Section 1 living data

Packets of data representing people have acquired a protected home, the CumuLinker Trust which also offers a protected wearable communicator, the Whisperer. These work together to repair face-to-face conversation disrupted by the Great Trickster. Two senior female computer scientists apply their experience to repairing the now scruffy WWW and to project threats to society from cascading communication innovations that led to CumuLinker.

 

 

 

Beautiful Data

Section 1: Living Data Chapter1: Beautiful Data

late April20xx DellVille AZ.

Faint musical notes rise from a pale strip of material spread across a table on a backyard deck. A nearby person watches the sun set over the proud hump of Mount Arrowhead. Her head turns toward a pink cloud of recently invisible vapor on the opposite horizon. A large moth buzzes around the light from a window inside the house. The figure startles from a blaring horn in a line of cars curving the hilly roadway toward the region’s namesake granite formations.

“OMG!, It’s really happening!”, muttered the tall woman. Cassandra Hawke couldn’t believe that the next day she’d be at her OMG 50-year college reunion, nestled in the greenery of Rolling Hills Ohio. For a few nights, these sunset sensations would be unobserved.

Her thin hand smoothed the wired textile material spread across the deck table. A colorful scene animated that powerful wearable device its creators called a Whisperer. Enclosed sheets of electronics were fabricated to be worn as scarves, neck ties, or bags to match the wearer’s self-image portrayed on the Whisperer’s creative Life-Patch. Accompanying wireless ear-fitting ‘hearables’ carried synthetic speech messages managed by the Whisperer’s code under the cloud of the CumuLinker conglomerate that now ruled Silicon valley to change the conversational mood of the country.

CumuLinker’s national Whisperer trial had begun. Invitations to her OMG College Reunion read

“Be prepared for the latest Social Media Innovation. Show off your life on your Whisperer ‘Life-Patch’. Catch up with your classmates the modern way through the CumuLinker Universe cloud. Feel your ‘Life Replayed’ from our youth, through careers, into retirement. Compete to tell your life story. You are a winner!

Below the deck, an unruly quail covey clucked toward their nightly roost. Casey sighed and ran her fingers through her short graying hair. This avian parenting always revived her sense of childlessness. Minor influence over young software engineers once helped fill that void. Then their collective profession became a whip in the hands of The Great trickster mythological force destabilizing everyone’s life. Even the quail hatched early this year as the seasons shifted after a mild winter.

This upcoming reunion Whisperer self-portrait Contest’ retold her destiny as a lifetime software engineer. She’d arrived on campus at age 16 with a scholarship as a first generation, small-town math whiz. Soon, she had dominated the Academic Computing Center located under the iconic campus chapel spire.

Her Whisperer self-portrait showed a very young woman at the IBM 1620 console. Dancing lights marked the progress of a program while cards disappeared into a nearby box the size of a VW Bug. A background printer clanked college chants and the ‘Anchors away’ rhythm. Her eyes brightened as she held up a calculus integral formula honoring the professor who so wisely exploited the post-Sputnik movement that funded her education.

The elder Casey tested a 3 finger flick gesture over the patch and crowed, “I’m a techno-fashionista now!”.

This cool evening of calming quail clucks and changing sky colors carried — Casey’s thoughts to the Victorian country-side of her idol, Ada Byron Lovelace. Casey believed that a new brand of sophisticated computational thinking streamed from the Whisperer’s textile, processor, and communication systems. Lady Ada’s patron Charles Babbage had been constrained to the technologies of cog wheels and punch card controlled looms. Mathematician Ada recognized that the ‘data’ for their woven patterns could be not only numbers, but also music and symbols. Engineer Babbage called her the “Enchantress of Number” to honor her mathematical prowess but failed to understand his Analytic Engine’s universality.

Needing to share her intuition about Ada and universal computing, Casey texted a photo of her Whisperer college theme to her STEM community “little syster” Brittany. The younger woman’s science fair project was exploring the Babbage-Lovelace loom adventure. Brittany wished her luck and asked if Casey had any old1620 programs they could read. Yes, she did, and that would be a great opportunity for them to laugh about the evil “GO TO” statement woven through her “spaghetti code”. Casey signed her message “Enchantress of Whisperers”.

Darkness embraced her reverie. Casey pondered how her idol would understand today’s surveillance -based business models. Google, then Facebook, then every other so-called social network had set their own rules for privacy and profit. Each captured and organized data by patterns of links ‘ that symbolized friendship, ‘likes’, goals, and authorities.

Could that prophetic Ada have imagined the powerful effects when packets of data represented a person? Could she foresee algorithms and data as arrows into a person’s emotions? No, and neither did computing professionals understand that power until the arrival of The Great Trickster.

Practicality tugged Casey back to her upcoming travel adventure. Always a last-minute packer, she ran through a mental list of clothes appropriate for reunion events. , She cringed remembering her 16 year old self appearing on campus wearing catalog-styled”first generation to attend college” garb. Chuckling at the rule banning slacks on the 1960s campus, she opted for beige-theme casual blouses, jackets, and slacks, plus low-heeled and flat sandals. A thumb drive in her pocket and her password memory scheme would carry all her vital data, travel photos, and work publications in case the physical world around her home degenerated from a natural disaster or social upheaval.

The OMG Reunion Whisperer trial intrigued Casey, who’d seen many technology failures during her software consulting career. Her current professional “threat-casting” practice envisioned system collapses, mis-identified individuals, drinks spilled on devices, and a host of bugs in any experimental communicator. She’d enlightened her technological profession’s downfall through the lens of that college’s liberal arts education, supplemented now by her enjoyable senior peer learning classes.

Here was a new brand of civil conversation. Casey expected CumuLinker would be exchanging Reunion attendee’s social profiles like 3rd party introductions and updates. Mutual interests could avoid embarrassing name lapses, divorce questions, sorority sniping, or political revelations. Opportunities opened up for unfulfilled longings, friendship mending, and casual get-together’s. Of course, there would be pedigree wars of name-dropping books, honorary degrees, job titles, patents, vacation homes, and friends in high places.

Casey muttered into the darkness, “Does my Enchantress spirit ancestor influence my own symbolism of Internet good and evil? Can my threat-casting mentality grant me power without dampening my spirit? Will the OMG Reunion clarify my remaining life goals? Could my Whisperer break up my unruly communication pattern that acquaintances called “that ‘chip on her shoulder’?”

Her iPhone beeped. A text arrived to pre-welcome her with reminders about the locale and schedule for the next few days. The OMB Reception would be held in a dormitory dining room where she’d once served tables in a black dress and white apron. The Colonial-style Hall was now remodeled into luxury apartments where she’d be sharing a 3-bedroom suite with two widows from the snootiest sorority, without much to say to a nerdy math major. No, “bad thought”, Casey swept that chip off her shoulder.

She most wanted to catch up with lifelong friends Alice and Patrick. Patrick had been a class clown in her science labs. They’d mocked their professors wearing robes at chapel events. He often called her Sunday morning for homework help when he knew she’d be sleeping in or, more likely, alone on the quiet campus, programming at her personal IBM 1620.

A year after graduation, she’d introduced Patrick to Alice, a grad school acquaintance, dead serious about neural nets before that subject drifted into AI. The clown-gown couple, she, and an occasional partner, had visited each others’ homes, shared job woes, watched parents decline, and never reformed Patrick’s clowning.

This last year had been hard on their 3-way friendship. The OMG Reunion would be the first social outing after the Alice-Patrick family trauma. Casey didn’t know how to comfort them, her childlessness making their loss incomprehensible. For the first time in 50 years, she feared teasing Patrick, hugging Alice, speaking her deep nerdy plans to revive her favorite programming paradigm. She wanted to hear that teasing refrain, “Casey, do you still believe computing is good for mankind?”

Casual algorithms

Section 1: Living Data Chapter 2: Casual Algorithms

April 20xx Rolling Hills Ohio


Showering after her long travel from DellVille, Casey was ready to party. Her Whisperer had charged on the room’s desktop, preparing to guide its wearer through her weekend’s social challenges. She quickly dressed and presented herself with her Whisperer badge animating.


The two widowed roommates were sharing family photos with a half dozen other women Casey recognized as their sorority sisters. Greek-lettered mugs and pennants commemorated their bonding. Casey and 2 others tuned up their Whisperer introduction connectivity and caught up on their retirement locales and former professions.


Remembering Casey as the ‘computer girl’, they applauded her Whisperer portrait resembling the hallway window view of the futuristic academic computing center. The card reader elicited groans as they recalled the requirement to turn in cards punched with their names as proof of chapel attendance. Academic automation was their first exposure to computing, and fifty years later they were figuring out Whisperers.


Casey felt exactly how she’d expected, as the tongue-tied geek without a vacation home or family photos. Her erratic consulting career hadn’t brought her the riches of their inheritances, corporate marriage careers, good real estate investments, and sorority connections. She felt a crackle of cynicism and resentment at the abundance her profession had brought her classmates.


“It’s drink time! Come on down.” texted her long-time friends Alice and Patrick. Texting back their private emoji, she donned her Whisperer and waved to the widows as she exited the suite.


Party sounds drifted up a broad marble stairway as she followed the arrows to the reception. She had the elevator to herself. With a jolt and a ding the elevator door opened to view The modern ugly carpet that had replaced earlier ugly carpet outside the dining room.


A boisterous greeter projected a video of Casey’s decorated Whisperer for entry into the design contest. These two acquaintances waved and silently compared each other’s aging features. Casey felt the benefits of her open-air twice daily walks.


Their Whisperers interlocked. Casey listened to the greeter’s alumni magazine article about a recent Panama Canal cruise while her own profile listed her recent peer learning courses. CumuLinker asserted the two had taken art together from the sexy sculptor professor. She didn’t recall that class and suspected a CumuLinker attempt to trigger a distracting reflection. Casey remembered disliking the greeter but not the reason for that feeling. She muttered something about the sculpture professor’s wavy hair and escaped from her first awkward exchange.


Glancing nervously around with a geek’s disdain for clothing fashion, Casey felt relieved she’d hit the dress theme with scoop-necked blouse, flowing slacks, and SAS sandals. Not that it mattered, but she knew she had the Whisperer Design competition in the bag.


Soon into the evening her Whisperer had caught her up on many classmates’ lives. CumuLinker felt like a comfortable conversation guide, while filling out its Universal Social Graph, as Casey had predicted. A CumuLinker cloud bulletin pointed out the surviving math and science majors she might want to catch up with over the evening. Donation opportunities played the role of advertising during lulls in Whisperer conversations. High-ranking donors received effusive introductions. The Whisperer appeared to be a dream communicator for both introverts and fund raisers.


Her Alice-Patrick-Casey trio snagged a corner table. She’d clasped shoulders with Alice and poked Patrick’s muscular arms from senior softball pitching. The couple’s Whisperer patches were black. CumuLinker skipped their mutual introductions. For these old friends, a little professional gossip about the demise of their former government science programs brought them together again.


The walls were alive. Across the room, a timeline of dates and campus improvements flowed from their college days into a bright blue sky over the chapel spire icon. They watched the early 1900s stand-alone classroom buildings disappear to be replaced by a multi-tiered donated campus center linked to athletics courts and a shopping mall. Sheltered pathways reminded them of decisions between facing blizzards or skipping a class. The campus chapel now housed the President’s office and adjoining conference center. Applause rose as each improvement displayed its $ cost and class donors.


Another wall flickered with a 5 year marked timeline from graduation to the present day. Its events re-played the class president’s career with emphasis on his 1990s government office and post-government entrepreneurial activities. The timeline topped off with the message: “Your Happiest Moment, your new bride and step-children!”.


Casey nudged Alice, “This is CumuLinker’s extravaganza, dubbed ‘Life Replayed’!. Everyone gets a timeline video to take home to replay from their Whisperer. I hope yours turns out well.”


Each classmate’s timelines seemed friendly, affirming, and factually correct. “Well, duh,” Casey thought, “CumuLinker had our college yearbooks and annual updates. These combined with all national newspaper and corporate news libraries, every social media post, glimpses of our email, genetic histories, publications, and, soon, , conversations recorded right here through Whisperers.”


Florida homes lost to hurricanes were pictured in their original, happier conditions. Employment stints often showed logos of defunct corporations. Most replayed lives included sound tracks of favorite rock artists and folk singers, often bringing out tears. Each timeline peaked with CumuLinker’s choice for the featured person’s best moment of the past year.


The trio’s turns arrived. A spotlight swept over their table then onto the wall screen. Patrick’s life replayed through his clowning stage, business enterprises, well into senior baseball. Alice’s face and title appeared under periods corresponding to international sabbaticals, their Antarctica sojourn, and her federal government appointments.


Casey clutched her drink while Alice and Patrick exchanged wary glances. As with other timelines, up came the message: “the most momentous event of your past year!!!”.


“Oh, no”, all three muttered, as the room brightened with the birthday party video featuring grandchild, eight-year-old Joshua, playing with his cousins, wearing a turban around his cancer-stricken brain. A word cloud of good wishes from Facebook messages surrounded the happy photo.


At that moment, Casey realized she’d never discussed ‘living data’ in her adjunct teaching roles. Her programming students learned data structuring tricks by counting ‘links’ and ‘likes’ in ‘friends’ news feeds. Her homework exercises ignored the unpleasant , un measurable realities of life.


Casey hid her face on her arms on the table. They’d just witnessed a legendary social media faux pas. How could CumuLinker technologists have no ethical framework for performing this monumental act of “Algorithmic Cruelty”? Hadn’t CumuLinker learned from Facebook’s 2014 debacle?


Nobody spoke. Casey reached over to path Joshua’s grandparents’ clenched hands. Alice and Patrick rose from the table as groans broke from classmates who understood the moment. Leaving the room, the grandparents looked back at Casey, who knew and loved algorithms, who taught and practiced the principles of software engineering, who rarely mentioned ethics in her courses.


Young, deceased, beloved Joshua smiled down at the room of packets of data formerly known as people.

Colorful times

Section 1: Living Data Chapter 3: Colorful Times

April 20xx, after the OMG Reunion, Rolling Hills OH.

Casey dodged the lawn sprinklers along the path to the central campus parking lot. She recorded the unfamiliar smell of dewy grass as her last OMG Reunion memory. The 6 a.m. railway shuttle had its doors open and motor running. Handing her $20 to the driver, she pushed her suit case down the center aisle then spread out across the back row of seats to avoid conversation after last evening’s fiasco at the OMG reception.

The iPhone in her neck-worn bag and the Whisperer curled in her suitcase beeped simultaneously. An iPhone message confirmed that she’d won the Whisperer decoration contest prize. Her Whisperer now held five personalized versions of ‘Life Replayed’ ready for her solitary reflection or future CumuLinker-sponsored parties, guaranteed Trickster-free.

She looked up to see Patrick and Alice seating themselves near the front door. Patrick poked the driver to get moving. Red-eyed Alice mouthed in her direction, “Talk later”. Then leaned her head on Patrick’s shoulder.

Casey pounded an empty seat in anger at herself and her profession. As an adjunct at DellVille PolyTech, she’d taught data bases and user interfaces. Her lectures expanded dry textbooks to tell personal stories of heroes and leaders in those fields. Yet she couldn’t imagine how to teach the warning signs of using “living data” for financial gain nor how an algorithm could misrepresent a family photo.

She moaned to herself, “I was a colossal failure as a Cassandra! I’ll be more diligent with my new threat-casting gig. An adage re-tweeted in her mind: ‘You cannot see the nuclear cloud through rose-colored glasses’.”

Her mind flashed back to her freshman year humanities courses. Last night’s honored guest was a 90-year-old literature professor who once handed back a blue book exam marked with the only C on her record. Wise professors had forward memories of the World War II era of her birth. They assigned readings about how evil cycles through culture bringing death and threats to freedom. Fifty years later, she understood.

Casey’s mind spun with these thoughts while she unwrapped the breakfast snack she’d grabbed as she left the dorm suite. The bus grinded its gears as she returned to reality for the next leg of her interrupted journey, waving a final goodbye to the campus spire under which she’d begun her career.

Those collegiate ideals reinforced her recent Great Courses lectures on world mythology where a spirited Trickster appears to force a culture to change, or to accelerate its disintegration. The technology created by 20th century computing professionals had evolved so fast,amidst great wealth, overcoming shock from the 9/11 attacks. She’d watched capitalism turn people into products then begin to disintegrate when Trickster-driven election mania incinerated FaceBook’s credibility. Now CumuLinker promoted Trickster-free conversations through Whisperer profile exchanges.

And, she, Cassandra Hawke, the Enchantress of Whisperers, couldn’t keep her mind off the possibilities of programming her Whisperer when she returned home. Something in its behavior reflected a belief system that resembled a wise grandparent soothing a grandchild bullied at school. She had sensed patterns of “unintended consequences”, “cause/effect reasoning”, “critical thinking”, and behavior that clashed with her nagging “Chip on her shoulder”.

Her next stop after this weekend could be scary, as she walked into the engine that propelled science, under the thumbs of The Great Trickster himself. She wished she could talk through her threat-casting challenge with Alice, who knew the difference between knowledge and data and had witnessed the deadly consequences of computation under the guise of defensive warfare. She wondered how long before her reformed view of her profession could mend the friendship torn apart by that act of algorithmic cruelty.

Leaving the reunion after only a few hours sleep forced Casey into decisions about her weekend. She was booked Monday into a hotel in DC for what she expected would be her last panel reviewing proposals for the National Science Foundation. Maybe this weekend could leave more time to renew a friendship with a long-time colleague still working on interesting projects. It wasn’t too early to text Sally Rhodes.

The return text stated that Casey would be welcome to stay at Sally’s condo in Arlington. Sally suggested meeting at the Ballston exit from the Metro where she’d be having coffee and catching up on her podcasts. “It will be good to see you again, kiddo, I’ve got a new project to show off!”

Alice and Patrick were stepping into a taxi by the time that Casey reached the shuttle bus exit. Transfer from the shuttle to the train went smoothly as Casey sleepily slumped into a seat in the quiet car. Her iPhone launched into Twitter. One pass through tweets after the usual Friday night news dump should bore her into a deep snooze, hopefully without drooling. She fumbled in her jacket pockets for tissues and found a note from her reunion suite mates:

“Sorry your nerdy experiment got out of control. Have a nice rest-of-life, computer girl.”

“I’m not going to think about this OMG, sad, reunion again”, she resolved, and clicked on an unfamiliar Twitter hash tag ‘#PinkPageFlu’. Up came a series of messy screen shots with snarky remarks. She pulled down the window blind to better explore this pink weirdness. Stretching over a few months were reports of web sites turning into unusable, irregular, glossy, low contrast pages. Different browsers displayed variations of ugliness, especially if one dislike pink. ‘Like’s and other silly social media actions were often slathered across the page as images. Somehow, the Reader button still generated stripped-down pages of pure text. One panorama of defaced pages mangled the profiles of powerful women in computing, even the ‘Hidden Figures’ and her beloved ‘Enchantress of Number’.

“Hello, Pink New World!”, Casey muttered. Happy moments from her decades as an early netizen popped into her memory. She wished she could turn back the clock to the Dawn of Web Time”, continuing into Usenet discussions, Altavista searches, news feeds, and her very first web page. Nearing sleep, her visual cortex retrieved memories of links that had clicked into joyfully shared writings of early Bloggers.

Then train motion worked its way until bright sun flickered between tall buildings under the window blind onto Casey’s hand, still holding the insulting message from her techno phobic reunion classmates. Casey awoke with a crick in her neck and a ‘low battery’ warning on her iPhone. Now, she was ready to enter another person’s, very different world.

Casey’s friend Sally had retired in the Capitol area to maintain proximity to government consulting as well as access to public transportation. They had shared professional outlooks and interesting adventures back in the days of the Japanese Fifth Generation project.

Casey gathered her suitcase, neck pack, and knew she wasn’t in DellVille any more.

Seeing things differently

Section 1: Living Data Chapter 4:Seeing Things Differently

Arriving in DC, Casey caught the Red Line to Virginia. Wrestling her suitcase up the long escalator, out of breath, she spotted Sally at the coffee/pastry shop. Their Whisperers attempted an interlock until Casey’s realized it was not being worn. The two friends could update in person now and later compare accuracy of their CumuLinker profiles.

Sally met Casey at the coffee shop door. She flashed a pamphlet showing a famous 80-year-old actress.

“Are you up for a play at the Kennedy Center tonight?”, Sally asked. “You should enjoy city life, forget technology, let’s catch up on culture.”

Casey stopped her. “Hey, Sally, I’m rusty about walking with a visually impaired person. Do I walk to your right or left? Hold your arm or vice versa? ”

Sally laughed. “Relax! Walk your suitcase to your left, stay a bit in front of me, and I’ll follow since I can see your colorful hat. Is that left over from the Trickster Election?”

Casey nodded, “Yes, I don’t get to symbolize often. Let’s stop at the wine bar across the plaza. I’m hungry!”

Sally asked the waiter for a window table with a dark blue tablecloth. Casey’s mind flashed back to Rule #1 on Sally’s Accessibility 101 Guide: ‘Contrast, contrast contrast!’.

Casey pulled out a menu and looked over at Sally. “I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m here early.”.

Sally said, “Not really. Somebody tweeted about a Whisperer fiasco at a college reunion last night. It sounded like a nasty moment, and definitely not a promo for CumuLinker. Tell me about it later”

Casey scanned the menu. “What would you like? Should I read the menu to you or do you have a Braille version?”

Sally drabbed her iPhone. “Braille, nah? I could look up the restaurant and read the PDF, but I’m not picky. How about we share appetizers. I really like things that come on sticks. And a carafe of Chablis, too.”

Casey turned to Sally. “Ok by me. I have to ask. Are you friend or foe of CumuLinker?”

Sally said, “Both. I’ve given up on privacy. I have to do that damned CumuLinker son-of-Facebook to keep in touch with my family members in New Mexico.”

she touched the Whisperer wrapped around her shoulder. “I even joined the phony CumuLinker Accessibility advisory panel. When the Whisperer came along, I realized for the first time, I’d know who I was speaking with at a meetup. I’m more social now, especially with my accessibility consulting practice. The Whisperer helps identify swamp critters left over from the you-know-what.”

Casey smiled. “Interesting use case! I never thought about a Whisperer as assistive technology.”

Sally nodded. “Actually, I’ve become a Whisperer voice coach. When the device speaks an acquaintance’s profile into their ear, many people freeze up with what I call Synthetic Voice Shock. We Vision Losers listen to these voices all the time, even speed them up. Sighted people lack our powers of concentration. Amazing, huh?”

Casey nodded, “Cool! I found Whisperer usable enough. My voices and earables tune to my brain speed and capacity. Sally, you live in a different world! I envy your skills.”

“You betcha!” Sally asked, “What else happened at the reunion?”

Casey shrugged. “Geez, I was only there for 3 hours, just enough to catch up with my grieving friends Alice and Patrick. Hey, I won the Whisperer Adornment contest! I’m a techno-fashionista now.”

Sally raised her wine glass for a clink. “An what’s the prize?”

“Casey laughed, “I get five versions of ‘Life Replayed’. Professional, geographical, hobbies, romantic, I forget the other. I really don’t want to go back over so many life episodes. Most are out of context, some happy, some sad.”

Casey looked away and sipped her wine. “It’s life CumuLinker at the Pearly Gates. I’ll manage my own memories, don’t need no stinking algorithms or big data. How would you like your own life replayed?”

Sally flashed a book cover on the back of her phone. “I blogged my memoirs, ‘As Your World Changes’. Know-it-all CumuLinker leaves out the best parts of my career, like that 1980s event in Japan where we invaded the male sushi bars.”

She turned off the screen curtain and handed her iPhone to Casey. “Here, you can read about that period in our lives. Which way is the restroom”.

Casey pointed her finger, then laughed at herself. “Three tables forward, one to the right, ladies on the left. Beware the hustling waiters.”

Casey ordered more wine. She scrolled through Sally’s blog to gather new information about her long-ago colleague. Sally was weaving her way back to their table as if she’d memorized the path. “Sally, I admire how you control your life. Changing the subject, do you know anything about that Pink Page Rampage showing up on Twitter?”

Sally chuckled. “Pink Page analysis is my new hobby. There’s a systemic vulnerability in the Web that makes it easy to deface web pages, well at least for insiders. Anybody mad at a company or person can mess up a website with just a few keystrokes. It’s the DOM, CSS, JS triad. Do you know what I mean?”

Casey mumbled the expanded names, “‘Domain Object Model’, ‘Cascading Style Sheets’, I don’t do them, but ‘Java Script’ I can still muddle through.”

Sally sipped her wine. “Very good! I’ve heard there’s a Silicon Valley female who got screwed over for promotion, or maybe a group of over-40 old folks fighting for respect. These disgruntled experts might use Tor to secretly channel advice to attackers.”

Sally flicked her screen to remind Casey how VoiceOver compensated for her low vision. ” “Actually, it’s not even clear there’s a crime since the page content is intact, just unreadable. Well, except for us with the skills to sneak under the style stuff. Our tools use the DOM and ignore CSS. We can live without pictures or advertising graphics.”

Casey sputtered, “but, it costs to fix…”.

Sally continued, “Yes, defacing a website is ‘denial of service’, but only for companies not on top of their maintenance and recovery practices. Pink Page Flu might cure the Web of some unhealthy designs and clutter practices. As Sir TimBL says, ‘The World Wide Web is a mess!’.”

Casey threw down her napkin. “Even worse, we algorithm designers and data scientists have already messed up the world. Literally, like electing the Great Trickster.”

They paused while sirens wailed in the street. ” How do you survive, living in D.C., those motorcades and that tower, whoops, I forgot you can’t see it.”

Sally sighed, “I write my own fiction to stay sane. How about you?”

Casey paused. “My reunion brought back memories of freshman year humanities classes. I was lost then, but I’ve become a mature,just-in-time learner in my retirement peer learning program. I was astounded by five lectures on the cyclical trickster who comes into a culture to force change. The sexual stories are amusing, but those Native American and African tales read like yesterday’s news.”

She threw down her napkin. “Here’s my theory. The Great Trickster is simply non-human. His disruptions are clever, but silly. Instead, I ask myself ‘What’s the value that’s lost or threatened? What needs to change?'”.

Sally nodded, “We all need a theory to survive this period. Hey, let’s go for a walk.”

As they circled a neighborhood path, Casey pulled down a lilac bloom for Sally to smell. “We have these in DellVille. I miss the Eastern evening lightning bugs.”

Casey continued, “I’ve been thinking about my new role as an NSF Research Threat Predictor. Did they pick me for my name?”

Sally laughed, “Cassandra, you’re known for your ability to describe how systems fail. We one-time Division Directors admit that the Threat Predictor role was invented because researchers get too optimistic about innovations. They never learned the lessons from the Morris Worm, let alone the debate about Reagan’s “Star Wars”. Those were before Web Time, known only to Technology and Society scholars, plus us old-timers.”

She continued, ” The main social issue that interest today’s Computer Science and Engineering profession relate to its diversity problem. Then another challenge arose. That Facebook ‘fake news’ takedown sobered up the industry, didn’t it? Departments even teach ethics now, or try to.”

Casey doffed her hat. “Yes, indeed! I’ll be there to interrogate reviewers about the hazards introduced by so-called innovations. I’ll remind them of relevant incidents in the 3 decades of the Risks Digest. Plus, I’ll cite authors from the Social Media Resistance movement whose prophecies over the past decade have proved out.”

Sally cheered, “Those chips on your shoulders will be flying in all directions! This is your destiny, my friend.”

Casey continued, “I always ask, ‘ ‘How do you test that device if it’s built?
‘ Is there Any chance the code in that device is verifiable and certifiable for security? Show me your hazard analysis.’ Luckily this is a one-shot gig and I’m too retired to need funding. The reviewers are going to hate me, but maybe we’ll finally inject caution into the research process.”

They walked in silence, now comfortable with the cane leading the way. Sally asked, “Are you up on the ‘Rebuild the Web’ movement? I think of the simplicity from early HTML and being a netizen and owning one’s own website and deciding what publication to read and paying them enough to publish. I’m wondering if you and I could work together to educate the WWW after each Pink Page attack?”

Casey attempted a high-five. ” Of course, each attack is a case to be solved, for curiosity sake if we don’t want to get legal. How about it, my dear Watson?”

Consequential computing

Section 1: Living Data Chapter 5: Consequential Computing

April 20xx DellVille Arizona

Back in DellVille, Casey was recovering from her disastrous trip to her OMG Reunion in Rolling Hills OHIO. Her reunion weekend plans had changed to include enjoyable futuristic conversations with former colleague, Sally Rhodes, now living in the nation’s capitol. They’d shared reading, walking, and routines practiced by her feisty low vision friend. Finally, dispensing Threat Predictions at an unreceptive research panel went as well as she’d expected.

Still groggy from travel, Casey felt herself stumbling into unrecognized life choices. Her home environment felt different. Adjusting from humid to dry air revitalized her. On the horizon was a whitish band of moisture that foretold the monsoon weather flowing from the Sea of Cortez. Her emotions always deadened during the hot summer in June then revved up with the Monsoon Season in July and August. She loved the booms of thunderstorms, occasional hail, revived vegetation, and late summer hum of backyard weed whackers.

More travel beckoned. Sally had asked her to join her New Mexico family visit. Both retired computing professionals anticipated an interesting tour of the scientific lab museum and nuclear borderlands. Big changes loomed in her daily schedule if they attempted to analyze the ongoing Pink Page Rampage as unconventional Sherlock and Watson. Of course, she’ sign up for summer session peer learning classes. This year she had an additional worry about retirement funds after the Great Trickster’s trade policies tanked the economy.

Her Whisperer seemed exhausted and a bit soiled as it lay spread out charging on her kitchen table. That vibrant young Cassy at the 1620 console was oblivious to the coming human toll of algorithmic cruelty. CumuLinker was already prodding this elder Casey for feedback about the OMG Reunion. When would she get around to reviewing those five versions of her ‘Life Replayed’ prize for that ‘life patch’?

First, she needed to do a complete mind dump by dictation on her iPhone. Every leg of the trip taught her new lessons.

Travel report from OMG Reunion in Rolling Hills Ohio, re-acquaintance with colleague Sally Rhodes in D.C., and Threat-caster at NSF Research Panel

April xx, 20yy
by Casey Hawke,
dictated and transcribed,

  • Lesson 1: CumuLinker wields life-altering technology.

    Our OMG Reunion wasn’t the happy celebration of our lives as promised. CumuLinker suckered the organizers into that ‘Life Replayed’ extravaganza that brought shock and awe to my grieving friends. Technology wrecked the occasion.

    Our technology world has changed so fast once we lost, and then regained, trust in the social media enterprise. Social entrepreneur CumuLinker has become more than the public custodian of the massive social graph developed over the past decades. The behemoth also acquired the vast Rebate Restitution funds released by the Silicon Valley billionaire beneficiaries of advertising-driven “free” services. These social media founding fathers had grown bored by search engine ranking algorithms and Congressional battles over fake news. They dreamed higher to save rain forests, explore asteroids, automate transportation, extend life, revamp schools, and operate their Singularity University. Bye, bye, innovators.

  • Lesson 2: CumuLinker showed that our computing profession is too immature to diddle with people’s emotions and rituals.

    Computations overwhelm us. The OMG fiasco wasn’t the first occurrence of “algorithmic cruelty”. In 2014, Facebook foisted what it called “Momentous Event!” child pictures onto a grief-torn parent who called them on the atrocity. Dumb cluck developers at CumuLinker didn’t get the message that you can’t cavalierly mix algorithms with emotions.

    I’m also guilty. As a lowly adjunct at DellVille PolyTech, I taught counting and querying and visualization. I admired the elegance of those fundamentals of data analysis. But I never ever discussed ethics for handling living data. Students wanted jobs, not morality. Privacy wasn’t in their vocational mindset.

    Our field lacked a warning system. Wealthy behemoths and subversive agents could, and did, weaponize our queries and postings. Not until that data scientist wrote the book on “Weapons of Math Destruction” did the press and my profession worry about humans as ‘living data’. And then, the Great Trickster rubbed our noses in our social media messes.

  • Lesson 3: Nevertheless, Whisperers are cool social technology!

    CumuLinker crafted profiles to help me reunite with Reunion classmates who would otherwise ignore this nerd. Knowing something interesting about a conversation partner conquered my shyness and over-rode my defensive trigger to be a little nasty. I firmly believe CumuLinker can change our social discourse for the better.

  • Lesson 4: Packaging Whisperers in electronic textiles is sheer genius.

    Thank you, CumuLinker, for unleashing my artistry! My very first Whisperer ‘Life Patch’ was a winner.

  • Lesson 5: Whisperer life event data blows my mind!

    Those Whisperer private ‘life narrative’ and public ‘Life Replayed’ apps are deep, and terrifying. I cannot yet appreciate how Whisperers carry one’s life memories, even more than one could remember. Pondering my variations of narratives has brought fear I’ve never felt before. Call that mortality.

  • Lesson 6: Unlike most communicators, Whisperers respect disability, indeed benefit from the evolution of assistive technology.

    Sally showed me how Whisperers overcome some annoyances of her social life with vision loss. She hears the name of a nearby conversational partner, as well as a description of their clothing and any disabilities she might not see. That’s amazing! She touted the ‘curb cut’ principle because people with reading disabilities had, over the decades, refined synthetic voices that now support everybody. And she made me feel comfortable and useful in “Sally World”.
    !

  • Lesson 7: I love my Whisperer, but don’t yet trust CumuLinker.

    There’s something suspicious about Whisperer applications. My lifetime of programming in over a dozen languages tweaks my curiosity. How was the device developed? Which language, which paradigm?

    I hate being told it’s “AI”, as if I hadn’t heard this story for nearly fifty years. Whisperers are too flexible for object-orientation, too powerful for query languages, too fluid for so-called neural algorithms, and sometimes miss their goal entirely. Could there be a ParaLog engine on board?

    I’ve missed ParaLog since it disappeared when the ambitious Japanese Fifth Generation project tanked in 1990. Buried in its religion was a mental process resembling critical thinking. We called it ‘Consequential Reasoning’ because it forced us to model a world then logically explore its meaning.

    Hmmmm! Is ParaLog really dead?

  • Lesson 8: Technology is fueling yet another fractious phase of recovery from The Great Trickster era.

    I’m not sure what to make of the on-going Pink Page Rampage. I buy Sally’s explanation that complex style sheets over-write simpler marked up text. I remember when we could use browsers to ‘View Source’, before well-meaning designers piled on features like web typography, interactive form frames, auto-run video, advertisements, social media ‘like’ buttons, eyeball tracking, privacy reports, search engine candy, and gratuitous ambiguous hyperlinks. What a mess!

    Who are those Pink Page social deviants? I’m not sure I approve. Sally applauds them because she’s still able to read vandalized pages. She thinks those intermittent interruptions of service through tiny disruptions of the visual crud will eventually lead to simpler, more readable web pages that honor the original goals of hypertext to interlink human thinkers.

    Those hacktavists are angry about sexism, ageism, disablism, racism, left-right-ism, and slights they’ve forgotten. Are Pink Pages the perfect revenge through temporary annoyance. ? Are style sheets the weapons du jour? Do we all have ships on our shoulders?

  • Lesson 9: It’s not easy to be a Threat Caster.

    I learned that researchers really dislike questions about their ethics and their awareness of the hazards of computing. They’d never heard of the curmudgeon computer scientist who fought the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative. He warned,

    “It’s impossible to build those defensive missiles to work the first time they’re needed. We computer scientists are being socially responsible. You physicists have equations but worried about your first atomic tests dissolving the atmosphere. Later you admitted that creating nuclear bombs meant you now ‘knew sin’. Please curb your expectations for our infant computing field.”

    Most researchers at the meeting were graduate students after the dawn of Web Time during which the industry was all about innovation and community and then AI and autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things. They don’t want any pause in their so-called progress.

    My lifetime of software quality consulting tells me bugs are everywhere. We keep building systems too complex to operate without wise oversight. But respect for orderly process, expertise, regulation, and critical thinking went down the golden toilet of the Thing Who Crawled Out of Mythology.

  • Lesson 11: I don’t know where I’m headed, but I’m changing rapidly.

    I must replenish my retirement savings. My intuition tells me that Whisperers have computational powers I can exploit, that maybe I alone can understand. I want to help society resolve the anguish behind the Pink Page Rampage, but I also suffer myself. Should I allow Comrade Sally to enticed me into joining the Diaspora of veteran web thinkers to rebuilt the now scruffy World Wide Web?

    I’m very worried. Could my Enchantress powers mislead me? I only have a few years left before decrepitude of some kind takes me down. Where do I go from here?

Casey’s iPhone startled her out of this deep reverie. Her ‘little syster’ Brittany needed to talk through some problems with her project to simulate a simple computation on a loom-like device to explain how computational thinking had evolved from mathematics and Victorian-era industrial processes. Casey welcome their afternoon outing to star bucks to review the project progress.

Pressing the ‘end call’ button, Casey caught herself. Was she falling into the trap of guiding a young woman into computing just because the field needed more women? Was she obligated to warn the young woman about the reality of ‘Me Too’ and the far ahead temptations facing the next generation of social media and autonomous vehicle and builders of god-awful things? How should an elder explain ethical dilemmas to a youngster?

Anxiety hit. She sent her dictated MP3 off for translation, doubting any entity but CumuLinker would read these ramblings or understand her concerns.

Suddenly, the Whisperer clanked out a John Paul Souza tune she remembered from her high school marching band days. Casey wondered how personal data on her Whisperer could progress into a memoir or a dramatic ‘Life Replayed’. Why not try it out!

At her command, the Whisperer spoke in a solemn male voice the synopsis of her main life events. The voice inserted pauses for images to form in her mind. She’d muse later about the marching band. Then the Whisperer repeated the narrative with a background of folk music using a softer maternal voice. Casey choked up realizing her deceased parents never knew the successes of her career, that they’d been spared her loneliness, and they never knew the gratitude she now felt for them.

The Whisperer’s power overcame her. Its ‘life story’ convinced her that she’d failed to live up to her professional potential and soul yearnings, but she had time yet to find her place in the Renovation of her beloved Internet and lost language of Consequential Computing. Maybe the Whisperer could bring human companionship and offer therapy to avoid those awful outbursts that disrupted her relationships and sucked away her professional recognition.

Her daily walk would relieve these disturbing thoughts and confusion. She heard her quails calling on their way to a stand of trees a quarter mile away. Puffing briskly uphill, she realized their message to her: “find a flock to guide through the coming season”.

Bonus screen play “wearables take a hike?

Wearables, Take a Hike!

by Susan L. Gerhart, March 1 2018

Synopsis: A group of hikers try out networked, wearable devices to enhance their outdoors experience. Things go wrong.

Characters

  • Protagonist Jack: – hike leader; dull, well-intentioned techie,
  • Jill (co-leader): knows her tech, problem-solver.
  • Bob: data-driven, infatuated with his Quantified Self
  • Carol: – friendly, routine hiker, has puppy at networked home.
  • Ted: — goof-off, awkward, bird-watcher.
  • Alice: nervous hiker.
  • Max: – Easily gets off track, also has smart home.
  • Sue: – quiet, calm lawyer. ,

Opening:

Man and woman greet each other at picnic table below Big Toe Butte.

Jack: : Good morning, Jill. It looks like your ankle healed nicely after your tumble at last year’s hike up this hill.
Jill: : Yes, and I can hardly see the scar on your head from your Fall, Jack. Remember what the physician assistant told us. We were both dehydrated when we came into Urgent Care after our accidents. She said we should take short drinks every 10 minutes when we’re climbing and a big gulp of water at the top of the hill.
Jack: She was right, Jill, we needed better technology on that hike. This year I got us those new wearable, networked gadgets.
Jill: I’ll yell every ten minutes “ALL SWIG!”. Have you planned our bathroom breaks?
Jack: : Yes, there’s an app for that!

Main Scene: Big Toe Butte

Picnic table at base of Big Toe Butte in background. Bob, Carol, Ted, Alice, Sue, and Max arrive.

Jack: Welcome, fellow ILLO members. Today we’ll hike this magnificent mountain using these wonderful devices Jill is passing around. They are called Gurgle Glasses.

Jill hands out ugly glass frames attached to ear muffs to each hiker.

Jack: First, we’ll hear from Doctor Bob about how Body sensors can tell us the optimum number of bathroom breaks on the hike.
Bob: The Quantified Self movement says we can completely understand our bodies by collecting data. I gave you a bracelet and app to track yourselves all week. Please yell out the number the app shows.

Shouts of 9, 3, undefined, 20000, .

Jack: Thanks, Doctor Bob. It looks like QuantifiedMe.com will get valuable feedback on the accuracy of its prototype. And, you’ll get a commission, right, chuckle,
chuckle.
All Shout: So, how often do we stop to pee
Jack: You agreed to swig water every 10 minutes. We’ll be at the top in 30 minutes. Good luck.

Groans and rush to nearest rest room Hikers reassemble.

Jack: Now let’s get acquainted. Your Gurgle Glasses will read you the biography of another hiker to chum with along the trail.

Hikers put on glasses and ear pieces. A fight breaks out between two hikers shouting cheers for bitter rival Ohio Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines.

Jack: See, we already have a pair of new friends.

The hikers start moving up and down and around simulating a trail.

Carol: OMG, I forgot to fill puppy Snuffy’s water bowl before I left home.
Jill: Smart Home to the rescue, Carol!! Just text the right spigot to refill his bowl.

Carol frantically flicks around her screen.

Carol: The sun is too bright. I can’t find that spigot on the house map.
Jill: It’s too bad you’re using those half-vast Gurgle Sprinkles devices. My Snapple works with Voice so I don’t need to see the screen

Carol pokes furiously at her screen turning on all spigots.

Carol: Oh, Snuffy, I’ll be home soon.

Puppy barks sound from device.

Jill: Snuffy will be fine, but he probably made messes. The noises scared him after you turned on all the water devices at once.
Jack: Wonderful, there’s an important lesson. Set your Smart Home to remind you to fill the water bowl before leaving.

Jill stomps and jiggles her feet.

Jack: Jill, why are you dancing every time you stop walking?
Jill: It’s those Blister Prevention boots I bought after last year’s hiking accident. I can’t adjust the lining liquid. That fluid attracts fire ants. !
Jack: Please don’t remind me about last year’s fiasco.
ALL SWIG!

Yell of pain and struggle.

Jack: That’s Ted. His QuantifiedMe bracelet is stuck in a cactus.
Jill: Here’s the emergency kit. Oh, no, it’s full of Girl scout cookies!

Swearing and cries of pain.

Jack: Ok, Ted is free from the cactus. He will heal quickly. Next hike, let’s make sure we bring the First Aid box. Don’t forget instructions. I’ll take a cookie.

Ted: I saved my bird identification sound app. Does anybody recognize a Peregrine Falcon?
Alice: Oh, no, there’s a rattlesnake at 10 o’clock on my left side! Help!
Jack: Alice, are you using the Snake detector app in Gurgle glasses? It’s buggy! Some sounds set off a false alarm. Ted, please turn off your bird call app.
Jack: Don’t you think this year’s hike is going much better than last year? Look at all the gadget data we’re getting!
ALL SWIG
Jack: Where’s Max? Gurgle Spy reminded me that he often wanders off track.

Maxis somewhere off trail.

Max: That’s awful! Some geo-cachers have stomped this beautiful wild mushroom patch.
Jack: Max, we need you here.

Max returns with brown bulbs (a deadly mushroom).

Max: Look at these ‘Amanitas’! I’ll make a nice Asian omelet when I get home.

Max pulls out his glasses and starts speaking into them.

Max: Siri,or Alex, or whoever’s in there, beam me home to my Wired Casa network!
Synthetic Voice: Good morning Max, this is MyFriggingApp. How can I help you?
Max: How many eggs are in my refrigerator?
MyFriggingApp: You have two left. Would you like to upgrade your Amazon drone to deliver a dozen eggs before noon?
Max: Yes.

Buzzing noise then.

MyFriggingApp: Max, Gurgle Health noticed that you had a 3-day bout of diarrhea after this hike a year ago. I’m sending a mushroom identification chart to Jack and Jill.
Max: no, wait!

Everyone’s device goes off loudly, then crashes. Hikers reboot.

MyFriggingApp: Sorry Max, your Wire Casa has reported this feature Interaction error to Gurgle-Cares. Please repeat what you wanted.

Max stuffs the device into his backpack and curses the heavens.

Jack: That feature would have been really cool, if it worked. We’re almost to the top. I see Big Toe from here.
Jill: I’m looking forward to a nice cool drink from the well, just like the Urgent Care doctor ordered. Then, I’ll splatter myself to cool down.

Top of Hill

Hikers all reach the top, circling a package swinging off a tree branch.

Jack: Oh, no, somebody moved the well faucet. Some geo-cachers left a logic puzzle telling us the new location.

Jill unwraps the paper and starts to read the puzzle. Sue is sitting quietly with Indian flute songs wafting from her earpiece.

Jill: Anybody know how to solve these puzzles?

Sue: I can! We practiced these puzzles to take the Law School Aptitude Test. That was long ago before The Great Trickster jailed lawyers.

Sue, pulls out a keyboard, types, while other hikers stand around.


Sue: Voila! This says the well faucet is at
N 34° 32.175′ W 112° 34.955′ — Didn’t we pass that on the way here?
Jack: I declare this trip a great success! we made it to the top safely. We learned so much! And there was scenery, too!

Hikers clap tepidly. Their devices all rattle with some message.

Jill: I’ve just sent you the ILLO evaluation form. Please fill it out while we’re resting.

End of Hike

Hikers tromping down to the bottom, back at the picnic table. Hikers head for rest rooms, leaving Jack and Jill.

Jack: Wasn’t that cool? We tested many devices on real humans in tough terrain. ? I think everyone liked this hike.
Jill: Several evaluations ask for Sue to teach us how to solve those logic puzzles. One person suggested you lead a nursery rhyme class.

Jack walks over to his Segway.

Jack: Look what I have here, the latest Segway model with autonomous steering. It recognizes all kinds of object in the street. I can even nap on the handles while I cruise home safely. Bye, See you next year!

Jack waves as he wobbles off down the roadway while Jill watches. Soon comes a blood curdling animal snarl and a human scream.

Jill: Oops, that Segway street object recognizer wasn’t trained for mountain lions.

She pulls off and stomps on her Gurgle glasses, then pulls out a flip phone.

Jill: Hello, 911 we have a big problem at Big Toe Butte.

THE END


written and performed during Yavapai College Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) “The Art of the 10-Minute Play”, facilitated by Alex Gabaldan, March 2018