Hundreds of AI tools have been built to catch covid. None of them helped.


Article by Will Douglas Heaven: “When covid-19 struck Europe in March 2020, hospitals were plunged into a health crisis that was still badly understood. “Doctors really didn’t have a clue how to manage these patients,” says Laure Wynants, an epidemiologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who studies predictive tools.

But there was data coming out of China, which had a four-month head start in the race to beat the pandemic. If machine-learning algorithms could be trained on that data to help doctors understand what they were seeing and make decisions, it just might save lives. “I thought, ‘If there’s any time that AI could prove its usefulness, it’s now,’” says Wynants. “I had my hopes up.”

It never happened—but not for lack of effort. Research teams around the world stepped up to help. The AI community, in particular, rushed to develop software that many believed would allow hospitals to diagnose or triage patients faster, bringing much-needed support to the front lines—in theory.

In the end, many hundreds of predictive tools were developed. None of them made a real difference, and some were potentially harmful.

That’s the damning conclusion of multiple studies published in the last few months. In June, the Turing Institute, the UK’s national center for data science and AI, put out a report summing up discussions at a series of workshops it held in late 2020. The clear consensus was that AI tools had made little, if any, impact in the fight against covid.

Not fit for clinical use

This echoes the results of two major studies that assessed hundreds of predictive tools developed last year. Wynants is lead author of one of them, a review in the British Medical Journal that is still being updated as new tools are released and existing ones tested. She and her colleagues have looked at 232 algorithms for diagnosing patients or predicting how sick those with the disease might get. They found that none of them were fit for clinical use. Just two have been singled out as being promising enough for future testing.

“It’s shocking,” says Wynants. “I went into it with some worries, but this exceeded my fears.”

Wynants’s study is backed up by another large review carried out by Derek Driggs, a machine-learning researcher at the University of Cambridge, and his colleagues, and published in Nature Machine Intelligence. This team zoomed in on deep-learning models for diagnosing covid and predicting patient risk from medical images, such as chest x-rays and chest computer tomography (CT) scans. They looked at 415 published tools and, like Wynants and her colleagues, concluded that none were fit for clinical use…..(More)”.

A framework for assessing intergenerational fairness


About: “Concerns about intergenerational fairness have steadily climbed up the priority ladder over the past decade. The 2020 OECD Report on Governance on Youth, Trust and Intergenerational Jusice outlines the intergenerational issues underlying many of today’s most urgent political debates, and we believe these questions will only intensify in coming years.

Ensuring effective long-term decision-making is hard. It requires leaders and decision-makers across public, private and civil society to be incentivised, and for all citizens to be empowered to have a say around the future. To do this will require change in our culture, behaviours, process and systems….

The School of International Futures and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation have created a methodology to assess whether a decision is fair to different generations, now and in the future.

It can be applied by national and local governments, independent institutions, international organisations, foundations, businesses and special interest groups to evaluate the impact of decisions on present and future generations.

The policy assessment methodology is freely available for use under the Creative Commons license for non-commercial use….

Our work on the Framework for Assessing Intergenerational Fairness and the Intergenerational Fairness Observatory are practical first steps to creating this change….(More)“.

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)”.

Behavioural science is unlikely to change the world without a heterogeneity revolution


Article by Christopher J. Bryan, Elizabeth Tipton & David S. Yeager: “In the past decade, behavioural science has gained influence in policymaking but suffered a crisis of confidence in the replicability of its findings. Here, we describe a nascent heterogeneity revolution that we believe these twin historical trends have triggered. This revolution will be defined by the recognition that most treatment effects are heterogeneous, so the variation in effect estimates across studies that defines the replication crisis is to be expected as long as heterogeneous effects are studied without a systematic approach to sampling and moderation. When studied systematically, heterogeneity can be leveraged to build more complete theories of causal mechanism that could inform nuanced and dependable guidance to policymakers. We recommend investment in shared research infrastructure to make it feasible to study behavioural interventions in heterogeneous and generalizable samples, and suggest low-cost steps researchers can take immediately to avoid being misled by heterogeneity and begin to learn from it instead….(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)”.

Governing smart cities: policy benchmarks for ethical and responsible smart city development


Report by the World Economic Forum: “… provides a benchmark for cities looking to establish policies for ethical and responsible governance of their smart city programmes. It explores current practices relating to five foundational policies: ICT accessibility, privacy impact assessment, cyber accountability, digital infrastructure and open data. The findings are based on surveys and interviews with policy experts and city government officials from the Alliance’s 36 “Pioneer Cities”. The data and insights presented in the report come from an assessment of detailed policy elements rather than the high-level indicators often used in maturity frameworks….(More)”.

To solve big issues like climate change, we need to reframe our problems



Essay by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg and Jonathan Wichmann: “Imagine you own an office building and your tenants are complaining that the elevator is way too slow. What do you do?

Faced with this problem, most people instinctively jump into solution mode. How can we make the elevator faster? Can we upgrade the motor? Tweak the algorithm? Do we need to buy a new elevator?

The speed of the elevator might be the wrong problem to focus on, however. Talk to an experienced landlord and they might offer you a more elegant solution: put up mirrors next to the elevator so people don’t notice the wait. Gazing lovingly at your own reflection tends to have that effect.

The mirror doesn’t make the elevator faster. It solves a different problem – that the wait is annoying.

Solve the right problem

The slow elevator story highlights an important truth, in that the way we frame a problem often determines which solutions we come up with. By shifting the way we see a problem, we can sometimes find better solutions.

Problem framing is of paramount importance when it comes to tackling the many hard challenges our societies face. And yet, we’re not terribly good at it. In a survey of 106 corporate leaders, 87% said their people waste significant resources solving the wrong problems. When we go to the doctor, we know very well that identifying the right problem is key. Too often, we fail to apply the same thinking to social and global problems.

Three common patterns

So, how do we get better at it? One starting point is to recognise that there are often patterns in the way we frame problems. Get better at recognising those patterns, and you can dramatically improve your ability to solve the right problems. Here are three typical patterns:

1. We prefer framings that allow us to avoid change

People tend to frame problems so they don’t have to change their own behaviour. When the lack of women leading companies first became a prominent concern decades ago, it was often framed as a pipeline problem. Many corporate leaders simply assumed that, once there were enough women in junior positions, the C-suite would follow.

That framing allowed companies to carry on as usual for about a generation until time eventually proved the pipeline theory wrong, or at best radically incomplete. The gender balance among senior executives would surely be better by now if companies had not spent a few decades ignoring other explanations for the skewed ratio….(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)”.

How to predict citizen engagement in urban innovation projects?


Blogpost by Julien Carbonnell: “Citizen engagement in decision-making has proven to be a key factor for success in a smart city project and a must-have of contemporary democratic regimes. While inhabitants are all daily internet users, they widely inform themselves about their political electives’ achievements during the mandate, interact with each other on social networks, and by word-of-mouth on messaging apps or phone calls to form an opinion.

Unfortunately, most of the smart cities’ rankings lack resources to evaluate the citizen engagement dynamic around the urban innovations deployed. Indeed this data can’t be found on official open data portals, focused instead on cities’ infrastructure and quality of life. These include the number of metro stations, the length of bike lanes, air pollution, and tap water quality. Some of them also include field investigation such as the amount of investment in this or that urban area and communication dynamics about a new smart city project.

If this kind of formal information provides a good overview of the official state of development of a city, it does not give any insight from the inhabitants themselves and sounds out the street vibes of a city.

So, I’ve been working on filling this gap for the last 3 years and share in Democracy Studio all the elements of my method and tools built for conducting such analysis. To do so, I have notably been collecting inhabitants’ participation in a survey study in three case study cities: Taipei (Taiwan), Tel Aviv (Israel), and Tallinn (Estonia). I collected 366 answers by contacting inhabitants randomly online (Facebook groups, direct messages on LinkedIn, and through messaging apps) and in-person, in events related to my field of interest (Smart-City and Urban Innovation Startups). The resulting variables have been integrated into machine learning models, which finally performed a very satisfying prediction of the citizen engagement in my case studies….(More)”.

Internet Futures: Spotlight on the technologies which may shape the Internet of the future


Report by Ofcom (UK): “Our lives have been profoundly impacted by the Internet and the web – these two inventions have made the world a more connected but complex place. Billions of people are now online, creating an extremely busy ‘global village’ where many services in communication, commerce, education, entertainment and beyond exist. Because of the rapid advancements of the Internet and the expansions in these services, innovations in communications have rolled out on a global scale. In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world today were founded on the Internet solely, so they have played an important role in advocating for improvements. Coupled with a wide range of other factors, such as the diverse pool of different users hence different needs, it is likely that the technology that drives the Internet and the web will continue to develop.

As the UK’s communications regulator, it is important that Ofcom is aware of new types of Internet technology that may affect the future. We will monitor and consider the effects that these developments may have on the communications services we use every day. This helps to ensure that we meet our duties competently and we continue to help people and businesses to get the most out of their services, as well as to protect them from any potential risks.

This report shines a light on the innovative, emerging Internet technologies that could shape our Internet in the future. We have selected a sample of technologies based on the responses we received to our call for inputs, and the discussions we had with thought leaders in both academia and industry. We will however continue to identify other important Internet technologies as they emerge and in sectors beyond those considered in this report…(More)”.