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Posted By Peter Bentley
I'm quoted in another New Scientist article, this time about some interesting work performed by one of Boeing's research groups. It's a system that uses a combination of the Wifi and Bluetooth trace from your gadgets to plot where you've been, and then make predictions about where you will go next. Paul Marks calls it a "Pre-Social Network". But its timing - when privacy invasions are in the news every day - could have been better. The article is online here.

I like New Scientist because they quote fairly. For those who want to know exactly what I said to Paul when he asked for a quote, it was this:

This seems like a very interesting piece of work. It is likely that this kind of prediction would be very accurate - people tend to follow regular patterns of behaviour, even walking the same routes each day. There is clearly a valuable aspect to generic and anonymised predictions like these, for they would allow us to ensure that the necessary computer resources are in the right places at the right times - so everyone would always have a good wifi signal for example.

However there are clearly some major privacy issues. It does paint a slightly Orwellian picture: how would you feel if your future movements and even your future happenstance meetings were all predicted in advance by exploiting your previous patterns of movement? The police might love it as a way of predicting the movements of criminals (akin to Philip K Dick's "Minority Report"), and advertisers would love it as a way of tailoring adverts, but what if anyone could predict exactly where you will be and who you will be with? It's a stalker's dream!

Speaking personally, I am comfortable with the idea of the technology around me being optimised for my personal usage - if I walk through the park each day I'd be pleased to have wifi access optimised for my usage as I walk. I'm uncomfortable with the idea that my movements and social interactions could be predicted, and that prediction could be available to anyone. If it is anonymised so that specific places become "hotspots" for meeting people with specific interests this may be better; although I question the need for computer predictions to enable this.

But what do I know? It would not surprise me if Google+ or facebook has this feature by this time next year...

Note I've been collaborating with Soo Ling Lim for some time on AppEco - a simulation of mobile app ecosystems. Not quite the same motives, but we hope it will be very useful. Keep an eye on: the AppEco website.


 
Posted By Peter Bentley
Every author likes to hear from their readers, especially when they express their own enthusiasm in the subject. Here's a recent message:

Hello, I am really enjoying your book on mathematics. I am attempting to teach myself math and my question may sound ridiculous, if it does, I apologize. I was reading where you said the irrational numbers are between the spaces of rational numbers. It is so beautiful and poetic, I wasn’t sure if you were being literal. I have a fascination of the space from 0 to 1, and this sentence began a new fascination. Thank you for any response.

I'm glad you enjoyed the book! Math can involve a lot of imagination, where we think about strange spaces that may only exist in the world of numbers. It's true there are an infinite number of irrational numbers that live in between the rational numbers - it's up to you whether you wish to think of them as "spaces" but I think it can help if you are a visual kind of person.

Thank you much for responding. I forgot to say that the book is not only delightful but beautiful.