The Null Device
Queensland is a sort of Australian equivalent of Texas or Arkansas or Mississippi or some such place; a state renowned for its rednecks, corrupt police and religious sects too far gone for any other state. And this story brings together the last two elements.
A "devious and perverted" police officer has been gaoled for conning members of a Christian sect into bizarre sexual acts. After telling the group that they would become undercover operatives, he instructed them to cut off their pubic hair and take photographs of themselves naked, saying that such actions were mandatory before becoming police informants. (He also attempted to extort $5000 from a young couple with a false confession of underaged sex, though that may well be standard Queensland police operating procedure). (via Anthony)
Scientists have found the brain centre connected to social rejection. when a person suffers some form of social exclusion (is excluded from a group, ostracised by the cool kids at school, divorced, rejected by a date, &c), their anterior cingulate cortex is stimulated; this is the same part of the brain that responds to physical pain.
This suggests that the need to be accepted as part of a social group is as important to humans as avoiding other types of pain, she said. Just as an infant may learn to avoid fire by first being burned, humans may learn to stick together because rejection causes distress in the pain center of the brain, said Eisenberger.
I wonder whether the pain of social exclusion is not related to withdrawal symptoms from substances such as nicotine or heroin; that is, whether or not social interaction triggers neurochemicals that are addictive. People have been addicted to all sorts of activities, from risk-taking to sex; could it be that we're all social-interaction junkies from birth?
Another question this raises is that of substitutes for social inclusion that keep the same happy chemicals flowing without needing to actually have a social life; for example, internet chat rooms, multi-user roleplaying games (in which people have experienced serious attachment to virtual characters), even long-distance "romances", could be a way of "masturbating" the social-inclusion parts of the brain without the need for real social interaction. Perhaps that's one of the end goals of AI: to produce software that can pass the Turing test and provide simulated social interaction for instant-gratification-dependent cube-hermits without enough time in their high-speed, information-overloaded lives to develop real relationships with other people.
The floating, untraceable online Forbidden City mentioned in that William Gibson book (Idoru, I think it was) is a reality; only, in reality, it sells fraudulent financial products and penis pills: a Polish "spacker" group is using trojanned PCs to "untraceably" host spammers' web sites. The system works by routing requests to the hijacked machines with special DNS servers run by the group:
According to Tubul, his group controls 450,000 "Trojaned" systems, most of them home computers running Windows with high-speed connections. The hacked systems contain special software developed by the Polish group that routes traffic between Internet users and customers' websites through thousands of the hijacked computers. The numerous intermediary systems confound tools such as traceroute, effectively laundering the true location of the website. To utilize the service, customers simply configure their sites to use any of several domain-name system servers controlled by the Polish group, Tubul said.
"Hackers used to detest spammers, but now that spamming has become such a big business, it's suddenly cool to be a spammer," Linford said. He said the junk e-mail business has also recently attracted "engineers who have been laid off or fired, and people who really know what they're doing with networking and DNS."
That's one of those things that is simultaneously fascinating and repugnant, much like a predatory wasp laying eggs inside a paralysed prey or something. (via bOING bOING)