

If you create it, men in black will come knocking on your door.


You should look in to running a virtual machine on Vista, that would allow you to emulate an older version of Windows and run the now obsolete Eudora.
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Postby Abigail J » Wed May 18, 2011 10:41 am

Things never get any better. People have all been craving sex for thousands of years. Software isn't going to help you get laid.
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Postby Ugly Dougly » Wed May 18, 2011 12:49 pm

Abigail J wrote:Things never get any better. People have all been craving sex for thousands of years. Software isn't going to help you get laid.


Whose sock are you, Abby?
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