The Role of Big Data Analytics in Predicting Suicide


Chapter by Ronald C. Kessler et al: “…reviews the long history of using electronic medical records and other types of big data to predict suicide. Although a number of the most recent of these studies used machine learning (ML) methods, these studies were all suboptimal both in the features used as predictors and in the analytic approaches used to develop the prediction models. We review these limitations and describe opportunities for making improvements in future applications.

We also review the controversy among clinical experts about using structured suicide risk assessment tools (be they based on ML or older prediction methods) versus in-depth clinical evaluations of needs for treatment planning. Rather than seeing them as competitors, we propose integrating these different approaches to capitalize on their complementary strengths. We also emphasize the distinction between two types of ML analyses: those aimed at predicting which patients are at highest suicide risk, and those aimed at predicting the treatment options that will be best for individual patients. We explain why both are needed to optimize the value of big data ML methods in addressing the suicide problem….(More)”.

See also How Search Engine Data Enhance the Understanding of Determinants of Suicide in India and Inform Prevention: Observational Study.

Shutting down the internet doesn’t work – but governments keep doing it


George Ogola in The Conversation: “As the internet continues to gain considerable power and agency around the world, many governments have moved to regulate it. And where regulation fails, some states resort to internet shutdowns or deliberate disruptions.

The statistics are staggering. In India alone, there were 154 internet shutdowns between January 2016 and May 2018. This is the most of any country in the world.

But similar shutdowns are becoming common on the African continent. Already in 2019 there have been shutdowns in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Chad, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Last year there were 21 such shutdowns on the continent. This was the case in Togo, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Ethiopia, among others.

The justifications for such shutdowns are usually relatively predictable. Governments often claim that internet access is blocked in the interest of public security and order. In some instances, however, their reasoning borders on the curious if not downright absurd, like the case of Ethiopia in 2017 and Algeria in 2018 when the internet was shut down apparently to curb cheating in national examinations.

Whatever their reasons, governments have three general approaches to controlling citzens’ access to the web.

How they do it

Internet shutdowns or disruptions usually take three forms. The first and probably the most serious is where the state completely blocks access to the internet on all platforms. It’s arguably the most punitive, with significant socialeconomic and political costs.

The financial costs can run into millions of dollars for each day the internet is blocked. A Deloitte report on the issue estimates that a country with average connectivity could lose at least 1.9% of its daily GDP for each day all internet services are shut down.

For countries with average to medium level connectivity the loss is 1% of daily GDP, and for countries with average to low connectivity it’s 0.4%. It’s estimated that Ethiopia, for example, could lose up to US$500,000 a day whenever there is a shutdown. These shutdowns, then, damage businesses, discourage investments, and hinder economic growth.

The second way that governments restrict internet access is by applying content blocking techniques. They restrict access to particular sites or applications. This is the most common strategy and it’s usually targeted at social media platforms. The idea is to stop or limit conversations on these platforms.

Online spaces have become the platform for various forms of political expression that many states especially those with authoritarian leanings consider subversive. Governments argue, for example, that social media platforms encourage the spread of rumours which can trigger public unrest.

This was the case in 2016 in Uganda during the country’s presidential elections. The government restricted access to social media, describing the shutdown as a “security measure to avert lies … intended to incite violence and illegal declaration of election results”.

In Zimbabwe, the government blocked social media following demonstrations over an increase in fuel prices. It argued that the January 2019 ban was because the platforms were being “used to coordinate the violence”.

The third strategy, done almost by stealth, is the use of what is generally known as “bandwidth throttling”. In this case telecom operators or internet service providers are forced to lower the quality of their cell signals or internet speed. This makes the internet too slow to use. “Throttling” can also target particular online destinations such as social media sites….(More)”

Twentieth Century Town Halls: Architecture of Democracy


Book by Jon Stewart: “This is the first book to examine the development of the town hall during the twentieth century and the way in which these civic buildings have responded to the dramatic political, social and architectural changes which took place during the period. Following an overview of the history of the town hall as a building type, it examines the key themes, variations and lessons which emerged during the twentieth century. This is followed by 20 case studies from around the world which include plans, sections and full-colour illustrations. Each of the case studies examines the town hall’s procurement, the selection of its architect and the building design, and critically analyses its success and contribution to the type’s development. The case studies include:

Copenhagen Town Hall, Denmark, Martin Nyrop

Stockholm City Hall, Sweden, Ragnar Ostberg

Hilversum Town Hall, the Netherlands, Willem M. Dudok

Walthamstow Town Hall, Britain, Philip Dalton Hepworth

Oslo Town Hall, Norway, Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson

Casa del Fascio, Como, Italy, Guiseppe Terragni

Aarhus Town Hall, Denmark, Arne Jacobsen with Eric Moller

Saynatsalo Town Hall, Finland, Alvar Aalto

Kurashiki City Hall, Japan, Kenzo Tange

Toronto City Hall, Canada, Viljo Revell

Boston City Hall, USA, Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles

Dallas City Hall, USA, IM Pei

Mississauga City Hall, Canada, Ed Jones and Michael Kirkland

Borgoricco Town Hall, Italy, Aldo Rossi

Reykjavik City Hall, Iceland, Studio Granda

Valdelaguna Town Hall, Spain, Victor Lopez Cotelo and Carlos Puente Fernandez

The Hague City Hall, the Netherlands, Richard Meier

Iragna Town Hall, Switzerland, Raffaele Cavadini

Murcia City Hall, Spain, Jose Rafael Moneo

London City Hall, UK, Norman Foster…(More)”.

Democracy Beyond Voting and Protests


Sasha Fisher at Project Syndicate: “For over a decade now, we have witnessed more elections and, simultaneously, less democracy. According to Bloomberg, elections have been occurring more frequently around the world. Yet Freedom House finds that some 110 countries have experienced declines in political and civil rights over the past 13 years.

As democracy declines, so does our sense of community. In the United States, this is evidenced by a looming loneliness epidemicand the rapid disappearance of civic institutions such as churches, eight of which close every day. And though these trends are global in nature, the US exemplifies them in the extreme.

This is no coincidence. As Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in the 1830s, America’s founders envisioned a country governed not by shared values, but by self-interest. That vision has since defined America’s institutions, and fostered a hyper-individualistic society.

Growing distrust in governing institutions has fueled a rise in authoritarian populist movements around the world. Citizens are demanding individual economic security and retreating into an isolationist mentality. ...

And yet we know that “user engagement” works, as shown by countless studies and human experiences. For example, an evaluation conducted in Uganda found that the more citizens participated in the design of health programs, the more the perception of the health-care system improved. And in Indonesia, direct citizen involvement in government decision-making has led to higher satisfaction with government services....

While the Western world suffers from over-individualization, the most notable governance and economic innovations are taking place in the Global South. In Rwanda, for example, the government has introduced policies to encourage grassroots solutions that strengthen citizens’ sense of community and shared accountability. Through monthly community-service meetings, families and individuals work together to build homes for the needy, fix roads, and pool funds to invest in better farming practices and equipment.

Imagine if over 300 million Americans convened every month for a similar purpose. There would suddenly be billions more citizen hours invested in neighbor-to-neighbor interaction and citizen action.

This was one of the main effects of the Village Savings and Loan Associations that originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Within communities, members have access to loans to start small businesses and save for a rainy day. The model works because it leverages neighbor-to-neighbor accountability. Likewise, from Haiti to Liberia to Burundi and beyond, community-based health systems have proven effective precisely because health workers know their neighbors and their needs. Community health workers go from home to home, checking in on pregnant mothers and making sure they are cared for. Each of these solutions uses and strengthens communal accountability through shared engagement – not traditional vertical accountability lines.

If we believe in the democratic principle that governments must be accountable to citizens, we should build systems that hold us accountable to each other – and we must engage beyond elections and protests. We must usher in a new era of community-driven democracy – power must be decentralized and placed in the hands of families and communities.

When we achieve community-driven democracy, we will engage with one another and with our governments – not just on special occasions, but continuously, because our democracy and freedom depend on us….(More)” (See also Index on Trust in Institutions)

How Tech Utopia Fostered Tyranny


Jon Askonas at The New Atlantis: “The rumors spread like wildfire: Muslims were secretly lacing a Sri Lankan village’s food with sterilization drugs. Soon, a video circulated that appeared to show a Muslim shopkeeper admitting to drugging his customers — he had misunderstood the question that was angrily put to him. Then all hell broke loose. Over a several-day span, dozens of mosques and Muslim-owned shops and homes were burned down across multiple towns. In one home, a young journalist was trapped, and perished.

Mob violence is an old phenomenon, but the tools encouraging it, in this case, were not. As the New York Times reported in April, the rumors were spread via Facebook, whose newsfeed algorithm prioritized high-engagement content, especially videos. “Designed to maximize user time on site,” as the Times article describes, the newsfeed algorithm “promotes whatever wins the most attention. Posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger or fear, studies have found, produce the highest engagement, and so proliferate.” On Facebook in Sri Lanka, posts with incendiary rumors had among the highest engagement rates, and so were among the most highly promoted content on the platform. Similar cases of mob violence have taken place in India, Myanmar, Mexico, and elsewhere, with misinformation spread mainly through Facebook and the messaging tool WhatsApp.

Follow The New AtlantisThis is in spite of Facebook’s decision in January 2018 to tweak its algorithm, apparently to prevent the kind of manipulation we saw in the 2016 U.S. election, when posts and election ads originating from Russia reportedly showed up in newsfeeds of up to 126 million American Facebook users. The company explained that the changes to its algorithm will mean that newsfeeds will be “showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation,” and “less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.” But these changes, which Facebook had tested out in countries like Sri Lanka in the previous year, may actually have exacerbated the problem — which is that incendiary content, when posted by friends and family, is guaranteed to “spark conversation” and therefore to be prioritized in newsfeeds. This is because “misinformation is almost always more interesting than the truth,” as Mathew Ingram provocatively put it in the Columbia Journalism Review.

How did we get here, from Facebook’s mission to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”? Riot-inducing “fake news” and election meddling are obviously far from what its founders intended for the platform. Likewise, Google’s founders surely did not build their search engine with the intention of its being censored in China to suppress free speech, and yet, after years of refusing this demand from Chinese leadership, Google has recently relented rather than pull their search engine from China entirely. And YouTube’s creators surely did not intend their feature that promotes “trending” content to help clickbait conspiracy-theory videos go viral.

These outcomes — not merely unanticipated by the companies’ founders but outright opposed to their intentions — are not limited to social media. So far, Big Tech companies have presented issues of incitement, algorithmic radicalization, and “fake news” as merely bumps on the road of progress, glitches and bugs to be patched over. In fact, the problem goes deeper, to fundamental questions of human nature. Tools based on the premise that access to information will only enlighten us and social connectivity will only make us more humane have instead fanned conspiracy theories, information bubbles, and social fracture. A tech movement spurred by visions of libertarian empowerment and progressive uplift has instead fanned a global resurgence of populism and authoritarianism.

Despite the storm of criticism, Silicon Valley has still failed to recognize in these abuses a sharp rebuke of its sunny view of human nature. It remains naïvely blind to how its own aspirations for social engineering are on a spectrum with the tools’ “unintended” uses by authoritarian regimes and nefarious actors….(More)”.

Index: Trust in Institutions 2019


By Michelle Winowatan, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Andrew Young, Stefaan Verhulst

The Living Library Index – inspired by the Harper’s Index – provides important statistics and highlights global trends in governance innovation. This installment focuses on trust in institutions.

Please share any additional, illustrative statistics on open data, or other issues at the nexus of technology and governance, with us at info@thelivinglib.org

Global Trust in Public Institutions

Trust in Government

United States

  • Americans who say their democracy is working at least “somewhat well:” 58% – 2018
  • Number who believe sweeping changes to their government are needed: 61% – 2018
  • Percentage of Americans expressing faith in election system security: 45% – 2018
  • Percentage of Americans expressing an overarching trust in government: 40% – 2019
  • How Americans would rate the trustworthiness of Congress: 4.1 out of 10 – 2017
  • Number who have confidence elected officials act in the best interests of the public: 25% – 2018
  • Amount who trust the federal government to do what is right “just about always or most of the time”: 18% – 2017
  • Americans with trust and confidence in the federal government to handle domestic problems: 2 in 5 – 2018
    • International problems: 1 in 2 – 2018
  • US institution with highest amount of confidence to act in the best interests of the public: The Military (80%) – 2018
  • Most favorably viewed level of government: Local (67%) – 2018
  • Most favorably viewed federal agency: National Park Service (83% favorable) – 2018
  • Least favorable federal agency: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (47% unfavorable) – 2018

United Kingdom

  • Overall trust in government: 42% – 2019
    • Number who think the country is headed in the “wrong direction:” 7 in 10 – 2018
    • Those who have trust in politicians: 17% – 2018
    • Amount who feel unrepresented in politics: 61% – 2019
    • Amount who feel that their standard of living will get worse over the next year: Nearly 4 in 10 – 2019
  • Trust the national government handling of personal data:

European Union

Africa

Latin America

Other

Trust in Media

  • Percentage of people around the world who trust the media: 47% – 2019
    • In the United Kingdom: 37% – 2019
    • In the United States: 48% – 2019
    • In China: 76% – 2019
  • Rating of news trustworthiness in the United States: 4.5 out of 10 – 2017
  • Number of citizens who trust the press across the European Union: Almost 1 in 2 – 2019
  • France: 3.9 out of 10 – 2019
  • Germany: 4.8 out of 10 – 2019
  • Italy: 3.8 out of 10 – 2019
  • Slovenia: 3.9 out of 10 – 2019
  • Percentage of European Union citizens who trust the radio: 59% – 2017
    • Television: 51% – 2017
    • The internet: 34% – 2017
    • Online social networks: 20% – 2017
  • EU citizens who do not actively participate in political discussions on social networks because they don’t trust online social networks: 3 in 10 – 2018
  • Those who are confident that the average person in the United Kingdom can tell real news from ‘fake news’: 3 in 10 – 2018

Trust in Business

Sources

Artificial Intelligence and National Security


Report by Congressional Research Service: “Artificial intelligence (AI) is a rapidly growing field of technology with potentially significant implications for national security. As such, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and other nations are developing AI applications for a range of military functions. AI research is underway in the fields of intelligence collection and analysis, logistics, cyber operations, information operations, command and control, and in a variety of semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles.

Already, AI has been incorporated into military operations in Iraq and Syria. Congressional action has the potential to shape the technology’s development further, with budgetary and legislative decisions influencing the growth of military applications as well as the pace of their adoption.

AI technologies present unique challenges for military integration, particularly because the bulk of AI development is happening in the commercial sector. Although AI is not unique in this regard, the defense acquisition process may need to be adapted for acquiring emerging technologies like AI.

In addition, many commercial AI applications must undergo significant modification prior to being functional for the military. A number of cultural issues also challenge AI acquisition, as some commercial AI companies are averse to partnering with DOD due to ethical concerns, and even within the department, there can be resistance to incorporating AI technology into existing weapons systems and processes.

Potential international rivals in the AI market are creating pressure for the United States to compete for innovative military AI applications. China is a leading competitor in this regard, releasing a plan in 2017 to capture the global lead in AI development by 2030. Currently, China is primarily focused on using AI to make faster and more well-informed decisions, as well as on developing a variety of autonomous military vehicles. Russia is also active in military AI development, with a primary focus on robotics. Although AI has the potential to impart a number of advantages in the military context, it may also introduce distinct challenges.

AI technology could, for example, facilitate autonomous operations, lead to more informed military decisionmaking, and increase the speed and scale of military action. However, it may also be unpredictable or vulnerable to unique forms of manipulation. As a result of these factors, analysts hold a broad range of opinions on how influential AI will be in future combat operations.

While a small number of analysts believe that the technology will have minimal impact, most believe that AI will have at least an evolutionary—if not revolutionary—effect….(More)”.

Open Data Politics: A Case Study on Estonia and Kazakhstan


Book by Maxat Kassen: “… offers a cross-national comparison of open data policies in Estonia and Kazakhstan. By analyzing a broad range of open data-driven projects and startups in both countries, it reveals the potential that open data phenomena hold with regard to promoting public sector innovations. The book addresses various political and socioeconomic contexts in these two transitional societies, and reviews the strategies and tactics adopted by policymakers and stakeholders to identify drivers of and obstacles to the implementation of open data innovations. Given its scope, the book will appeal to scholars, policymakers, e-government practitioners and open data entrepreneurs interested in implementing and evaluating open data-driven public sector projects….(More)”

The Think-Tank Dilemma


Blog by Yoichi Funabashi: “Without the high-quality research that independent think tanks provide, there can be no effective policymaking, nor even a credible basis for debating major issues. Insofar as funding challenges, foreign influence-peddling, and populist attacks on truth pose a threat to such institutions tanks, they threaten democracy itself….

The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC – perhaps the world’s top think tank – is under scrutiny for receiving six-figure donations from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which many consider to be a security threat. And since the barbaric murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October, many other Washington-based think tanks have come under pressure to stop accepting donations from Saudi Arabia.

These recent controversies have given rise to a narrative that Washington-based think tanks are facing a funding crisis. In fact, traditional think tanks are confronting three major challenges that have put them in a uniquely difficult situation. Not only are they facing increased competition from for-profit think tanks such as the McKinsey Global Institute and the Eurasia Group; they also must negotiate rising geopolitical tensions, especially between the United States and China.And complicating matters further, many citizens, goaded by populist harangues, have become dismissive of “experts” and the fact-based analyses that think tanks produce (or at least should produce).

With respect to the first challenge, Daniel Drezner of Tufts University argues in The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas that for-profit think tanks have engaged in thought leadership by operating as platforms for provocative thinkers who push big ideas. Whereas many non-profit think tanks – as well as universities and non-governmental organizations – remain “old-fashioned” in their approach to data, their for-profit counterparts thrive by finding the one statistic that captures public attention in the digital age. Given their access to both public and proprietary information, for-profit think tanks are also able to maximize the potential of big data in ways that traditional think tanks cannot.

Moreover, with the space for balanced foreign-policy arguments narrowing, think tanks are at risk of becoming tools of geopolitical statecraft. This is especially true now that US-China relations are deteriorating and becoming more ideologically tinged.

Over time, foreign governments of all stripes have cleverly sought to influence policymaking not only in Washington, but also in London, Brussels, Berlin, and elsewhere, by becoming significant donors to think tanks. Governments realize that the well-connected think tanks that act as “power brokers” vis-à-vis the political establishment have been facing fundraising challenges since the 2008 financial crisis. In some cases, locally based think tanks have even been accused of becoming fronts for foreign authoritarian governments….(More)”.


The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer


Press Release: “The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust has changed profoundly in the past year—people have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers. Globally, 75 percent of people trust “my employer” to do what is right, significantly more than NGOs (57 percent), business (56 percent) and media (47 percent).

Divided by Trust

There is a 16-point gap between the more trusting informed public and the far-more-skeptical mass population, marking a return to record highs of trust inequality. The phenomenon fueling this divide was a pronounced rise in trust among the informed public. Markets such as the U.S., UK, Canada, South Korea and Hong Kong saw trust gains of 12 points or more among the informed public. In 18 markets, there is now a double-digit trust gap between the informed public and the mass population.

2019 Edelman Trust Barometer - Trust Inequality

An Urgent Desire for Change

Despite the divergence in trust between the informed public and mass population the world is united on one front—all share an urgent desire for change. Only one in five feels that the system is working for them, with nearly half of the mass population believing that the system is failing them.

In conjunction with pessimism and worry, there is a growing move toward engagement and action. In 2019, engagement with the news surged by 22 points; 40 percent not only consume news once a week or more, but they also routinely amplify it. But people are encountering roadblocks in their quest for facts, with 73 percent worried about fake news being used as a weapon.

Trust Barometer - News Engagement

The New Employer-Employee Contract

Despite a high lack of faith in the system, there is one relationship that remains strong: “my employer.” Fifty-eight percent of general population employees say they look to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues.

Employees are ready and willing to trust their employers, but the trust must be earned through more than “business as usual.” Employees’ expectation that prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues (67 percent) is nearly as high as their expectations of personal empowerment (74 percent) and job opportunity (80 percent)….(More)”.