TED Community » Justen Robertson

About Me

United States, Franklin, TN
Areas of expertise:
Web Design & Development, Information Security, New Media
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More About Me

I'm passionate about

Decentralized production, technology, philosophy, true democracy, and all things involved in the evolution of the human species beyond brutality and politics (if you'll excuse the redundancy).

An idea worth spreading

Anarchism is the radical idea that you do not own your neighbor.

Talk to me about

Technology, hard science, electronics, software programming, space travel, bootstrapping post-industrial economies, repairing 13 years of damage caused by public schooling.


  • TEDCred score: +61.00 TEDCred reflects your contribution to the TED community.

  • +1

    A comment on Talk: Eli Pariser: Beware online "filter bubbles"

    Feb 8 2013: I was rewatching this today and it occurred to me that there's a really simple way to deal with the problem. Just like Google divides sponsored links from normal results, it could provide "just for you" results separately from everything else. Google can't possibly understand or present information according to Eli's other criteria - "important", "challenging", etc. because these things are just as subjective as "what I like". What it can do is provide the subjective algorithm side-by-side with a relatively objective ranking algorithm.

    For what it's worth, if you focus voluntarily on broad, high-quality information, you can teach your social networks as well as your search engines to deliver it to you. The trick is that you have to engage evenly with things. In Eli's example, the conservatives in his Facebook feed went away because, consciously or otherwise, he was spending a lot more time conversing with the liberals. If he had spent even 30% as much time actually talking to them as he did talking to the liberal folks the ones he engaged with would have stuck around. It can become tedious and annoying to go out there and make small talk with people to keep them inside your social/filter horizon, but then isn't that exactly the way real life works too?
  • A reply on Talk: Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?

    Dec 18 2012: I can't help but note the irony in talking about a television documentary as "bare life". What you ought to have said is the technologically mediated experience you wanted the student to pay attention to was insufficiently interesting. Now he's got a mobile gadget so, unlike earlier generations of bored students, he can do something productive with his time instead of twiddling thumbs and staring at the ceiling.
  • +2

    A reply on Talk: Misha Glenny: Hire the hackers!

    Dec 17 2012: I'm not so sure it's as simple as offering hackers a salary. Part of the way you get good at this stuff in the first place is by having the right attitude. If you're the type of person who respects laws and authority by default, you don't have the freedom of thought and action necessary to practice the skillset. Accepting a job with government necessarily abrogates that freedom; it means accepting the very rules and ethics you had previously been rebelling against. Worse yet it usually means going exclusive. As a general rule government is not very tolerant of employees doing "side projects" of questionable legality.Once you're working for them in an area that requires security clearance they're pretty intrusive into your personal life so flying under the radar becomes a problem.

    It's not exactly an issue of selflessness or lack thereof. It's a question of lifestyle and personality. I worked for government for several years (although not in IT or intelligence) and found the whole environment pretty hostile to my style and personality quirks. Eventually I quit for a much lower paying job without benefits because I preferred more autonomy. I've heard similar stories from other people who have made the same mistake.

    It's not going to be hard to lure third-rate techies and hackers into government jobs, mind you, but a hundred of them can't give a competitive edge over a small team of really brilliant guys working for the "wrong" side. You're just not going to find any of those brilliant guys willing to put on a uniform or a suit and pull 9-5s in oppressive, hostile, and monotonous work environments, not for any amount of money. Or if you do it'll be one in a thousand, and you'll still be outnumbered 999:1.
  • +1

    A reply on Talk: Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?

    Nov 9 2012: Phone calls and hand-written thank you notes are virtual interactions through technological media. They're just the ones you grew up with, so they feel more familiar to you.
  • +5

    A comment on Talk: Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?

    Nov 9 2012: Naturalistic fallacy meets argument from tradition meets the extrovert's fallacy ("I feel emotionally distressed when I'm not in constant physical contact with other people, and as an extrovert I know all about people, so everyone else must experience the same distress I do"). The mere suggestion that online interactions aren't "real" is a tired old harp. If you experience attachment, intellectual engagement, friendship, empathy, sympathy, entertainment, compassion, joy, misery and all the rest of the tapestry of human interaction via technological media _what you are experiencing is real_. It's not fake because some silicon, copper and polymers instead of a volume of gasses sits between you. Hell, nearly everything she describes as a problem with technology I describe as a feature.

    This one in particular made me giggle: "She was experiencing pretend empathy". 90% of the time you think you're experiencing empathy, it's pretend. Take a moment to sit back and reflect on your own behavior and the behavior of others in social situations sometime. You're all faking it, all the time, and it's completely transparent to some of us. Every time you make some trite, obnoxious comment about something you don't actually care about, as in "oh I'm sooooo sorry to hear that!" you're giving pretend empathy and someone else is experiencing it. The difference between you and the robot is that the robot doesn't need to also pretend to be sincere, because we all understand the social contract involved there much more clearly.

    "We don't have time to think" - gosh, the only time I feel like I don't have time to think is during real-time conversation. Email, texting, even video messages - those give me time to pause, reflect, and take a conversation at my own pace - and to come back and reflect on it accurately later (instead of through my own flawed and emotionally biased memory).
  • +1

    A reply on Talk: Misha Glenny: Hire the hackers!

    Sep 6 2012: Ah, but criminal hackers don't make themselves the enemy of states; they only challenge the livestock. This is merely a cost/benefit equation: how much will it cost to shut down a criminal organization vs. how much they're costing in tax revenue via lost profits in the private sector. Anonymous challenges the system itself. The state's priorities are clear and, from their perspective, sensible.
  • +2

    A comment on Talk: Misha Glenny: Hire the hackers!

    Sep 6 2012: This "monster" is a natural and inevitable response to a system many of us recognize as fundamentally illegitimate, violent, and corrupt. You might have some luck in convincing people to avoid meeting violence with violence and theft with theft, but I wouldn't bother harboring any delusions of "taming" it, if by that you mean, getting it to work for the system, particularly in the US and the rest of the first world. You'll find a lot of hackers working in 2nd and 3rd world governments who have made the Faustian bargain of working with one enemy to defeat another, and those who have been pressed into "service" (i.e. state slavery) having been caught and offered the alternatives of death or imprisonment, but not a whole lot are ever going to go in voluntarily.

    Beyond the inimical nature of actually-existing-states, part of the anti-authoritarianism is central to the hacker mindset and schadenfreude is one of its great pleasures - at least insofar as it applies to iconoclasm and the tearing down of corrupt institutions. The dividing moral line in hackerdom is not whether power and authority needs to be removed from the equation of human society, but what methods are acceptable toward that end and to what degree personal gain is a permissible side effect. This is not an animal that can be bent to serve your preferred master. At best if you can't wrap your mind around joining it you can hope to co-exist with it peacefully by abandoning the perceived need to control and integrate it. At worst you make yourself its natural enemy. That is the reality of things.
  • +1

    A reply on Talk: Daphne Koller: What we're learning from online education

    Aug 19 2012: Instead of looking at the attrition, look at the fact that 5000 people were able to benefit from course material and educator access that normally would have been limited to, say, 60-300 in a typical university. Think about those numbers and what they mean. If you could *quadruple* access to high quality education you could solve a lot of problems in the world. This is multiplying access by around 20 times.

    Also I personally am guilty of signing up for classes with little intent to follow through. I just sign up for everything and then do what I can. It's free, and nobody is hurt by my non-participation. The problem is that I'm an adult with a family and a career and I can't predict in advance whether my company is going to land a big contract that will demand a ton of my time, or whether other things will come up. I have yet to actually stick it out through a whole class, but I participated in the original Stanford AI class and got through about half of it. What I did learn was extremely valuable to me, and I had a great time.

    Perhaps the next step in this is creating a slightly more flexible schedule, where the clock doesn't start ticking until you actually pull the trigger and you can sign up any time you want. In order to retain the benefit of peer grading and community study, you could fit people together into groups based on their start times, and stretch the deadlines around a little bit to get them on the same schedule. With these kinds of numbers, you could end up with several hundred participants per group.

    Or maybe there are better ways to introduce pressure to complete things and stick with the program than deadlines. In the programming world we're moving away from that kind of thing.
  • A reply on Talk: Malte Spitz: Your phone company is watching

    Aug 14 2012: It's funny that you mention that, because just a couple years ago I was involved in a campaign to help a woman who had been the victim of the kind of thing you're talking about. Her husband was abusive, got drunk and out of hand one night and pushed her down the stairs. Unfortunately this husband's father was a retired high-ranking FBI agent and pulled a bunch of strings with the local police to have her put in a mental hospital, claiming she was insane and threw herself down the stairs in order to get the husband in trouble. Not only did he convince the local police and (temporarily) local health care professionals, the two (husband and father) together managed to convince the rest of the family, including most of her side of the family. The doctors at the facility of course determined that she was perfectly sane.

    Point being, *exactly* that kind of thing happens, and it happens pretty frequently. Especially to people who are unlucky enough to be family of government officials in extremely corrupt countries. She just happened to be connected to a lot of people who believe in mutual aid and are experienced organizers so she didn't get the worst of it. We were able to get her out of custody and in a safe environment away from her husband and family, as well as some legal counsel which eventually lead to her gaining custody of their children. A lot of other people don't have those kind of connections and can be completely alienated from help by this kind of scheme.
  • A reply on Talk: Ivan Krastev: Can democracy exist without trust?

    Aug 13 2012: You can only believe the "99%" are giving up if your view of political action is so myopic as to only include the outcome of voting in government institutions. If you look at the much bigger picture you realize that people are *very* active. They're just not acting within the boundaries defined by elites. Look at how, for instance, over half the world is making some or all of its income in informal markets outside state regulation or taxation (according to an analysis by the OECD). Or the explosion in creation and consumption of cultural works thanks both to the open culture / copyleft movement and the subversion of institutional culture via peer to peer networks. Or the explosion in availability of academic knowledge and training coming through projects like wikipedia, kahn academy, and a hundred thousand other bottom-up education initiatives. Or the first signs of democratization of design, manufacturing, and access to the means of production coming through open source hardware, hackerspaces, the DIY movement, etc. Or the steadily growing decentralization of the production of basic needs coming out of similar movements in housing and agriculture. Or new distributed institutions like wikileaks, cryptome, and anonymous which are filling the role of watchdog and whistleblower that our corrupt institutions have failed to support (and even actively repressed).

    No, I think the speaker is wrong, and I think you have it wrong too. There is a *lot* of activity going on in what may have once been called the political sphere. These movements are vast; they cross national and religious boundaries and they're larger than the media or poltiical parties or in some cases entire competing traditional industries. We're just waiting out here for the rest of you to figure it out and catch up.
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