The Starving State

Article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Todd N. Tucker, and Gabriel Zucman at Foreign Affairs: “For millennia, markets have not flourished without the help of the state. Without regulations and government support, the nineteenth-century English cloth-makers and Portuguese winemakers whom the economist David Ricardo made famous in his theory of comparative advantage would have never attained the scale necessary to drive international trade. Most economists rightly emphasize the role of the state in providing public goods and correcting market failures, but they often neglect the history of how markets came into being in the first place. The invisible hand of the market depended on the heavier hand of the state.

The state requires something simple to perform its multiple roles: revenue. It takes money to build roads and ports, to provide education for the young and health care for the sick, to finance the basic research that is the wellspring of all progress, and to staff the bureaucracies that keep societies and economies in motion. No successful market can survive without the underpinnings of a strong, functioning state.

That simple truth is being forgotten today. In the United States, total tax revenues paid to all levels of government shrank by close to four percent of national income over the last two decades, from about 32 percent in 1999 to approximately 28 percent today, a decline unique in modern history among wealthy nations. The direct consequences of this shift are clear: crumbling infrastructure, a slowing pace of innovation, a diminishing rate of growth, booming inequality, shorter life expectancy, and a sense of despair among large parts of the population. These consequences add up to something much larger: a threat to the sustainability of democracy and the global market economy….(More)”.

Will Artificial Intelligence Eat the Law? The Rise of Hybrid Social-Ordering Systems

Paper by Tim Wu: “Software has partially or fully displaced many former human activities, such as catching speeders or flying airplanes, and proven itself able to surpass humans in certain contests, like Chess and Jeopardy. What are the prospects for the displacement of human courts as the centerpiece of legal decision-making?

Based on the case study of hate speech control on major tech platforms, particularly on Twitter and Facebook, this Essay suggests displacement of human courts remains a distant prospect, but suggests that hybrid machine–human systems are the predictable future of legal adjudication, and that there lies some hope in that combination, if done well….(More)”.

Bridging the Elite-Grassroots Divide Among Anticorruption Activists

Abigail Bellows at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “Corruption-fueled political change is occurring at a historic rate—but is not necessarily producing the desired systemic reforms. There are many reasons for this, but one is the dramatic dissipation of public momentum after a transition. In countries like Armenia, the surge in civic participation that generated 2018’s Velvet Revolution largely evaporated after the new government assumed power. That sort of civic demobilization makes it difficult for government reformers, facing stubbornly entrenched interests, to enact a transformative agenda.

The dynamics in Armenia reflect a trend across the anticorruption landscape, which is also echoed in other sectors. As the field has become more professionalized, anticorruption nongovernment organizations (NGOs) have developed the legal and technical expertise to serve as excellent counterparts/watchdogs for government. Yet this strength can also be a hurdle when it comes to building credibility with the everyday people they seek to represent. The result is a disconnect between elite and grassroots actors, which is problematic at multiple levels:

  • Technocratic NGOs lack the “people power” to advance their policy recommendations and are exposed to attack as illegitimate or foreign-sponsored.
  • Grassroots networks struggle to turn protest energy into targeted demands and lasting reform, which can leave citizens frustrated and disillusioned about democracy itself.
  • Government reformers lack the sustained popular mandate to deliver on the ambitious agenda they promised, leaving them politically vulnerable to the next convulsion of public anger at corruption.

Two strategies can help civil society address this challenge. First, organizations can seek to hybridize, with in-house capacities for both policy analysis and mass mobilization. Alternatively, organizations can build formal or informal coalitions between groups operating at the elite and grassroots levels, respectively. Both strategies pose challenges: learning new skills, weaving together distinct organizational cultures and methodologies, and defining demands that are both technically sound and publicly appealing. In many instances, coalition-building will be an easier road given it does not require altering internal organizational and personnel structures. Political windows-of-opportunity on anticorruption may lend urgency to this difficult task and help crystallize what both sides have to gain from increased partnership….(More)“.

Trusted smart statistics: Motivations and principles

Paper by Fabio Ricciato et al : “In this contribution we outline the concept of Trusted Smart Statistics as the natural evolution of official statistics in the new datafied world. Traditional data sources, namely survey and administrative data, represent nowadays a valuable but small portion of the global data stock, much thereof being held in the private sector. The availability of new data sources is only one aspect of the global change that concerns official statistics. Other aspects, more subtle but not less important, include the changes in perceptions, expectations, behaviours and relations between the stakeholders. The environment around official statistics has changed: statistical offices are not any more data monopolists, but one prominent species among many others in a larger (and complex) ecosystem. What was established in the traditional world of legacy data sources (in terms of regulations, technologies, practices, etc.) is not guaranteed to be sufficient any more with new data sources.

Trusted Smart Statistics is not about replacing existing sources and processes, but augmenting them with new ones. Such augmentation however will not be only incremental: the path towards Trusted Smart Statistics is not about tweaking some components of the legacy system but about building an entirely new system that will coexist with the legacy one. In this position paper we outline some key design principles for the new Trusted Smart Statistics system. Taken collectively they picture a system where the smart and trust aspects enable and reinforce each other. A system that is more extrovert towards external stakeholders (citizens, private companies, public authorities) with whom Statistical Offices will be sharing computation, control, code, logs and of course final statistics, without necessarily sharing the raw input data….(More)”.

Towards adaptive governance in big data health research: implementing regulatory principles

Chapter by Alessandro Blasimme and Effy Vayena: “While data-enabled health care systems are in their infancy, biomedical research is rapidly adopting the big data paradigm. Digital epidemiology for example, already employs data generated outside the public health care system – that is, data generated without the intent of using them for epidemiological research – to understand and prevent patterns of diseases in populations (Salathé 2018)(Salathé 2018). Precision medicine – pooling together genomic, environmental and lifestyle data – also represents a prominent example of how data integration can drive both fundamental and translational research in important medical domains such as oncology (D. C. Collins et al. 2017). All of this requires the collection, storage, analysis and distribution of massive amounts of personal information as well as the use of state-of-the art data analytics tools to uncover healthand disease related patterns.

The realization of the potential of big data in health evokes a necessary commitment to a sense of “continuity” articulated in three distinct ways: a) from data generation to use (as in the data enabled learning health care ); b) from research to clinical practice e.g. discovery of new mutations in the context of diagnostics; c) from strictly speaking health data (Vayena and Gasser 2016) e.g. clinical records, to less so e.g. tweets used in digital epidemiology. These continuities face the challenge of regulatory and governance approaches that were designed for clear data taxonomies, for a less blurred boundary between research and clinical practice, and for rules that focused mostly on data generation and less on their eventual and multiple uses.

The result is significant uncertainty about how responsible use of such large amounts of sensitive personal data could be fostered. In this chapter we focus on the uncertainties surrounding the use of biomedical big data in the context of health research. Are new criteria needed to review biomedical big data research projects? Do current mechanisms, such as informed consent, offer sufficient protection to research participants’ autonomy and privacy in this new context? Do existing oversight mechanisms ensure transparency and accountability in data access and sharing? What monitoring tools are available to assess how personal data are used over time? Is the equitable distribution of benefits accruing from such data uses considered, or can it be ensured? How is the public being involved – if at all – with decisions about creating and using large data
repositories for research purposes? What is the role that IT (information technology) players, and especially big ones, acquire in research? And what regulatory instruments do we have to ensure that such players do not undermine the independence of research?…(More)”.

Algorithmic Regulation and (Im)perfect Enforcement in the Personalized Economy

Chapter by Christoph Busch in “Data Economy and Algorithmic Regulation: A Handbook on Personalized Law”, C.H.Beck Nomos Hart, 2020: “Technological advances in data collection and information processing makes it possible to tailor legal norms to specific individuals and achieve an unprecedented degree of regulatory precision. However, the benefits of such a “personalized law” must not be confounded with the false promise of “perfect enforcement”. To the contrary, the enforcement of personalized law might be even more challenging and complex than the enforcement of impersonal and uniform rules. Starting from this premise, the first part of this Essay explores how algorithmic personalization of legal rules could be operationalized for tailoring disclosures on digital marketplaces, mitigating discrimination in the sharing economy and optimizing the flow of traffic in smart cities. The second part of the Essay looks into an aspect of personalized law that has so far been rather under-researched: a transition towards personalized law involves not only changes in the design of legal rules, but also necessitates modifications regarding compliance monitoring and enforcement. It is argued that personalized law can be conceptualized as a form of algorithmic regulation or governance-by-data. Therefore, the implementation of personalized law requires setting up a regulatory framework for ensuring algorithmic accountability. In a broader perspective, this Essay aims to create a link between the scholarly debate on algorithmic decision-making and automated legal enforcement and the emerging debate on personalized law….(More)”.

Philosophy Is a Public Service

Jonathon Keats at Nautilus: “…One of my primary techniques, adapted from philosophy, is to undertake large-scale thought experiments. In these experiments, I create alternative realities that provide perspectives on our own society, and provoke dialogue about who and what we want to become. Another of my techniques is to create philosophical instruments: tools and devices with which people can collectively investigate the places they inhabit.

The former technique is exemplified by Centuries of the Bristlecone, and other environmentally-calibrated clocks I’m developing in other cities, such as a timepiece modulated by the flow of rivers in Alaska, currently in planning at the Anchorage Museum.

The latter is exemplified by a project I initiated in Berlin in 2014, which I’ve now instigated in cities around the world. It’s a new kind of camera that produces a single exposure over a span of 100 years. People hide these cameras throughout their city, providing a means for the next generation to observe the decisions that citizens make about their urban environment: decisions about development and gentrification and sustainability. In a sense, these devices are intergenerational surveillance cameras. They prompt people to consider the long-term impact of their actions. They encourage people to act in ways that will change the picture to reflect what they want the next generation to see.

But the truth is that most of my projects—perhaps even the two I’ve just mentioned—combine techniques from philosophy and many other disciplines. In order to map out possible futures for society, especially while navigating the shifting terrain of climate change, the philosopher-explorer needs to be adaptable. And most likely you won’t have all the skills and tools you need. I believe that anyone can become a philosopher-explorer. The practice benefits from more practitioners. No particular abilities are needed, except a capacity for collaboration.

Ayear ago, I was invited by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics to envision the city of the future. Through Fraunhofer’s artist-in-lab program, I had the opportunity to work with leading scientists and engineers, and to run computer simulations and physical experiments on state-of-the-art equipment in Stuttgart and Holzkirchen, Germany.

My starting point was to consider one of the most serious problems faced by cities today: sea level rise. Global sea levels are expected to increase by two-and-a-half meters by the end of the century, and as much as 15 meters in the next 300 years. With 11 percent of the world population living less than 10 meters above the current sea level, many cities will probably be submerged in the future: mega-cities including New York and Shanghai. One likely response is that people will migrate inland, seeking ever higher elevations.

The question I asked myself was this: Would it make more sense to stay put?…(More)”.

Data in Society: Challenging Statistics in an Age of Globalisation

Book edited by Jeff Evans, Sally Ruane and Humphrey Southall: “Statistical data and evidence-based claims are increasingly central to our everyday lives. Critically examining ‘Big Data’, this book charts the recent explosion in sources of data, including those precipitated by global developments and technological change. It sets out changes and controversies related to data harvesting and construction, dissemination and data analytics by a range of private, governmental and social organisations in multiple settings.

Analysing the power of data to shape political debate, the presentation of ideas to us by the media, and issues surrounding data ownership and access, the authors suggest how data can be used to uncover injustices and to advance social progress…(More)”.

Responsible data sharing in a big data-driven translational research platform: lessons learned

Paper by S. Kalkman et al: “The sharing of clinical research data is increasingly viewed as a moral duty [1]. Particularly in the context of making clinical trial data widely available, editors of international medical journals have labeled data sharing a highly efficient way to advance scientific knowledge [2,3,4]. The combination of even larger datasets into so-called “Big Data” is considered to offer even greater benefits for science, medicine and society [5]. Several international consortia have now promised to build grand-scale, Big Data-driven translational research platforms to generate better scientific evidence regarding disease etiology, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis across various disease areas [6,7,8].

Despite anticipated benefits, large-scale sharing of health data is charged with ethical questions. Stakeholders have been urged to consider how to manage privacy and confidentiality issues, ensure valid informed consent, and determine who gets to decide about data access [9]. More fundamentally, new data sharing activities prompt questions about social justice and public trust [10]. To balance potential benefits and ethical considerations, data sharing platforms require guidance for the processes of interaction and decision-making. In the European Union (EU), legal norms specified for the sharing of personal data for health research, most notably those set out in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU 2016/679), remain open to interpretation and offer limited practical guidance to researchers [12,12,13]. Striking in this regard is that the GDPR itself stresses the importance of adherence to ethical standards, when broad consent is put forward as a legal basis for the processing of personal data. For example, Recital 33 of the GDPR states that data subjects should be allowed to give “consent to certain areas of scientific research when in keeping with recognised ethical standards for scientific research” [14]. In fact, the GDPR actually encourages data controllers to establish self-regulating mechanisms, such as a code of conduct. To foster responsible and sustainable data sharing in translational research platforms, ethical guidance and governance is therefore necessary. Here, we define governance as ‘the processes of interaction and decision-making among the different stakeholders that are involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions’…(More)”.

From Ethics Washing to Ethics Bashing: A View on Tech Ethics from Within Moral Philosophy

Paper by Elettra Bietti: “The word ‘ethics’ is under siege in technology policy circles. Weaponized in support of deregulation, self-regulation or hands-off governance, “ethics” is increasingly identified with technology companies’ self-regulatory efforts and with shallow appearances of ethical behavior. So-called “ethics washing” by tech companies is on the rise, prompting criticism and scrutiny from scholars and the tech community at large. In parallel to the growth of ethics washing, its condemnation has led to a tendency to engage in “ethics bashing.” This consists in the trivialization of ethics and moral philosophy now understood as discrete tools or pre-formed social structures such as ethics boards, self-governance schemes or stakeholder groups.

The misunderstandings underlying ethics bashing are at least three-fold: (a) philosophy and “ethics” are seen as a communications strategy and as a form of instrumentalized cover-up or façade for unethical behavior, (b) philosophy is understood in opposition and as alternative to political representation and social organizing and (c) the role and importance of moral philosophy is downplayed and portrayed as mere “ivory tower” intellectualization of complex problems that need to be dealt with in practice.

This paper argues that the rhetoric of ethics and morality should not be reductively instrumentalized, either by the industry in the form of “ethics washing,” or by scholars and policy-makers in the form of “ethics bashing.” Grappling with the role of philosophy and ethics requires moving beyond both tendencies and seeing ethics as a mode of inquiry that facilitates the evaluation of competing tech policy strategies. In other words, we must resist narrow reductivism of moral philosophy as instrumentalized performance and renew our faith in its intrinsic moral value as a mode of knowledge-seeking and inquiry. Far from mandating a self-regulatory scheme or a given governance structure, moral philosophy in fact facilitates the questioning and reconsideration of any given practice, situating it within a complex web of legal, political and economic institutions. Moral philosophy indeed can shed new light on human practices by adding needed perspective, explaining the relationship between technology and other worthy goals, situating technology within the human, the social, the political. It has become urgent to start considering technology ethics also from within and not only from outside of ethics….(More)”.