"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

The Terrorist Threat The U.S. Is Ignoring At Its Peril: Imported Consumer Tech Contains Hidden Hacker Attack Tools

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Oldspeak: “Behold! More bitter and toxic fruits of globalization,”free-trade”, de-industrialization, job-offshoring and insatiable corporate thirst for cheap non-union labor. A top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official has admitted on the record that electronics sold in the U.S. are being preloaded with spyware, malware, and security-compromising components by unknown foreign parties. “The corporate media and political Establishment avoid discussing these issues not because they are insignificant, but because the corporations that own the media and buy the politicians also profit off a regulation- and tariff-free trade policy that helps companies cut costs by moving production to low-wage countries. Not surprisingly, then, a discussion of the downsides of those trade policies has become a victim of a form of self-censorship that presents free trade as an exclusively economic (and positive) policy.” –David Sirota. While Americans are whipped in to fearful frenzy over largely phantom threats from Arabs and Arab states, there is very little discussion of the clear and present danger presented by foreign produced technology that has thoroughly penetrated every nook and cranny of the society for the reasons stated above. The U.S. government  has devoted billions to “Cybersecurity” initiatives, again focusing on the outcomes and not dealing with the root causes: Grossly unfavorable trade imbalances, and decimated home-grown technology production capacity. If Americans built these electronics in America, this would not be an issue. Sensitive White House, and Defense Department networks have already been breached on numerous occasions, no industry is immune to this threat, yet these conditions persist. But given the fact government has been captured by the Corporatocracy, these conditions are allowed to persist, to the benefit of cost externalizing corporations and the detriment of Americans and their national security.  Profit is Paramount.”

By David Sirota @ Truthdig:

According to the U.S. government, the list of known bogeymen working to compromise American national security is long, and getting longer by the day. By my back-of-the-envelope count, we have shoe bombers, underwear bombers, dirty bombers and car bombers. Now, we are being told to fear “implant bombers” who will surgically attach explosives to their innards.

All of these threats are indeed scary. But the fear of individual attacks has diverted attention from a more systemic threat of terrorists or foreign governments exploiting our economy’s penchant for job-offshoring. How? By using our corresponding reliance on imports to stitch security-compromising technology into our society’s central IT nervous system.

Sounds far-fetched, right? That’s what I thought, until I read a recent article in Fast Company. Covering a little-noticed congressional hearing, the magazine reported that a top Department of Homeland Security official “admitted on the record that electronics sold in the U.S. are being preloaded with spyware, malware, and security-compromising components.”

The process through which this happens is straightforward—and its connection to our current trade policies is obvious. First, an American company or governmental agency orders computer hardware or software from a tech company. Then, because the “free” trade era has incentivized that company to move its production facilities to low-wage countries, much of that order is actually fulfilled at foreign factories where security standards may be lacking.

If this still sounds far-fetched, remember that in the offshoring age, one of the major high-tech exporters is China. That is, the country which has been turning computers into stealth weapons of the police state (for proof, Google the terms “Great Firewall” or “Green Dam”).

Sadly, this threat is about way more than new glitches in Angry Birds. At a time when missiles are remotely fired via keystrokes, supply-chain vulnerabilities in high-tech products are a genuine security problem.

What might those vulnerabilities mean in practice? As the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported, they could mean “kill switches” secretly implanted in Pentagon systems that control our arsenal. Or they could mean new backdoors that allow Chinese military hackers to again breach Defense Department computer networks, as they did in 2007.

The possibilities are, unfortunately, endless. And yet this threat has been largely ignored for two reasons.

First, the threat is invisible, and therefore doesn’t make for good television. Instead, much of the media promotes stories involving sensational images of naked-body scanners and ignores less telegenic monsters lurking within circuits, algorithms and code.

Second, an examination of supply chain vulnerabilities would force us to question free-trade theologies that powerful interests don’t want challenged.

For decades, trade-related reporting has mostly focused on jobs. Left almost completely unmentioned are other concerns that free-trade critics have raised—concerns about the environment, human rights and, yes, national security.

The media and political Establishment avoid discussing these issues not because they are insignificant, but because the corporations that own the media and buy the politicians also profit off a regulation- and tariff-free trade policy that helps companies cut costs by moving production to low-wage countries. Not surprisingly, then, a discussion of the downsides of those trade policies has become a victim of a form of self-censorship that presents free trade as an exclusively economic (and positive) policy.

Appreciating the power of that self-censorship is simply to behold the reticence surrounding the supply chain problem. In a money-dominated media and political system that otherwise loves a good scare, the silence suggests that free-trade orthodoxy trumps all—even major national security threats.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the new book “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at http://www.davidsirota.com.

Terrorist ‘Pre-Crime’ Detector Field Tested In United States

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2011 at 9:51 am

Oldspeak:”Apparently maximally invasive airport body scanners weren’t enough. They want know the contents of your brain as well, your “malintent”. O_0 WOW. If that’s not a “Newspeak” word I don’t know what is.  You can bet your sweet ass this technology won’t be confined to ‘terrorist screening’ for long.”

By Sharon Weinberger @ Nature News:

Planning a sojourn in the northeastern United States? You could soon be taking part in a novel security programme that can supposedly ‘sense’ whether you are planning to commit a crime.

Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programme designed to spot people who are intending to commit a terrorist act, has in the past few months completed its first round of field tests at an undisclosed location in the northeast, Nature has learned.

Like a lie detector, FAST measures a variety of physiological indicators, ranging from heart rate to the steadiness of a person’s gaze, to judge a subject’s state of mind. But there are major differences from the polygraph. FAST relies on non-contact sensors, so it can measure indicators as someone walks through a corridor at an airport, and it does not depend on active questioning of the subject.

The tactic has drawn comparisons with the science-fiction concept of ‘pre-crime’, popularized by the film Minority Report, in which security services can detect someone’s intention to commit a crime. Unlike the system in the film, FAST does not rely on a trio of human mutants who can see the future. But the programme has attracted copious criticism from researchers who question the science behind it (see Airport security: Intent to deceive?).

From fiction to fact

So far, FAST has only been tested in the lab, so successful field tests could lend some much-needed data to support the technology. “It is encouraging to see an effort to develop a real empirical base for new technologies before any policy commitments are made,” says Tom Ormerod, a psychologist in the Investigative Expertise Unit at Lancaster University, UK. Such testing, he adds, could lay the groundwork for a more rigorous randomized, controlled, double-blind study.

According to a privacy-impact statement previously released by the DHS, tests of FAST involve instructing some people passing through the system to carry out a “disruptive act”. Ormerod questions whether such role-playing is representative of real terrorists, and also worries that both passengers and screeners will react differently when they know they’re being tested. “Fill the place with machines that go ping, and both screeners and passengers start doing things differently.”

In lab tests, the DHS has claimed accuracy rates of around 70%, but it remains unclear whether the system will perform better or worse in field trials. “The results are still being analysed, so we cannot yet comment on performance,” says John Verrico, a spokesman for the DHS. “Since this is an ongoing scientific study, tests will continue throughout coming months.”

Some scientists question whether there really are unique signatures for ‘malintent’ — the agency’s term for the intention to cause harm — that can be differentiated from the normal anxieties of travel. “Even having an iris scan or fingerprint read at immigration is enough to raise the heart rate of most legitimate travellers,” says Ormerod.

Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, a think-tank based in Washington DC that promotes the use of science in policy-making, is pessimistic about the FAST tests. He thinks that they will produce a large proportion of false positives, frequently tagging innocent people as potential terrorists and making the system unworkable in a busy airport. “I believe that the premise of this approach — that there is an identifiable physiological signature uniquely associated with malicious intent — is mistaken. To my knowledge, it has not been demonstrated,” he says. “Without it, the whole thing seems like a charade.”

As for where precisely FAST is being tested, that for now remains a closely guarded secret. The DHS says that although the first round was completed at the end of March, more testing is in the works, and the agency is concerned that letting people know where the tests are taking place could affect the outcome. “I can tell you that it is not an airport, but it is a large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting,” says Verrico.

Concerns Raised Over Use Of Computer RFID Chips To Track Preschool Children

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2010 at 11:09 am

Oldspeak:” ‘The Matrix is all around you….’ First cattle, then inventory control, then kids. Yeah! That’s a logical progression. Don’t be surprised if the day comes when children get RFID tagged at birth.” 😐

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

Privacy advocates are raising concerns over the use of RFID chips to help track students at a public preschool in California. The technology is being tested on 240 preschool students in the Head Start Program in Richmond. Preschool students have been outfitted with jerseys carrying tiny computer chips that have a radio antenna that can be tracked from a distance. We host a debate.

Guests:

Karen Mitchoff, spokeswoman for the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department, which oversees the Head Start centers in Richmond.

Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Privacy advocates are raising concerns over the use of RFID chips to help track students at a public preschool in California. The technology is being tested on 240 preschool students in the Head Start Program in Richmond. Preschoolers have been outfitted with jerseys carrying the radio frequency identification tags, tiny computer chips that have a radio antenna that can be tracked from a distance. The tags now help teachers keep attendance and track the whereabouts of the students. RFID tags have been used for years to help monitor cattle, prisoners and store merchandise, but the preschool in Richmond is believed to be the first childcare center to use the technology.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Karen Mitchoff is a spokeswoman for the Contra Costa County Employment & Human Services, which oversees the Head Start Program in Richmond, California. And joining us from San Francisco is Nicole Ozer. She’s technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

Karen Mitchoff, let’s begin with you. Explain what this program is. Where are these radio frequency devices being inserted on the children’s clothes, and why are you doing it?

KAREN MITCHOFF: Good morning.

The children wear a jersey that has a little pocket in it, and when the child comes to school each morning, a chip is placed in the pocket, and the child wears the jersey throughout the day. And when the child leaves school, the jersey is removed and stays at the school, and the chip is removed.

AMY GOODMAN: And why are you doing it?

KAREN MITCHOFF: We got a technology grant. This is something that helps us at Head Start. I do want to make sure—you know, I’ve heard this thing about how it’s used to track prisoners and cattle and animals. This, you know, is completely different. It’s very—I just want to disabuse that concept, because this is used as a tool to assist teachers doing their job. It’s not to alleviate them of any responsibility. It’s—as I say, we got a technology grant. And it was something that we decided to do to assist the teachers, have more time for teaching.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Nicole Ozer of the ACLU, why are you opposed to it?

NICOLE OZER: We’re really concerned about this program and why, actually, federal stimulus funds are being used to track kids. You know, RFID technology is very expensive, it’s very intrusive, and it’s often very insecure. And microchipping students is just a very bad idea. You know, what we’re talking about here is tracking preschool kids with extremely powerful RFID technology that can be read at a distance of up to a hundred meters away, so the length of a football field. And, you know, this technology has been used to track cattle, to track products moving through a manufacturing sector or through a warehouse. And while that might make some sense, trying to use the same technology on people, particularly young children, leads to very serious privacy and security concerns.

RFID technology is designed so that the information that’s encoded on that chip, whether it be a name, whether it be an address, whether it be a unique identifier number, can be read at a distance without anyone ever knowing that it’s been read. So, you know, while we don’t—while this school might have intended this as a cost-saving measure to help with attendance, the reality is that unless the security on these chips is airtight, when these kids are wearing these chips around the school, on the playground and on field trips, unless that security is airtight, it’s not just the teachers who can potentially read this information and track these kids. It’s someone across the street or down the block that can potentially read these chips, read this information, and potentially use that information to harm kids.

And, you know, we have seen that these tracking and security threats are very real. Just last year, a security researcher read the RFID chips that are on the United States passport cards and the enhanced drivers licenses from a distance of thirty feet with a device that he built for $250 from parts that he bought on eBay. So, you know, we don’t doubt that the school district may have thought that this was a cost-saving measure that potentially could be safe, but the reality is that we have seen, time and time again, that RFID technology can be very unsafe and that it’s just a very bad idea to use on children.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Karen Mitchoff, what about the security issues and also the cost? Could you talk about how much this is costing? You say you got a grant from the government for this.

KAREN MITCHOFF: Sure, and I recognize what Ms. Ozer is saying. We are—feel very confident that, while the issues she raises relative to other cases do not apply to this case. The tag is child-specific, has—I’m sorry, has no child-specific information on it, so anything that could be read, there’s just no child-specific information on it.

Relative to the cost, we got a $115,000 stimulus grant for technology, supplemented by a $45,000 grant from Head Start, so the total grant amount is $160,000. For the first site, it was $50,000, because this is our largest Head Start site. This purchased the equipment and the jerseys and the tags. Should we decide to roll this out to other Head Start sites, they are smaller in capacity, and so the cost won’t be that much. We will be evaluating whether we do that or not. I don’t have a time frame for when we will be evaluating that. And that’s how much it cost.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And it was $50,000 for about how many children?

KAREN MITCHOFF: Two hundred. There are ten classrooms at this Head Start site, and each classroom has twenty children in it.

AMY GOODMAN: Who initially came up with this idea? Was it the Head Start Program that was looking to solve a problem, or was it the government that was looking to spend some money and to push forward this technology?

KAREN MITCHOFF: This was our Head Start site that recognized that this would be a tool that could be used to assist teachers. They had known of the technology. And when the grant opportunity came across a staff person’s desk, they looked and researched it more. We applied for the grant. The grant was awarded. And we went through a request for proposal process. This was very public and known, as far as a process. There was no specific company in mind. There was—three applicants put in for it, and then one company in California was awarded the contract for us to move forward with it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And then, could you tell us whether—the reaction of the parents of these children? Were they—did they have to sign off on this, or is this mandatory for all the children in these daycare centers?

KAREN MITCHOFF: The parents were notified. There were community meetings, if you will, parent meetings. Overwhelmingly, the parents were very supportive of this. It’s not a mandatory program. Should there be a reason that a child should not participate, the child does still wear the jersey so that that child is not teased or taunted, if you will, by the other children in the class, as to “Why aren’t you wearing a jersey, and I am?” But the chip is not inserted in the pocket.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the district’s intent? If you’re not—if these students aren’t individually identified, what’s being accomplished by getting this aggregate information?

KAREN MITCHOFF: And I do appreciate it’s a very complicated issue. What happens is the tag or the chip has no child-specific information on it. When the child comes into the classroom that day and puts on their jersey and the tag is inserted, at that point the child’s name is on it. But there’s no birth date, there’s no address, there’s no other information on it, so that the child—we do know that Johnny is moving around at the site. When the child leaves, the tag is taken out, and it’s swiped, and there’s no longer any information on the tag. The information is downloaded to a server that shows, as I said—Head Start needs to take attendance every hour. So it shows that the child was at the site for those hourly attendance counts. It assists us in meals, as far as—because it’s a Head Start site, we get money through the Department of Agriculture for nutritional supplement—or not supplements, but nutritional requirements, and therefore we can just say, you know, how many students were fed what type of meal. And those reports are then sent on to Head Start in accordance with the program.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Ozer, what’s your bigger issue with this, and where do you see this headed?

NICOLE OZER: You know, we can understand that Head Start Programs want to be efficient. But the reality is that using very high-powered chips that have a read range of up to a hundred meters away and that have been shown to be very insecure is not the right solution. And we’re certainly hoping that this—that the district is going to look very closely at the fact that RFID technology has been shown to be very insecure and is not appropriate to use on schoolchildren. Five years ago, parents up in Sutter, California, dismantled a similar program when they realized that there were really serious privacy and security concerns. And we want to make sure that preschoolers are safe and also that federal funds are being used in a way that’s appropriate.

You know, this is an expensive program. It’s incredibly intrusive. And it’s really potentially very unsafe for these kids. You know, this information can potentially be read at a distance, and once it’s been read, a duplicate chip can actually be created, and that can confuse the system and make people think that the children are actually safely on campus, when they’ve actually been taken off of campus. You know, we really can appreciate that school districts want to be efficient with their record keeping, but parents should not have to pay for public school with the privacy and security of their kids. And federal stimulus funds really need to be used appropriately and safely. And we certainly hope that the Department of Health and Human Services and Head Start and this district are going to look closely at this program and realize that there’s cheaper and safer ways to take attendance for school kids.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Nicole Ozer, are you planning any action, or have you been in contact with any of the parents who are directly involved with this program?

NICOLE OZER: You know, right now we’ve been asking a lot of questions, and we’re still trying to find out a lot of answers about this program and about the technology that’s being used. But we are very concerned about how safe this is. You know, even though there may be limited information on those chips and that the chips are actually rotated, if somebody can track a child for a minute, an hour a day, that can be very, very harmful to that child, when they’re on the playground or out on a field trip. And we want to make sure that the Department of Health and Human Services and Head Start and this district have looked closely at these issues and that parents aren’t going to have to forfeit their child’s safety for this issue. So we’re very concerned that the school district did not understand this technology appropriately and that parents certainly didn’t understand the risks that it posed to the privacy and to the security of their children.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Ozer, we want to thank you for being with us, of the ACLU, and Karen Mitchoff of the Contra Costa County Employment & Human Services Department.

YOUR BRAIN ON COMPUTERS: Hooked On Gadgets, And Paying A Mental Price

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2010 at 10:05 am

Oldspeak: “Researchers worry that constant digital stimulation creates attention problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already struggle to set priorities and resist impulses…the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room….The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other” Hmm… could our obsession with technology be helping to drive skyrocketing use of ADHD and other psychatric meds with children? While whittling away at our ability to intereact with each other face to face sans technology?

From Matt Richtel @ The New York Times:

When one of the most important e-mail messages of his life landed in his in-box a few years ago, Kord Campbell overlooked it.

Not just for a day or two, but 12 days. He finally saw it while sifting through old messages: a big company wanted to buy his Internet start-up.

“I stood up from my desk and said, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’ ” Mr. Campbell said. “It’s kind of hard to miss an e-mail like that, but I did.”

The message had slipped by him amid an electronic flood: two computer screens alive with e-mail, instant messages, online chats, a Web browser and the computer code he was writing. (View an interactive panoramic photograph of Mr. Campbell’s workstation.)

While he managed to salvage the $1.3 million deal after apologizing to his suitor, Mr. Campbell continues to struggle with the effects of the deluge of data. Even after he unplugs, he craves the stimulation he gets from his electronic gadgets. He forgets things like dinner plans, and he has trouble focusing on his family.

His wife, Brenda, complains, “It seems like he can no longer be fully in the moment.”

This is your brain on computers.

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people like Mr. Campbell, these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.

Technology use can benefit the brain in some ways, researchers say. Imaging studies show the brains of Internet users become more efficient at finding information. And players of some video games develop better visual acuity.

More broadly, cellphones and computers have transformed life. They let people escape their cubicles and work anywhere. They shrink distances and handle countless mundane tasks, freeing up time for more exciting pursuits.

For better or worse, the consumption of media, as varied as e-mail and TV, has exploded. In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960. And they are constantly shifting their attention. Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour, new research shows.

The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”

Mr. Campbell, 43, came of age with the personal computer, and he is a heavier user of technology than most. But researchers say the habits and struggles of Mr. Campbell and his family typify what many experience — and what many more will, if trends continue.

For him, the tensions feel increasingly acute, and the effects harder to shake.

The Campbells recently moved to California from Oklahoma to start a software venture. Mr. Campbell’s life revolves around computers. (View a slide show on how the Campbells interact with technology.)

He goes to sleep with a laptop or iPhone on his chest, and when he wakes, he goes online. He and Mrs. Campbell, 39, head to the tidy kitchen in their four-bedroom hillside rental in Orinda, an affluent suburb of San Francisco, where she makes breakfast and watches a TV news feed in the corner of the computer screen while he uses the rest of the monitor to check his e-mail.

Major spats have arisen because Mr. Campbell escapes into video games during tough emotional stretches. On family vacations, he has trouble putting down his devices. When he rides the subway to San Francisco, he knows he will be offline 221 seconds as the train goes through a tunnel.

Their 16-year-old son, Connor, tall and polite like his father, recently received his first C’s, which his family blames on distraction from his gadgets. Their 8-year-old daughter, Lily, like her mother, playfully tells her father that he favors technology over family.

“I would love for him to totally unplug, to be totally engaged,” says Mrs. Campbell, who adds that he becomes “crotchety until he gets his fix.” But she would not try to force a change.

“He loves it. Technology is part of the fabric of who he is,” she says. “If I hated technology, I’d be hating him, and a part of who my son is too.”

Always On

Mr. Campbell, whose given name is Thomas, had an early start with technology in Oklahoma City. When he was in third grade, his parents bought him Pong, a video game. Then came a string of game consoles and PCs, which he learned to program.

In high school, he balanced computers, basketball and a romance with Brenda, a cheerleader with a gorgeous singing voice. He studied too, with focus, uninterrupted by e-mail. “I did my homework because I needed to get it done,” he said. “I didn’t have anything else to do.”

He left college to help with a family business, then set up a lawn mowing service. At night he would read, play video games, hang out with Brenda and, as she remembers it, “talk a lot more.”

In 1996, he started a successful Internet provider. Then he built the start-up that he sold for $1.3 million in 2003 to LookSmart, a search engine.

Mr. Campbell loves the rush of modern life and keeping up with the latest information. “I want to be the first to hear when the aliens land,” he said, laughing. But other times, he fantasizes about living in pioneer days when things moved more slowly: “I can’t keep everything in my head.”

No wonder. As he came of age, so did a new era of data and communication.

At home, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average, when an hour spent with, say, the Internet and TV simultaneously counts as two hours. That compares with five hours in 1960, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Computer users visit an average of 40 Web sites a day, according to research by RescueTime, which offers time-management tools.

As computers have changed, so has the understanding of the human brain. Until 15 years ago, scientists thought the brain stopped developing after childhood. Now they understand that its neural networks continue to develop, influenced by things like learning skills.

So not long after Eyal Ophir arrived at Stanford in 2004, he wondered whether heavy multitasking might be leading to changes in a characteristic of the brain long thought immutable: that humans can process only a single stream of information at a time.

Going back a half-century, tests had shown that the brain could barely process two streams, and could not simultaneously make decisions about them. But Mr. Ophir, a student-turned-researcher, thought multitaskers might be rewiring themselves to handle the load.

His passion was personal. He had spent seven years in Israeli intelligence after being weeded out of the air force — partly, he felt, because he was not a good multitasker. Could his brain be retrained?

Mr. Ophir, like others around the country studying how technology bent the brain, was startled by what he discovered.

The Myth of Multitasking

The test subjects were divided into two groups: those classified as heavy multitaskers based on their answers to questions about how they used technology, and those who were not.

In a test created by Mr. Ophir and his colleagues, subjects at a computer were briefly shown an image of red rectangles. Then they saw a similar image and were asked whether any of the rectangles had moved. It was a simple task until the addition of a twist: blue rectangles were added, and the subjects were told to ignore them. (Play a game testing how well you filter out distractions.)

The multitaskers then did a significantly worse job than the non-multitaskers at recognizing whether red rectangles had changed position. In other words, they had trouble filtering out the blue ones — the irrelevant information.

So, too, the multitaskers took longer than non-multitaskers to switch among tasks, like differentiating vowels from consonants and then odd from even numbers. The multitaskers were shown to be less efficient at juggling problems. (Play a game testing how well you switch between tasks.)

Other tests at Stanford, an important center for research in this fast-growing field, showed multitaskers tended to search for new information rather than accept a reward for putting older, more valuable information to work.

Researchers say these findings point to an interesting dynamic: multitaskers seem more sensitive than non-multitaskers to incoming information.

The results also illustrate an age-old conflict in the brain, one that technology may be intensifying. A portion of the brain acts as a control tower, helping a person focus and set priorities. More primitive parts of the brain, like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new information, bombarding the control tower when they are stimulated.

Researchers say there is an evolutionary rationale for the pressure this barrage puts on the brain. The lower-brain functions alert humans to danger, like a nearby lion, overriding goals like building a hut. In the modern world, the chime of incoming e-mail can override the goal of writing a business plan or playing catch with the children.

“Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone’s brain thinking,” said Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford. “But we’ve got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.”

Mr. Nass says the Stanford studies are important because they show multitasking’s lingering effects: “The scary part for guys like Kord is, they can’t shut off their multitasking tendencies when they’re not multitasking.”

Melina Uncapher, a neurobiologist on the Stanford team, said she and other researchers were unsure whether the muddied multitaskers were simply prone to distraction and would have had trouble focusing in any era. But she added that the idea that information overload causes distraction was supported by more and more research.

A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that people interrupted by e-mail reported significantly increased stress compared with those left to focus. Stress hormones have been shown to reduce short-term memory, said Gary Small, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Preliminary research shows some people can more easily juggle multiple information streams. These “supertaskers” represent less than 3 percent of the population, according to scientists at the University of Utah.

Other research shows computer use has neurological advantages. In imaging studies, Dr. Small observed that Internet users showed greater brain activity than nonusers, suggesting they were growing their neural circuitry.

At the University of Rochester, researchers found that players of some fast-paced video games can track the movement of a third more objects on a screen than nonplayers. They say the games can improve reaction and the ability to pick out details amid clutter.

“In a sense, those games have a very strong both rehabilitative and educational power,” said the lead researcher, Daphne Bavelier, who is working with others in the field to channel these changes into real-world benefits like safer driving.

There is a vibrant debate among scientists over whether technology’s influence on behavior and the brain is good or bad, and how significant it is.

“The bottom line is, the brain is wired to adapt,” said Steven Yantis, a professor of brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “There’s no question that rewiring goes on all the time,” he added. But he said it was too early to say whether the changes caused by technology were materially different from others in the past.

Mr. Ophir is loath to call the cognitive changes bad or good, though the impact on analysis and creativity worries him.

He is not just worried about other people. Shortly after he came to Stanford, a professor thanked him for being the one student in class paying full attention and not using a computer or phone. But he recently began using an iPhone and noticed a change; he felt its pull, even when playing with his daughter.

“The media is changing me,” he said. “I hear this internal ping that says: check e-mail and voice mail.”

“I have to work to suppress it.”

Kord Campbell does not bother to suppress it, or no longer can.

Interrupted by a Corpse

It is a Wednesday in April, and in 10 minutes, Mr. Campbell has an online conference call that could determine the fate of his new venture, called Loggly. It makes software that helps companies understand the clicking and buying patterns of their online customers.

Mr. Campbell and his colleagues, each working from a home office, are frantically trying to set up a program that will let them share images with executives at their prospective partner.

But at the moment when Mr. Campbell most needs to focus on that urgent task, something else competes for his attention: “Man Found Dead Inside His Business.”

That is the tweet that appears on the left-most of Mr. Campbell’s array of monitors, which he has expanded to three screens, at times adding a laptop and an iPad.

On the left screen, Mr. Campbell follows the tweets of 1,100 people, along with instant messages and group chats. The middle monitor displays a dark field filled with computer code, along with Skype, a service that allows Mr. Campbell to talk to his colleagues, sometimes using video. The monitor on the right keeps e-mail, a calendar, a Web browser and a music player.

Even with the meeting fast approaching, Mr. Campbell cannot resist the tweet about the corpse. He clicks on the link in it, glances at the article and dismisses it. “It’s some article about something somewhere,” he says, annoyed by the ads for jeans popping up.

The program gets fixed, and the meeting turns out to be fruitful: the partners are ready to do business. A colleague says via instant message: “YES.”

Other times, Mr. Campbell’s information juggling has taken a more serious toll. A few weeks earlier, he once again overlooked an e-mail message from a prospective investor. Another time, Mr. Campbell signed the company up for the wrong type of business account on Amazon.com, costing $300 a month for six months before he got around to correcting it. He has burned hamburgers on the grill, forgotten to pick up the children and lingered in the bathroom playing video games on an iPhone.

Mr. Campbell can be unaware of his own habits. In a two-and-a-half hour stretch one recent morning, he switched rapidly between e-mail and several other programs, according to data from RescueTime, which monitored his computer use with his permission. But when asked later what he was doing in that period, Mr. Campbell said he had been on a long Skype call, and “may have pulled up an e-mail or two.”

The kind of disconnection Mr. Campbell experiences is not an entirely new problem, of course. As they did in earlier eras, people can become so lost in work, hobbies or TV that they fail to pay attention to family.

Mr. Campbell concedes that, even without technology, he may work or play obsessively, just as his father immersed himself in crossword puzzles. But he says this era is different because he can multitask anyplace, anytime.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” he said. “If you’re not careful, your marriage can fall apart or your kids can be ready to play and you’ll get distracted.”

The Toll on Children

Father and son sit in armchairs. Controllers in hand, they engage in a fierce video game battle, displayed on the nearby flat-panel TV, as Lily watches.

They are playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a cartoonish animated fight between characters that battle using anvils, explosives and other weapons.

“Kill him, Dad,” Lily screams. To no avail. Connor regularly beats his father, prompting expletives and, once, a thrown pillow. But there is bonding and mutual respect.

“He’s a lot more tactical,” says Connor. “But I’m really good at quick reflexes.”

Screens big and small are central to the Campbell family’s leisure time. Connor and his mother relax while watching TV shows like “Heroes.” Lily has an iPod Touch, a portable DVD player and her own laptop, which she uses to watch videos, listen to music and play games.

Lily, a second-grader, is allowed only an hour a day of unstructured time, which she often spends with her devices. The laptop can consume her.

“When she’s on it, you can holler her name all day and she won’t hear,” Mrs. Campbell said.

Researchers worry that constant digital stimulation like this creates attention problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already struggle to set priorities and resist impulses.

Connor’s troubles started late last year. He could not focus on homework. No wonder, perhaps. On his bedroom desk sit two monitors, one with his music collection, one withFacebook and Reddit, a social site with news links that he and his father love. His iPhone availed him to relentless texting with his girlfriend.

When he studied, “a little voice would be saying, ‘Look up’ at the computer, and I’d look up,” Connor said. “Normally, I’d say I want to only read for a few minutes, but I’d search every corner of Reddit and then check Facebook.”

His Web browsing informs him. “He’s a fact hound,” Mr. Campbell brags. “Connor is, other than programming, extremely technical. He’s 100 percent Internet savvy.”

But the parents worry too. “Connor is obsessed,” his mother said. “Kord says we have to teach him balance.”

So in January, they held a family meeting. Study time now takes place in a group setting at the dinner table after everyone has finished eating. It feels, Mr. Campbell says, like togetherness.

No Vacations

For spring break, the family rented a cottage in Carmel, Calif. Mrs. Campbell hoped everyone would unplug.

But the day before they left, the iPad from Apple came out, and Mr. Campbell snapped one up. The next night, their first on vacation, “We didn’t go out to dinner,” Mrs. Campbell mourned. “We just sat there on our devices.”

She rallied the troops the next day to the aquarium. Her husband joined them for a bit but then begged out to do e-mail on his phone.

Later she found him playing video games.

The trip came as Mr. Campbell was trying to raise several million dollars for his new venture, a goal that he achieved. Brenda said she understood that his pursuit required intensity but was less understanding of the accompanying surge in video game.

His behavior brought about a discussion between them. Mrs. Campbell said he told her that he was capable of logging off, citing a trip to Hawaii several years ago that they called their second honeymoon.

“What trip are you thinking about?” she said she asked him. She recalled that he had spent two hours a day online in the hotel’s business center.

On Thursday, their fourth day in Carmel, Mr. Campbell spent the day at the beach with his family. They flew a kite and played whiffle ball.

Connor unplugged too. “It changes the mood of everything when everybody is present,” Mrs. Campbell said.

The next day, the family drove home, and Mr. Campbell disappeared into his office.

Technology use is growing for Mrs. Campbell as well. She divides her time between keeping the books of her husband’s company, homemaking and working at the school library. She checks e-mail 25 times a day, sends texts and uses Facebook.

Recently, she was baking peanut butter cookies for Teacher Appreciation Day when her phone chimed in the living room. She answered a text, then became lost in Facebook, forgot about the cookies and burned them. She started a new batch, but heard the phone again, got lost in messaging, and burned those too. Out of ingredients and shamed, she bought cookies at the store.

She feels less focused and has trouble completing projects. Some days, she promises herself she will ignore her device. “It’s like a diet — you have good intentions in the morning and then you’re like, ‘There went that,’ ” she said.

Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.

“The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.”

That empathy, Mr. Nass said, is essential to the human condition. “We are at an inflection point,” he said. “A significant fraction of people’s experiences are now fragmented.”