Lying Autonomous Agents

posted by alex

BarCamp San Francisco was a GREAT event, big big thanks to Tara Hunt and crew for the excellent arrangements. We instantly found help for our long-time bugging server-issues and the overall atmosphere was of a helping-hand community. Met up with Ben Metcalfe, previously leading the BBC backstage development and now “grassroots architect & CTO” over at Citizen Agency. Ben was off to Gnomedex and continuing back to London but we’re hoping to bump into each other again soon.

BarcampWe had a late night (3 or 4 am?) session with Jordan Sissel that just moved here to work for Google. Jordan is currently involved in arranging more BarCamps (the BarCamp Stanford looks interesting!). An evening microformats session held by Chris & Tantek was interesting with some discussion on, among other things, how to achieve an Apple Human Interface Guideline-esqu mentality for web2.0 sites. In effect this could entail cohesive interactions across websites much in the same way that you would expect an OS keyboard short command to function in the same way across several applications. This however, of course, has to be balanced with the creative freedom of the UI designer of each site and furthermore the greatest obstacle to overcome is probably agreeing on what good practice actually is.

Later the same week I joined Felix at the Adam Greenfield Everyware talk at Adaptive Path. Adam was a really nice guy and we had some discussions about the function of trust in an ubiComp setting and the importance of privacy and self-control of distributed data. Felix actually had the most interesting idea on the topic – instead of constantly trying to control what is being published about ourselves we should add fake-services or fake agents that propagate the web with false information. Since placing the responsibility of constantly deciding and stating “what level of privacy I as I user would like right now” the transaction costs for using the service increases dramatically. By using lying autonomous agents in parallel I could ease up on the level of control over distribution of my real personal data. Since my real data is only valuable if you know it’s true I won’t have t worry about disclosing personal information (since there will also be conflicting information available). The increase in complexity would make it hard for anybody without the right contextual understanding of me to decipher what is the “real me” and what is the fake agent. However, for somebody that knows enough about me (e.g. in what city I am today) the fake info can be filtered out prevailing the true data. Some pretty heavy algorithm work would be necessary but the more I think about it the more sense it actually makes. Of course, if a flood of information becomes available the issue of trust in the source becomes highly important. What, how and when do you trust certain sources to be credible? This will certainly be one of the toughest questions when exploring online-trust but certainly also one of the most fascinating ones.

Anyway, we’re off now to Ritual Coffee Roasters to start working on what trust is, how it functions and what the consequences for the new web will be. Stay tuned!


posted by alex

Phew! It’s been a hectic start of the project due to the relocation combined with the amount of events San Francisco has to offer. We spent a few days finding a place to live before hooking up with Felix Petersen and Stefan Kellner from Plazes (both here for the Where2.0 conference). The four of us went of on an excruciating but ah, sublimely beautiful three-day hike in Yosemite park (highly recommended!).

Felix introduced us to Chris Messina and Tara Hunt from Citizen Agency, Pinko marketing & Spread Firefox which turned out to be the same people behind the San Francisco Coworking initiative that we’d been checking out as a potential temporary shared office space. We still haven’t checked it out but according to Chris & Tara it’s a really nice, though still slightly rough, creative space in the start-up. Conveniently located a few blocks from our house it does sound pretty perfect.

Eric at Supernova 2006Chris & Tara were also the arrangers of both the MashPit and BarCamp SF unconferences that we attended during the following week. Mashpit gave us the opportunity to meet up with the legendary box-model hack author Tantek Celik that also, according to Felix, is the single most active Plazes tagger on the planet… It’s pretty easy to imagine Tantek wardriving all over San Francisco tagging up every open WiFi he can find! By the way, thanks to Kevin Werbach for hosting MashPit, unfortunately his own Supernova conference was pretty much a disappointment. The whole Supernova event felt stiff and the fact that there was only one track of talks inevitably made it tough to stay interested. We had been looking forward to the panel discussion by Seth Goldstein (Root Markets), John McCrea (Plaxo) and Kyle Brinkman (MySpace) but in all honesty it didn’t amount to much at all. Seth Goldstein was pushing the ideas that are highly interesting but didn’t seem to connect to John or Kyle – who on the other hand seemed completely out and disconnected all together.