Building Cities Using The Power Of The Crowd

PSFK: “Rodrigo Nino, CEO of Prodigy Network, spoke at PSFK CONFERENCE 2013 about building a crowd funded skyscraper in the city of Bogota, Colombia. With a population of over 10 million, Bogota is a quickly growing metropolitan center. This growth is predominately horizontal rather than vertical, which is creating a problems involving traffic and pollution. With 1.7 million daily commuters heading into the center of the city, the average commute from door to door in Bogota is between 75 to 90 minutes every day. This problem of horizontal growth is the biggest issue facing cities in emerging markets. The solution is to go vertical, building skyscrapers to create greater density and centralization.

The issue is raising enough capital to build such structures, and generally necessitates the involvement of large and powerful institutional investors. However, Nino envisions another way, which puts the power in the hands of the people of Bogota. By turning to crowd funding to build a skyscraper, the residents themselves become the owners of the project. In order to make this a reality, Nino has been combating the misconceptions that crowd funding can only be used to finance small projects, that it is only for local communities, and that crowd funding in real estate is not safe.”


Just the Facts (on the value of IT to society)

New publication from the the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF):

“A prominent economist once stated, “computer chips, potato chips, what’s the difference.” The short answer is “a lot.” Fifty-five years after the invention of the integrated circuit and 28 years after the first dot-com website was registered, information and communications technology (IT) remains a central driver of innovation and prosperity.

This fact sheet lists 53 documented economic benefits of IT, from jobs and output to competitiveness and innovation. Read the Fact Sheet.”

Presentation: Innovations for Citizen Engagement in Fragile States

World Bank presentation by Soren Gigler: “This presentation provides an overview about several cases how innovations in ICTs can be leveraged to improve the delivery of public services to poor communities. Under which conditions can technologies be transformational in fragile states? What are the opportunities and critical challenges in particular in the context of fragile states? The presentation was part of the session on Using Innovative Approaches for Enhancing Citizen Engagement in Fragile States on May 1, 2013 during the World Bank Group Fragility Forum 2013”

New Open Data Executive Order and Policy

The White House: “The Obama Administration today took groundbreaking new steps to make information generated and stored by the Federal Government more open and accessible to innovators and the public, to fuel entrepreneurship and economic growth while increasing government transparency and efficiency.
Today’s actions—including an Executive Order signed by the President and an Open Data Policy released by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy—declare that information is a valuable national asset whose value is multiplied when it is made easily accessible to the public.  The Executive Order requires that, going forward, data generated by the government be made available in open, machine-readable formats, while appropriately safeguarding privacy, confidentiality, and security.
The move will make troves of previously inaccessible or unmanageable data easily available to entrepreneurs, researchers, and others who can use those files to generate new products and services, build businesses, and create jobs….
Along with the Executive Order and Open Data Policy, the Administration announced a series of complementary actions:
• A new Data.Gov.  In the months ahead,, the powerful central hub for open government data, will launch new services that include improved visualization, mapping tools, better context to help locate and understand these data, and robust Application Programming Interface (API) access for developers.
• New open source tools to make data more open and accessible.  The US Chief Information Officer and the US Chief Technology Officer are releasing free, open source tools on Github, a site that allows communities of developers to collaboratively develop solutions.  This effort, known as Project Open Data, can accelerate the adoption of open data practices by providing plug-and-play tools and best practices to help agencies improve the management and release of open data.  For example, one tool released today automatically converts simple spreadsheets and databases into APIs for easier consumption by developers.  Anyone, from government agencies to private citizens to local governments and for-profit companies, can freely use and adapt these tools starting immediately.
• Building a 21st century digital government.  As part of the Administration’s Digital Government Strategy and Open Data Initiatives in health, energy, education, public safety, finance, and global development, agencies have been working to unlock data from the vaults of government, while continuing to protect privacy and national security.  Newly available or improved data sets from these initiatives will be released today and over the coming weeks as part of the one year anniversary of the Digital Government Strategy.
• Continued engagement with entrepreneurs and innovators to leverage government data.  The Administration has convened and will continue to bring together companies, organizations, and civil society for a variety of summits to highlight how these innovators use open data to positively impact the public and address important national challenges.  In June, Federal agencies will participate in the fourth annual Health Datapalooza, hosted by the nonprofit Health Data Consortium, which will bring together more than 1,800 entrepreneurs, innovators, clinicians, patient advocates, and policymakers for information sessions, presentations, and “code-a-thons” focused on how the power of data can be harnessed to help save lives and improve healthcare for all Americans.
For more information on open data highlights across government visit:”

Human-Based Evolutionary Computing

Abstract of new paper by Jeffrey V. Nickerson on Human-Based Evolutionary Computing (in Handbook of Human Computation, P. Michelucci, eds., Springer, Forthcoming): “Evolution explains the way the natural world changes over time. It can also explain changes in the artificial world, such as the way ideas replicate, alter, and merge. This analogy has led to a family of related computer procedures called evolutionary algorithms. These algorithms are being used to produce product designs, art, and solutions to mathematical problems. While for the most part these algorithms are run on computers, they also can be performed by people. Such human-based evolutionary algorithms are useful when many different ideas, designs, or solutions need to be generated, and human cognition is called for”

Civilized Discourse Construction Kit

Jeff Atwood at “Coding Horror“: “Forum software? Maybe. Let’s see, it’s 2013, has forum software advanced at all in the last ten years? I’m thinking no.
Forums are the dark matter of the web, the B-movies of the Internet. But they matter. To this day I regularly get excellent search results on forum pages for stuff I’m interested in. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t end up on some forum, somewhere, looking for some obscure bit of information. And more often than not, I find it there….

At Stack Exchange, one of the tricky things we learned about Q&A is that if your goal is to have an excellent signal to noise ratio, you must suppress discussion. Stack Exchange only supports the absolute minimum amount of discussion necessary to produce great questions and great answers. That’s why answers get constantly re-ordered by votes, that’s why comments have limited formatting and length and only a few display, and so forth….

Today we announce the launch of Discourse, a next-generation, 100% open source discussion platform built for the next decade of the Internet.


The goal of the company we formed, Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., is exactly that – to raise the standard of civilized discourse on the Internet through seeding it with better discussion software:

  • 100% open source and free to the world, now and forever.
  • Feels great to use. It’s fun.
  • Designed for hi-resolution tablets and advanced web browsers.
  • Built in moderation and governance systems that let discussion communities protect themselves from trolls, spammers, and bad actors – even without official moderators.”

New NAS Report: Copyright in the Digital Era: Building Evidence for Policy

0309278953National Academies of Sciences: “Over the course of several decades, copyright protection has been expanded and extended through legislative changes occasioned by national and international developments. The content and technology industries affected by copyright and its exceptions, and in some cases balancing the two, have become increasingly important as sources of economic growth, relatively high-paying jobs, and exports. Since the expansion of digital technology in the mid-1990s, they have undergone a technological revolution that has disrupted long-established modes of creating, distributing, and using works ranging from literature and news to film and music to scientific publications and computer software.

In the United States and internationally, these disruptive changes have given rise to a strident debate over copyright’s proper scope and terms and means of its enforcement–a debate between those who believe the digital revolution is progressively undermining the copyright protection essential to encourage the funding, creation, and distribution of new works and those who believe that enhancements to copyright are inhibiting technological innovation and free expression.

Copyright in the Digital Era: Building Evidence for Policy examines a range of questions regarding copyright policy by using a variety of methods, such as case studies, international and sectoral comparisons, and experiments and surveys. This report is especially critical in light of digital age developments that may, for example, change the incentive calculus for various actors in the copyright system, impact the costs of voluntary copyright transactions, pose new enforcement challenges, and change the optimal balance between copyright protection and exceptions.”

UK: The nudge unit – has it worked so far?

The Guardian: “Since 2010 David Cameron’s pet project has been tasked with finding ways to improve society’s behaviour – and now the ‘nudge unit’ is going into business by itself. But have its initiatives really worked?….
The idea behind the unit is simpler than you might believe. People don’t always act in their own interests – by filing their taxes late, for instance, overeating, or not paying fines until the bailiffs call. As a result, they don’t just harm themselves, they cost the state a lot of money. By looking closely at how they make their choices and then testing small changes in the way the choices are presented, the unit tries to nudge people into leading better lives, and save the rest of us a fortune. It is politics done like science, effectively – with Ben Goldacre’s approval – and, in many cases, it appears to work….”

See also: Jobseekers’ psychometric test ‘is a failure’ (US institute that devised questionnaire tells ‘nudge’ unit to stop using it as it failed to be scientifically validated)

Is Privacy Algorithmically Impossible?

MIT Technology Reviewwhat.is_.personal.data2x519: “In 1995, the European Union introduced privacy legislation that defined “personal data” as any information that could identify a person, directly or indirectly. The legislators were apparently thinking of things like documents with an identification number, and they wanted them protected just as if they carried your name.
Today, that definition encompasses far more information than those European legislators could ever have imagined—easily more than all the bits and bytes in the entire world when they wrote their law 18 years ago.
Here’s what happened. First, the amount of data created each year has grown exponentially (see figure)…
Much of this data is invisible to people and seems impersonal. But it’s not. What modern data science is finding is that nearly any type of data can be used, much like a fingerprint, to identify the person who created it: your choice of movies on Netflix, the location signals emitted by your cell phone, even your pattern of walking as recorded by a surveillance camera. In effect, the more data there is, the less any of it can be said to be private. We are coming to the point that if the commercial incentives to mine the data are in place, anonymity of any kind may be “algorithmically impossible,” says Princeton University computer scientist Arvind Narayanan.”

An API for "We the People"

WeThePeopleThe White House Blog: “We can’t talk about We the People without getting into the numbers — more than 8 million users, more than 200,000 petitions, more than 13 million signatures. The sheer volume of participation is, to us, a sign of success.
And there’s a lot we can learn from a set of data that rich and complex, but we shouldn’t be the only people drawing from its lessons.
So starting today, we’re making it easier for anyone to do their own analysis or build their own apps on top of the We the People platform. We’re introducing the first version of our API, and we’re inviting you to use it.
Get started here:
This API provides read-only access to data on all petitions that passed the 150 signature threshold required to become publicly-available on the We the People site. For those who don’t need real-time data, we plan to add the option of a bulk data download in the near future. Until that’s ready, an incomplete sample data set is available for download here.”