My thoughts on ACTA, SOPA and the likes

While I’m aware that laws like ACTA may very well be just a premise for worse hidden agendas, in this post I will try and keep it simple and stick to the facts at hand. I’ll also be focusing only on entertainment media (Movies, Music and Games).

To explain the situation simply it seems that the entertainment industry has become aware that a great deal of people are not buying their products and instead are using the internet as a medium to download material for free and in addition can participate in facilitating these downloads via P2P channels.

Realistically people have been sharing media ever since the days of early VCR recorders and tape decks. I’m not entirely sure how we find these laws getting passed in 2012, one could pin it on the ever increasingly fast internet connections, or simply that more and more people are catching the free bus. It could also just be the next logical progression in the ongoing battle against piracy.

What laws like ACTA and SOPA are seemingly trying to say is “If you can’t govern yourself to buy products legally, we’ll enforce laws that ensure you have to”. This is the romantic high level overview.

I’ll be very clear ACTA and SOPA (as entities) have no respect for the greater context of the internet, neither are they well grounded. If these laws become established there is a real danger they and their offspring will wipe the smile right off the face of the internet.

It’s early 2012 and the internet is a fairly carefree entity. There are some restrictions in ad driven content, but these are easy to bypass for the tech savvy (This video is not available in your country). It is also true there are some casualties – MegaUpload and a fair amount of private individuals who get made an example of every now and again. But in retrospect it is business as usual. You can still find mostly anything you want on the internet – and that is what makes the internet such a great tool to use.

To further understand my thoughts, it is also important to note that although the planet may not be in total recession, the vast majority of us who live in first world countries are not exactly rolling in disposable income. I’ve personally seen a decline in salaries since the last major bank crisis. Most of us also have monthly budgets and we have very real concrete costs that take precede what we can spend on entertainment. My point is if I don’t have budget now to buy 5 blue ray disks a month, ACTA and SOPA are not going to increase the budget I have for entertainment. If these laws pass the same people who are downloading free media now, will very simply go without – it’s basic economics.

The 80/20 law holds true in the entertainment industry. 80% of the wealth is accumulated by 20% of the top levels, and the rest of us just need to suck it up, cough it up and get with the program. And this here is the very heart of the problem. Until these ratios swing more in the favor of the majority – there will be pirating.

What do I propose?

I propose a more humanistic approach to piracy. Laws like ACTA and SOPA address very little. Instead the APA should be focusing on providing outlets where consumers can pay monthly nominal fees to download as much content as they want very much in the same way sites like RapidShare and MegaUpload have done all this time. The fee structure should be in the “Why the hell not” price range, if it breaches this, then there will be piracy. Most people are only willing to pay a small fraction of their income for entertainment media. As they say “You can’t extract blood out of a stone”.

Damage to the internet: The internet without these so-called “Freebees” becomes purely an information, business and commerce tool. If you further screw with the the information layer which is already happening, what you are left with is an internet only good for business and commerce – in other words A BORING and very sad internet. Would I pay for such a service? I’m not entirely sure, I think my internet access at work would most likely suffice. If the internet was just a mainframe for the boring stuff, I think it would lose a lot of traction and indeed the business models of the boring stuff would suffer.

So once again another year goes by and the prices for entertainment media are skyrocketing, the 20% are making their millions, and the wretched majority are seeing no promise of change. Piracy will prevail.




Voice recognition, do we need to revamp English?

As the old saying goes “If Mohamed won’t come to the mountain then the mountain will come to Mohamed”. English is an ambiguous language. Many words are pronounced the same yet  are spelt differently; certain letters are not pronounced and then there are a whole host of accents.

The leader in voice recognition is Google, and while the recognition is remarkably good, unfortunately voice recognition for the most part remains too unreliable to be used consistently. Can we blame Google for this failing? Yes and no.

Google have improved recognition reliability considerably by ditching voice personalization and instead have opted for a cloud solution powered by an algorithm that matches a voice pattern against popular inputs and selects the closest match. This has proved to be a way more accurate way to handle recognition and requires no voice training, however it has its shortfalls.

The older method used in Microsoft Speech Recognition or Dragon Software uses an advanced method which gets a general idea of what you are trying to say, then attempts to improve accuracy by allowing you to train the software to suit your voice and accent. Unfortunately this method also has it’s limitations.

The marriage of these systems could be the way forward. Just today I was trying to get Google to recognize the following “I am going cycling in the mountains”, which kept being translated as “I am going fighting to the mountains”. When I spoke the single word “Cycling”, amazingly Google recognized this. In a sentence though, the cloud based algorithms inadvertently break the recognition. I was disappointed, if only I could train Google to learn that one distinct sounded word, and others, boy would this software be good!

No such luck.

Which got me thinking about the problem in a new way, and about the long term future of recognition. Clearly what we all want is Star Trek quality recognition, so the question is how are we going to get there. We are either going to need vastly more complex algorithms handling the ambiguous input, or we need to strip away the ambiguity.

Teenagers have long ago pirated the English language when it comes to text based phone messages and Facebook posts. They’ve essentially created a short hand version of the language which they use to communicate quickly with their thumbs. Although I don’t condone destroying the English language, the approach is a smart one, and results in A) Quicker communication B) Cheaper Communication C) More simplified communication / comfortable.

Which got me thinking, why aren’t we doing the same for voice recognition? Is the situation beckoning for a digital Shakespeare to join us in our plight and invent new forms of “Puke” that are easier for less intelligent computer systems to recognize? Do we need a whole new set of synonyms that we can slot in and out interchangeably that would ensure a computer actually gets it right 99.9% of the time?

This is definitely food for thought.