Guide to Responsible Tech: How to Get Involved & Build a Better Tech Future


Resource by All Tech Is Human: “How do you get involved in the growing Responsible Tech field? This guide is a comprehensive look at the vibrant Responsible Tech ecosystem. Aimed at college students, grad students, and young professionals, the “Responsible Tech Guide” is a mix of advice, career profiles, education journeys, and organizations in the space. Developed by All Tech Is Human, an organization committed to informing & inspiring the next generation of responsible technologists & changemakers….(More)”.

The Hype Machine


Book by Sinan Aral on “How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health–and How We Must Adapt”: “Drawing on two decades of his own research and business experience, Aral goes under the hood of the biggest, most powerful social networks to tackle the critical question of just how much social media actually shapes our choices, for better or worse. Aral shows how the tech behind social media offers the same set of behavior-influencing levers to both Russian hackers and brand marketers—to everyone who hopes to change the way we think and act—which is why its consequences affect everything from elections to business, dating to health. Along the way, he covers a wide array of topics, including how network effects fuel Twitter’s and Facebook’s massive growth to the neuroscience of how social media affects our brains, the real impact of fake news, the power of social ratings, and the effect of social media on our kids.

In mapping out strategies for being more thoughtful consumers of social media, The Hype Machine offers the definitive guide to understanding and harnessing for good the technology that has redefined our world overnight…(More)”.

If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future


Book by Jill Lepore: “The Simulmatics Corporation, launched during the Cold War, mined data, targeted voters, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge—decades before Facebook, Google, and Cambridge Analytica. Jill Lepore, best-selling author of These Truths, came across the company’s papers in MIT’s archives and set out to tell this forgotten history, the long-lost backstory to the methods, and the arrogance, of Silicon Valley.

Founded in 1959 by some of the nation’s leading social scientists—“the best and the brightest, fatally brilliant, Icaruses with wings of feathers and wax, flying to the sun”—Simulmatics proposed to predict and manipulate the future by way of the computer simulation of human behavior. In summers, with their wives and children in tow, the company’s scientists met on the beach in Long Island under a geodesic, honeycombed dome, where they built a “People Machine” that aimed to model everything from buying a dishwasher to counterinsurgency to casting a vote. Deploying their “People Machine” from New York, Washington, Cambridge, and even Saigon, Simulmatics’ clients included the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign, the New York Times, the Department of Defense, and dozens of major manufacturers: Simulmatics had a hand in everything from political races to the Vietnam War to the Johnson administration’s ill-fated attempt to predict race riots. The company’s collapse was almost as rapid as its ascent, a collapse that involved failed marriages, a suspicious death, and bankruptcy. Exposed for false claims, and even accused of war crimes, it closed its doors in 1970 and all but vanished. Until Lepore came across the records of its remains.

The scientists of Simulmatics believed they had invented “the A-bomb of the social sciences.” They did not predict that it would take decades to detonate, like a long-buried grenade. But, in the early years of the twenty-first century, that bomb did detonate, creating a world in which corporations collect data and model behavior and target messages about the most ordinary of decisions, leaving people all over the world, long before the global pandemic, crushed by feelings of helplessness. This history has a past; If Then is its cautionary tale….(More)”.

Innovation Policy, Structural Inequality, and COVID-19


Paper by Shobita Parthasarathy: “COVID-19 has shown the world that public policies tend to benefit the most privileged among us, and innovation policy is no exception. While the US government’s approach to innovation—research funding and patent policies and programs that value scientists’ and private sector freedoms—has been copied around the world due to its apparent success, I argue that it has hurt poor and marginalized communities. It has limited our understanding of health disparities and how to address them, and hampered access to essential technologies due to both lack of coordination and high cost. Fair and equal treatment of vulnerable citizens requires sensitive and dedicated policies that attend explicitly to the fact that the benefits of innovation do not simply trickle down….(More)”.

The Post-pandemic Future of Trust in Digital Governance


Essay by Teresa Scassa: “Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, “trust” was a key concept for governments as they asked citizens to make a leap of faith into an increasingly digital and data-driven society. Canada’s Digital Charter was billed as a tool for “building a foundation of trust.” Australia’s Data & Digital Council issued Trust Principles. Trust was a key theme in “Strengthening Digital Government,” a statement from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Yet, in spite of this focus on trust, a 2017 study suggested disturbingly low levels of citizen trust in government’s handling of their data in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further laid bare this lack of trust in government. In the debates around contact-tracing apps it became clear that Western governments did not enjoy public trust when it came to data and technology. When they sought to use technology to support public health contact tracing during a pandemic, governments found that a lack of trust seriously constrained their options. Privacy advocates resisted contact-tracing technologies, raising concerns about surveillance and function creep. They had only to refer to the post-9/11 surveillance legacy to remind the public that “emergency” measures can easily become the new normal.

Working with privacy advocates, Google and Apple developed a fully decentralized model for contact tracing that largely left public health authorities out of the loop. Not trusting governments to set their own parameters for apps, Google and Apple dictated the rules. The Google-Apple Exposure Notification system is limited to only one app per country (creating challenges for Canada’s complicated federalism). It relies on Bluetooth only and does not collect location data. It requires full decentralization of data storage, demands that any app built on the protocol be used voluntarily and ensures post-pandemic decommissioning. Governments that saw value in collecting some centralized data — and possibly some GPS data — to support their data analyses and modelling found themselves with apps that operated less than optimally on Android or iOS platforms or that faced interoperability challenges with other apps in the “return to normal” phase….(More)”.

Using behavioral insights to make the most of emergency social protection cash transfers


Article by Laura Rawlings, Jessica Jean-Francois and Catherine MacLeod: “In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries across the globe have been adapting social assistance policies to support their populations. In fact, since March 2020, 139 countries and territories have planned, implemented, or adapted cash transfers to support their citizens. Cash transfers specifically make up about half of the social protection programs implemented to address the pandemic. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that such programs are designed to maximize impacts. Behavioral insights can be mobilized as a cost-effective way to help beneficiaries make the most out of the available support. The World Bank and ideas42 partnership on behavioral designs for cash transfer programs is helping countries achieve this goal.

Cash transfers are a key response instrument in the social protection toolkit—and for good reason. Cash transfers have been shown to generate a wide variety of positive benefits, from helping families invest in their children to promoting gender equality. However, we know from our previous work that in order to make the most out of cash transfers, recipients of any program (already facing challenging circumstances that compete for their attention) must undertake complex decisions and actions with their cash. These challenges are only magnified by the global pandemic. COVID-19 has wrought increased uncertainty around future employment and income, which makes calculations and planning to use cash transfer benefits all the more complex.

To help practitioners design programs that account for the complex thought processes and potential barriers recipients face, we mapped out their journey to effectively spend emergency social protection cash transfers. We also created simple, actionable guidance for program designers to put to use in maximizing their programs to help recipients use their cash transfer benefit to most effectively support families and reduce mid- to long-term financial volatility. 

For example, the first step is helping recipients understand what the transfer is for. For recipients who have not yet been impacted by financial instability, or indeed have never encountered a cash transfer before, such funds might seem like a gift or bonus, and recipients may spend it accordingly. Providing clear, simple framing or labelling the transfer may signal to recipients that they should use the cash not only for immediate needs, but also in ways that can help them protect investments in their family members’ human capital and jumpstart their livelihood after the crisis wanes….(More)”.

Building Capacity for Evidence-Informed Policy-Making


OECD Report: “This report analyses the skills and capacities governments need to strengthen evidence-informed policy-making (EIPM) and identifies a range of possible interventions that are available to foster greater uptake of evidence. Increasing governments’ capacity for evidence-informed is a critical part of good public governance. However, an effective connection between the supply and the demand for evidence in the policy-making process remains elusive. This report offers concrete tools and a set of good practices for how the public sector can support senior officials, experts and advisors working at the political/administrative interface. This support entails investing in capability, opportunity and motivation and through behavioral changes. The report identifies a core skillset for EIPM at the individual level, including the capacity for understanding, obtaining, assessing, using, engaging with stakeholders, and applying evidence, which was developed in collaboration with the European Commission Joint Research Centre. It also identifies a set of capacities at the organisational level that can be put in place across the machinery of government, throughout the role of interventions, strategies and tools to strengthen these capacities. The report concludes with a set of recommendations to assist governments in building their capacities…(More)”.

Regulating Social Media: The Fight Over Section 230 and Beyond


Report by Paul M. Barrett: “Recently, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has come under sharp attack from members of both political parties, including presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The foundational law of the commercial internet, Section 230 does two things: It protects platforms and websites from most lawsuits related to content posted by third parties. And it guarantees this shield from liability even if the platforms and sites actively police the content they host. This protection has encouraged internet companies to innovate and grow, even as it has raised serious questions about whether social media platforms adequately self-regulate harmful content. In addition to the assaults by Trump and Biden, members of Congress have introduced a number of bills designed to limit the reach of Section 230. Some critics have asserted unrealistically that repealing or curbing Section 230 would solve a wide range of problems relating to internet governance. These critics also have played down the potentialy dire consequences that repeal would have for smaller internet companies. Academics, think tank researchers, and others outside of government have made a variety of more nuanced proposals for revising the law. We assess these ideas with an eye toward recommending and integrating the most promising ones. Our conclusion is that Section 230 ought to be preserved—but that it can be improved…(More)”

How to See What the World Is Teaching Us About COVID-19


Essay by Karabi Acharya: “At the global learning team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it has been exciting to see people looking at what the world can teach us, whether that be how China is handling COVID-19, South Korea’s drive-through testing, or New Zealand’s elimination of the virus under Jacinda Ardern’s leadership. Yet in a survey conducted by Candid in early 2020 of foundations located in the US, 73 percent of respondents reported that their domestic grantmaking was rarely or not at all informed or inspired by ideas and solutions from around the globe and beyond US borders. 

These practices may be shifting. Those of us working in philanthropy, government, and social change are trying to learn as much about COVID-19 as possible, and that naturally includes looking abroad. Yet what will we actually see when we do? Too often, our vision is obscured by bias, and as we try to distinguish news from noise, good intentions are often not enough. We must ask ourselves critical questions, and train ourselves to overcome our biases.

Here are four ways to see the world in a new light, as we look to come out of the pandemic’s darkness:

Seeing Beyond the Familiar

COVID-19 has no borders and the same with good ideas. But too often, we are limited by what has been called the “country of origin effect,” a psychological effect in which people understand the quality and relevance of an object or idea by the country it comes from. In short, we tend to look for ideas from countries that are demographically, culturally, economically, or politically similar to us. In the US, this can mean we overvalue learning from Europe and undervalue learning from low- and middle-income countries.

Yet countries like Nigeria have much to teach us about contract tracing and mitigation from their experience eradicating the Ebola outbreak, just as Ghana’s innovative testing and taxation policies (including a three month tax holiday for health care workers) are balancing protecting health and the economy. In example after example of necessity being the mother of invention, African nations are leading the way in innovation: developing low-cost tests for under $1, using zipline drones to transport the tests to testing sites, and leveraging its cashless digital payment infrastructure to facilitate social distancing. Another often-ignored source of inspiration are Indigenous cultural practices, where ideas and practices centered around collective well-being can be instructive for us as we tackle issues of inequity arising out of COVID…

In other words, we look to other countries with the hope that doing so will change how we see our own, opening our imaginations to new ideas, solutions, and futures. This is only possible if we can overcome our biases that impair our ability to see the solutions around us. 

COVID-19 will be studied for generations to come. But what the world will learn will depend on what we were able to see today. Did we seek out solutions from every corner of the world? Did we bring on the journey those who would most benefit from what the world had to offer? Did we recognize the underlying conditions that exacerbate inequity or help overcome it? Was our imagination strong enough to see how we can create the kind of society that allows everyone the opportunity to live healthy and happier lives?…(More)”

Law and Technology Realism


Paper by Thibault Schrepel: “One may identify two current trends in the field of “Law and Technology.” The first trend concerns technological determinism. Some argue that technology is deterministic: the state of technological advancement is the determining factor of society. Others oppose that view, claiming it is the society that affects technology. The second trend concerns technological neutrality. some say that technology is neutral, meaning the effects of technology depend entirely on the social context. Others defend the opposite: they view the effects of technology as being inevitable (regardless of the society in which it is used).

<p><em><strong>Figure 1</strong></em></p>
Figure 1

While it is commonly accepted that technology is deterministic, I am under the impression that a majority of “Law and Technology” scholars also believe that technology is non-neutral. It follows that, according to this dominant view, (1) technology drives society in good or bad directions (determinism), and that (2) certain uses of technology may lead to the reduction or enhancement of the common good (non-neutrality). Consequently, this leads to top-down tech policies where the regulator has the impossible burden of helping society control and orient technology to the best possible extent.

This article is deterministic and non-neutral.

But, here’s the catch. Most of today’s doctrine focuses almost exclusively on the negativity brought by technology (read Nick Bostrom, Frank Pasquale, Evgeny Morozov). Sure, these authors mention a few positive aspects, but still end up focusing on the negative ones. They’re asking to constrain technology on that sole basis. With this article, I want to raise another point: technology determinism can also drive society by providing solutions to centuries-old problems. In and of itself. This is not technological solutionism, as I am not arguing that technology can solve all of mankind’s problems, but it is not anti-solutionism either. I fear the extremes, anyway.

To make my point, I will discuss the issue addressed by Albert Hirschman in his famous book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (Harvard University Press, 1970). Hirschman, at the time Professor of Economics at Harvard University, introduces the distinction between “exit” and “voice.” With exit, an individual exhibits her or his disagreement as a member of a group by leaving the group. With voice, the individual stays in the group but expresses her or his dissatisfaction in the hope of changing its functioning. Hirschman summarizes his theory on page 121, with the understanding that the optimal situation for any individual is to be capable of both “exit” and “voice“….(More)”.