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Welcome to your Awesome Robot: instructional comic turns kids & cardboard boxes into AWESOME ROBOTS!

Welcome to Your Awesome Robot is a fantastic book for maker-kids and their grownups. It consists of a charming series of instructional comics showing a little girl and her mom converting a cardboard box into an awesome robot -- basically a robot suit that the kid can wear. It builds in complexity, adding dials, gears, internal chutes and storage, brightly colored warning labels and instructional sheets for attachment to the robot's chassis.

More than that, it encourages you to "think outside the box" (ahem), by adding everything from typewriter keys to vacuum hoses to shoulder-straps to your robot, giving the kinds of cues that will set your imagination reeling. For master robot builders, it includes a tear-out set of workshop rules for respectfully sharing robot-building space with other young makers, and certificates of robot achievement. I read this one to Poesy last night at bedtime, and today we're on the lookout for cardboard boxes to robotify. It's a fantastic, inspiring read!

You can get a great preview of the book at NoBrow. It's out in the UK now, and it comes out in the US next month.

Welcome to your Awesome Robot by Viviane Schwarz [NoBrow]

Welcome to your Awesome Robot [Amazon UK]

Welcome to your Awesome Robot [Amazon US - pre-order]

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Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere as a BBC radio play

Dan sez, "The BBC have produced a radio play of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere with a host of great British actors. Sounds exactly like you want it to sound."

Have yourself 3D-scanned and turned into a human gummi

FabCafe, a 3D printed confectioner in Shibuya, Tokyo, is offering nine lucky blokes the chance to have their bodies 3D scanned and rendered in gummi, the most wondrously magical of all the edible substances. It's in honor of White Day, the Japanese give-your-female-lover-a-present holiday on March 14 (they also did custom chocolate-lollies of one's 3D scanned head for V-Day). These are so amazingly amazing and they point the way to a future where cheap scanners will render entire rooms as voxels to be output in gummi, wherein you can pay to be encased while you slowly, deliciously eat your way out. Coming soon to a Shibuya Love Hotel near you (maybe).

Chew on this: FabCafe lets you create a gummy replica of yourself for White Day (via OhGizmo)

To do at SXSW: "And I Am Not Lying"

Jeff Simmermon tells Boing Boing,
A few years ago, you guys blogged about my zombie robot Elvis bust - thought you guys would appreciate this poster I made out of it to promote 'And I Am Not Lying' (the live show inspired by my blog) at SXSW this year. The show itself features bullwhip & lasso artistry, burlesque, standup comedy, and storytelling by folks from The Moth and This American Life. We're doing two this year - one for badgeholders and one for the general public.

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The Women of Nyamonge, Kenya, present Netball: a PSA without pity, from

Today is International Woman's Day, and the Africa-focused NGO Mama Hope has released a timely video PSA on the women's art of netball.

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Austin Chronicle on Aaron Swartz and the future of computers

Happy Mutant (and EFF-Austin co-founder) Jon Lebkowsky has a great piece in the new Austin Chronicle about Aaron Swartz, privacy, copyright, and the future of computers:

It's an odd predicament, seeing your customer as the enemy. Attempts by the music industry to protect its control of distribution have risked alienation of a customer base that has a multiplicity of channels for free and low-cost alternatives via cyberspace, including a bazillion "Internet radio" channels; online services like Pandora, Last.FM, and Spotify; savvy artists distributing their own tunes online; and, of course, various file-sharing sites like the Pirate Bay. Even with the "pirate" sources out of the way, record labels would be hurting, because they no longer control distribution. The same is true for all media. Distribution channels are more ad hoc, product is abundant, it's cheap or free, and competition for whatever dollars are still flowing is fierce.

Invaluable Information: Technology, privacy, hacking, and legislating in the new digital age - Screens - The Austin Chronicle

Tropes vs Women in Video Games part one: Damsels in Distress

Anita Sarkeesian has released the long-awaited first installment in her new, improved "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" series. Sarkeesian sought $6,000 on Kickstarter to produce slicker versions of her earlier, DIY series, and she was smeared by vile, angry gamer-dudes who created games where you could beat the crap out of her for the sin of identifying as a feminist and daring to question the portrayal of gender in games. The happy ending to this shameful episode is that her Kickstarter became a good-people vs goons plebiscite, and would up raising $158,922.

The first installment is "Damsels in Distress," and is a smart, well-researched, wonderfully presented history of the woman-waiting-for-a-hero trope through gaming history. It's just in time for International Women's Day, and is a wonderful kickoff for a new series.

Damsel in Distress: Part 1 - Tropes vs Women in Video Games

AP: Chavez made "meager" gains, only reduced poverty, didn't build the world's tallest building

Associated Press business reporter Pamela Simpson wrote a terrible obit for Huge Chavez, writing

Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

Jim Naureckas has an appropriately scathing response:

In case you're curious about what kind of results this kooky agenda had, here's a chart (NACLA, 10/8/12) based on World Bank poverty stats–showing the proportion of Venezuelans living on less than $2 a day falling from 35 percent to 13 percent over three years. (For comparison purposes, there's a similar stat for Brazil, which made substantial but less dramatic progress against poverty over the same time period.)

Of course, during this time, the number of Venezuelans living in the world's tallest building went from 0 percent to 0 percent, while the number of copies of the Mona Lisa remained flat, at none. So you have to say that Chavez's presidency was overall pretty disappointing–at least by AP's standards.

AP: Chavez Wasted His Money on Healthcare When He Could Have Built Gigantic Skyscrapers (via Making Light)

Review of David Eagleman's Incognito

Many years ago I watched a standup comic on television explain that the President of the United States has no more control over the country than the bulldog hood ornament on a Mack Truck has in controlling where the truck goes. He was exaggerating but he had a point.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman has a similar argument about the human brain. Our conscious brain (our "I") is the tiny chrome bulldog, while our non-conscious brain is doing the driving. His highly-readable pop science book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, offers dozens of persuasive examples to support the idea that our conscious brain is at the tip of our behavioral iceberg.

Here's a few questions Eagleman asks in Incognito:

Why can your foot jump halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead? Why do strippers make more money at certain times of month, even while no one is consciously aware of their fertility level? Is there a true Mel Gibson? What do Odysseus and the subprime mortgage meltdown have in common? How is your brain like a conflicted democracy engaged in civil war? Why are people whose name begins with J more likely to marry other people whose name begins with J? Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? Why did Supreme Court Justice William Douglas deny that he was paralyzed?

Eagleman's answer to all of these questions is that the non-conscious brain is made up of many signal processors, honed by eons of evolution, that compete and cooperate with each other to make decisions that eventually make their way to the tip of the cognitive iceberg, where the "I" takes credit.

I think Eagleman is probably right, but I'm also the kind of person who is easily persuaded by attractively presented arguments and Eagleman, who is an accomplished fiction writer (see Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives) is a good story teller, so that has to be figured into my feeling that he's onto something. In any case, this was one of the most entertaining books about the brain that I've read.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain


An interview with David Eagleman, neuroscientist

David Eagleman: We live in the past…literally

Comic adaptation of David Eagleman story about the afterlife

Australian pop-out camper that is full of well-thought-out features

Here's a slow, gentle, fascinating demonstration video for the Wedgetail slide-on camper, "built for rough Australian terrain." It's a pretty amazing feat of engineering, with lots of thoughtful features. But what really gets me is in the money shot where the whole thing opens up like some kind of origami trick. Big things hidden in little things! Hell yeah!

Wedgetail slide on camper demonstration (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford accused of grabassing, letching on former election rival

Toronto's living shitshow of a mayor, Rob "Laughable Bumblefuck" Ford, is back in the headlines. Sarah Thomson, the publisher of The Women's Post, who ran against Ford in the last election, claims that he came onto her at a Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee affair, grabbing her ass and saying, "[she] should have been in Florida with him last week because his wife wasn't there." According to Thomson, Ford was drunk and "out of it." He appears worse for wear in a soon-to-be-infamous photo with Thomson, in which he sports a stained shirt and a rather unflattering expression.

"He grabbed my ass and I'm thinking what the heck is going on with him? I was so mad about it because this is somebody who knows how much I do for this city," Thomson told radio host John Moore.

She said she told Ford's staff to remove him from the room.

"I went to his handlers and said, 'Get him out of here,'" she said.

Thomson said Ford "completely crossed the line" Thursday night.

"He needs help if he's doing that to someone like me," she said.

"What he said to me and what he did is wrong."

Rob Ford blasted by Sarah Thomson for alleged crude comment [Don Peat/Toronto Sun]

Happy story about a ghastly plumbing problem

Jake Mohan's account of getting the plumbers in to repair a ghastly backed-up basement drain is a lovely, happy-ending tale of honest contractors, nice property developers, and the fascinating, invisible guts of your house:

Rick turned on the jackhammer, making the loudest noise I’ve ever heard indoors (and I’m a drummer). What’s truly crazy is that we didn’t actually know where the sewer line was underneath the floor—we were simply operating according to Rick’ educated guess. So once we’d punched through the concrete with the jackhammer and pounded it away with a sledgehammer and shoveled away the soil underneath, we had to dig down and back and forth in several directions—roughly the dimensions, I noted grimly, of the hole one might dig for a small coffin—tapping around gingerly with the shovel until we heard the telltale ping of the iron sewer main.

That’s when Tom returned with segments of PVC and cans of pungent, purple adhesive to fuse them together. In slightly more time than it would take me to change the aforementioned bike tire, Tom jumped into the hole, cut out a segment of 112-year-old cast-iron sewer pipe using a pipe snapper1 measured and cut a section of PVC with Y-joint for the cleanout, and attached this elegant new segment onto the old sewer line.

Tom then ran off again, but not before writing me an invoice for “work to resolve a non-conforming cleanout,” which made our plumbing sound like a goth kid.

Adventures At The Intersection of Homeownership And Sewage [Jake Mohan/The Billfold]

(via Kottke)

Photography exhibition under the sea


For the last two months, Viennese artist Andreas Franke has had a new show of photographs on exhibition near Barbados. Thing is, you needed to SCUBA dive to see them. The photos hung on the hull of the Stabrokikita, a 365-foot Greek freighter that was deliberately sunk in 1978. Franke's photos of Rococo-inspired scenes are superimposed with underwater photographs, adding an atmospheric surreality to the final image. Seemingly, viewing these images 120 feet underwater would add to their dreaminess. This is the second series in Franke's "Sinking World" project. His first collection of images were displayed earlier this year on the USS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a massive military ship that in 2009 was sunk to the ocean floor and became the second largest artificial reef in the world. Those photos have since been recovered and displayed at The Studios of Key West art gallery. "The Sinking World" (via CNN)

If you like surreal Photoshop jokes, LiarTownUSA is the tumblog for you

Every single thing on Sean Tejaratchi's blog is magnificent 'shoop genius. Twitter: @shittingtonuk.

Photos of suffragettes in Holloway Prison

Charlotte sez,

It's International Women's Day today and the London Feminist Network (to whom I proudly belong) have organised the most awesome fundraising event for our conference later this year, a film launch for "Banners and Broad Arrows." In 1832 the women of the United Kingdom were excluded from the Parliamentary franchise. After 71 years this injustice remained. In 1903 the Women's Social and Political Union was formed. This is the story told through their own eyes.

A lecture by writer/director Nigel Shephard, who will be presenting his work so far on the film Banners and Broad Arrows. He tells the story of the Suffragette Movement from its inception in 1903 to its demise at the outbreak of war in 1914, using original still photographs taken by the Suffragettes themselves. The really cool thing about this lecture is that there will be a whole load of pictures on display that have only recently been released from the Official Secrets Act. These never previously published photographs were smuggled out of Holloway prison by campaigners.

This is a great opportunity to discover the history of the suffragettes through their own photographs and to meet the director and share in developing ideas for the film. Please, please come along to demonstrate your support at this first fundraising event to take the film into full production. It's only £10 a ticket and all profits are being split equally between the film producer and the London Feminist Network."


Banners and Broad Arrows - never before seen photographs of the suffragettes in Holloway prison (Thanks, Charlotte)

Sloppy statistics: Do 50% of Americans really think married women should be legally obligated to change their names?

Jill Filipovic wrote an opinion column for The Guardian yesterday, arguing against the practice of women taking their husbands' names when they get married. It ended up linked on Jezebel and found its way to my Facebook feed where one particular statistic caught my eye. Filipovic claimed that 50% of Americans think a women should be legally required to take her husband's name.

First, some quick clarification of my biases here. Although I write under a hyphenate, I never have legally changed my name. I've never had a desire to do so. In my private life, I'm just Maggie Koerth and always will be. That said, I personally take issue with the implication at the center of Filipovic's article — that women shouldn't change their names and that to do so makes you a bad feminist. For me, this is one of those personal decisions where I'm like, whatever. Make your own choice. Just because I don't get it doesn't mean you're wrong.

But just like I take objection to being all judgey about personal choices, I also take objection to legally mandating personal choices, and I was kind of blown away by the idea that 50% of my fellow Americans think my last name should be illegal.

So I looked into that statistic. And then I got really annoyed.

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Photos of Google's Tel Aviv office

Google's Tel Aviv office was designed by Camenzind Evolution with Setter Architects and Studio Yaron Tal. Office Snapshots has a bunch of Itay Sikolski's photos.

Inside The New Google Tel Aviv Office

(Via Twisted Sifter)

ASAP Science video: The Science of Aging

The latest episode by ASAP Science from biologists Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown explains why we age.

Expanding table with interesting mechanism

This table, from Nick Dearden, does a sweet expanding trick. It's the sort of thing that's pure housewares porn for small-apartment-dwellers like me.

Deardens Expanding Table

Fabulous page from Weird Worlds #25 comic book (1954)

This wonderful opener from a story in Weird Worlds #25 (1954) reminds me of the great 1988 scifi flick They Live.

(Via X-Ray Delta One)

Scanxiety, or how waiting for cancer tests makes you crazy

Photo: Me in an MRI, by Tara Brown

I had a rough week, this week. I came back from a transformative, restorative trip to Hawaii, where I did lots of creative work for Boing Boing and for personal projects. The morning after my flight home, I dove in to a week of medical tests. My primary treatment for breast cancer is complete (chemo/surgery/radiation), but that doesn't mean cancer's over. I have to take a drug for 5 years (or more, who knows), and there is at least one more surgery ahead that I know of.

But there is also much monitoring ahead. I have to get various blood tests and exams and scans every 90 days, 6 months, and annually. Scanning my body for any new cancer, scanning the horizon for bad news, and hoping it never arrives.

The big thing this week was tumor marker blood tests, which are used to see if your blood shows signs that cancer is returning and progressing. The tests are very much imperfect, a blunt and controversial tool. What they tell us is a matter of debate. Some oncologists don't even use them. Mine does, and I do respect why, and I comply.

When I received my tumor marker results, I flipped out, even though my oncologist's office told me they were "fine." The numbers showed a slight increase in my tumor markers. How the fuck can that be fine?

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NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms: the women/trans/genderqueer version of stop-and-frisk

NYC has a law prohibiting "loitering for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution offense" which lets cops arrest whomever they feel like, on the strength of their conviction that the person is probably a sex-worker, on the basis of flimsy circumstantial evidence like carrying a condom, talking to men, or wearing tight clothes. Like stop-and-frisk, it's part of a pattern of laws that assume that the police have infallible intuition about who the "bad guys" are and lets them use their discretion to harass and bust whomever they feel like. And like stop-and-frisk laws, the "condom" law shows that the much-vaunted cop intuition is really just bias, a dowsing rod that leads officers to poor women, genderqueer people, and trans people.

Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn't know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and a grandmother. In 2008, Officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But if the condom were real, why should she have even been arrested at all?

Arrest is always violent. The NYPD may or may not break your ribs, but the process of arrest in America is still a man tying your hands behind your back at gunpoint and locking you in a cage. Holding cells are shit-encrusted boxes, often too crowded to sit down. Police can leave you there for three days; long enough to lose your job. If this seems obvious, I say it because the polite middle classes trivialize arrest. They talk about "keeping people off the streets." They don't realize that the constant threat of arrest is traumatic, unless it happens to them or their kids.

Prostitution is only a misdemeanor in New York, but a conviction will knock you off food stamps and out of subsidized housing. While society feigns wanting sex workers to change their profession, it does everything it can to keep them where they are. Most prostitution defendants plea bargain. Too broke and scared to fight, men and women agree to charges that will follow them for life.

There are two types of prostitution arrests. For "prostitution," the officer has to witness you making an offer, but "loitering for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution offense" requires only circumstantial evidence. On the supporting depositions, officers answer a checklist. Were you standing in an area known for prostitution? According to Karina Claudio, a lead organizer at the community group Make the Road, these areas can be anywhere. Were you dressed provocatively? Did you speak to a guy? Were you standing next to someone who has been arrested for prostitution? Were you carrying condoms?

New York Cops Will Arrest You for Carrying Condoms | VICE United States (via Amanda Palmer)

(Image: Molly Crabapple)

"Ten Little Indians" drug abuse PSA from 1972

This drug-abuse PSA from 1972 fascinated me as a kid. It's much better than any contemporary PSA about drug abuse.

(Via World's Best Ever)

Pyrobar: flaming, booze-dispensing art-car seeks Kickstarter funds for refurb

The Pyrobar, a roving, flaming, booze-dispensing art-car that's a staple of Burning Man, is nearing the end of its Kickstarter, and needs to raise another $4,000 or so in maintenance funds to help refurbish and improve it for this summer's festivities:

The Pyrobar started its charmed life in 2004 with a collective of artists called Clan Destino. This raucous Santa Barbara based performance group had built a few art cars for the famed Burning Man festival, with this one being built under the namesake to be the grandest and last under their tutelage. In this vision, they took a 1975 chevy RV and ripped it up and warped into a roving box of splendid adult entertainment. After a few strong years of providing to the Playa and beyond, this trusty steed was left in a lonely, Reno storage lot, waiting for its next life. That day came in 2010 when its current owners, Mark and Corinna, heard the calling from afar, and acted on on it immediately. Pyrobar's next phase took it to a new aesthetic height and direction, reflecting the mystic and wacky stylings of an Afghani jingle truck with a constantly growing degree of detail and offerings.

PYROBAR - 3.0.2. - Ignite Burning Man's Favorite Flame (Thanks, Marc!)

Random House responds to SFWA on its Hydra ebook imprint

Allison R. Dobson, Digital Publishing Director of Random House, has written an open letter to the Science Fiction Writers of America responding to the warning it published about Hydra, a new imprint with a no-advance, author-pays-expenses contract that SFWA (and I) characterize as being totally unacceptable. Dobson's letter doesn't do much to change my view on that:

When we acquire a title in the Hydra program, it is an all-encompassing collaboration. Our authors provide the storytelling, and we at Hydra support their creativity with best-in-class services throughout the publishing process: from dedicated editorial, cover design, copy editing and production, to publicity, digital marketing and social media tools, trade sales, academic and library sales, piracy protection, negotiating and selling of subsidiary rights, as well as access to Random House coop and merchandising programs. Together, we deliver the best science fiction, fantasy and horror books to the widest possible readership, thus giving authors maximum earning potential.

There are other options for doing the same: Lulu, BookBaby and CreateSpace will all let you pay freelancers to do any and all of that stuff (and given that so much of publishing is now outsourced, they're likely to be some of the same people doing the job at a Big Five publisher), but none of them demand all your rights and subsidiary rights for the length of copyright, and none of them reserve the right to charge arbitrary sums to your account before they pay you any royalties.

As Munger points out, costs-plus-percentage-of-costs contracts are a moral hazard (that's why it's a felony for the US military to issue them), and they have no place in publishing.

Random House Responds to SFWA Slamming Its Hydra Imprint

The Sharing Economy

Glenn Fleishman, in his first cover story for The Economist, tracks how technology is making it easier to share everything from bicycles to basement bedrooms—for a price.
Such peer-to-peer rental schemes provide handy extra income for owners and can be less costly and more convenient for borrowers. Occasional renting is cheaper than buying something outright or renting from a traditional provider such as a hotel or car-rental firm. The internet makes it cheaper and easier than ever to aggregate supply and demand. Smartphones with maps and satellite positioning can find a nearby room to rent or car to borrow. Online social networks and recommendation systems help establish trust; internet payment systems can handle the billing. All this lets millions of total strangers rent things to each other. The result is known variously as “collaborative consumption”, the “asset-light lifestyle”, the “collaborative economy”, “peer economy”, “access economy” or “sharing economy”.

The flies in the ointment: insurance, liability, and laws that favor incumbent industries.

SimCity DRM disaster: EA removes game features "to get servers working"

Jason Schrier at Kotaku reports EA's latest effort to get SimCity working involves removing "non-critical" features of the always-online game: "Hey, remember when video games came out and then you could actually play them?"

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think

Big Data is a new book from Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, a respected Internet governance theorist; and Kenneth Cukier, a long-time technology journalist who's been on the Economist for many years. As the title and pedigree imply, this is a business-oriented book about "Big Data," a computational approach to business, regulation, science and entertainment that uses data-mining applied to massive, Internet-connected data-sets to learn things that previous generations weren't able to see because their data was too thin and diffuse.

Big Data is an eminently practical and sensible book, but it's also an exciting and excitable text, one that conveys enormous enthusiasm for the field and its fruits. The authors use well-chosen examples to show how everything from shipping logistics to video-game design to healthcare stand to benefit from studying the whole data-set, rather than random samples. They even pose this as a simple way of thinking of big data versus "small data." Small data relies on statistical sampling, and emphasises the reliability and accuracy of each measurement. With big data, you sample the entire pool of activities -- all the books sold, all the operations performed -- and worry less about inaccuracies and anomalies in individual measurements, because these are drowned out by the huge numbers of observations performed.

As you'd expect, Big Data is particularly fascinating when it explores the business implications of all this: the changing leverage between firms that own data versus the firms that know how to make sense of it, and why sometimes data is best processed by unaffiliated third parties who can examine data from rival firms and find out things from which all parties stand to benefit, but which none of them could have discovered on their own. They also cover some of the bigger Big Data business blunders through history -- companies whose culture blinkered them to the opportunities in their data, which were exploited by clever rivals.

The last fifth of the book is dedicated to issues of governance, regulation, and public policy. This is some of the most interesting material in the book and probably needs to be expanded into its own volume. As it is, there's a real sense that the authors are just scraping the surface. For example, many of the stories told in the book have deep privacy implications, and the authors make a point of touching on these, cabining them with phrases like "so long as the data is anonymized" or "adhering to privacy policy, of course." But in the final third, the authors examine the transcendental difficulty of real-world anonymization, and the titanic business blunders committed by firms that believed they'd stripped out the personal information from the data, only to have the data "de-anonymized" and their customers' privacy invaded in small and large ways. These two facts -- that many of the opportunities require effective anonymization and that no one knows how to do anonymization -- are a pretty big stumbling block in the world of Big Data, but the authors don't explicitly acknowledge the conundrum.

While Big Data is an excellent primer on the opportunities of the field, it's thin on the risks, overall. For example, Big Data is rightly fascinated with stories about how we can look at data sets and find predictors of consequential things: for example, when Google mined its query-history and compared it with CDC data on flu outbreaks, it found that it could predict flu outbreaks ahead of the CDC, which is amazingly useful. However, all those search-strings were entered by people who didn't expect to have them mined for subsequent action. If searching for "scratchy throat" and "runny nose" gets your neighborhood quarantined (or gets it extra healthcare dollars), you might get all your friends to search on those terms over and over -- or not at all. Google knows this -- or it should -- because when it started measuring the number of links between sites to define the latent authority of different parts of the Internet, it got great results, but immediately triggered a whole scummy ecosystem of linkfarms and other SEO tricks that create links whose purpose is to produce more of the indicators Google is searching for.

Another important subject is looking at algorithmic prediction in domains where the outcome is punishment, instead of reward. British Airways may get great results from using an algorithm to pick out passengers for upgrades, trying to find potential frequent fliers. But we should be very cautious about applying the same algorithm to building the TSA's No-Fly list. If BA's algorithm fails 20% of the time, it just means that a few lucky people get to ride up front of the plane. If the TSA has a 20% failure rate, it means that one in five "potential terrorists" is an innocent whose fundamental travel rights have been compromised by a secretive and unaccountable algorithm.

Secrecy and accountability are the third important area for examination in a Big Data world. Cukier and Mayer-Schonberger propose a kind of inspector-general for algorithms who'll make sure they're not corrupted to punish the undeserving or line someone's pockets unjustly. But they also talk about the fact that these algorithms are likely to be illegible -- the product of a continuously evolving machine-learning system -- and that no one will be able to tell you why a certain person was denied credit, refused insurance, kept out of a university, or blackballed for a choice job. And when you get into a world where you can't distinguish between an algorithm that gets it wrong because the math is unreliable (a "fair" wrong outcome) from an algorithm that gets it wrong because its creators set out to punish the innocent or enrich the undeserving, then we can't and won't have justice. We know that computers make mistakes, but when we combine the understandable enthusiasm for Big Data's remarkable, counterintuitive recommendations with the mysterious and oracular nature of the algorithms that produce those conclusions, then we're taking on a huge risk when we put these algorithms in charge of anything that matters.

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think

Previously: Book about big data, predictive behavior, and decision making

Rapture of the Nerds hits London on Mar 23

The UK edition of Rapture of the Nerds hits shelves on April 12, but we're having a sneaky early release at Forbidden Planet in London on Mar 23 at 1PM. Tell your friends! (I'm pretty sure that Forbidden Planet will take advance mail-orders for people who can't make it, and I'll sign and personalise every one of 'em).