Algorithm Claims to Predict Crime in US Cities Before It Happens

Article by Carrington York: “A new computer algorithm can now forecast crime in a big city near you — apparently. 

The algorithm, which was formulated by social scientists at the University of Chicago and touts 90% accuracy, divides cities into 1,000-square-foot tiles, according to a study published in Nature Human Behavior. Researchers used historical data on violent crimes and property crimes from Chicago to test the model, which detects patterns over time in these tiled areas tries to predict future events. It performed just as well using data from other big cities, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the study showed. 

The new tool contrasts with previous models for prediction, which depict crime as emerging from “hotspots” that spread to surrounding areas. Such an approach tends to miss the complex social environment of cities, as well as the nuanced relationship between crime and the effects of police enforcement, thus leaving room for bias, according to the report.

“It is hard to argue that bias isn’t there when people sit down and determine which patterns they will look at to predict crime because these patterns, by themselves, don’t mean anything,” said Ishanu Chattopadhyay, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago and senior author of the study. “But now, you can ask the algorithm complex questions like: ‘What happens to the rate of violent crime if property crimes go up?”

But Emily M. Bender, professor of linguistics at the University of Washington, said in a series of tweets that the focus should be on targeting underlying inequities rather than on predictive policing, while also noting that the research appears to ignore securities fraud or environmental crimes…(More)”

An anthology of warm data

Intro to anthology by Nora Bateson: “…The difficulty is that the studied living system is rarely put back into its multi contextual life-ing where it is in constant change. What would information look like that could change and shift in the field? The vitality of any living system is in the relationships between the parts. The relational vitality is constantly changing.

Warm Data is information that is alive within the transcontextual relating of a living system.

We may find it convenient to ignore this world of slippery, shifty information and choose instead that information that can be handled and pinned down. Still, the swirly stuff is underlying absolutely everything that is known as “action,” “decision,” or “learning.” Warm Data is necessary if for no other reason than a reminder that whatever information is currently available in a living process, “it is not just that and nothing more.”There are more contexts constantly shifting all the time. Think of a family, how it stays the same, and how it changes over time—or a city, pond, or a religion. To maintain any coherence, those systems must continually reshape and do so in relation to one another…(More)”.

Mapping Urban Trees Across North America with the Auto Arborist Dataset

Google Blog: “Over four billion people live in cities around the globe, and while most people interact daily with others — at the grocery store, on public transit, at work — they may take for granted their frequent interactions with the diverse plants and animals that comprise fragile urban ecosystems. Trees in cities, called urban forests, provide critical benefits for public health and wellbeing and will prove integral to urban climate adaptation. They filter air and water, capture stormwater runoffsequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, and limit erosion and drought. Shade from urban trees reduces energy-expensive cooling costs and mitigates urban heat islands. In the US alone, urban forests cover 127M acres and produce ecosystem services valued at $18 billion. But as the climate changes these ecosystems are increasingly under threat.

Urban forest monitoring — measuring the size, health, and species distribution of trees in cities over time — allows researchers and policymakers to (1) quantify ecosystem services, including air quality improvement, carbon sequestration, and benefits to public health; (2) track damage from extreme weather events; and (3) target planting to improve robustness to climate change, disease and infestation.

However, many cities lack even basic data about the location and species of their trees. …

Today we introduce the Auto Arborist Dataset, a multiview urban tree classification dataset that, at ~2.6 million trees and >320 genera, is two orders of magnitude larger than those in prior work. To build the dataset, we pulled from public tree censuses from 23 North American cities (shown above) and merged these records with Street View and overhead RGB imagery. As the first urban forest dataset to cover multiple cities, we analyze in detail how forest models can generalize with respect to geographic distribution shifts, crucial to building systems that scale. We are releasing all 2.6M tree records publicly, along with aerial and ground-level imagery for 1M trees…(More)”

The Infinite Playground: A Player’s Guide to Imagination

Book by Bernard De Koven: “Bernard De Koven (1941–2018) was a pioneering designer of games and theorist of fun. He studied games long before the field of game studies existed. For De Koven, games could not be reduced to artifacts and rules; they were about a sense of transcendent fun. This book, his last, is about the imagination: the imagination as a playground, a possibility space, and a gateway to wonder. The Infinite Playground extends a play-centered invitation to experience the power and delight unlocked by imagination. It offers a curriculum for playful learning.

De Koven guides the readers through a series of observations and techniques, interspersed with games. He begins with the fundamentals of play, and proceeds through the private imagination, the shared imagination, and imagining the world—observing, “the things we imagine can become the world.” Along the way, he reminisces about playing ping-pong with basketball great Bill Russell; begins the instructions for a game called Reception Line with “Mill around”; and introduces blathering games—BlatherGroup BlatherSinging Blather, and The Blather Chorale—that allow the player’s consciousness to meander freely.

Delivered during the last months of his life, The Infinite Playground has been painstakingly cowritten with Holly Gramazio, who worked together with coeditors Celia Pearce and Eric Zimmerman to complete the project as Bernie De Koven’s illness made it impossible for him to continue writing. Other prominent game scholars and designers influenced by De Koven, including Katie Salen Tekinbaş, Jesper Juul, Frank Lantz, and members of Bernie’s own family, contribute short interstitial essays…(More)”

Nonhuman humanitarianism: wen ‘AI for good’ can be harmful

Paper by Mirca Madianou: “Artificial intelligence (AI) applications have been introduced in humanitarian operations in order to help with the significant challenges the sector is facing. This article focuses on chatbots which have been proposed as an efficient method to improve communication with, and accountability to affected communities. Chatbots, together with other humanitarian AI applications such as biometrics, satellite imaging, predictive modelling and data visualisations, are often understood as part of the wider phenomenon of ‘AI for social good’. The article develops a decolonial critique of humanitarianism and critical algorithm studies which focuses on the power asymmetries underpinning both humanitarianism and AI. The article asks whether chatbots, as exemplars of ‘AI for good’, reproduce inequalities in the global context. Drawing on a mixed methods study that includes interviews with seven groups of stakeholders, the analysis observes that humanitarian chatbots do not fulfil claims such as ‘intelligence’. Yet AI applications still have powerful consequences. Apart from the risks associated with misinformation and data safeguarding, chatbots reduce communication to its barest instrumental forms which creates disconnects between affected communities and aid agencies. This disconnect is compounded by the extraction of value from data and experimentation with untested technologies. By reflecting the values of their designers and by asserting Eurocentric values in their programmed interactions, chatbots reproduce the coloniality of power. The article concludes that ‘AI for good’ is an ‘enchantment of technology’ that reworks the colonial legacies of humanitarianism whilst also occluding the power dynamics at play…(More)”.

Opportunities and challenges of using social media big data to assess mental health consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and future major events

Paper by Martin Tušl et al : “The present commentary discusses how social media big data could be used in mental health research to assess the impact of major global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We first provide a brief overview of the COVID-19 situation and the challenges associated with the assessment of its global impact on mental health using conventional methods. We then propose social media big data as a possible unconventional data source, provide illustrative examples of previous studies, and discuss the advantages and challenges associated with their use for mental health research. We conclude that social media big data represent a valuable resource for mental health research, however, several methodological limitations and ethical concerns need to be addressed to ensure safe use…(More)”.

Responsible by Design – Principles for the ethical use of behavioural science in government

OECD Report: “The use of behavioural insights (BI) in public policy has grown over the last decade, with the largest increase of new behavioural teams emerging in the last five years. More and more governments are turning to behavioural science – a multidisciplinary approach to policy making encompassing lessons from psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, anthropology, economics and more. There are a wide variety of frameworks and resources currently available, such as the OECD BASIC framework, designed with the purpose of helping BI practitioners and government officials infusing behavioural science throughout the policy cycle.

Despite the availability of such frameworks, there are less resources available with the primary purpose of safeguarding the responsible use of behavioural science in government. Oftentimes, teams are left to establish their own ethical standards and practices, which has resulted in an uncoordinated mosaic of procedures guiding the international community interested in upholding ethical behavioural practices. Until now, few attempts have been made to standardize ethical principles for behavioural science in public policy, and to concisely gather and present international best practices.

In light of this, we developed the first-of-its-kind Good Practice Principles for the Ethical Use of Behavioural Science in Public Policy to advance the responsible use of BI in government…(More)”.

Expert Group to Eurostat releases its report on the re-use of privately-held data for Official Statistics

Blog by Stefaan Verhulst: “…To inform its efforts, Eurostat set up an expert group in 2021 on ‘Facilitating the use of new data sources for official statistics’ to reflect on opportunities offered by the data revolution to enhance the reuse of private sector data for official statistics”.

Data reuse is a particularly important area for exploration, both because of the potential it offers and because it is not sufficiently covered by current policies. Data reuse occurs when data collected for one purpose is shared and reused for another, often with resulting social benefit. Currently, this process is limited by a fragmented or outdated policy and regulatory framework, and often quite legitimate concerns over ethical challenges represented by sharing (e.g., threats to individual privacy).

Nonetheless, despite such hurdles, a wide variety of evidence supports the idea that responsible data reuse can strengthen and supplement official statistics, and potentially lead to lasting and positive social impact.

Having reviewed and deliberated about these issues over several months, the expert group issued its report this week entitled “Empowering society by reusing privately held data for official statistics”. It seeks to develop recommendations and a framework for sustainable data reuse in the production of official statistics. It highlights regulatory gaps, fragmentation of practices, and a lack of clarity regarding businesses’ rights and obligations, and it draws attention to the ways in which current efforts to reuse data have often led to ad-hoc, one-off projects rather than systematic transformation.

The report considers a wide variety of evidence, including historical, policy, and academic research, as well as the theoretical literature… (More)”.

Read the Eurostat report at:

We need smarter cities, not “smart cities”

Article by Riad Meddebarchive and Calum Handforth: “This more expansive concept of what a smart city is encompasses a wide range of urban innovations. Singapore, which is exploring high-tech approaches such as drone deliveries and virtual-reality modeling, is one type of smart city. Curitiba, Brazil—a pioneer of the bus rapid transit system—is another. Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, with its passively cooled shopping center designed in 1996, is a smart city, as are the “sponge cities” across China that use nature-based solutions to manage rainfall and floodwater.

Where technology can play a role, it must be applied thoughtfully and holistically—taking into account the needs, realities, and aspirations of city residents. Guatemala City, in collaboration with our country office team at the UN Development Programme, is using this approach to improve how city infrastructure—including parks and lighting—is managed. The city is standardizing materials and designs to reduce costs and labor,  and streamlining approval and allocation processes to increase the speed and quality of repairs and maintenance. Everything is driven by the needs of its citizens. Elsewhere in Latin America, cities are going beyond quantitative variables to take into account well-being and other nuanced outcomes. 

In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs, the pioneering American urbanist, discussed the importance of sidewalks. In the context of the city, they are conduits for adventure, social interaction, and unexpected encounters—what Jacobs termed the “sidewalk ballet.” Just as literal sidewalks are crucial to the urban experience, so is the larger idea of connection between elements.

Truly smart cities recognize the ambiguity of lives and livelihoods, and they are driven by outcomes beyond the implementation of “solutions.”

However, too often we see “smart cities” focus on discrete deployments of technology rather than this connective tissue. We end up with cities defined by “use cases” or “platforms.” Practically speaking, the vision of a tech-centric city is conceptually, financially, and logistically out of reach for many places. This can lead officials and innovators to dismiss the city’s real and substantial potential to reduce poverty while enhancing inclusion and sustainability.

In our work at the UN Development Programme, we focus on the interplay between different components of a truly smart city—the community, the local government, and the private sector. We also explore the different assets made available by this broader definition: high-tech innovations, yes, but also low-cost, low-tech innovations and nature-based solutions. Big data, but also the qualitative, richer detail behind the data points. The connections and “sidewalks”—not just the use cases or pilot programs. We see our work as an attempt to start redefining smart cities and increasing the size, scope, and usefulness of our urban development tool kit…(More)”.

How football shirts chart the rise and fall of tech giants

Article by Ravi Hiranand and Leo Schwartz: “It’s the ultimate status symbol, a level of exposure achieved by few companies — but one available to any company that’s willing and able to pay a hefty price. It’s an honor that costs millions of dollars, and in return, your company’s logo is on the TV screens of millions of people every week.

Sponsoring a football club — proper football, that is — is more than just a business transaction. It’s about using the world’s most watched sport to promote your brand. Getting your company’s logo on the shirt of a team like Liverpool or Real Madrid means tying your brand to a global icon. And for decades, it’s been a route taken by emerging tech companies, flush with cash to burn and a name to earn.

But these sponsorships actually reveal something about the tech industry as a whole: when you trace the history of these commercial deals across the decades, patterns emerge. Rather than individual companies, entire sectors of the industry — from cars to consumer tech to gambling websites — seem to jump into the sport at once, signaling their rise to, or the desire to, dominate global markets where football is also part of everyday life. It’s no coincidence, for example, that mobile phone companies turned to sponsoring football clubs during the beginning of the new millenium: with handsets becoming increasingly common and 3G just around the corner, companies like Samsung and Vodafone wasted no time in paying record amounts to some of the most successful clubs in England.

Rest of World took a look at some of the more memorable shirt sponsorship deals in football — from Sony’s affiliation with Italy’s champions to Rakuten’s deal with a Spanish giant — and what they say about the rise and fall of the tech sectors those companies represented…(More)”.