Quantifying cities’ emotional effects

Phil Salesses, Katja Schectner, Talia Kaufmann and Cesar A. Hidalgo

MIT Press: “A color-coded map of the perceived safety of New York City neighborhoods, based on Web volunteers’ comparisons of images extracted from Google Maps’ “street view” archive.
Image: Macro Connections Group
July 24, 2013

The “broken-windows theory,” which was propounded by two Harvard University researchers in the early 1980s, holds that urban “disorder” — visible signs of neglect, such as broken windows — actually promotes crime, initiating a vicious feedback loop. The theory was the basis for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on petty crime, but it’s come under sharp criticism from some social scientists. One of the difficulties in evaluating the theory is that it’s hard to quantify something as subjective as visible disorder.
In the latest issue of the journal PLoS One, researchers from MIT’s Media Lab present a new online tool that they hope will help social scientists take a more rigorous look at city dwellers’ emotional responses to their environments. The tool presents online volunteers with pairs of images randomly drawn from Google Maps’ compendium of street-level photographs; each volunteer selects the image that better represents some qualitative attribute. Algorithms use the results of the pairwise comparisons to assign geographical areas scores, from one to 10, on each attribute.
In the experiments reported in the PLoS One paper, volunteers ranked the neighborhoods depicted in the images according to how safe they looked, how “upper-class,” and how “unique” — an attribute selected in the hope that it would not be strongly correlated with the other two. The researchers found that the scores for the U.S. cities selected for the study — New York and Boston — showed greater disparity between the extremes for both class and safety than did those for the two Austrian cities selected, Linz and Salzburg.
They also found that, controlled for income, area, and population, the perceived-safety scores for neighborhoods in New York correlated very well with incidence of violent crime”.

New Book: Breakpoint, Why the Web will Implode, Search will be Obsolete, and Everything Else you Need to Know about Technology is in Your Brain

breakpointbook.com: “We are living in a world in which cows send texts to farmers when they’re in heat, where the most valuable real estate in New York City houses computers, not people, and some of humanity’s greatest works are created by crowds, not individuals.

We are in the midst of a networking revolution–set to transform the way we access the world’s information and the way we connect with one another. Studying biological systems is perhaps the best way to understand such networks, and nature has a lesson for us if we care to listen: bigger is rarely better in the long run. The deadliest creature is the mosquito, not the lion. It is the quality of a network that is important for survival, not the size, and all networks–the human brain, Facebook, Google, even the internet itself–eventually reach a breakpoint and collapse. That’s the bad news. The good news is that reaching a breakpoint can be a step forward, allowing a network to substitute quality for quantity.
In Breakpoint, brain scientist and entrepreneur Jeff Stibel takes readers to the intersection of the brain, biology, and technology. He shows how exceptional companies are using their understanding of the internet’s brain-like powers to create a competitive advantage by building more effective websites, utilizing cloud computing, engaging social media, monetizing effectively, and leveraging a collective consciousness. Indeed, the result of these technologies is a more tightly connected world with capabilities far beyond the sum of our individual minds. Breakpoint offers a fresh and exciting perspective about the future of technology and its effects on all of us.”

Taking Games for Good to a New Level

Idit Harel Caperton (@idit) in SSIR: “Last month’s Games for Change Festival (G4C) celebrated the promising power of video games to yield social change. The event, now in its tenth year, brings game developers, educators, NGOs, and government agencies to New York City to discuss and promote the creation of social-issue games in an industry with a global market of $67 billion, projected to reach $82 billion by 2017. Big numbers like this prove that the gaming industry has engaged the masses, and G4C wants to push this engagement toward social learning and positive action.
It’s already happening on a small scale. The Games for Change Awards, announced annually at the festival, recognizes effective mission-driven games. This year’s winning games included “Data Dealer,” which raises awareness around personal data and online privacy, and “Quandary,” where players are social pioneers facing decisions that challenge their moral compass. These and other games endorsed at G4C achieve a blend of social influence and technical innovation through engaging gameplay.
G4C has also aligned with larger social impact movements, proving that video games can be vehicles for positive global action through game mechanics. Half the Sky Movement is a transmedia campaign working against the oppression of women worldwide; it includes a book, film, and game. The game, produced by G4C and available for free on Facebook, features game tasks that transfer to real-world donations and social action opportunities. Since launching in March, “Half the Sky Movement: The Game” has raised nearly $350,000 to empower women worldwide. Yet, social issue games production still resides on the edge of the gaming industry. …”

Copyright Done Right? Finland To Vote On Crowdsourced Regulations

Fast-Feed: “Talk about crowdsourcing: Finland is set to vote on a set of copyright laws that weren’t proposed by government or content-making agencies: They were drafted by citizens.
Finns are able to propose laws that the government must consider if 50,000 supporters sign a petition calling for the law within six months. A set of copyright regulations that are fairer to everyone just passed that threshold, and TorrentFreak.com reports that a government vote is likely in early 2014. The new laws were created with the help of the Finnish Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the body has promised that it will maintain pressure on the political system so that the law will actually be changed.
The proposed new laws would decriminalize file sharing and prevent house searches and surveillance of pirates. TorrentFreak reminds us of the international media outcry that happened last year when during a police raid a 9-year-old girl’s laptop was confiscated on the grounds that she stole copyrighted content. Finland’s existing copyright laws, under what’s called the Lex Karpela amendment, are very strict and criminalize the breaking of DRM for copying purposes as well as preventing discussion of the technology for doing so. The laws have been criticized by activists and observers for their strictness and infringement upon freedom of speech.”

The Danger of Human Rights Proliferation

Jacob Mchangama and Guglielmo Verdirame in Foreign Affairs on “When Defending Liberty, Less Is More“: “If human rights were a currency, its value would be in free fall, thanks to a gross inflation in the number of human rights treaties and nonbinding international instruments adopted by international organizations over the last several decades. These days, this currency is sometimes more likely to buy cover for dictatorships than protection for citizens. Human rights once enshrined the most basic principles of human freedom and dignity; today, they can include anything from the right to international solidarity to the right to peace.Consider just how enormous the body of binding human rights law has become. The Freedom Rights Project, a research group that we co-founded, counts a full 64 human-rights-related agreements under the auspices of the United Nations and the Council of Europe. A member state of both of these organizations that has ratified all these agreements would have to comply with 1,377 human rights provisions (although some of these may be technical rather than substantive). Add to this the hundreds of non-treaty instruments, such as the resolutions of the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council (HRC). The aggregate body of human rights law now has all the accessibility of a tax code.
Supporters of human rights should worry about this explosion of regulation. If people are to demand human rights, then they must first be able to understand them — a tall order given the current bureaucratic tangle of administrative regulation…”

The Role of Digital Media in Participatory Politics

Interview with Joseph Kahne, chair of the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics: “What we found was that many games provided civic learning opportunities, such as opportunities to take on the role of a leader—the president, for example—or opportunities to help others. There also were simulations where players had opportunities to work on a societal issue and to learn about institutional processes—how a legislature works, for example. And we found that when games provided those kinds of civic learning opportunities, playing them was associated with much higher commitments to civic engagement. We think some of the relationship was due to youth with civic interests choosing to play those games, and that some of the relationship was due to these games orienting youth towards the potential of civic activity. – …

Historically, the way I thought about how people engaged with the internet did not emphasize what Henry Jenkins and others refer to as “participatory culture.” I focused on whether people send email or look things up on the web. But that’s really not so different than what people did before. It’s just more efficient. The more I got involved, though, the more I began to see that the ways in which people participated with digital media actually transformed or enabled new kinds of engagement—or at least greatly facilitated the kinds of engagement that might have been possible before but would have been much less common. Such participation teaches norms and skills that end up being quite valuable in the civic realm—and it connects youth and adults to networks where they learn about issues and ways to get involved. – …
We found that many youth engage in nonpolitical forms of interest-driven activity— they’re part of online groups connected to their hobbies or sports or entertainment, for example. And we found that youth who engage in those nonpolitical, interest-driven activities become more engaged civically and politically even after controlling for their prior levels of civic and political engagement. That’s fascinating. – “

Why Contests Improve Philantropy

New Report from the Knight Foundation: “Since 2007, Knight Foundation has run or funded nearly a dozen open contests, many over multiple years, choosing some 400 winners from almost 25,000 entries, and granting more than $75 million to individuals, businesses, schools and nonprofits. The winners believe, as we do, that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. The contests reflect the full diversity of our program areas: journalism and media innovation, engaging communities and fostering the arts. Over the past seven years, we have learned a lot about how good contests work, what they can do, and what the challenges are. Though contests represent less than 20 percent of our grant-making, they have improved our traditional programs in myriad ways.
A 2009 McKinsey & Company Report, “And the winner is…, ” put it this way: “Every leading philanthropist should consider the opportunity to use prizes to help achieve their mission, and to accept the challenge of fully exploiting this powerful tool. ” But of America ‘s more than 76,000 grant-making foundations, only a handful, maybe 100 at most, have embraced the use of contests. That means 99.9 percent do not.
Sharing these lessons here is an invitation to others to consider how contests, when appropriate, might widen their networks, deepen the work they already do, and broaden their definition of philanthropic giving.
Before you launch and manage your own contests, you might want to consider the six major lessons we ‘ve learned about how contests improved our philanthropy.
1. They bring in new blood and new ideas.
2. They create value beyond the winners.
3. They help organizations spot emerging trends.
4. They challenge routines and entrenched foundation behaviors. 
5. They complement existing philanthropy strategies.
6. They create new ways to engage communities.
…Depending upon the competition, the odds of winning one of Knight’s contests are, at their lowest, one in six, and at their highest, more than one in 100. But if you think of your contest only as a funnel spitting out a handful of winning ideas, you overlook what’s really happening. A good contest is more a megaphone for a cause.”

Code for America: Announcing the 2013 Accelerator Class

Press Release: “Code for America opened applications for the 2013 Accelerator knowing that the competition would be fierce. This year we received over 190 applications from amazing candidates. Today, we’re pleased to announce the five teams chosen to participate in the 2013 Accelerator.

The teams are articulate, knowledgeable, and passionate about their businesses. They come from all over the country — Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and California  — and we’re excited to get started with them. Teams include:

ArchiveSocial enables organizations to embrace social media by minimizing risk and eliminating compliance barriers. Specifically, it solves the challenge of retaining Gov 2.0 communications for compliance with FOIA and other public records laws. It currently automates business-grade record keeping of communications on networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Moving forward, ArchiveSocial will help further enforce social media policy and protect the organizational brand.

The Family Assessment Form (FAF) Web is a tool designed by social workers, researchers, and technology experts to help family support practitioners improve family functioning, service planning for families, and organizational performance. The FAF is ideal for use in organizations performing home visitation services for families that address comprehensive concerns about family well-being and child welfare. FAF Web enables all stakeholders to access essential data remotely from any internet-enabled device.

OpenCounter helps entrepreneurs to register their businesses with the local government. It does so through an online check-out experience that adapts to the applicant’s answers and asks for pertinent information only once. OpenCounter estimates licensing time and costs so entrepreneurs can understand what it will take to get their business off the ground. It’s the TurboTax of business permitting.

SmartProcure is an online information service that provides access to local, state, and federal government procurement data, with two public-interest goals: 1. Enable government agencies to make more efficient procurement decisions and save taxpayer dollars. 2. Empower businesses to sell more effectively and competitively to government agencies. The proprietary system provides access to data from more than 50 million purchase orders issued by 1,700 government agencies.

StreetCred Software helps police agencies manage their arrest warrants, eliminate warrant backlogs, and radically improve efficiency while increasing officer safety. It helps agencies understand their fugitive population, measure effectiveness, and make improvements. StreetCred Software, Inc., was founded by two Texas police officers. One is an 18-year veteran investigator and fugitive hunter, the other a technology industry veteran who became an cop in 2010.”

Data Science for Social Good

Data Science for Social Good: “By analyzing data from police reports to website clicks to sensor signals, governments are starting to spot problems in real-time and design programs to maximize impact. More nonprofits are measuring whether or not they’re helping people, and experimenting to find interventions that work.
None of this is inevitable, however.
We’re just realizing the potential of using data for social impact and face several hurdles to it’s widespread adoption:

  • Most governments and nonprofits simply don’t know what’s possible yet. They have data – but often not enough and maybe not the right kind.
  • There are too few data scientists out there – and too many spending their days optimizing ads instead of bettering lives.

To make an impact, we need to show social good organizations the power of data and analytics. We need to work on analytics projects that have high social impact. And we need to expose data scientists to the problems that really matter.

The fellowship

That’s exactly why we’re doing the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good summer fellowship at the University of Chicago.
We want to bring three dozen aspiring data scientists to Chicago, and have them work on data science projects with social impact.
Working closely with governments and nonprofits, fellows will take on real-world problems in education, health, energy, transportation, and more.
Over the next three months, they’ll apply their coding, machine learning, and quantitative skills, collaborate in a fast-paced atmosphere, and learn from mentors in industry, academia, and the Obama campaign.
The program is led by a strong interdisciplinary team from the Computation institute and the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.”

Information Consumerism – The Price of Hypocrisy

Evgeny Morozov in Frankfurter Algemeine: “What we need is a sharper, starker picture of the information apocalypse that awaits us in a world where personal data is traded like coffee or any other commodity. Take the oft-repeated argument about the benefits of trading one’s data in exchange for some tangible commercial benefit. Say, for example, you install a sensor in your car to prove to your insurance company that you are driving much safer than the average driver that figures in their model for pricing insurance policies. Great: if you are better than the average, you get to pay less. But the problem with averages is that half of the population is always worse than the benchmark. Inevitably –regardless of whether they want to monitor themselves or not – that other half will be forced to pay more, for as the more successful of us take on self-tracking, most social institutions would (quite logically) assume that those who refuse to self-track have something to hide. Under this model, the implications of my decision to trade my personal data are no longer solely in the realm of markets and economics – they are also in the realm of ethics. If my decision to share my personal data for a quick buck makes someone else worse off and deprives them of opportunities, then I have an extra ethical factor to consider – economics alone doesn’t suffice.
All of this is to say that there are profound political and moral consequences to information consumerism– and they are comparable to energy consumerism in scope and importance. Making these consequences more pronounced and vivid is where intellectuals and political parties ought to focus their efforts. We should do our best to suspend the seeming economic normalcy of information sharing. An attitude of “just business!” will no longer suffice. Information sharing might have a vibrant market around it but it has no ethical framework to back it up. More than three decades ago, Michel Foucault was prescient to see that neoliberalism would turns us all into “entrepreneurs of the self” but let’s not forget that entrepreneurship is not without its downsides: as most economic activities, it can generate negative externalities, from pollution to noise. Entrepreneurship focused on information sharing is no exception….”