Stanford = Genocide

A search on the Internet for “Stanford genocide” brings up a long list of references. Some initial hits are these, all very promising:

However, as you scroll down the list, perhaps the most interesting hit of all is this one:

Naming America’s Own Genocide

“Genocide” is a powerful word, but one whose impact has been diminished through overuse. Madley doesn’t use the word carelessly, even though he’s writing about US policy toward American Indians, a subject that often leads people to toss the term around quite loosely. His book does not contend, as more polemical works do, that all Indian policy was genocidal. He concentrates instead on a particular place and time: California from 1846 to 1873. […] Madley argues—and this is the core of his book—that California’s elected officials were in fact “the primary architects of annihilation,” and that they were funded and enabled by the federal government. Together, state and federal officials created what Madley describes as a “killing machine” composed of US soldiers, California militia and volunteers, and slavers and mercenaries (so-called “Indian hunters”) in it for the money.

The San Francisco Chronicle calls this “The moral case for renaming Hastings [and Stanford].

Leland Stanford solicited volunteers for his Civil War-era army campaigns against California Indians and, as governor, signed into law appropriations bills to fund those killing expeditions. He later founded Stanford University in the name of his son, Leland Stanford Jr. Both Hastings and Stanford had made fortunes in real estate. Their ability to acquire land titles was facilitated by the massacre of the rightful claimants, a near-extinction they promoted and funded. As UCLA professor Benjamin Madley wrote in his sobering “An American Genocide,” published in 2016 by none other than Yale University Press, both Stanford and Hastings had “helped to facilitate genocide.”

While all these references may seem to be only in history, don’t forget to also consider how Stanford recently hired someone a year after he allegedly helped to facilitate genocide.

Is renaming possible? It appears to me that the University moving to a better name is not out of the question.

We already know Stanford agreed to remove cartoonish and degrading “Indian” imagery as its mascot. If you read the fine print on the following example it says offensive memorabilia was declared eliminated by making it secret, meaning easily available from the bookstore on request.

Source: The Stanford Daily Archives

In other words Stanford moves quickly when it wants to and uses creative solutions to deal with those uncomfortable with change/progress. The school offers an official timeline explaining how in just two years time they switched to being the Cardinals in 1972.

On November 22, 1970, Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO) members petition for removal of Stanford’s Indian mascot—both the logo (as a “false image of the American Indian”) and the man, Timm Williams (whose live performances at sporting events were a “mockery of Indian religious practices.”) Native American students position themselves outside the Stanford Stadium at the Big Game against the University of California with banners saying “Indians are people, not mascots.”

SAIO members retell the story a little more broadly. They point out Governor Ronald Reagan’s “Indian staff person” is who voluntarily dressed and danced as a human mascot, and was breaking a promise he made to cease derogatory and demeaning acts:

The big issue with Timm Williams was his mockery of Indian religions. He would dance around in a faux Indian dance at the games. Even though he was a Yurok Indian, he wore the recognizable Plains Indian headdress and clothes to every game. He would make the “woo woo” sound with his hand slapping his mouth. We met with him a month after we got there, and he promised not to do it anymore. Shortly afterward he became the Indian staff person to Gov. Ronald Reagan, who infamously did nothing to understand Indians, most of whom had lost their Indian status when their treaties were terminated in the 1950s. But Timm did it again the next week. That was it for us. The Indian symbol, the caricatured Indians with the big noses, the religious denigration—all of it had to go. It took two years, but we finally got it done.

Governor Reagan fired Williams just months after Stanford changed its mascot.

Outside pressure clearly has worked on Stanford. Also, inside pressure has shown to be effective, as explained by members of the Stanford marching band who transformed it into a protest against a history of exterminating native cultures.

Part of assimilating Indigenous children in boarding schools into American society was handing them European music instruments to play European music. The government thought it would assist with wiping away their traditional musical practices. Marching bands came into play. […] “When it comes to discipline, the Stanford band is zero discipline,” said the Miwok citizen with a laugh and an emphasis on zero. The university’s marching band is “pretty nontraditional. Technically, we’re a scatter band,” Brown said. So they don’t actually march. They run from one formation to the other. What else makes the band nontraditional? No experience is required. It’s zero commitment meaning they welcome beginners to advanced musicians. This can also be current students, alumni or community members. Members hardly wear bucket hats and military-style uniforms. If they do, they can customize it with buttons and pins. Other university bands, like the University of Southern California, hate them. People yell at them and get upset because they’re not traditional.

I write this all in response to those who have asked me what to do after they read history of America and its episodes of genocide, a history that quite frankly historians tend to point out Nazi Germany studied for inspiration.

Let me put it this way. If Germans asked what to do about a university named for someone who committed genocide, what would any American probably tell them to do? Renaming should be an obvious answer here, though Americans seem not to welcome the very step that they enforced on Germany during occupation.

Binding Up the Wounds: An American Soldier in Occupied Germany, 1945-1946, by Leon C. Standifer, p 131

Other states already have figured out how to turn the corner. Take for example Minnesota’s Governor who very clearly came forward and condemned a past Minnesota Governor known for saying the U.S. should exterminate Native Americans.

“I am appalled by Governor Ramsey’s words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement released Thursday. “The viciousness and violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now.” Dayton called for flags to fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset Friday, declaring it a day of remembrance and reconciliation on the 150th anniversary of the start of the six-week U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. He asked Minnesotans “to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future.”

We have yet to see California take even basic steps to call out Governor Stanford for who he was and what the Stanford name means to this day — resolve to stop letting it continue poison the future.

In case that reference to Stanford isn’t clear, his gubernatorial candidate acceptance speech of 1859 allegedly was “I prefer free white citizens to any other race”. Then, after becoming Governor of California, in his first speech he wrote clearly white supremacist life goals straight into the official record books:

There can be no doubt but that the presence of numbers among us of a degraded and distinct people must exercise a deleterious influence upon the superior race, and, to a certain extent, repel desirable immigration.

Of course some warn it won’t be easy erasing this genocidal xenophobic white supremacist’s name, while they also ironically point out how Stanford already has been renaming things (again thanks to outside pressures).

California has a racist past. But removing monuments sparks debate about how to reflect an ugly history…Stanford University last month decided to rename three campus references to Father Junipero Serra, who founded the California mission system in the 1700s and whose legacy came under fire for the missions’ treatment of Native Americans.

I’m not saying by any means that Stanford was the only bad guy here, and agree with removing Serra (they replaced his name with…Stanford’s). I’m saying that even Stanford admits the important point of renaming anything that reflects “ugly” treatment of Native Americans.

Stafford Poole, the renowned historian on colonial Latin America, explains at a macro level how Stanford really was a cog in the wider context of U.S. creating California to exterminate Native Americans.

The true villain is James K. Polk, the [1845 to 1849] president who maneuvered the country into an immoral war for which he was opposed by a congressman named Abraham Lincoln.

Poole is of course not only right, his point should be taken to mean the U.S. President who in 1846 invaded Mexi-Cali to eradicate people living there and replace with white settlers…also probably shouldn’t have his name on anything today.

Source: Professor Grace Chee, Los Angeles Community Colleges

Stanford remains however as the more significant targets for renaming due to its heavy use as an honorific badge among scholars not to mention its aspirations to prevent further genocide (see initial links at the top of this blog).

When it renames it likely will have influence on others to follow. After Stanford in 1972 dropped their “Indian” mascot Dartmouth did the same. I imagine someone in future after Stanford gets a better name will petition for places like San Francisco’s rather obscure yet busy Polk Street to be renamed (note “Polk Gulch” bloggers chastise other place names while ignoring their own).

As the SAIO proved to the world in 1970, Stanford University is capable of rapidly evolving away from its ugly past. We’re long past time to reverse the current “Stanford asshole” trend and a renaming would be more than a symbolic way to help. Ask anyone brandishing the Stanford name to explain why they promote genocide if it isn’t in their present or future plans.

Lessons From a New Norm of Internet Shutdowns

Nearly 60K people in London lost Internet access when their Virgin fiber was ripped out by a crew that didn’t check for authorization before drilling
Compare and contrast:

First: “I asked my students to turn in their cell phones and write about living without them

The usual industry and education narrative about cell phones, social media, and digital technology generally is that they build community, foster communication, and increase efficiency, thus improving our lives. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent reformulation of Facebook’s mission statement is typical: the company aims to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Without their phones, most of my students initially felt lost, disoriented, frustrated, and even frightened. That seemed to support the industry narrative: look how disconnected and lonely you’ll be without our technology. But after just two weeks, the majority began to think that their cell phones were in fact limiting their relationships with other people, compromising their own lives, and somehow cutting them off from the “real” world.

Second: “Internet shutdowns used to be rare. They’re increasingly becoming the norm in much of the world

David Kaye, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, has described the ongoing shutdown as a “communications siege” and “collective punishment without even the allegation of an underlying offense.”

Within security theory we would see this as an authorization dilemma.

In the first story the teacher clearly is an authority over students, although she does admit to asking for their permission before taking away their Internet.

In the second story the government clearly also is an authority over citizens, however that permission step becomes the rub. What if the citizens object to their government?

In either case, it’s interesting to see how the teacher builds a case that Internet removal generates a lot of fear and anxiety at first, before shifting to a realization it may be even more harmful to have it restored.

Self-determination is one issue, obviously needing to be kept in the debate, yet the other much more interesting situation here is that shutdowns could have a positive effect (e.g. especially if Facebook is being used by anyone, as it tends to be the tool of dictatorship, mass atrocities and destruction of self-determination).

This Day in History: 1862 Largest Mass Execution in American History

Minnesota’s concentration camp of 1862 was setup to abuse and kill the Native American elderly, women and children. Source: Minnesota Historical Society
For some in America the “Holiday” weeks of December are an extremely painful time of American history.

The state of Minnesota, for example, was founded on deception and violence to steal land from Native Americans that culminated in this month.

The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) explains how the encroaching U.S. sparked an intense war with Native Americans that ended in December 1862 with an unjust trial and very large number of executions:

The trials of the Dakota were conducted unfairly in a variety of ways. The evidence was sparse, the tribunal was biased, the defendants were unrepresented in unfamiliar proceedings conducted in a foreign language, and authority for convening the tribunal was lacking. More fundamentally, neither the Military Commission nor the reviewing authorities recognized that they were dealing with the aftermath of a war fought with a sovereign nation and that the men who surrendered were entitled to treatment in accordance with that status.

MNHS also relates how Dakota leaders have been recorded as clearly humane and civilized in their rationalizations of self-defense, yet received barbaric treatment by the white nationalist militants they fought against:

You have deceived me. You told me that if we followed the advice of General Sibley, and gave ourselves up to the whites, all would be well; no innocent man would be injured. I have not killed, wounded or injured a white man, or any white persons. I have not participated in the plunder of their property; and yet to-day I am set apart for execution, and must die in a few days, while men who are guilty will remain in prison. My wife is your daughter, my children are your grandchildren. I leave them all in your care and under your protection. Do not let them suffer; and when my children are grown up, let them know that their father died because he followed the advice of his chief, and without having the blood of a white man to answer for to the Great Spirit.

Those of the Dakota who had fought in the war retreated for winter, were killed or captured. The U.S. military decided it wasn’t staffed to pursue them. Thus the only Dakota people who were brought into custody by the U.S. were elderly, women, and children; nearly 2,000 people who had nothing to do with the war were seduced by the U.S. military and then death-marched for days into a concentration camp to be abused and die.

They lost everything. They lost their lands. They lost all their annuities that were owed them from the treaties. These are people who were guilty of nothing.

Just as many of the Dakota were very obviously peaceful and kind people at the time, some whites did try to take a moral stand to account for settler crimes against humanity:

Henry Whipple, traveled to Washington to meet with Lincoln; he explained to the president that Dakota grievances stemmed in large part from the greed, corruption, and deceit of government agents, traders, and other whites. Lincoln took what he called “the rascality of this Indian business” into consideration and granted clemency to most of those sentenced to die.

This was far from sufficient to curtail what the Minnesota Governor proclaimed with great fanfare as “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated…“.

Minnesota History Magazine further relates that a prominent leader of the Dakota people a year later was murdered by white settlers who simply noticed him eating wild raspberries and decided to hunt, kill, decapitate and scalp him for that alone:

Even if a state of war had existed in 1863, the Lamsons’ action could not be defended as legal. They were mere civilians, who under international law have no right to take up arms against the enemy and who will be
hanged summarily if they do. The ordinary law of murder would apply to them. […] If killing in reliance upon the adjutant general’s orders would be murder under the law in force in 1863, obviously killing before any orders were issued would be an even stronger case of murder. Thus Little Crow was tendered a posthumous apology. One must reach the conclusion that in strict law the Lamsons were provocateurs and murderers.

Shot on sight without any questions, Little Crow was a nationally recognized and celebrated man who had negotiated Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota in 1851. It was he who had moved a band of Dakota from their massive 25 million acre territory into a tiny (20 mile by 70 mile) reservation.

There were many tens of thousands of Native Americans said to be in the region at the time.

In 1850, the white population of what would soon be the state of Minnesota stood at about 6,000 people. The Indian population was eight times that, with nearly 50,000 Dakota, Ojibwe, Winnebago and Menominee living in the territory. But within two decades, as immigrant settlers poured in, the white population would mushroom to more than 450,000.

Ten years later by the war of 1862 (and after he was coerced into an even worse treaty in 1858) Little Crow became known as the Dakota leader who took a principled and fair stand against his former trading partner U.S. General Sibley.

The U.S. government allegedly had offered the Dakota only a few cents per acre for their entire ceded territory space in treaties, and gave promises of annuity payments and food supplies. Yet while their land was taken away the agreed upon payments and food didn’t come. It was in this context that white settlers flooded the area historically inhabited by Dakota.

Congress passes the Homestead Act, a law signed by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862, offering millions of acres of free land to settlers who stay on the land for five years. The act brings 75,000 people to Minnesota over three years. To qualify for 160 free acres, settlers have to live on it for five years, farm and build a permanent dwelling. Those able to spend the money can buy the 160 acres at $1.25 an acre after living on it for six months.

The federal government was effectively buying land for cheap and then selling 160 acre parcels of it at either $200 (20X the cost) or for five years of farming and construction.

Since the tiny reservation space wasn’t producing food as sold to them, and the U.S. government was intentionally withholding payments and supplies to survive on, huge numbers of Dakota faced a starvation-level situation and demanded quick restitution.

On top of that white settlers illegally had been encroaching into even the tiny Dakota reservation area. The Dakota faced no choice but to reassert rights to their money, food and land they already had negotiated.

Tension grew from the U.S. refusing to help, withholding food and money from the now trapped Dakota population in an attempt to “force conformance to white ideals” of a “Christian” lifestyle.

While Dakota parents watched their children starve to death, pork and grain filled the Lower Sioux Agency’s new stone warehouse, a large square building of flat, irregularly shaped stones harvested from the river bottoms. […] “So far as I’m concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung,” [warehouse owner] Myrick said.

The U.S. strategically reneged on agreements and intentionally starved Dakota populations into desperation, before ultimately using attempts at self-defense as justification for mass unjust executions and murder. This was followed by Minnesota settlers banishing the native population entirely from their own historic territory under penalty of death into concentration camps, offering rewards to anyone who could trap and kill the Native Americans (Minnesota’s government offered a reward up to $200 — roughly $4000 in 2019 terms — for non-white human scalps).

At a higher level the race in 1862 to settle territory inhabited and owned by Native Americans had been complicated the year before by militant southern states starting a Civil War to violently force expansion of slavery into any new states. Thus, just as John Brown’s attempt to incite abolition got him executed in 1859 as a “traitor” to America, the Dakota people fighting for freedom from tyranny three years after in 1862 were unjustly tried by Minnesota settlers and executed on December 26.

    Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
    While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
    But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
    His soul is marching on.

    John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave,
    And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save;
    Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave,
    His soul is marching on.

    He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,
    And frightened “Old Virginny” till she trembled thru and thru;
    They hung him for a traitor, they themselves the traitor crew,
    But his soul is marching on.

John Brown witnessed far too many Americans being murdered under the tyranny of expansionist slavery when he said there was no choice but fighting back, calling for wider armed defense and predicting war. Curry’s impressive mural called “Tragic Prelude” that depicts Brown’s conviction against tyranny can be seen in the Kansas State Capitol.

Pennsylvania Man Arrested in Hawaii for California Hate Crimes

Photo courtesy George Haroonian

The latest report suggests a man briefly visited and desecrated a religious center (2am, Saturday December 14th) in California before fleeing to Hawaii:

A Pennsylvania man accused in the recent vandalism of a Beverly Hills synagogue was arrested in Hawaii and is being charged under a hate crime enhancement, police said Wednesday. Anton Nathaniel Redding, 24, of Millersville, Pennsylvania, was arrested in Kona…

Allegedly the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center (CJDC) used its five-year-old facial recognition system to track and capture him.

That Millersville reference is interesting because of the series of similar hate crimes last year, although I haven’t seen anyone yet make the connection:

Multiple hate crimes investigation are underway at Millersville University. The university said derogatory race-related graffiti against black people was found Friday in a men’s restroom in the Student Memorial Center. Two other incidents are anti-Semitic and considered hate crimes in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre last weekend.

The year before, Millersville was called a “alt-right recruiting ground” after hate group recruitment posters were revealed in the news:

Signs recently posted by those that espouse white supremacist and neo-Nazi philosophies have appeared on MU bulletin boards and property. […] Over the last two days, stickers and posters were found on campus promoting Identity Evropa…a white supremacist group in the United States, established in March 2016.

In further related news the latest data shows far-right terrorism in America has increased 320% since 2014 and “every extremist killing in the U.S. in 2018 was linked to far-right individuals or organizations”.

Facebook Fails Basic Audit of 2019 Civil Rights Legal Settlement

Dion Diamond of the Non-Violent Action Group during a sit-in at the Cherrydale Drug Fair in Arlington, Virginia gets harassed by white nationalists. Despite physical blows and lit-cigarettes being thrown, two-weeks of protests in June 1960 led to Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax restaurants removing explicit racism from their services. Gus Chinn/Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection/Washington Post

A fascinating new paper (Algorithms That “Don’t See Color”: Comparing Biases in Lookalike and Special Ad Audiences) audits an obfuscated security fix of Facebook algorithms and finds a giant vulnerability remains.

The conclusion (spoiler alert) is that Facebook’s ongoing failure to fix its platform security means it should be held accountable for an active role in unfair/harmful content distribution.

Facebook itself could also face legal scrutiny. In the U.S., Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (as amended by the Communications Decency Act) provides broad legal immunity to Internet platforms acting as publishers of third-party content. This immunity was a central issue in the litigation resulting in the settlement analyzed above. Although Facebook argued in court that advertisers are “wholly responsible for deciding where, how, and when to publish their ads”, this paper makes clear that Facebook can play a significant, opaque role by creating biased Lookalike and Special Ad audiences. If a court found that the operation of these tools constituted a “material contribution” to illegal conduct, Facebook’s ad platform could lose its immunity .

Facebook’s record on this continue to puzzle me. They have run PR campaigns about concern for general theories of safety, yet seem always to be engaged in pitiful disregard for the rights of their own users.

It reminds me a million years ago, when I led security for Yahoo “Connected Life”, how my team had zero PR campaigns yet took threats incredibly seriously. We regularly would get questions from advertisers for access or identification that could harm user rights.

A canonical test, for example, was a global brand asks for everyone’s birthday for an advertising campaign. We trained day and night for handling this kind of request, which we would push back immediately to protect trust in the platform.

Our security team was committed to preserving rights and would start conversations with a “why” and sometimes would get to four or five more. As cheesy as it sounds we even had t-shirts printed that said “why?” on the sleeve to reinforce the significance of avoiding harms through simple sets of audit steps.

Why would an advertiser ask for a birthday? A global brand would admit they wanted ads to target a narrow age group. We consulted with legal and offered them instead a yes/no answer for a much broader age group (e.g. instead of them asking for birthdays we allowed them to ask is a person older than 13). Big brand accepted our rights-preserving counter-proposal, and we verified they saw nothing more from our system than binary and anonymous yes/no.

This kind of fairness goal and confidentiality test procedure was a constant effort and wasn’t rocket-science, although it was seen as extremely important to protecting trust in our platform and the rights of our users.

Now fast-forward to Facebook’s infamous reputation for leaking data (like allegedly billions of data points per day fed to Russia), and their white-male dominated “tech-bro” culture of privilege with its propensity over the last ten years to repeatedly fail user trust.

It seems amazing that the U.S. government haven’t moved forward with their plan for putting the Facebook executives in jail. Here’s yet another example of how Facebook leadership fails basic tests as if they can’t figure security out themselves:

Earlier this year the company was in a massive civil rights lawsuit.

The suit comes after a widely-read ProPublica article in which the news organization created an ad targeting people who were interested in house-hunting. The news organization used Facebook’s advertising tools to prevent the ad from being shown to Facebook users identified as having African American, Hispanic, and Asian ethnic affinities.

As a result of this lawsuit Facebook begrudgingly agreed to patch its “Lookalike Audiences” tool and claimed the fix would make it unbiased.

The tool originally earned its name by taking a source audience from an advertiser and then targeting “lookalike” Facebook users. “Whites-only” apparently would have been a better name for how the tool was being used, according to the lawsuit examples.

The newly patched tool was claimed to remove the “whites-only” Facebook effect by blocking the algorithm from input of certain demographic features in a source audience. The tool also unfortunately was renamed to “Special Ad Audiences” allegedly as an “inside” joke to frame non-white or diverse audiences as “Special Ed” (the American term pejoratively used to refer to someone as stupid).

The simple audit of this patch, as described by authors of the new paper, was submitting a biased source audience (with known skews in politics, race, age, religion etc) into parallel Lookalike and Special Ad algorithms. The result of the audit is…drumroll please…Special Ad audiences retain the biased output of Lookalike, completely failing the Civil Rights test.

Security patch fail.

With great detail the paper illustrates how removing demographic features for the Special Ad algorithm did not make the output audience differ from the Loookalike one. In other words, and most important of all, blocking demographic inputs fails to prevent Facebook algorithm generation of predictably biased output.

As tempting as it is to say we’re working on the “garbage input, garbage output” problem, we shouldn’t be fooled by anyone claiming their algorithmic discrimination will magically be fixed by just adjusting inputs.

Could NASCAR Be America’s Blueprint for Driverless Ethics?

New Yorker, April 17, 1995, Leo Cullum

Years ago I wrote about the cheating of NASCAR car drivers. And recently at the last BSidesLV conference I pointed out in my talk how human athletes in America get banned for cheating, while human car drivers get respect.

Anyway I was reading far too much on this topic when I starting thinking how NASCAR studies of ten years ago to end cheating could be a compelling area of research for ethics in driverless cars:

Proposed solutions include changing the culture within the NASCAR community, as well as developing ethical role models, both of which require major action by NASCAR’s top managers to signal the importance of ethical behavior. Other key stakeholders such as sponsors and fans must create incentives and rewards for ethical behavior, and consider reducing or ending support for drivers and teams that engage in unethical conduct.

That’s some high-minded analysis given the inaugural race at Talladega (Alabama International Motor Speedway) had a 1969 Ford with its engine set back nearly a foot from stock (heavier weight distribution to the rear — violating the rules).

This relocation of the engine was easily seen by any casual observer yet the car was allowed to race and finished 9th. Bill France owned the car. Yes, that Bill France. The same guy who owned the track and NASCAR itself…entered an illegal car.

An illegal car actually is icing on the cake, though. Bill France built this new track with unsafe parameters and when drivers tried to boycott the conditions, he solicited drivers to break the safety boycott and issued free tickets to create an audience.

NASCAR retells a story full of cheating as the success that comes from ignoring ethics:

“I really admired that he told everybody to kiss his ass, that that race was going to run,” Foyt said.

The sentiment of getting everyone together to agree to an ethical framework sounds great, until you realize NASCAR stands for the exact opposite. It seems to have a history where cheating without getting punished is their very definition of winning.

Robots Get “Butter” Driving Skills

Tech philosophers in America watch closely the attempts of highly-individualistic short-term investor-run truck companies to behave as much on shared infrastructure like trains as possible without realizing the societal benefits of a train

Nvidia boasts in the Sacramento Bee of a truck that was able to drive a load of butter across America

…the first coast-to-coast commercial freight trip made by a self-driving truck, according to the company’s press release. Plus.ai announced on Tuesday that its truck traveled from Tulare, California, to Quakertown carrying over 40,000 pounds of Land O’Lakes butter.

Mercury News says it took three days on two interstate routes (e.g. human life prohibited) and didn’t experience any problems.

The truck, which traveled on interstates 15 and 70 right before Thanksgiving, had to take scheduled breaks but drove mostly autonomously. There were zero “disengagements,” or times the self-driving system had to be suspended because of a problem, Kerrigan said.

Indeed. The truck appears to have operated about as much like a train as one could get, although at much higher costs. If we had only invested a similar amount of money into startups to achieve a 250 mph service on upgraded tracks across America…

2800 miles at 250 mph is just 11 hours. Using electric line-of-sight delivery drones to load and unload the “last mile” from high-speed train stations at either end would even further expedite delivery time.

Trains = 12 hours or less and clean
Trucks = 24 hours or more + distributed environmental pollutants (fuel exhaust, tire wear, brake wear, wiper fluids…)

Trucks can’t improve their time much more because they start becoming more and more a threat to others trying to operate safely on the Interstate’s self-run collision avoidance systems. And it’s exactly the delta between operating speeds of vehicles on the same lines that generates the highest risks of disaster.

The absolute best whey going forward to skim time (yes, I said it) should be clear (it’s trains), although we’re talking long-term thinking here, which investors lurking around startups for 2-year 20% returns on their money have never been known to embrace.

Driverless trucks in this context are a form of future steampunk, like someone boasting today their coal-fired dirigible has upgraded to an auto-scooper so they no longer need to abduct children into forced labor.

Congratulations on being less of a selfish investor threat to others, I guess? Now maybe try adopting a socially conscious model instead.

1953 Machina Speculatrix: The First Swarm Drone?

A talk I was watching recently suggested researchers finally in 2019 had cracked how robots could efficiently act like a swarm. Their solution? Movement based entirely on a light sensor.

That sounded familiar to me so I went back to one of my old presentations on IoT/AI security and found a slide showing the same discovery claim from 1953. Way back then people used fancier terms than just swarm.

W. Grey Walter built jelly-fish-like robots that were reactive to their surroundings: light sensor, touch sensor, propulsion motor, steering motor, and a two vacuum tube analog computer. He called their exploration behavior Machina Speculatrix and the individual robots were named Elmer or Elsie (ELectro MEchanical Robots, Light Sensitive)

The rules for swarm robots back then were as simple as they will be today, as one should expect from swarms:

If light moderate (safe)
Then move toward
If light bright (unsafe)
Then move away
If battery low (hungry)
Then return for charge

Car Runs on Your Data? Hot Rod it With Some Decentralization

Cool kids run their rods on decentralized oil, thanks to Diesel who not only warned of centralization dangers but invented solutions to it

A month ago I was on a call with some top security experts in the industry. We were discussing my upcoming presentation about exciting control options and data privacy from applying decentralization standards to the automotive industry.

To put it briefly I was explaining how web decentralization standards can fix growing issues of data ownership and consent in automotive technology, a fascinating problem to solve which I have spoken about at many, many conferences over the past seven years.

Here’s one of my slides from 2014, which hopefully increased awareness about automotive data ownership and consent risks:

Much to my surprise I see this issue just hit the big papers for some well-deserved attention, albeit I also see it may be for the wrong reasons.

The Washington Post has released what some are calling a viral phrase:

Cars now run on the new oil — your data.

While I can appreciate journalist bait to gather eyeballs, that message today flies in the face of other recent headlines.

People really already should know that phrase is problematic, as repeatedly flagged everywhere by, well, everyone.

  • Forbes: “Here’s Why Data Is Not The New Oil”
  • BBC: “Data is not the new oil”
  • Financial Times: “Data is not the new oil”
  • Harvard Business Review: “Big Data is Not the New Oil”
  • WeForum: “You may have heard data is the new oil. It’s not”
  • Wired: “No, Data Is Not the New Oil”
  • …data isn’t the new oil, in almost any metaphorical sense, and it’s supremely unhelpful to perpetuate the analogy…

That’s just to frame the many problems with this article. Here’s another big one. The author wrote:

We’re at a turning point for driving surveillance — and it’s time for car makers to come clean…

Haha, turning point. I get it. That pun should have led to “it’s time for car makers to choose a direction”. Missed opportunity.

But seriously, the turning point for many of the issues in this article surely was years ago. He raises confidentiality and portability issues, for example. Why is now the turning point for these instead of 2014 when encryption options exploded? Or howabout 2012 when a neural net run on GPUs crushed the ImageNet competition? I see no explanation for why things are present concerns rather than past/overdue ones.

I’d say the problem is so old we’re already at the solutions phase, long past the identification and criticism.

Please see any one of my many many presentations on this since 2012.

Here’s another big one. The author wrote:

I had help doing a car privacy autopsy from Jim Mason, a forensic engineer. That involved cracking open the dashboard to access just one of the car’s many computers. Don’t try this at home — we had to take the computer into the shop to get repaired.

Sigh. Please do try this at home.

Right to repair is a very real facet of this topic. Cracking a dashboard for access is also very normal behavior and more people should be doing it.

When I volunteered my own garage space in the Bay Area, for example, I saw the reverse effect. Staff of several automotive companies came to join random people of the city in some good old community cracking of dashboards.

A guy from [redacted automotive company] said “…what do you mean you don’t bring rental cars to take apart and hack for a day? You should target ours and tell us about it.” Yikes. That’s not ethical.

The 1970s “hot-rod” culture in today’s terms is a bunch of us sitting around with disassembled junkyard parts in a controlled garage (not operational rental/borrowed cars on the street!) and our clamps on wires etc to linux laptops deciphering CANbus codes.

This journalist desperately needs to participate sometime in a local car hacking community or at least read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”….

It should not be hard for a machine owner to crack it open, when market regulations are working right. At least the journalist did not say an “idiot light” forced him to take his computer to the manufacturer for help.

Anyway, back to the point, the data models in automotive need to adopt decentralization standards if they want to solve for data ownership issues raised in this story.

But for the thousands you spend to buy a car, the data it produces doesn’t belong to you. My Chevy’s dashboard didn’t say what the car was recording. It wasn’t in the owner’s manual. There was no way to download it.

To glimpse my car data, I had to hack my way in.

In summary, data is not the new oil, right to repair means healthy markets trend towards hardware access made easy, and concerns about confidentiality and portability of data in cars are being addressed with emerging decentralization standards.

Sorry this article may not come with a viral click-bait title, but I’m happy anytime to explain in much more detail how technical solutions are emerging already to solve data ownership concerns for cars and give examples with working code.

the poetry of information security