Billy House in the National Journal: “It drew more than a few laughs in Washington. Not long after the White House launched its We the People website in 2011, where citizens could write online petitions and get a response if they garnered enough signatures, someone called for construction of a Star Wars-style Death Star.
With laudable humor, the White House dispatched Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch of the Office of Management and Budget, to explain that the administration “does not support blowing up planets.”
The incident caused a few chuckles, but it also made a more serious point: Years after politicians and government officials began using Internet surveys and online outreach as tools to engage people, the results overall have been questionable….
But skepticism over the value of these programs—and their genuineness—remains strong. Peter Levine, a professor at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, said programs like online petitioning and citizen cosponsoring do not necessarily produce a real, representative voice for the people.
It can be “pretty easy to overwhelm these efforts with deliberate strategic action,” he said, noting that similar petitioning efforts in the European Union often find marijuana legalization as the most popular measure.”
Some thoughts from Panthea Lee from Reboot: “In recent years, civic innovation fellowships have shown great promise to improve the relationships between citizens and government. In the United States, Code for America and the Presidential Innovation Fellows have demonstrated the positive impact a small group of technologists can have working hand-in-hand with government. With the launch of Code for All, Code for Europe, Code4Kenya, and Code4Africa, among others, the model is going global.
But despite the increasing popularity of civic innovation fellowships, there are few templates for how a “Code for” program can be adapted to a different context. In the US, the success of Code for America has drawn from a wealth of tech talent eager to volunteer skills, public and private support, and the active participation of municipal governments. Elsewhere, new “Code for” programs are surely going to have to operate within a different set of capacities and constraints.”
NextGov: “White House officials have announced expanded technical guidance to help agencies make more data accessible to the public in machine-readable formats.
Following up on President Obama’s May executive order linking the pursuit of open data to economic growth, innovation and government efficiency, two budget and science office spokesmen on Friday published a blog post highlighting new instructions and answers to frequently asked questions.
Nick Sinai, deputy chief technology officer at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Dominic Sale, supervisory policy analyst at the Office of Management and Budget, noted that the policy now in place means that all “newly generated government data will be required to be made available in open, machine-readable formats, greatly enhancing their accessibility and usefulness, while ensuring privacy and security.”
PSFK: “Because most of us only see the finished product when it comes to 3D printing projects – it’s easy to forget that things can, and do, go wrong when it comes to this miracle technology.
3D printing is constantly evolving, reaching exciting new heights, and touching every industry you can think of – but all this progress has left a trail of mangled plastic, and a devastated machines in it’s wake.
The Art of 3D Print Failure is a Flickr group that aims to document this failure, because after all, mistakes are how we learn, and how we make sure the same thing doesn’t happen the next time around. It can also prevent mistakes from happening to those who are new to 3D printing, before they even make them!”
Paper by Hector J. Levesque: “The science of AI is concerned with the study of intelligent forms of behaviour in computational terms. But what does it tell us when a good semblance of a behaviour can be achieved using cheap tricks that seem to have little to do with what we intuitively imagine intelligence to be? Are these intuitions wrong, and is intelligence really just a bag of tricks? Or are the philosophers right, and is a behavioural understanding of intelligence simply too weak? I think both of these are wrong. I suggest in the context of question-answering that what matters when it comes to the science of AI is not a good semblance of intelligent behaviour at all, but the behaviour itself, what it depends on, and how it can be achieved. I go on to discuss two major hurdles that I believe will need to be cleared.”
Samuel Arbesman, senior scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the author of “The Half-Life of Facts” in the Washington Post: “Big data holds the promise of harnessing huge amounts of information to help us better understand the world. But when talking about big data, there’s a tendency to fall into hyperbole. It is what compels contrarians to write such tweets as “Big Data, n.: the belief that any sufficiently large pile of s— contains a pony.” Let’s deflate the hype.
1. “Big data” has a clear definition.
The term “big data” has been in circulation since at least the 1990s, when it is believed to have originated in Silicon Valley. IBM offers a seemingly simple definition: Big data is characterized by the four V’s of volume, variety, velocity and veracity. But the term is thrown around so often, in so many contexts — science, marketing, politics, sports — that its meaning has become vague and ambiguous….
2. Big data is new.
By many accounts, big data exploded onto the scene quite recently. “If wonks were fashionistas, big data would be this season’s hot new color,” a Reuters report quipped last year. In a May 2011 report, the McKinsey Global Institute declared big data “the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity.”
It’s true that today we can mine massive amounts of data — textual, social, scientific and otherwise — using complex algorithms and computer power. But big data has been around for a long time. It’s just that exhaustive datasets were more exhausting to compile and study in the days when “computer” meant a person who performed calculations….
3. Big data is revolutionary.
In their new book, “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think,”Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier compare “the current data deluge” to the transformation brought about by the Gutenberg printing press.
If you want more precise advertising directed toward you, then yes, big data is revolutionary. Generally, though, it’s likely to have a modest and gradual impact on our lives….
4. Bigger data is better.
In science, some admittedly mind-blowing big-data analyses are being done. In business, companies are being told to “embrace big data before your competitors do.” But big data is not automatically better.
Really big datasets can be a mess. Unless researchers and analysts can reduce the number of variables and make the data more manageable, they get quantity without a whole lot of quality. Give me some quality medium data over bad big data any day…
5. Big data means the end of scientific theories.
Chris Anderson argued in a 2008 Wired essay that big data renders the scientific method obsolete: Throw enough data at an advanced machine-learning technique, and all the correlations and relationships will simply jump out. We’ll understand everything.
But you can’t just go fishing for correlations and hope they will explain the world. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with spurious correlations. Even more important, to contend with the “why” of things, we still need ideas, hypotheses and theories. If you don’t have good questions, your results can be silly and meaningless.
Having more data won’t substitute for thinking hard, recognizing anomalies and exploring deep truths.”
Paper by Stephanie McNulty for the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 2013): “Can a nationally mandated participatory budget process change the nature of local governance? Passed in 2003 to mandate participatory budgeting in all districts and regions of Peru, Peru’s National PB Law has garnered international attention from proponents of participatory governance. However, to date, the results of the process have not been widely documented. Presenting data that have been gathered through fieldwork, online databases, and primary documents, this paper explores the results of Peru’s PB after ten years of implementation. The paper finds that results are limited. While there are a significant number of actors engaged in the process, the PB is still dominated by elite actors that do not represent the diversity of the civil society sector in Peru. Participants approve important “pro-poor” projects, but they are not always executed. Finally, two important indicators of governance, sub-national conflict and trust in local institutions, have not improved over time. Until Peruvian politicians make a concerted effort to move beyond politics as usual, results will continue to be limited”
DOD/DARPA Notice (See also Foreign Policy article): “OBJECTIVE: Investigate the national security threat posed by public data available either for purchase or through open sources. Based on principles of data science, develop tools to characterize and assess the nature, persistence, and quality of the data. Develop tools for the rapid anonymization and de-anonymization of data sources. Develop framework and tools to measure the national security impact of public data and to defend against the malicious use of public data against national interests.
DESCRIPTION: The vulnerabilities to individuals from a data compromise are well known and documented now as “identity theft.” These include regular stories published in the news and research journals documenting the loss of personally identifiable information by corporations and governments around the world. Current trends in social media and commerce, with voluntary disclosure of personal information, create other potential vulnerabilities for individuals participating heavily in the digital world. The Netflix Challenge in 2009 was launched with the goal of creating better customer pick prediction algorithms for the movie service . An unintended consequence of the Netflix Challenge was the discovery that it was possible to de-anonymize the entire contest data set with very little additional data. This de-anonymization led to a federal lawsuit and the cancellation of the sequel challenge . The purpose of this topic is to understand the national level vulnerabilities that may be exploited through the use of public data available in the open or for purchase.
Could a modestly funded group deliver nation-state type effects using only public data?…”
The official link for this solicitation is: www.acq.osd.mil/osbp/sbir/solicitations/sbir20133.
Mashable: “The digital rights conversation was thrust into the mainstream spotlight after news of ongoing, widespread mass surveillance programs leaked to the public. Always a hot topic, these revelations sparked a strong online debate among the Internet community.
It also made us here at Mashable reflect on the digital freedoms and protections we feel each user should be guaranteed as a citizen of the Internet. To highlight some of the great conversations taking place about digital rights online, we asked the digital community to collaborate with us on the creation of a crowdsourced Digital Bill of Rights.
After six weeks of public discussions, document updates and changes, as well as incorporating input from digital rights experts, Mashable is pleased to unveil its first-ever Digital Bill of Rights, made for the Internet, by the Internet.”
Tom Steinberg in mySociety Blog: “As I wrote in my last post, I am very concerned about the lack of comprehensible, consistent language to talk about the hugely diverse ways in which people are using the internet to bring about social and political change….My approach to finding an appropriate name was to look at the way that other internet industry sectors are named, so that I could choose a name that sits nicely next to very familiar sectoral labels….
Segmenting the Civic Power sector
Choosing a single sectoral name – Civic Power – is not really the point of this exercise. The real benefit would come from being able to segment the many projects within this sector so that they are more easy to compare and contrast.
Here is my suggested four part segmentation of the Civic Power sector…:
- Decision influencing organisations try to directly shape or change particular decisions made by powerful individuals or organisations.
- Regime changing organisations try to replace decision makers, not persuade them.
- Citizen Empowering organisations try to give people the resources and the confidence required to exert power for whatever purpose those people see fit, both now and in the future.
- Digital Government organisations try to improve the ways in which governments acquire and use computers and networks. Strictly speaking this is just a sub-category of ‘decision influencing organisation’, on a par with an environmental group or a union, but more geeky.”
See also: Open Government – What’s in a Name?