Coding Democracy: How Hackers Are Disrupting Power, Surveillance, and Authoritarianism


Book by Maureen Webb: “Hackers have a bad reputation, as shady deployers of bots and destroyers of infrastructure. In Coding Democracy, Maureen Webb offers another view. Hackers, she argues, can be vital disruptors. Hacking is becoming a practice, an ethos, and a metaphor for a new wave of activism in which ordinary citizens are inventing new forms of distributed, decentralized democracy for a digital era. Confronted with concentrations of power, mass surveillance, and authoritarianism enabled by new technology, the hacking movement is trying to “build out” democracy into cyberspace.

Webb travels to Berlin, where she visits the Chaos Communication Camp, a flagship event in the hacker world; to Silicon Valley, where she reports on the Apple-FBI case, the significance of Russian troll farms, and the hacking of tractor software by desperate farmers; to Barcelona, to meet the hacker group XNet, which has helped bring nearly 100 prominent Spanish bankers and politicians to justice for their role in the 2008 financial crisis; and to Harvard and MIT, to investigate the institutionalization of hacking. Webb describes an amazing array of hacker experiments that could dramatically change the current political economy. These ambitious hacks aim to displace such tech monoliths as Facebook and Amazon; enable worker cooperatives to kill platforms like Ubergive people control over their data; automate trust; and provide citizens a real say in governance, along with capacity to reach consensus. Coding Democracy is not just another optimistic declaration of technological utopianism; instead, it provides the tools for an urgently needed upgrade of democracy in the digital era….(More)”.

Designing Institutional Collaboration into Global Governance


Policy Brief by C. Randall Henning: “Collaboration among international institutions is essential for high-quality governance in many areas of global policy, yet it is chronically undersupplied. Numerous opportunities for institutional collaboration are being missed and there are calls for deepening collaboration in discourse on global governance — in new areas of governance, such as digital privacy, content moderation and platforms; better-established areas, such as climate change and biodiversity; as well as long-established but nonetheless evolving areas, such as international finance, development and trade. There are several obstacles to collaboration, including key countries’ using some institutions to constrain others, a strategy of “complexity for control.” This policy brief suggests that in designing international institutions, states and other principals should draw from a tool kit of strategies and techniques for promoting collaboration, including introducing or developing formal and informal mechanisms, and harnessing the Group of Seven and the Group of Twenty to foster collaboration proactively. New institutions should be designed from the outset to collaborate with others in a dense institutional environment….(More)”.

What Should Happen to Our Data When We Die?


Adrienne Matei at the New York Times: “The new Anthony Bourdain documentary, “Roadrunner,” is one of many projects dedicated to the larger-than-life chef, writer and television personality. But the film has drawn outsize attention, in part because of its subtle reliance on artificial intelligence technology.

Using several hours of Mr. Bourdain’s voice recordings, a software company created 45 seconds of new audio for the documentary. The A.I. voice sounds just like Mr. Bourdain speaking from the great beyond; at one point in the movie, it reads an email he sent before his death by suicide in 2018.

“If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Morgan Neville, the director, said in an interview with The New Yorker. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

The time for that panel may be now. The dead are being digitally resurrected with growing frequency: as 2-D projections, 3-D holograms, C.G.I. renderings and A.I. chat bots….(More)”.

The One-Earth Balance Sheet


Essay by Andrew Sheng: “Modern science arose by breaking down complex problems into their parts. As Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist, wrote in his 1984 foreword to the chemist Ilya Prigogine’s classic book “Order out of Chaos”: “One of the most highly developed skills in contemporary Western civilization is dissection: the split-up of problems into their smallest possible components. We are good at it. So good, we often forget to put the pieces back together again.”

Specialization produces efficiency in production and output. But one unfortunate result is that silos produce a partial perspective from specialist knowledge; very few take a system-wide view on how the parts are related to the whole. When the parts do not fit or work together, the system may break down. As behavioral economist Daniel Kahnemann put it: “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”

Silos make group collective action more difficult; nation-states, tribes, communities and groups have different ways of knowing and different repositories of knowledge. A new collective mental map is needed, one that moves away from classical Newtonian science, with its linear and mechanical worldview, toward a systems-view of life. The ecologists Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi argue that “the major problems of our time — energy, the environment, climate change, food security, financial security — cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are all interconnected and interdependent.”

“Siloed thinking created many of our problems with inequality, injustice and planetary damage.”

A complex, non-linear, systemic view of life sees the whole as a constant interaction between the small and the large: diverse parts that are cooperating and competing at the same time. This organic view of life coincides with the ancient perspective found in numerous cultures — including Chinese, Indian, native Australian and Amerindian — that man and nature are one.

In short, modern Western science has begun to return to the pre-Enlightenment worldview that saw man, God and Earth in somewhat mystic entanglement. The late Chinese scientist Qian Xuesen argued the world was made up of “open giant complex systems” operating within larger open giant complex systems. Human beings themselves are open giant complex systems — every brain has billions of neurons connected to each other through trillions of pathways — continually exchanging and processing information with other humans and the environment. Life is much more complex, dynamic and uncertain than we once assumed.

To describe this dynamic, complex and uncertain systemic whole, we need to evolve trans-disciplinary thinking that integrates the natural, social, biological sciences and arts by transcending disciplinary boundaries. Qian concluded that the only way to describe such systemic complexity and uncertainty is to integrate quantitative with qualitative narratives, exactly what the Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller advocates for in “Narrative Economics.”…(More)”.

The miracle of the commons


Chapter by Michelle Nijhuis: “In December 1968, the ecologist and biologist Garrett Hardin had an essay published in the journal Science called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. His proposition was simple and unsparing: humans, when left to their own devices, compete with one another for resources until the resources run out. ‘Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest,’ he wrote. ‘Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.’ Hardin’s argument made intuitive sense, and provided a temptingly simple explanation for catastrophes of all kinds – traffic jams, dirty public toilets, species extinction. His essay, widely read and accepted, would become one of the most-cited scientific papers of all time.

Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.

The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions….(More)”.

Inclusive SDG Data Partnerships


Learning report” by Partners for Review (P4R/GIZ), the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), and the International Civil Society Centre: “It brought together National SDG Units, National Statistics Offices, National Human Rights Institutions and civil society organisations from across six countries. The initiative’s purpose is to advance data partnerships for the SDGs and to strengthen multi-actor data ecosystems at the national level. Goal is to meet the SDG data challenge by improving the use of alternative data sources, particularly data produced by civil society and human rights institutions, and complementary to official statistics….(More)”.

Democracy in a Pandemic: Participation in response to Covid


Open Access Book by Involve: “Covid-19 has highlighted limitations in our democratic politics – but also lessons for how to deepen our democracy and more effectively respond to future crises.

In the face of an emergency, the working assumption all too often is that only a centralised, top-down response is possible. This book exposes the weakness of this assumption, making the case for deeper participation and deliberation in times of crises. During the pandemic, mutual aid and self-help groups have realised unmet needs. And forward-thinking organisations have shown that listening to and working with diverse social groups leads to more inclusive outcomes.

Participation and deliberation are not just possible in an emergency. They are valuable, perhaps even indispensable. 

This book draws together a diverse range of voices of activists, practitioners, policy makers, researchers and writers. Together they make visible the critical role played by participation and deliberation during the pandemic and make the case for enhanced engagement during and beyond emergency contexts.

Another, more democratic world can be realised in the face of a crisis. The contributors to this book offer us meaningful insights into what this could look like….(More)”.

The Predictive Power of Patents


Paper by Sabrina Safrin: “This article explains that domestic patenting activity may foreshadow a country’s level of regulation of path-breaking technologies. The article considers whether different governments will act with a light or a heavy regulatory hand when encountering a new disruptive technology. The article hypothesizes that part of the answer to this important regulatory, economic, and geopolitical question may lie in an unexpected place: the world’s patent offices. Countries with early and significant patent activity in an emerging technology are more likely to view themselves as having a stake in the technology and therefore will be less inclined to subject the technology to extensive health, safety and environmental regulation that would constrain it. The article introduces the term “patent footprint” to describe a country’s degree of patenting activity in a new technology, and the article posits that a country’s patent footprint may provide an early clue to its willingness or reluctance to strenuously regulate the new technology. Even more so, lack of geographic diversity in patent footprints may help predict whether an emerging technology will face extensive international regulation. Patent footprints provide a useful tool to policymakers, businesses, investors, and NGOs considering the health, safety, and environmental regulation of a disruptive technology. The predictive power of patent footprints adds to the literature on the broader function of patents in society….(More)”.

The State of Global Emotions


Gallup: “Nobody was alone in feeling more sad, angry, worried or stressed last year. Gallup’s latest Negative Experience Index, which annually tracks these experiences worldwide in more than 100 countries and areas, shows that collectively, the world was feeling the worst it had in 15 years. The index score reached a new high of 32 in 2020.

Line graph. The Negative Experience Index, an annual composite index of stress, anger, worry, sadness and physical pain, continued to rise in 2020, hitting a new record of 32.

Gallup asked adults in 115 countries and areas if they had five specific negative experiences on the day preceding the survey. Four in 10 adults said they had experienced worry (40%) or stress (40%), and just under three in 10 had experienced physical pain (29%) during a lot of the previous day. About one in four or more experienced sadness (27%) or anger (24%).

Already at or near record highs in 2019, experiences of worry, stress, sadness and anger continued to gain steam and set new records in 2020. Worry and sadness each rose one percentage point, anger rose two, and stress rocketed up five. The percentage of adults worldwide who experienced pain was the only index item that declined — dropping two points after holding steady for several years at 31%.

But 2020 officially became the most stressful year in recent history. The five-point jump from 35% in 2019 to 40% in 2020 represents nearly 190 million more people globally who experienced stress during a lot of the previous day.

Line graph. Reported stress worldwide soared to a record 40% in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worldwide, not everyone was feeling this stress to the same degree. Reported stress ranged from a high of 66% in Peru — which represents a new high for the country — to a low of 13% in Kyrgyzstan, where stress levels have historically been low and stayed low in 2020….(More)”

What Is Behavioral Data Science and How to Get into It?


Blogpost by Ganna Pogrebna: “Behavioral Data Science is a new, emerging, interdisciplinary field, which combines techniques from the behavioral sciences, such as psychology, economics, sociology, and business, with computational approaches from computer science, statistics, data-centric engineering, information systems research and mathematics, all in order to better model, understand and predict behavior.

Behavioral Data Science lies at the interface of all these disciplines (and a growing list of others) — all interested in combining deep knowledge about the questions underlying human, algorithmic, and systems behavior with increasing quantities of data. The kinds of questions this field engages are not only exciting and challenging, but also timely, such as:

Behavioral Data Science is capable of addressing all these issues (and many more) partly because of the availability of new data sources and partly due to the emergence of new (hybrid) models, which merge behavioral science and data science models. The main advantage of these models is that they expand machine learning techniques, operating, essentially, as black boxes, to fully tractable, and explainable upgrades. Specifically, while a deep learning model can generate accurate prediction of why people select one product or brand over the other, it will not tell you what exactly drives people’s preferences; whereas hybrid models, such as anthropomorphic learning, will be able to provide this insight….(More)”