The Privatized State


Book by Chiara Cordelli: “Many governmental functions today—from the management of prisons and welfare offices to warfare and financial regulation—are outsourced to private entities. Education and health care are funded in part through private philanthropy rather than taxation. Can a privatized government rule legitimately? The Privatized State argues that it cannot.

In this boldly provocative book, Chiara Cordelli argues that privatization constitutes a regression to a precivil condition—what philosophers centuries ago called “a state of nature.” Developing a compelling case for the democratic state and its administrative apparatus, she shows how privatization reproduces the very same defects that Enlightenment thinkers attributed to the precivil condition, and which only properly constituted political institutions can overcome—defects such as provisional justice, undue dependence, and unfreedom. Cordelli advocates for constitutional limits on privatization and a more democratic system of public administration, and lays out the central responsibilities of private actors in contexts where governance is already extensively privatized. Charting a way forward, she presents a new conceptual account of political representation and novel philosophical theories of democratic authority and legitimate lawmaking.

The Privatized State shows how privatization undermines the very reason political institutions exist in the first place, and advocates for a new way of administering public affairs that is more democratic and just….(More)”.

It’s not all about populism: grassroots democracy is thriving across Europe


Richard Youngs at The Guardian: “The past decade has been a bruising one for the health of European democracy. The dramatic authoritarian turns in Hungary and Poland have attracted most attention, but nearly all European governments have chipped away at civil liberties, judicial independence and civil society.

With Covid accentuating many of the challenges posed by populism, disinformation and a collapse in public trust, the narrative of democracy labouring in deep crisis is now well established. Yet as the threats have mounted, so have efforts to defend and rethink Europe’s democratic practices.

Most spontaneously, there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of mass protests, even during the pandemic, many in support of democratic values. People have mobilised against corruption or around particular policy issues and then taken on a broader democratic reform agenda. This has been the case in BulgariaRomania and Slovakia, the women’s strike in Poland, the Sardines movement in Italy, the Million Moments movement in the Czech Republic and protests in Malta initially triggered by journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder. Climate movements such as Extinction Rebellion are also beginning to marry their ecology demands to concerns with democratic reform. People invented new forms of protest under Covid: for example, Polish citizens protested against new abortion laws and the timing of elections by taking to their cars in procession, honking horns and playing alarms out of their windows, still in full compliance with restrictions on public gatherings.

New civil society initiatives aim at tackling polarisation. One example is a project called Arguments Against Aggression, which tries to equip people with more empathetic communication and debating skills than those typically experienced on social media and has now run in seven EU member states. Meanwhile, Covid has given rise to hundreds of civic mutual aid initiatives, such as En Première Ligne in France whose website puts those who need help directly in touch with local volunteers. Civil society organisations are also working more closely with protest movements. The Corruption Kills group in Romania, for example, evolved from anti-corruption protests and an outpouring of public anger at the deaths of more than 60 people in a nightclub fire. Online initiatives, meanwhile, are reclaiming the positive democratic potential of digital technology, finding new formats to feed citizens’ views into policymaking.

More and more citizens’ assemblies have sprung up…(More)”.

The Battle for Digital Privacy Is Reshaping the Internet


Brian X. Chen at The New York Times: “Apple introduced a pop-up window for iPhones in April that asks people for their permission to be tracked by different apps.

Google recently outlined plans to disable a tracking technology in its Chrome web browser.

And Facebook said last month that hundreds of its engineers were working on a new method of showing ads without relying on people’s personal data.

The developments may seem like technical tinkering, but they were connected to something bigger: an intensifying battle over the future of the internet. The struggle has entangled tech titans, upended Madison Avenue and disrupted small businesses. And it heralds a profound shift in how people’s personal information may be used online, with sweeping implications for the ways that businesses make money digitally.

At the center of the tussle is what has been the internet’s lifeblood: advertising.

More than 20 years ago, the internet drove an upheaval in the advertising industry. It eviscerated newspapers and magazines that had relied on selling classified and print ads, and threatened to dethrone television advertising as the prime way for marketers to reach large audiences….

If personal information is no longer the currency that people give for online content and services, something else must take its place. Media publishers, app makers and e-commerce shops are now exploring different paths to surviving a privacy-conscious internet, in some cases overturning their business models. Many are choosing to make people pay for what they get online by levying subscription fees and other charges instead of using their personal data.

Jeff Green, the chief executive of the Trade Desk, an ad-technology company in Ventura, Calif., that works with major ad agencies, said the behind-the-scenes fight was fundamental to the nature of the web…(More)”

You Have More Influence Than You Think


Book by Vanessa Bohns: “An original investigation of our hidden power to persuade, and how to wield it wisely.

If you’ve ever felt ineffective, invisible, or inarticulate, chances are you weren’t actually any of those things. Those feelings may instead have been the result of a lack of awareness we all seem to have for how our words, actions, and even our mere presence affect other people.

In You Have More Influence Than You Think social psychologist Vanessa Bohns draws from her original research to illustrate why we fail to recognize the influence we have, and how that lack of awareness can lead us to miss opportunities or accidentally misuse our power.

Weaving together compelling stories with cutting edge science, Bohns answers the questions we all want to know (but may be afraid to ask): How much did she take to heart what I said earlier? Do they know they can push back on my suggestions? Did he notice whether I was there today? Will they agree to help me if I ask?

Whether attending a meeting, sharing a post online, or mustering the nerve to ask for a favor, we often assume our actions, input, and requests will be overlooked or rejected. Bohns and her work demonstrate that people see us, listen to us, and agree to do things for us much more than we realize—for better, and worse.

You Have More Influence Than You Think offers science-based strategies for observing the effect we have on others, reconsidering our fear of rejection, and even, sometimes, pulling back to use our influence less. It is a call to stop searching for ways to gain influence you don’t have and to start recognizing the influence you don’t realize you already have…(More)”.

Media and Social Capital


Paper by Filipe R. Campante, Ruben Durante & Andrea Tesei: “We survey the empirical literature in economics on the impact of media technologies on social capital. Motivated by a simple model of information and collective action, we cover a range of different outcomes related to social capital, from social and political participation to interpersonal trust, in its benign and destructive manifestations. The impact of media technologies hinges on their content (“information” vs “entertainment”), their effectiveness in fostering coordination, and the networks they create, as well as individual characteristics and media consumption choices….(More)”

Harms of AI


Paper by Daron Acemoglu: “This essay discusses several potential economic, political and social costs of the current path of AI technologies. I argue that if AI continues to be deployed along its current trajectory and remains unregulated, it may produce various social, economic and political harms. These include: damaging competition, consumer privacy and consumer choice; excessively automating work, fueling inequality, inefficiently pushing down wages, and failing to improve worker productivity; and damaging political discourse, democracy’s most fundamental lifeblood. Although there is no conclusive evidence suggesting that these costs are imminent or substantial, it may be useful to understand them before they are fully realized and become harder or even impossible to reverse, precisely because of AI’s promising and wide-reaching potential. I also suggest that these costs are not inherent to the nature of AI technologies, but are related to how they are being used and developed at the moment – to empower corporations and governments against workers and citizens. As a result, efforts to limit and reverse these costs may need to rely on regulation and policies to redirect AI research. Attempts to contain them just by promoting competition may be insufficient….(More)”.

Can Gamification be Used for Spatial Energy Data Collection?


Paper by Ernst Gebetsroither-Geringer et al regarding “Experiences Gained from the Development of the HotCity Game to Collect Urban Waste Heat Sources”: Availability of reliable data is one of the most important elements for fact-based decisions. Urban planning and spatial energy planning often suffers from a lack of availability of good, validated and up-to-date data sets. Furthermore, integrated spatial and energy planning needs to incorporate new spatially distributed energy sources and understand how these sources can be used in the future to meet climate protection targets. These new energy sources can be, for example, waste heat from industrial food production, local industrial/commercial enterprises, data centers, or urban infrastructure such as tunnels and metro stations. The utilization of such waste heat sources in heating networks has been demonstrated several times, however, their proper identification in an urban environment can be challenging, especially for smaller and unconventional sources (Schmidt, 2020).
Gamification as an innovative way to collect the needed data was investigated within a national funded research project called “HotCity”. Gamification builds on the use of game mechanics in contexts that are, by nature, unrelated to the game (Deterding, 2011). Within the project the HotCity-App was developed enabling users to spatially report and evaluate different sources of waste heat. The gamification of data collection was also intended to raise awareness of waste heat and energy use on the one hand, and to facilitate the collection of data from small energy sources on the other. For the first time, the game framework is secured using a blockchain and mapped by means of a token system. The HotCity-App was tested in the Austrian cities Vienna and Graz as a proof of concept to analyse if and how the gamification approach can deliver valid results….(More)”

Climate change versus children: How a UNICEF data collaborative gave birth to a risk index


Jess Middleton at DataIQ: “Almost a billion children face climate-related disasters in their lifetime, according to UNICEF’s new Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI).

The CCRI is the first analysis of climate risk specifically from a child’s perspective. It reveals that children in Central African Republic, Chad and Nigeria are at the highest risk from climate and environmental shocks based on their access to essential services….

Young climate activists including Greta Thunberg contributed a foreword to the report that introduced the index; and the project has added another layer of pressure on governments failing to act on climate change in the run-up to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference – set to be held in Glasgow in November.

While these statistics make for grim reading, the collective effort undertaken to create the Index is evidence of the power of data as a tool for advocacy and the role that data collaboratives can play in shaping positive change.

The CCRI is underpinned by data that was sourced, collated and analysed by the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF, a partnership between UNICEF, the Scottish Government and University of Edinburgh hosted by The Data Lab.

The collaboration brings together practitioners from diverse backgrounds to provide data-driven solutions to issues faced by children around the world.

For work on the CCRI, the collaborative sought data, skills and expertise from academia (Universities of Southampton, Edinburgh, Stirling, Highlands and Islands) as well as the public and private sectors (ONS-FCDO Data Science Hub, Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment & Society).

This variety of expertise provided the knowledge required to build the two main pillars of input for the CCRI: socioeconomic and climate science data.

Socioeconomic experts sourced data and provided analytical expertise in the context of child vulnerability, social statistics, biophysical processes and statistics, child welfare and child poverty.

Climate experts focused on factors such as water scarcity, flood exposure, coastal flood risk, pollution and exposure to vector borne disease.

The success of the project hinged on the effective collaboration between distinct areas of expertise to deliver on UNICEF’s problem statement.

The director of the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF, Alex Hutchison, spoke with DataIQ about the success of the project, the challenges the team faced, and the benefits of working as part of a diverse collective….(More). (Report)”

UN urges moratorium on use of AI that imperils human rights


Jamey Keaten and Matt O’Brien at the Washington Post: “The U.N. human rights chief is calling for a moratorium on the use of artificial intelligence technology that poses a serious risk to human rights, including face-scanning systems that track people in public spaces.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, also said Wednesday that countries should expressly ban AI applications which don’t comply with international human rights law.

Applications that should be prohibited include government “social scoring” systems that judge people based on their behavior and certain AI-based tools that categorize people into clusters such as by ethnicity or gender.

AI-based technologies can be a force for good but they can also “have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said in a statement.

Her comments came along with a new U.N. report that examines how countries and businesses have rushed into applying AI systems that affect people’s lives and livelihoods without setting up proper safeguards to prevent discrimination and other harms.

“This is not about not having AI,” Peggy Hicks, the rights office’s director of thematic engagement, told journalists as she presented the report in Geneva. “It’s about recognizing that if AI is going to be used in these human rights — very critical — function areas, that it’s got to be done the right way. And we simply haven’t yet put in place a framework that ensures that happens.”

Bachelet didn’t call for an outright ban of facial recognition technology, but said governments should halt the scanning of people’s features in real time until they can show the technology is accurate, won’t discriminate and meets certain privacy and data protection standards….(More)” (Report).

Introducing collective crisis intelligence


Blogpost by Annemarie Poorterman et al: “…It has been estimated that over 600,000 Syrians have been killed since the start of the civil war, including tens of thousands of civilians killed in airstrike attacks. Predicting where and when strikes will occur and issuing time-critical warnings enabling civilians to seek safety is an ongoing challenge. It was this problem that motivated the development of Sentry Syria, an early warning system that alerts citizens to a possible airstrike. Sentry uses acoustic sensor data, reports from on-the-ground volunteers, and open media ‘scraping’ to detect warplanes in flight. It uses historical data and AI to validate the information from these different data sources and then issues warnings to civilians 5-10 minutes in advance of a strike via social media, TV, radio and sirens. These extra minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Sentry Syria is just one example of an emerging approach in the humanitarian response we call collective crisis intelligence (CCI). CCI methods combine the collective intelligence (CI) of local community actors (e.g. volunteer plane spotters in the case of Sentry) with a wide range of additional data sources, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics to support crisis management and reduce the devastating impacts of humanitarian emergencies….(More)”