Childhood’s End

The 2019 Edge New Year’s Essay by George Dyson: “All revolutions come to an end, whether they succeed or fail.

The digital revolution began when stored-program computers broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Numbers that do things now rule the world. But who rules over the machines?

Once it was simple: programmers wrote the instructions that were supplied to the machines. Since the machines were controlled by these instructions, those who wrote the instructions controlled the machines.

Two things then happened. As computers proliferated, the humans providing instructions could no longer keep up with the insatiable appetite of the machines. Codes became self-replicating, and machines began supplying instructions to other machines. Vast fortunes were made by those who had a hand in this. A small number of people and companies who helped spawn self-replicating codes became some of the richest and most powerful individuals and organizations in the world.

Then something changed. There is now more code than ever, but it is increasingly difficult to find anyone who has their hands on the wheel. Individual agency is on the wane. Most of us, most of the time, are following instructions delivered to us by computers rather than the other way around. The digital revolution has come full circle and the next revolution, an analog revolution, has begun. None dare speak its name.

Childhood’s End was Arthur C. Clarke’s masterpiece, published in 1953, chronicling the arrival of benevolent Overlords who bring many of the same conveniences now delivered by the Keepers of the Internet to Earth. It does not end well…

The genius — sometimes deliberate, sometimes accidental — of the enterprises now on such a steep ascent is that they have found their way through the looking-glass and emerged as something else. Their models are no longer models. The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought. No one is at the controls. If enough drivers subscribe to a real-time map, traffic is controlled, with no central model except the traffic itself. The successful social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph. This is why it is a winner-take-all game. Governments, with an allegiance to antiquated models and control systems, are being left behind…(More)”.

A Grand Challenges-Based Research Agenda for Scholarly Communication and Information Science

Report by Micah Altman and Chris Bourg: “…The overarching question these problems pose is how to create a global scholarly knowledge ecosystem that supports participation, ensures agency, equitable access, trustworthiness, integrity, and is legally, economically, institutionally, technically, and socially sustainable. The aim of the Grand Challenges Summit and this report is to identify broad research areas and questions to be explored in order to provide an evidence base from which to answer specific aspects of that broad question.

Reaching this future state requires exploring a set of interrelated anthropological, behavioral, computational, economic, legal, policy, organizational, sociological, and technological areas. The extent of these areas of research is illustrated by the following exemplars:

What is necessary to develop coherent, comprehensive, and empirically testable theories of the value of scholarly knowledge to society? What is the best current evidence of this value, and what does it elide? How should the measures of use and utility of scholarly outputs be adapted for different communities of use, disciplines, theories, and cultures? What methods will improve our predictions of the future value of collections of information, or enable the selection and construction of collections that will be likely to be of value in the future?…

What parts of the scholarly knowledge ecosystem promote the values of transparency, individual agency, participation, accountability, and fairness? How can these values be reflected in the algorithms, information architecture, and technological systems supporting the scholarly knowledge ecosystem? What principles of design and governance would be effective for embedding these values?…

The list above provides a partial outline of research areas that will need to be addressed in order to overcome the major barriers to a better future for scholarly communication and information science. As the field progresses in exploring these areas, and attempting to address the barriers is discussed, new areas are likely to be identified. Even within this initial list of research areas, there are many pressing questions ripe for exploration….

Research on open scholarship solutions is needed to assess the scale and breadth of access,[68] the costs to actors and stakeholders at all levels, and the effects of openness on perceptions of trust and confidence in research and research organizations. Research is also needed in the intersection between open scholarship and participation, new forms of scholarship, information integrity, information durability, and information agency (see section 3.1.). This will require an assessment of the costs and returns of open scholarship at a systemic level, rather than at the level of individual institutions or actors. We also need to assess whether and under what conditions interventions directed at removing reputation and institutional barriers to collaboration promote open scholarship. Research is likewise required to document the conditions under which open scholarship reduces duplication and inefficiency, and promotes equity in the creation and use of knowledge. In addition, research should address the permeability of open scholarship systems to researchers across multiple scientific fields, and whether—and under what conditions—open scholarship enhances interdisciplinary collaboration….(More)”.

The Rise of Knowledge Economics

Cesar Hidalgo at Scientific American: “Nearly 30 years ago, Paul Romer published a paper exploring the economic value of knowledge. In that paper, he argued that, unlike the classical factors of production (capital and labor), knowledge was a “non-rival good.” This meant that it could be shared infinitely, and thus, it was the only thing that could grow in per-capita terms.

Romer’s work was recently recognized with the Nobel Prize, even though it was just the beginning of a longer story. Knowledge could be infinitely shared, but did that mean it could go everywhere? Soon after Romer’s seminal paper, Adam Jaffe, Manuel Trajtenberg and Rebecca Henderson published a paper on the geographic diffusion of knowledge. Using a statistical technique called matching, they identified a “twin” for each patent (that is, a patent filed at the same time and making similar technological claims).

Then, they compared the citations received by each patent and its twin. Compared to their twins, patents received almost four more citations from other patents originating in the same city than those originating elsewhere. Romer was right in that knowledge could be infinitely shared, but also, knowledge had difficulties travelling far….

What will the study of knowledge bring us next? Will we get to a point at which we will measure Gross Domestic Knowledge as accurately as we measure Gross Domestic Product? Will we learn how to engineer knowledge diffusion? Will knowledge continue to concentrate in cities? Or will it finally break the shackles of society and spread to every corner of the world? The only thing we know for sure is that the study of knowledge is an exciting journey. The lowest hanging fruit may have already been picked, but the tree is still filled with fruits and flavors. Let’s climb it and explore….(More)”

The Theory and Practice of Social Machines

Book by Nigel Shadbolt, David De Roure, Kieron O’Hara and Wendy Hall: “Social machines are a type of network connected by interactive digital devices made possible by the ubiquitous adoption of technologies such as the Internet, the smartphone, social media and the read/write World Wide Web, connecting people at scale to document situations, cooperate on tasks, exchange information, or even simply to play. Existing social processes may be scaled up, and new social processes enabled, to solve problems, augment reality, create new sources of value, and disrupt existing practice.

This book considers what talents one would need to understand or build a social machine, describes the state of the art, and speculates on the future, from the perspective of the EPSRC project SOCIAM – The Theory and Practice of Social Machines. The aim is to develop a set of tools and techniques for investigating, constructing and facilitating social machines, to enable us to narrow down pragmatically what is becoming a wide space, by asking ‘when will it be valuable to use these methods on a sociotechnical system?’ The systems for which the use of these methods adds value are social machines in which there is rich person-to-person communication, and where a large proportion of the machine’s behaviour is constituted by human interaction….(More)”.

Library of Congress Launches Crowdsourcing Platform

Matt Enis at the Library Journal: “The Library of Congress (LC) last month launched, a new crowdsourcing platform that will improve discovery and access to the Library’s digital collections with the help of volunteer transcription and tagging. The project kicked off with the “Letters to Lincoln Challenge,” a campaign encouraging volunteers to transcribe 10,000 digitized versions of documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln, which will make these materials full-text searchable for the first time….

The new project is the earliest example of LC’s new Digital Strategy, which complements the library’s new 2019–23 strategic plan. Announced in October, the strategic plan, “Enriching the User Experience,” outlines four high-level goals—expanding access, enhancing services, optimizing resources, and measuring results—while the digital strategy outlines how LC plans to accomplish these goals with its digital resources, described as “throwing open the treasure chest, connecting, and investing in our future”…

LC aims to use crowdsourcing to enrich the user experience in two key ways, Zwaard said.

“First, it helps with the legibility of our collections,” she explained. “The Library of Congress is home to so many historic treasures, but the handwriting can be hard to read…. For example, we have this amazing letter from Abraham Lincoln to his first fiancée. It’s really quite lovely, but at a glance, if you’re not familiar with historic handwriting, it’s hard to read.”…

Second, crowdsourcing “invites people into the collections,” she added. “The library is very optimized around answering specific research questions. One of the things we’re thinking about is how to serve users who don’t have a specific research question—who just want to see all of the cool stuff. We have so much cool stuff! But it can be hard for people to find purchase when they are just browsing and don’t have anything specific in mind. One of the ways we can [showcase interesting content] is by offering them a window into the collections by asking for their help.”…

To facilitate ongoing engagement with these varied projects, LC has set up an online forum on History Hub, a site hosted by the National Archives, to encourage participants to ask questions, discuss projects, and meet other volunteers. … is not LC’s first crowdsourcing project. Followers of the library’s official Flickr account have added tens of thousands of descriptive tags to digitized historical photos since the account debuted in 2007. And last year, the debut of—which aims to encourage creative use of LOC’s digital collections—included the Beyond Words crowdsourcing project developed by LC software developer Tong Wang….(More)”

A Hippocratic Oath for Technologists

Chapter by Ali Abbas, Max Senges and Ronald A. Howard in “Next Generation Ethics: Engineering a Better Society” (2018): “…presents an ethical creed, which we refer to as the Hippocratic Oath for Technologists. The creed is built on three fundamental pillars: proactively understanding the ethical implications of technology for all stakeholders, telling the truth about the capabilities, advantages, and disadvantages of a technology, and acting responsibly in situations you find morally challenging.

The oath may be taken by students at Universities after understanding its basic definitions and implications, and it may also be discussed with technology firms and human resources departments to provide the necessary support and understanding for their employees who wish to abide by the norms of this oath. This work lays the foundations for the arguments and requirements of a unified movement, as well as a forum for signing up for the oath to enable its wide-spread dissemination….(More)”.

Quantum Information Science: Applications, Global Research and Development, and Policy Considerations

Report from the Congressional Research Service: “Quantum information science (QIS) combines elements of mathematics, computer science, engineering, and physical sciences, and has the potential to provide capabilities far beyond what is possible with the most advanced technologies available today.
Although much of the press coverage of QIS has been devoted to quantum computing, there is more to QIS. Many experts divide QIS technologies into three application areas:

  • Sensing and metrology,
  • Communications, and
  • Computing and simulation.

… Today, QIS is a component of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (Presidential Executive Order 13702), which was established in 2015. Most recently, in September 2018, the National Science and Technology Council issued the National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science. The policy opportunities identified in this strategic overview include:

  • choosing a science-first approach to QIS,
  • creating a “quantum-smart” workforce,
  • deepening engagement with the quantum industry,
  • providing critical infrastructure,
  • maintaining national security and economic growth, and
  • advancing international cooperation.

This report provides an overview of QIS technologies: sensing and metrology, communications, and computing and simulation. It also includes examples of existing and potential future applications; brief summaries of funding and selected R&D initiatives in the United States and elsewhere around the world; a description of U.S. congressional activity; and a discussion of related policy considerations….(More)”.

Learning Through Citizen Science: Enhancing Opportunities by Design

National Academies: “Scientific research that involves nonscientists contributing to research processes – also known as ‘citizen science’ – supports participants’ learning, engages the public in science, contributes to community scientific literacy, and can serve as a valuable tool to facilitate larger scale research, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  If one of the goals of a citizen science project is to advance learning, designers should plan for it by defining intended learning outcomes and using evidence-based strategies to reach those outcomes.

“This report affirms that citizen science projects can help participants learn scientific practices and content, but most likely only if the projects are designed to support learning,” says Rajul Pandya, chair of the committee that wrote the report and director, Thriving Earth Exchange, AGU.  

The term “citizen science” can be applied to a wide variety of projects that invite nonscientists to engage in doing science with the intended goal of advancing scientific knowledge or application. For example, a citizen science project might engage community members in collecting data to monitor the health of a local stream. As another example, among the oldest continuous organized datasets in the United States are records kept by farmers and agricultural organizations that document the timing of important events, such as sowing, harvests, and pest outbreaks.

Citizen science can support science learning in several ways, the report says. It offers people the opportunity to participate in authentic scientific endeavors, encourages learning through projects conducted in real-world contexts, supports rich social interaction that deepens learning, and engages participants with real data. Citizen science also includes projects that grow out of a community’s desire to address an inequity or advance a priority. For example, the West-Oakland Indicators Project, a community group in Oakland, Calif., self-organizes to collect and analyze air quality data and uses that data to address trucking in and around schools to reduce local children’s exposure to air pollution. When communities can work alongside scientists to advance their priorities, enhanced community science literacy is one possible outcome….

In order to maximize learning outcomes, the report recommends that designers and practitioners of citizen science projects should intentionally build them for learning. This involves knowing the audience; intentionally designing for diversity; engaging stakeholders in the design; supporting multiple kinds of participant engagement; encouraging social interaction; building learning supports into the project; and iteratively improving projects through evaluation and refinement.  Engaging stakeholders and participants in design and implementation results in more learning for all participants, which can support other project goals. 

The report also lays out a research agenda that can help to build the field of citizen science by filling gaps in the current understanding of how citizen science can support science learning and enhance science education. Researchers should consider three important factors: citizen science extends beyond academia and therefore, evidence for practices that advance learning can be found outside of peer-reviewed literature; research should include attention to practice and link theory to application; and attention must be given to diversity in all research, including ensuring broad participation in the design and implementation of the research. Pursuing new lines of inquiry can help add value to the existing research, make future research more productive, and provide support for effective project implementation….(More)”.

Giving Voice to Patients: Developing a Discussion Method to Involve Patients in Translational Research

Paper by Marianne Boenink, Lieke van der Scheer, Elisa Garcia and Simone van der Burg in NanoEthics: “Biomedical research policy in recent years has often tried to make such research more ‘translational’, aiming to facilitate the transfer of insights from research and development (R&D) to health care for the benefit of future users. Involving patients in deliberations about and design of biomedical research may increase the quality of R&D and of resulting innovations and thus contribute to translation. However, patient involvement in biomedical research is not an easy feat. This paper discusses the development of a method for involving patients in (translational) biomedical research aiming to address its main challenges.

After reviewing the potential challenges of patient involvement, we formulate three requirements for any method to meaningfully involve patients in (translational) biomedical research. It should enable patients (1) to put forward their experiential knowledge, (2) to develop a rich view of what an envisioned innovation might look like and do, and (3) to connect their experiential knowledge with the envisioned innovation. We then describe how we developed the card-based discussion method ‘Voice of patients’, and discuss to what extent the method, when used in four focus groups, satisfied these requirements. We conclude that the method is quite successful in mobilising patients’ experiential knowledge, in stimulating their imaginaries of the innovation under discussion and to some extent also in connecting these two. More work is needed to translate patients’ considerations into recommendations relevant to researchers’ activities. It also seems wise to broaden the audience for patients’ considerations to other actors working on a specific innovation….(More)”

A Behavioral Economics Approach to Digitalisation

Paper by Dirk Beerbaum and Julia M. Puaschunder: “A growing body of academic research in the field of behavioural economics, political science and psychology demonstrate how an invisible hand can nudge people’s decisions towards a preferred option. Contrary to the assumptions of the neoclassical economics, supporters of nudging argue that people have problems coping with a complex world, because of their limited knowledge and their restricted rationality. Technological improvement in the age of information has increased the possibilities to control the innocent social media users or penalise private investors and reap the benefits of their existence in hidden persuasion and discrimination. Nudging enables nudgers to plunder the simple uneducated and uninformed citizen and investor, who is neither aware of the nudging strategies nor able to oversee the tactics used by the nudgers (Puaschunder 2017a, b; 2018a, b).

The nudgers are thereby legally protected by democratically assigned positions they hold. The law of motion of the nudging societies holds an unequal concentration of power of those who have access to compiled data and coding rules, relevant for political power and influencing the investor’s decision usefulness (Puaschunder 2017a, b; 2018a, b). This paper takes as a case the “transparency technology XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language)” (Sunstein 2013, 20), which should make data more accessible as well as usable for private investors. It is part of the choice architecture on regulation by governments (Sunstein 2013). However, XBRL is bounded to a taxonomy (Piechocki and Felden 2007).

Considering theoretical literature and field research, a representation issue (Beerbaum, Piechocki and Weber 2017) for principles-based accounting taxonomies exists, which intelligent machines applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) (Mwilu, Prat and Comyn-Wattiau 2015) nudge to facilitate decision usefulness. This paper conceptualizes ethical questions arising from the taxonomy engineering based on machine learning systems: Should the objective of the coding rule be to support or to influence human decision making or rational artificiality? This paper therefore advocates for a democratisation of information, education and transparency about nudges and coding rules (Puaschunder 2017a, b; 2018a, b)…(More)”.