In the ongoing saga of Facebook wrongdoing, it’s no surprise to me that Meta, the parent company for Facebook, has been fined a record €1.2bn following “revelations that European users’ data is not sufficiently protected from US intelligence agencies when it is transferred across the Atlantic”.
Facebook has been ordered to suspend the transfer of user data from the EU to the US. Worryingly the ruling doesn’t apply to the other platforms in the Meta stable.
I slid down an internet rabbit-hole and landed in a science-horror-show, that asks more questions about the state and future of humanity than you’d think possible.
In what could be a sketch written by Chris Morris, a story has been dragged from the internet archives, exposing the first organic modular body, OSCAR.
I found the entrance to Oscar’s warren while scrolling through the hosepipe of content that is DeSo. The headline “Scientists Have Built the First Modular Body” caught my attention, piqued my interest. Bait swallowed, I clicked through to Yahoo, and was met by a reposted piece from Popular Mechanics.
Yahoo retells the story of Cornelis Vlasman, a biologist who “envisions the human body as a working biological LEGO system” fully modular with “each part interchangeable” allowing a body to be organised in “unique arrangements”.
Personally, I find this kind of thing fascinating, grist to the mill of science-fiction speculation. Stories about scientific developments that are as fascinating as they are concerning surface every day. Tim Newcomb’s story had me imagining chimeric monsters churned out by some apocalyptic future.
A couple or three years back, Dan Robitzski wrote about a material made with synthetic DNA, able to “continuously and autonomously organize, assemble, and restructure itself in a process so similar to how biological cells and tissues grow” researchers likened it to an “artificial metabolism”. That discovery brought with it visions of self-replicating nonobots, consuming and reproducing, until there’s nothing left of the planet but grey goo.
Comparing Newcomb’s story to the reality of cultured meat “grown from animal cells in a factory rather than on a farm” and the “organic modular body” doesn’t seem that far-fetched. All kinds of unethical but not beyond possible. Just another idea made real by research and experimentation.
Then I watched the video. Cornelis Vlasman presents the creepy looking organic robot, Oscar. About the size of fat Barbie Mattel, wearing a chicken filet dress and matching bacon gilet, it has all the charm of a parasite escaping a David Cronenberg character, especially when it starts moving, thrashing around like some newly hatched bird.
The video is just shit enough to make Vlasman’s brief presentation feel authentic, but something about it feels off, not right. For a start, the low angle looking up at Vlasman is wrong, it’s too deliberately framed. Scientist are all about proof. It should’ve been framed higher, wider, including as much of the scene and possible. My guess, they were trying to make a basement look more like a lab, without dressing the background too heavily.
Curious and curiouser, I went looking for more. The original article wasn’t hard to find.
Almost immediately you see Yahoo’s retelling is different from the original. In paragraph two there’s a one word difference, one word that changes everything.
In a (fictional) experiment, Vlasman created OSCAR, a living, organic being formed from his own cells, albeit one that functions with the help of technology.
Supposedly the same author, with contradictory intentions and conclusions, presumably for Yahoo’s clicks and giggles.
While looking for the Popular Mechanics piece, I landed on a couple of other publications who’d picked up on the story.
Shaw Johnson, who at the time of writing has an impressive 9573 stories under their belt for Business News, rehashes the Yahoo effort with the kind of care you’d expect from headless chicken.
Mason Regan, another prolific poster, this time for Canada Today, does a less than sterling job of cutting and pasting Newcombe’s original story.
They both claim a by-line but inexplicably include Newcombe’s bio?
The staff reporters at The Rio Times at least took the time to “rewrite” the story. Same sensational science-horror-show but more concise in the telling of it.
Both Business News and Canada Today reference someone called Andrei Tapalag, clumsily reorganising one of Newcomb’s sentences, taking “In the video from a few years ago, recently unearthed by Newsbreak’s Andrei Tapalaga” to “recently appeared in the video newsbreakAndrei Tapalga” and “In the video from a few years ago recently dug up by newsAndrei Tapalaga” respectively.
Andrei Tapalag seems to be the source for this reappearance of Oscar. His story, posted on 01 February 2023, profiles Vlasman as the heroic “biologist who believes that the path less trodden is, by definition, the least interesting”.
I think Tapalag botched his quote? What he’s done is rewritten “the well-traveled path is by definition the least intriguing” and cocked it up. In a keen example of the internet eating itself, the latter is Tapalag writing for History of Yesterday a day or two before his NewsBreak story appeared.
Undeterred by misquoting himself, Tapalag continues singing the praises of Vlasman for conducting “experiments with organic materials on his own initiative, with his own resources, and with his own crew” and successfully “creating new life from cells collected from his own body”.
If we believe Tapalag, Vlasman is a true outlier, an innovator, a true maverick, a scientist on a hero’s journey?
I don’t think it will surprise anyone to learn, this student from Guildford, with an extensive experience history on LinkedIn, is founder and publisher of History of Yesterday.
Apart from being picked up for Popular Mechanics, Tapalag’s NewsBreak story seems to have struck a cord with most of its readers. Only one guest flagged it as a “science fiction story”. The rest take it at face value, landing their opinions somewhere between outraged and horrified.
Yahoo’s comment section is a little more circumspect, but it’s still crazy how many of the opinions go along with it the bastardised Popular Mechanics story, and respond with similar sense of outrage and horror.
The thing is, the truth of Oscar is far more interesting than the science-horror-show presented by Yahoo or Tapalag.
If you search “Oscar” and “Cornelis Vlasman” you’ll quickly find a YouTube channel. If you get to it as I did through their app, you immediately know it’s “part of online science fiction story http://www.themodularbody.com – by Floris Kaayk” because it’s there, in the channel’s bio.
Floris Kaayk is a Dutch digital artist and filmmaker, whose work explore the relationship between technology and humans, commenting, unpicking, exposing, both its positive an negative impacts.
The Modular Body is one of several storytelling projects he’s released online, using the internet and social media as his medium. Created in 2016, Oscar consists of fifty-six interconnected documentary clips telling the story of the modular life-form. Kaayk’s fiction picks at the role biotechnology has in our lives, scratching at the distinction between natural and artificial until the metaphorical scab starts to bleed.
I suppose, if you were being unkind, you’d call this satire. If you did I think you’d be missing the point. It’s more complicated than that. By asking big questions in such a provocative way, Kaayk is able to make really profound observations about the state and future of humanity.
Certainly it’s more intelligent and challenging than the sensationalist science-horror-show favoured by Tapalag. A generous interpretation might allow him to be part of the dialogue, but his lack intention places him outside the discussion. He functions in the territory of clicks and commerce, not questions and insights into the human condition.
For me Kaayk’s intervention is the purest piece of science-fiction storytelling I’ve seen in a long while. He made me consider the possibility, because for a brief moment the idea was real, alive in that space between what’s actual and our fantasies.
That space, rare, illusive, is art revealing a truth.
My previous post was about the recent release of a shocking report by researchers from Harvard University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, confirming Exxon has know for at least fifty years that their products were, are, and will continue causing planet wide warming.
I first saw the Exxon story late last night on Mastodon. This morning I checked Twitter, and was surprised-not-surprised to see no mention of it. It’s there if you search, but on the UK News feed and Trending there’s nothing.
It wasn’t so long ago Twitter was my first port of call for breaking stories. Now, the top thirty stories on the platform, go from Felix to Corbyn, with no mention of Exxon. That’s just wrong, and dangerous, and confirms the kind of dangerous bias, I for one, expected when Elon Musk took over Twitter.
As Twitter implodes under the weight of Elon Musk’s ego, Mastodon has grown significantly, making it very attractive to investors, who no doubt would pump tonnes of cash into the fediverse, and seek to centralise the decentralised. We should all tip our hats to Eugen Rochko the German software developer, who is the sole shareholder of Mastodon, for refusing the money, and keeping Mastodon open source.
This story from Reuters announcing “Facebook parent Meta to settle Cambridge Analytica scandal case for $725” million has me wondering. Can Facebook be sued for their part in securing a leave win in the Brexit referendum?
It is my understanding that Dominic Cummings and Vote Leave took the information Cambridge Analytica scraped from Facebook, built detailed profiles of users, then targeted them with advertising designed to nudge voters in the 2016 referendum.
For those who think Facebook’s reach and impact is negligible, just another silly social media platform, consider this. 17,410,742 people voted to leave the European Union, compared to the 16,141,241 who voted to remain. That’s a difference of 1,269,501 people. Vote Leave won by nudging the attitudes and opinions of at least, but probably more than, 1.25 million people. The thing is, that’s only 2.82% of the 45 million people it’s estimated use Facebook in the United Kingdom. I also think it significant that the total electorate, those who voted in the referendum, was only 1,501,241 more than the total number of UK Facebook users.
Personally, I think the platform allowed itself to be used by Cummings and Vote Leave to reach and influence enough of the electorate, personally and specifically, to swing the vote their way. Facebook certainly took the money and ran the adverts without worrying about intention or means. I also think the picture is more complicated than simply targeting Facebook users with adverts that confirm an individual’s prejudices and trigger their fears. They also used targeted advertising to convince the apathetic or complacent, that leave could never win, nothing ever changes, so why bother voting at all. Turnout for the referendum was 72.2%, comparatively high when seen against the 2019 General Election at 67.3%. That’s a difference of 4.9%. Significant, in a conspiratorial kind of way, when you realise Vote Leave only won with a majority of 4%.
If you don’t believe me, and why would you, could you, should you, watch Dominic Cummings explain in his own words, “Why Leave Won the Referendum”. He gave this talk at the Ogilvy Nudgestock event in 2017. Nudgestock calls itself a festival of “behavioural science and creativity” that provides “science-led evaluation and optimization of nudge strategies, ideas and campaigns designed to change perception and behaviour”.
All of this sounds to me like psychological warfare, employed against the population of the United Kingdom, for political and economic gain.
For the second time since I joined Twitter in 2010, I downloaded my archive. It’s horrible looking through all of those old posts. It’s embarrassing, cringe inducing, the way looking at old photographs makes me want to run away and hide.
The first time I requested my archive was about eighteen months ago, when I downloaded and deleted most of my timeline. To my surprise today’s download contained every post I’d ever made on the platform, again.
I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I casually expected this archive to contain only the post made since the last purge.
I’m sure this breaks laws in the UK relating to GDPR?
This revelation does confirm one thing I’ve always know, but actively ignored, your presence on the internet is like a tattoo, it’s there forever!
David Troy’s analysis of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover in BylineTimes is truly scary.
Musk’s takeover might not be the massive financial misstep it seems. Instead it’s the latest salvo of “totalitarian information warfare” that will, if it’s not stopped, lead us into “genocide and bloody kinetic war”.
Considering the players involved this isn’t hyperbole.