The Movie Every Screwed Millennial Should Watch
“Advantageous” tells the story of a generation’s time.
By Arthur Chu
Jun 27 2015
Jennifer Phang’s indie science fiction film “Advantageous,” a darling of 2015’s Sundance, came to Netflix Instant Streaming earlier this week. If you’re a millennial, you have Netflix. If you’re an un- or underemployed millennial, you have time. Every un- or underemployed millennial needs to see this movie.
We live in a renaissance of science fiction film and TV and “geek” culture in general — the accelerating pace of technological change thanks to Moore’s Law makes it hard to deny we’re living in “the future,” we’re all part-machine-part-human for practical purposes now, no one can guess what element of science fiction is next to become science fact, blah blah blah.
You’ve heard that song and dance before. They use it to sell everything from splashy popcorn blockbusters with robot villains to artsy thinky indie dramas with robot antiheroes.
But “Advantageous” is the first science fiction film I’ve seen that really grasps something I think is core to the experience of us young people who are on the bleeding edge of the troubling trend of Machines Taking Our Jobs Away.
And the core theme of the film that makes it so important is also the one that I worry will scare a lot of its audience away. Because this is a science fiction film but not an action film — there’s no violence, no gunplay. There’s no heroes or villains, precious little of good-vs-evil conflict. There’s no pulsing electronic backbeat and even though there’s smartphones and holograms, there’s not that much visible technology, no one tapping madly at keyboards while incomprehensible lines of green text scroll down the monitor.
Which makes sense, actually. These are all things we imagined would happen in “the future” of the 2010s back in the 1980s. The fears that defined the genre we call “cyberpunk” that set the tone for dark, dystopian futures for a generation were 1980s fears — fears of street gang violence, fears of nuclear war, fears of the drug trade. An adult in the 1980s, imagining a member of my generation, imagined someone doing designer drugs at raves, casually gunning people down in the street and hacking into the mainframe to trick China into launching their ICBMs.
We don’t do a lot of that. In fact, the least fortunate of our Lost Generation of millennials don’t do a lot of anything.
What “Advantageous” is that other science fiction films aren’t is quiet.
That’s my experience of being an unemployed millennial in the 2000s. Long stretches of unnerving silence. Being one of a handful of unlucky young people walking aimlessly around in the middle of the day when civilized people are at work. Failing to make eye contact with each other or speak because we’ve forgotten how to have in-person conversations. Turning to social media or aimless Web surfing to fill the long stretches of emptiness, of boredom.
I’ve joked, darkly, that the worst thing about being unemployed isn’t not having any money but not having anything to do.
And to a large extent that’s what “Advantageous” is about. Yes, the eerily empty streets our characters walk through might be a result of the film’s limited budget — but it also makes sense within the film’s setting. All the buildings are empty; all the stores are closed. Homeless people wander the parks and sleep in the bushes and stare numbly into the distance. (At one point the characters try to walk into a restaurant only to find that it’s been boarded up and the owner, sitting inside, ignores them. They treat this as a normal, everyday occurrence.)
We’re told that the world is in the grip of a tech-driven economic recession. There’s no jobs for anyone — anything the small elite of wealthy customers need done, they can get a machine to do for them better than any human can. Our protagonist, Gwen, is a spokesmodel for a cosmetics — essentially an eye-candy job.
Even though she mentions having gone to grad school and hoping to go into teaching, there’s no jobs out there for teachers now that people can get any information they want from machines. The only job out there for a flesh-and-blood human who’s not already rich is a job that involves looking pretty and smiling at rich people to try to sway their opinions, and it’s a job she’s lucky to get and devastated to lose.
(Every college-educated millennial who’s ended up taking a position in sales because it was the only thing on offer ought to be feeling a familiar twinge right now.)
Think it’s cool Facebook can auto-tag you in pics? So does the government
Our own government, as well as police and intelligence agencies around the world, will likely mine facial recognition data or create their own databases
By Trevor Timm
Jun 27 2015
State-of-the-art facial recognition technology, which had been the stuff of hypothetical privacy nightmares for years, is becoming a startling reality. It is increasingly being deployed all around the United States by giant tech companies, shady advertisers and the FBI – with few if any rules to stop it.
In recent weeks, both Facebook and Google launched facial recognition to mine the photos on your phone, with both impressive and disturbing results. Facebook’s Moments app can recognize you even if you cover your face. Google Photos can identify grown adults from decades-old childhood pictures.
Some people might find it neat when it’s only restricted to photos on their phone. But advertisers, security companies and just plain creepy authority figures have also set up their own systems at music festivals, sporting eventsand even some churches to monitor attendees, which is bound to disturb even those who don’t give a second thought to issues like the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.
Making matters worse, advertisers have apparently indicated that they have no intention of restricting their technology whatsoever. Their refusal caused ninemajor civil liberties groups to pull out of talks with the advertisers that were aimed to come to an agreement on how companies could institute voluntary protections for the people whose faceprints will inevitably be vacuumed up into their databases. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jennifer Lynch wrote, “After 16 months of active engagement in the process, we decided this week it was no longer an effective use of our resources to continue in a process where companies wouldn’t even agree to the most modest measures to protect privacy.”
(While Facebook and Google rolled out their new facial recognition technology in the US, they haven’t attempted it in Europe, where privacy regulators already warned them they needed to let users opt-in before even experimenting with EU citizens’ photos. No such warnings were given in the US.)
Countless advertisers will undoubtedly use these sophisticated snooping capabilities to rake in dollars in stores, at events and on public streets. But the bigger, more troubling question is how our own government, as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, will mine this data or create their own facial recognition databases to increase their already powerful surveillance apparatus.
We know they’ve already started. Last year, the FBI’s massive “next generation” facial recognition database went “fully operational.” But we’ve heard little about how it works and how it’s being used since; the FBI has, as is its modus operandi, attempted to keep it secret from the public. (A judge ruled last year in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that there was a “significant public interest” in the FBI becoming more forthcoming about its plans.)
The little public comment they have made has not exactly inspired confidence. As the National Journal reported, FBI Director James Comey “told Congress that the database would not collect or store photos of ordinary citizens, and instead is designed to ‘find bad guys by matching pictures to mug shots.’” He didn’t adequately explain why documents obtained by EFF showed that the FBI was populating its database with millions of completely innocent people’s photos.
What Do 800-Year-Old Magna Carta & Black Lives Matter Have in Common? A People’s Historian Explains
Jun 15 2015
The Magna Carta turns 800 years old today. Known as the “Great Charter,” it is widely considered the foundation of parliamentary democracy, human rights and the supremacy of the law over the crown. As dignitaries including the queen of England and Prime Minister David Cameron commemorate the sealing of the historic text, we go to Lincoln Castle in England, where the finest originals of the Magna Carta and the charters of English liberty are kept in a lockstone vault, and speak with people’s historian Peter Linebaugh, author of “The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberty and Subsistence for All.” He is attending the event to draw connections between the Magna Carta and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Peter Linebaugh, people’s historian, retired from the University of Toledo. He is the author of The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All.
Pop goes the Bubble
By Dimitri Orlov
Jun 23 2015
Running a fundraiser (which, by the way, has been a great success—thank you all very much!) has prompted me to think about money more deeply than I normally do. I am no financial expert, and I certainly can’t give you investment advice, but when I figure something out for myself, it makes me want to share my insights. I know that many people see national finances as an impenetrable fog of numbers and acronyms, which they feel is best left up to financial specialists to interpret for them. But try to see national finances as a henhouse, yourself as a hen, and financial specialists as foxes. Perhaps you should pay a little bit of attention—perhaps a bit more than one would expect from a chicken?
By now many people, even the ones who don’t continuously watch the financial markets, have probably heard that the stock market in the US is in a bubble. Indeed, the price to earnings ratio of stocks is once again scaling the heights previously achieved just twice before: once right before the Black Tuesday event that augured in the Great Depression, and again right around Y2K, when the dot-com bubble burst. On Black Tuesday it was at 30; now it’s at 27.22. Just another 10% is all we need to bring on the next Great Depression! Come on, Americans, you can do it!
These nosebleed-worthy heights are being scaled with an extremely shaky economic environment as a backdrop. If you compensate for the distortions introduced by the US government’s dodgy methodology for measuring inflation, it turns out that the US economy hasn’t grown at all so far this century, but has been shrinking to the tune of 2% a year.
And if you ignore the laughable way the US government computes the unemployment rate, it turns out that the real unemployment rate has grown from 10% at the beginning of the century to around 23% today.
So how can an ever-shrinking economy with a continuously rising unemployment rate be producing ever-higher stock valuations?
Simple! The stock prices are being driven up by the actions of the Federal Reserve. Since the great financial crisis of 2007, when the entire financial system almost collapsed, the Federal Reserve, through its Quantitative Easing (QE), has been making funds available at minimal cost to a set of financial institutions deemed “too big to fail.” (What that means is that they cannot be allowed to fail, because that would almost bring down the entire financial system again, but must be artificially propped up no matter what.) This financial life support has dramatically driven up the Fed’s balance sheet, which now stands at $4.5 trillion (it was less than $1 trillion before the great financial crisis of 2007).
[Note: This comment comes from friend Bruce Koball. DLH]
From: Bruce R Koball <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] What Do 800-Year-Old Magna Carta & Black Lives Matter Have in Common? A People’s Historian Explains
Date: June 27, 2015 at 19:02:33 PDT
FYI, and your readers if you think they’d be interested in a further
foray into vexillology: this essay from a history prof at the U of
Illinois is perhaps the clearest and most consise analysis of the
real significance of the Confederate battle flag I’ve seen… so much
for the modern apologists honoring “Southern traditions”:
The Confederate Flag Was Always Racist
Modern-day racists who brandish Confederate symbols are not distorting
By BRUCE LEVINE
Note: This item comes from friend Paul Pangaro. DLH]
The Internet of Things Has Vast Economic Potential, McKinsey Report Says
By QUENTIN HARDY
Jun 24 2015
The economic opportunity created by the so-called Internet of things has barely been scratched, according to a report released Wednesday.
A study by the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that the Internet of things, a term for sensor-laden machines connected to the web, will in the year 2025 create between nearly $4 trillion to $11 trillion in economic benefits globally. That includes profits to device-makers, efficiencies, new businesses and savings to consumers from better-run products.
It is difficult to measure the current economic benefit though, because most people now working with the technology are still in the early investment phase.
The biggest gains will be made by companies that figure out how to adapt to the new technology, the report said. On an oil-drilling platform, for example, this might mean knowing by the temperature or chemical changes in a pump that something may have happened upstream, away from the pump. In managing city traffic, this could mean learning how to correctly balance information from cars, roads and traffic lights.
“This puts a premium on predicting incidents based on data from a multitude of sources,” said Michael Chui, one of the report’s authors. But it will be a challenge for companies to find ways to both organize and take advantage of that information.
Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin: Privacy Needs to Be the Default, Not an Option
By Mark Halper
Jun 25 2015
Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin has a wake-up call for the world’s digital citizens: Beware of the tech giants lurking behind your screens and keyboards. Falque-Pierrotin—current head of France’s CNIL (National Commission on Informatics and Liberty) and the “Article 29 Working Party,” a group of European Union data-protection advocates—believes we are sleepily handing over personal data in droves without truly understanding the consequences. Comprehensive privacy protection should be an enforced requirement, she argues, not just an “opt-in” afterthought.
Google, not surprisingly, remains in her crosshairs. Last year, CNIL fined the company for violating French privacy protocols. This month, CNIL threatened again to fine Google for failing to comply fully with a year-old EU order to grant Internet users the “right to be forgotten”—a controversial idea that some influencers, including Tim Berners-Lee, oppose. The 55-year-old privacy crusader also believes that U.S. companies are not holding up their end of the EU’s “Safe Harbor” agreement that allows U.S. companies to store data on European citizens provided they protect it.
We spoke with Falque-Pierrotin shortly after CNIL gave Google 15 days to comply with the “right to be forgotten” order about the need to create and implement greater privacy protections globally, and to restore the balance of power between the Web giants and their billions of users.
What excites you most about where tech is leading humankind?
I am thrilled because technology has never been so powerful and so available. I believe that it will be able to replace, improve, outsource even most of our actions or thoughts.
What worries you the most?
So, in parts , we could be replaced by machines. But no machine can replace humans as a unique combination of a body and spirit, a combination wherein lies the soul.
CNIL has recently charged Google with failing to comply with the EU order to allow delisting. If they don’t comply, will your sanctions have teeth?
So how can you and others enforce this?
Every time we push a button on our keyboard we’re releasing valuable information. Yet we all seem hooked.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I think that we all have to be aware that when we are criticizing the surveillance by public authorities and by whomever, in fact we are part of this device. It’s difficult, because we don’t want to change really drastically our habits of life which are providing us with huge services. It’s very convenient. So the question is actually, how do you keep to that standard and comfort, while realizing that you’re not just an object in this digital infrastructure?
At E3, I saw the missing pieces of the VR puzzle
By Timothy J. Seppala
Jun 25 2015
The excitement around virtual reality may have started when Sony unveiled Project Morpheus last year, but last week’s E3 was its coming out party. The thing is, I’ve been around long enough to remember the hype and subsequent commercial flatline over gaming in stereoscopic 3D. So going into this year’s grand gaming gala, I was skeptical — I had that awkward tech history footnote in mind — and to a point, I still am. But Oculus helped me get over that a bit. All it took was a game from a trusted developer — Insomniac Games — and an input solution that makes VR feel less isolating.
Insomniac Games’ Edge of Nowhere is what made me feel like VR is actually a viable gaming platform and not just an outlet for a never-ending march of tech demos. The game takes place in 1930s Antarctica and you’re controlling an intrepid explorer through scenarios reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, with your head acting as the camera control. You have full freedom to look wherever you want in Nowhere and the camera is at a farther distance than it is in a majority of third-person games. I discovered pretty quickly that where you want to look isn’t always where you should. At one point, a huge tentacle-mouthed beast was chasing me through the snow. Turning my head 180 degrees to get a look at the monstrosity up close and personal wasn’t something I should’ve done.
I felt right at home guiding my explorer across rickety, wind-blown suspension bridges and dropping flares to the bottom of a pitch-black cave to get a sense of how deep it was as I rappelled down. Paired with the Xbox One controller in my hand, it all felt incredibly familiar; it worked just fine as an input for VR. But despite all the heavy lifting it did, it wasn’t Edge of Nowhere, or even Eve: Valkyrieand its massive-scale dogfights in space that took me from being wary about VR to someone who believed in the medium. What really brought everything to a head was a separate demo where I tried Oculus Touch, the company’s input solution for bringing your hands into virtual reality.
While there are plenty of third-party peripherals that want to be the input device for non-gaming VR experiences, Oculus Touch is among the best and least gimmicky I’ve tried. Touch isn’t a glove you put on; it’s an incredibly ergonomic, sort of pistol-grip pair of controllers you wrap your hands around. It’s kind of like the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, but much more refined and less toy-like. An analog stick and two face buttons rest on the top of each wireless controller and a pair of triggers resides on the grips. A “guard” of sorts covers over the triggers and, like the rest of the controllers, it’s covered in LEDs for motion tracking.
Pulling a trigger on the controller while hovering over a pingpong paddle let me pick it up. The same gesture worked for grabbing the remote to a radio-controlled tank, the slingshot or the wooden block on the virtual table in front of me too. Despite an Oculus employee being on the other side of a wall, it felt like he was directly in front of me in the virtual space. I passed him Roman candles and M-80s to light, and after he handed them back, I shot fireballs and threw the firecrackers at him. Whoops. Then he talked me through the entire process of how to pick up and use the slingshot, which I then fired at his head. I make no apologies for my behavior in VR.
Emma Watson and Tom Hanks starring in adaptation of tech satire The Circle
By Sam Byford
Jun 24 2015
Dave Eggers’ The Circle, a satirical novel about how a dominating Google-esque tech corporation erodes humanity’s concept of personal privacy, is getting a star-studded movie adaptation. Emma Watson is set to play the lead role of a new employee at the titular Circle, according to Variety and Deadline. Tom Hanks will star across her in an unknown role, and is also producing.
“Emma Watson is one of my favorite actors, and her incredible talent, sensitivity and deep intelligence will bring an electric energy to The Circle,” says director James Ponsoldt, who is adapting the film with his own script. The Circle was an overwrought but entertaining novel that read more or less like a movie in the first place, so the project could well have mainstream potential. Shooting starts in September.
Does U.S. Ignore Right-Wing Terror? More Killed by White Extremists Than Jihadists Since 9/11
Jun 25 2015
As thousands head to the South Carolina state Capitol to honor church victim massacre Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a new study finds white supremacists and other non-Muslim fanatics have killed far more people in the United States since 9/11 than Muslim extremists. According to the research center New America, 26 people have been killed in jihadist violence in the U.S. since 9/11, but 48 people have been killed in attacks by right-wing groups. Despite the intense focus by the Obama administration on Muslim communities, non-Muslims have carried out 19 terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001, while Muslims have been responsible for only seven. We are joined by two guests: Mike German, a fellow at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice and former FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism; and Bud Welch, whose daughter, Julie Marie Welch, was killed in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building on April 19, 1995.
Mike German, fellow at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. From 1988 to 2004 he served as an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism.
Bud Welch, founding president of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights. His daughter, Julie Marie Welch, was killed in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building on April 19, 1995.