Behavioral Jurisprudence: Law Needs a Behavioral Revolution


Article by Benjamin van Rooij and Adam Fine: “Laws are supposed to protect us. At work, they should eliminate unsafe working conditions and harassment. On our streets, they should curb speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence. And throughout our countries, they should protect citizens against their own governments.

The law is the most important behavioral system we have. Yet it is designed and operated by behavioral novices. Lawyers draft legislation, interpret rules, and create policies, but legal training does not teach them how laws affect human and organizational behavior.

Law needs a behavioral revolution, like the one that rocked the field of economics. There is now a large body of empirical work that calls into question the traditional legal assumptions about how law shapes behavior. This empirical work also offers a path forward. It can help lawyers and others shaping the law understand the law’s behavioral impact and help align its intended influence on behavior to its actual effects.

For instance, the law has traditionally focused on punishment as a means to deal with harmful behavior. Yet there is no conclusive evidence that threats of incarceration or fines reduce misconduct. Most people do not understand or know the law, and thus never come to weigh the law’s incentives in deciding whether to comply with it.

The law also fails to account for the social and moral factors that affect how people interpret and follow it. For instance, social norms—what people see others do or think others hold they should do—can shape what we think the laws say. Research also shows that people are more likely to follow rules they deem legitimate, and that rules that are made and enforced in a procedurally just and fair manner enhance compliance.

And, traditionally, the law has focused on motivational aspects of wrongdoing. But behavioral responses to the law are highly situational. Here, work in criminology, particularly within environmental criminology, shows that criminal opportunities are a chief driver of criminal behavior. Relatedly, when people have their needs met, for instance when they have a livable wage or sufficient schooling, they are more likely to follow the law…(More)”.

Wicked Problems in Public Policy: Understanding and Responding to Complex Challenges


Book by Brian W. Head: “…offers the first overview of the ‘wicked problems’ literature, often seen as complex, open-ended, and intractable, with both the nature of the ‘problem’ and the preferred ‘solution’ being strongly contested. It contextualises the debate using a wide range of relevant policy examples, explaining why these issues attract so much attention.
There is an increasing interest in the conceptual and practical aspects of how ‘wicked problems’ are identified, understood and managed by policy practitioners. The standard public management responses to complexity and uncertainty (including traditional regulation and market-based solutions) are insufficient. Leaders often advocate and implement ideological ‘quick fixes’, but integrative and inclusive responses are increasingly being utilised to recognise the multiple interests and complex causes of these problems. This book uses examples from a wide range of social, economic and environmental fields in order to develop new insights about better solutions, and thus gain broad stakeholder acceptance for shared strategies for tackling ‘wicked problems’…(More)”.

Shaping the Future of Small and Medium-Sized Cities: A Framework for Digital Transformation


Report by the World Economic Forum: “Digital transformation is becoming a crucial support mechanism for countries as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and undergo economic rebuilding and sustained development. For small and medium-sized cities (SMCs), digital transformation can disrupt traditional business models, breakthrough geographical and spatial boundaries, and create new ways to live in the digital era. However, the digital transformation of SMCs presents challenges such as insufficient digital talent, funds, and resources, poor understanding and application of digital technologies, and a lack of intercity interaction and cooperation mechanisms. This report analyses the challenges, needs, and concerns of SMCs undergoing digital transformation in China, Japan, Brazil, and Singapore, proposes a methodological reference model, and suggests actions for various urban stakeholders…(More)”.

Why Democracy vs. Autocracy Misses the Point


Essay by Jean-Marie Guéhenno: “I have always been a contrarian. I was a contrarian in 1989 when I wrote my first book, criticizing the idea—then widely held—that democracy had triumphed once and for all. And today I find that I’m a contrarian again with my new book, because everybody is talking about the confrontation between democracies and autocracies and I think that’s missing the point.

Something much more important is happening: the revolution of data, the Internet, and artificial intelligence. I believe we are on the cusp of an earthquake in the history of humanity of a kind that happens only once in hundreds of years. The most recent comparison is the Renaissance, and the pace of change today is much quicker than back then.

The institutions we built in the pre-data age are soon going to be completely overwhelmed, and thinking in terms of the old categories of democracies versus autocracies misses all the new challenges that they will have to face. This is a time of great peril as well as great promise, as was the Renaissance—not only the era of Leonard da Vinci, but also a century of religious wars.

The current revolution of data and algorithms is redistributing power in a way that cannot be compared to any historical shift. Traditionally we think of power concentrating in the hands of the leaders of states or big industrial companies. But power, increasingly, is in the hands of algorithms that are tasked (initially by humans) with learning and changing themselves, and evolve in ways we do not predict.

That means the owners of Google or Facebook or Amazon are not the masters of our destiny in the same sense as previous corporate titans. Similarly, while it is true to some extent that data will give dictators unprecedented power to manipulate society, they may also come to be dominated by the evolution of the algorithms on which they depend.

We see already how algorithms are reshaping politics. Social media has created self-contained tribes which do not speak to each other. The most important thing in democracy is not the vote itself, but the process of deliberation before the vote, and social media is quickly fragmenting the common ground on which such deliberations have been built.

How can societies exert control over how algorithms manage data, and whether they foster hatred or harmony? Institutions that are able to control this new power are not yet really in place. What they should look like will be one of the great debates of the future.

I don’t have the answers: I believe no human mind can anticipate the extent of the transformations that are going to happen. Indeed, I think the very notion that you can know today what will be the right institutions for the future is hubristic. The best institutions (and people) will be those that are most adaptable.

However, I believe that one promising approach is to think in terms of the relationship between the logic of knowledge and the logic of democracy. Take central banks as an example. The average citizen does not have a clue about how monetary policy works. Instead we rely on politicians to task the experts at central banks to try achieve a certain goal—it could be full employment, or a stable currency….(More)”.

The Power of Platforms: Shaping Media and Society


Book by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Sarah Anne Ganter: “More people today get news via Facebook and Google than from any news organization in history, and smaller platforms like Twitter serve news to more users than all but the biggest media companies. In The Power of Platforms, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Sarah Anne Ganter draw on original interviews and other qualitative evidence to analyze the “platform power” that a few technology companies have come to exercise in public life, the reservations publishers have about platforms, as well as the reasons why publishers often embrace them nonetheless.

Nielsen and Ganter trace how relations between publishers and platforms have evolved across the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. They identify the new, distinct relational and generative forms of power that platforms exercise as people increasingly rely on them to find and access news. Most of the news content we rely on is still produced by journalists working for news organizations, but Nielsen and Ganter chronicle rapid change in the ways in which we discover news, how it is distributed, where decisions are made on what to display (and what not), and in who profits from these flows of information. By examining the different ways publishers have responded to these changes and how various platform companies have in turn handled the increasingly important and controversial role they play in society, The Power of Platforms draws out the implications of a fundamental feature of the contemporary world that we all need to understand: previously powerful and relatively independent institutions like the news media are increasingly in a position similar to that of ordinary individual users, simultaneously empowered by and dependent upon a small number of centrally placed and powerful platforms…(More)”.

Can behavioral interventions be too salient? Evidence from traffic safety messages



Article by Jonathan D. Hall and Joshua M. Madsen: “Policy-makers are increasingly turning to behavioral interventions such as nudges and informational campaigns to address a variety of issues. Guidebooks say that these interventions should “seize people’s attention” at a time when they can take the desired action, but little consideration has been given to the costs of seizing one’s attention and to the possibility that these interventions may crowd out other, more important, considerations. We estimated these costs in the context of a widespread, seemingly innocuous behavioral campaign with the stated objective of reducing traffic crashes. This campaign displays the year-to-date number of statewide roadside fatalities (fatality messages) on previously installed highway dynamic message signs (DMSs) and has been implemented in 28 US states.

We estimated the impact of displaying fatality messages using data from Texas. Texas provides an ideal setting because the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) decided to show fatality messages starting in August 2012 for 1 week each month: the week before TxDOT’s monthly board meeting (campaign weeks). This allows us to measure the impact of the intervention, holding fixed the road segment, year, month, day of week, and time of day. We used data on 880 DMSs and all crashes occurring in Texas between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2017 to investigate the effects of this safety campaign. We estimated how the intervention affects crashes near DMSs as well as statewide. As placebo tests, we estimated whether the chosen weeks inherently differ using data from before TxDOT started displaying fatality messages and data from upstream of DMSs.

Contrary to policy-makers’ expectations, we found that displaying fatality messages increases the number of traffic crashes. Campaign weeks realize a 1.52% increase in crashes within 5 km of DMSs, slightly diminishing to a 1.35% increase over the 10 km after DMSs. We used instrumental variables to recover the effect of displaying a fatality message and document a significant 4.5% increase in the number of crashes over 10 km. The effect of displaying fatality messages is comparable to raising the speed limit by 3 to 5 miles per hour or reducing the number of highway troopers by 6 to 14%. We also found that the total number of statewide on-highway crashes is higher during campaign weeks. The social costs of these fatality messages are large: Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that this campaign causes an additional 2600 crashes and 16 fatalities per year in Texas alone, with a social cost of $377 million per year…(More)”.

A Computational Inflection for Scientific Discovery


Paper by Tom Hope, Doug Downey, Oren Etzioni, Daniel S. Weld, and Eric Horvitz: “We stand at the foot of a significant inflection in the trajectory of scientific discovery. As society continues on its fast-paced digital transformation, so does humankind’s collective scientific knowledge and discourse. We now read and write papers in digitized form, and a great deal of the formal and informal processes of science are captured digitally — including papers, preprints and books, code and datasets, conference presentations, and interactions in social networks and communication platforms. The transition has led to the growth of a tremendous amount of information, opening exciting opportunities for computational models and systems that analyze and harness it. In parallel, exponential growth in data processing power has fueled remarkable advances in AI, including self-supervised neural models capable of learning powerful representations from large-scale unstructured text without costly human supervision. The confluence of societal and computational trends suggests that computer science is poised to ignite a revolution in the scientific process itself.
However, the explosion of scientific data, results and publications stands in stark contrast to the constancy of human cognitive capacity. While scientific knowledge is expanding with rapidity, our minds have remained static, with severe limitations on the capacity for finding, assimilating and manipulating information. We propose a research agenda of task-guided knowledge retrieval, in which systems counter humans’ bounded capacity by ingesting corpora of scientific knowledge and retrieving inspirations, explanations, solutions and evidence synthesized to directly augment human performance on salient tasks in scientific endeavors. We present initial progress on methods and prototypes, and lay out important opportunities and challenges ahead with computational approaches that have the potential to revolutionize science…(More)”.

Technology of the Oppressed


Book by David Nemer: “Brazilian favelas are impoverished settlements usually located on hillsides or the outskirts of a city. In Technology of the Oppressed, David Nemer draws on extensive ethnographic fieldwork to provide a rich account of how favela residents engage with technology in community technology centers and in their everyday lives. Their stories reveal the structural violence of the information age. But they also show how those oppressed by technology don’t just reject it, but consciously resist and appropriate it, and how their experiences with digital technologies enable them to navigate both digital and nondigital sources of oppression—and even, at times, to flourish.

Nemer uses a decolonial and intersectional framework called Mundane Technology as an analytical tool to understand how digital technologies can simultaneously be sites of oppression and tools in the fight for freedom. Building on the work of the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, he shows how the favela residents appropriate everyday technologies—technological artifacts (cell phones, Facebook), operations (repair), and spaces (Telecenters and Lan Houses)—and use them to alleviate the oppression in their everyday lives. He also addresses the relationship of misinformation to radicalization and the rise of the new far right. Contrary to the simplistic techno-optimistic belief that technology will save the poor, even with access to technology these marginalized people face numerous sources of oppression, including technological biases, racism, classism, sexism, and censorship. Yet the spirit, love, community, resilience, and resistance of favela residents make possible their pursuit of freedom…(More)”.

Strong Connections: Stories of Resilience from the Far Reaches of the Mobile Phone Revolution


Book by Rosa Wang: “…takes readers to the last frontier of the mobile/digital revolution. While much has been written about breakthrough technologies and early adopters who live where roads are good and smart phones are affordable, this book explores the largely undocumented journey of how digital technologies are entering the lives of those in extreme poverty-people, often women, often illiterate-who live without electricity or running water.

With powerful stories, Wang brings you to the front lines of the revolution-to join meetings with small-holder farmers in raucous town halls in remote parts of Tanzania, and to sit on dirt floors alongside non-literate women in rural India. The book chronicles the exponential trajectory of the mobile phone through the arc of the author’s own journey, an Asian-American woman from Mississippi navigating male-dominated environments and cultures, while changing the digital world without a background in technology. Readers will learn of the challenges that come with life on less than two dollars a day, and in that world, the transformative power of digital technologies: to give identity, improve finances, and to bring some degree of empowerment.

Along the way, the author introduces memorable individuals and guides them on their journey across the digital divide to join the mobile generation. These people, poor in monetary resources and literacy, are rich in social connections, warmth, and wisdom. Their day-to-day lives seem implausibly hard, and their resilience humbles at every turn. This book is about them. At its heart, this is their story…(More)”.

Between Utopia and Disaster


Essay by Malloy Owen: “The metaverse is, as they say, happening. Mark Zuckerberg announced last October that Facebook’s parent company, now called Meta, will take the lead in building out an immersive, interactive, and ubiquitous network of virtual environments that he envisions as the next phase of the Internet. Once the relevant technology has been developed, Zuckerberg promised, users will be able to enter the metaverse in avatar form and interact in three simulated dimensions with a glorious new world of people, places, and things.

It is not surprising that something like the metaverse is coming into being in these uneasy early days of the Biden era: All the master logics of our moment seem to demand it. First, to the extent that it can simulate physical presence, virtual reality promises to enable community across geographic distance. That power has special allure at a time when worries about the pandemic and the environment cast a pall over long-distance travel even as markets continue to disperse friends, family, and business associates far and wide. Second, the metaverse offers further liberation from the material, the given, and the bodily. (In the introduction to Zuckerberg’s metaverse announcement video, a drag queen invites us to “imagine a world where we are represented the way we want to be.”) Third, the metaverse offers sweet escape from a reality that inhabitants of rich countries, especially the young, find increasingly bleak. Rising seas, rusting factories, and a pervasive sense of powerlessness have driven some to bizarre political fantasies, some to opioids, and some to video games. Zuckerberg promises a cheap, safe, convincing simulation where everything is clean, bright, and hopeful and there are always new ideas and pleasures to discover.

Of course, we jaded children of the Information Age have learned to beware of tech lords bearing gifts. “If the product is free, you are the product” is the usual way of expressing this suspicion, and the metaverse will undoubtedly be an attractive platform for the now well-known techniques of targeted advertising. But the familiar saying does not quite capture the new forms of power a constructed virtual world will make available to its builders and managers. “If the product is free, you are a subject” might be a better way to frame our dilemma in the dawning age of the metaverse, which must be understood not only as an economic and political project, but as a theological one.

The modern state was founded on a dream—the dream of perfect knowledge that secures perfect power. A substantial part of the apparatus of state, then, has consisted of mechanisms for collecting and interpreting information. Sovereign governments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries devoted enormous resources to recording and categorizing facts about people, places, and things within their nations’ borders; today’s systems of computer-enabled mass surveillance, like the National Security Agency’s metadata collection program, simply carry this project forward.

But trying to skim data from a lumpy, rough-edged, and unpredictable world is a frustrating and often fruitless task. As theorists like James C. Scott and Michel Foucault have argued, states have addressed this difficulty by trying to flatten, order, and rationalize the social and natural landscapes under their control. In Scott’s narrative, land, once subject to obscure and variable patterns of customary use, is assigned definite owners; names are standardized into first and last; cities are laid out in grids; illegible dialects are suppressed. In Foucault’s telling, institutions like schools and professions like health care fashion the inward self into a smooth, predictable object of analysis. The easiest way for the state to understand the world is to remake it into something that can be understood. Still, the state has always had the physical world to contend with: Material nature resists and sometimes outright refuses manipulation…(More)”.