Coding Democracy: How Hackers Are Disrupting Power, Surveillance, and Authoritarianism


Book by Maureen Webb: “Hackers have a bad reputation, as shady deployers of bots and destroyers of infrastructure. In Coding Democracy, Maureen Webb offers another view. Hackers, she argues, can be vital disruptors. Hacking is becoming a practice, an ethos, and a metaphor for a new wave of activism in which ordinary citizens are inventing new forms of distributed, decentralized democracy for a digital era. Confronted with concentrations of power, mass surveillance, and authoritarianism enabled by new technology, the hacking movement is trying to “build out” democracy into cyberspace.

Webb travels to Berlin, where she visits the Chaos Communication Camp, a flagship event in the hacker world; to Silicon Valley, where she reports on the Apple-FBI case, the significance of Russian troll farms, and the hacking of tractor software by desperate farmers; to Barcelona, to meet the hacker group XNet, which has helped bring nearly 100 prominent Spanish bankers and politicians to justice for their role in the 2008 financial crisis; and to Harvard and MIT, to investigate the institutionalization of hacking. Webb describes an amazing array of hacker experiments that could dramatically change the current political economy. These ambitious hacks aim to displace such tech monoliths as Facebook and Amazon; enable worker cooperatives to kill platforms like Ubergive people control over their data; automate trust; and provide citizens a real say in governance, along with capacity to reach consensus. Coding Democracy is not just another optimistic declaration of technological utopianism; instead, it provides the tools for an urgently needed upgrade of democracy in the digital era….(More)”.

Designing Institutional Collaboration into Global Governance


Policy Brief by C. Randall Henning: “Collaboration among international institutions is essential for high-quality governance in many areas of global policy, yet it is chronically undersupplied. Numerous opportunities for institutional collaboration are being missed and there are calls for deepening collaboration in discourse on global governance — in new areas of governance, such as digital privacy, content moderation and platforms; better-established areas, such as climate change and biodiversity; as well as long-established but nonetheless evolving areas, such as international finance, development and trade. There are several obstacles to collaboration, including key countries’ using some institutions to constrain others, a strategy of “complexity for control.” This policy brief suggests that in designing international institutions, states and other principals should draw from a tool kit of strategies and techniques for promoting collaboration, including introducing or developing formal and informal mechanisms, and harnessing the Group of Seven and the Group of Twenty to foster collaboration proactively. New institutions should be designed from the outset to collaborate with others in a dense institutional environment….(More)”.

To solve big issues like climate change, we need to reframe our problems



Essay by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg and Jonathan Wichmann: “Imagine you own an office building and your tenants are complaining that the elevator is way too slow. What do you do?

Faced with this problem, most people instinctively jump into solution mode. How can we make the elevator faster? Can we upgrade the motor? Tweak the algorithm? Do we need to buy a new elevator?

The speed of the elevator might be the wrong problem to focus on, however. Talk to an experienced landlord and they might offer you a more elegant solution: put up mirrors next to the elevator so people don’t notice the wait. Gazing lovingly at your own reflection tends to have that effect.

The mirror doesn’t make the elevator faster. It solves a different problem – that the wait is annoying.

Solve the right problem

The slow elevator story highlights an important truth, in that the way we frame a problem often determines which solutions we come up with. By shifting the way we see a problem, we can sometimes find better solutions.

Problem framing is of paramount importance when it comes to tackling the many hard challenges our societies face. And yet, we’re not terribly good at it. In a survey of 106 corporate leaders, 87% said their people waste significant resources solving the wrong problems. When we go to the doctor, we know very well that identifying the right problem is key. Too often, we fail to apply the same thinking to social and global problems.

Three common patterns

So, how do we get better at it? One starting point is to recognise that there are often patterns in the way we frame problems. Get better at recognising those patterns, and you can dramatically improve your ability to solve the right problems. Here are three typical patterns:

1. We prefer framings that allow us to avoid change

People tend to frame problems so they don’t have to change their own behaviour. When the lack of women leading companies first became a prominent concern decades ago, it was often framed as a pipeline problem. Many corporate leaders simply assumed that, once there were enough women in junior positions, the C-suite would follow.

That framing allowed companies to carry on as usual for about a generation until time eventually proved the pipeline theory wrong, or at best radically incomplete. The gender balance among senior executives would surely be better by now if companies had not spent a few decades ignoring other explanations for the skewed ratio….(More)”.

Internet Futures: Spotlight on the technologies which may shape the Internet of the future


Report by Ofcom (UK): “Our lives have been profoundly impacted by the Internet and the web – these two inventions have made the world a more connected but complex place. Billions of people are now online, creating an extremely busy ‘global village’ where many services in communication, commerce, education, entertainment and beyond exist. Because of the rapid advancements of the Internet and the expansions in these services, innovations in communications have rolled out on a global scale. In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world today were founded on the Internet solely, so they have played an important role in advocating for improvements. Coupled with a wide range of other factors, such as the diverse pool of different users hence different needs, it is likely that the technology that drives the Internet and the web will continue to develop.

As the UK’s communications regulator, it is important that Ofcom is aware of new types of Internet technology that may affect the future. We will monitor and consider the effects that these developments may have on the communications services we use every day. This helps to ensure that we meet our duties competently and we continue to help people and businesses to get the most out of their services, as well as to protect them from any potential risks.

This report shines a light on the innovative, emerging Internet technologies that could shape our Internet in the future. We have selected a sample of technologies based on the responses we received to our call for inputs, and the discussions we had with thought leaders in both academia and industry. We will however continue to identify other important Internet technologies as they emerge and in sectors beyond those considered in this report…(More)”.

The One-Earth Balance Sheet


Essay by Andrew Sheng: “Modern science arose by breaking down complex problems into their parts. As Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist, wrote in his 1984 foreword to the chemist Ilya Prigogine’s classic book “Order out of Chaos”: “One of the most highly developed skills in contemporary Western civilization is dissection: the split-up of problems into their smallest possible components. We are good at it. So good, we often forget to put the pieces back together again.”

Specialization produces efficiency in production and output. But one unfortunate result is that silos produce a partial perspective from specialist knowledge; very few take a system-wide view on how the parts are related to the whole. When the parts do not fit or work together, the system may break down. As behavioral economist Daniel Kahnemann put it: “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”

Silos make group collective action more difficult; nation-states, tribes, communities and groups have different ways of knowing and different repositories of knowledge. A new collective mental map is needed, one that moves away from classical Newtonian science, with its linear and mechanical worldview, toward a systems-view of life. The ecologists Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi argue that “the major problems of our time — energy, the environment, climate change, food security, financial security — cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are all interconnected and interdependent.”

“Siloed thinking created many of our problems with inequality, injustice and planetary damage.”

A complex, non-linear, systemic view of life sees the whole as a constant interaction between the small and the large: diverse parts that are cooperating and competing at the same time. This organic view of life coincides with the ancient perspective found in numerous cultures — including Chinese, Indian, native Australian and Amerindian — that man and nature are one.

In short, modern Western science has begun to return to the pre-Enlightenment worldview that saw man, God and Earth in somewhat mystic entanglement. The late Chinese scientist Qian Xuesen argued the world was made up of “open giant complex systems” operating within larger open giant complex systems. Human beings themselves are open giant complex systems — every brain has billions of neurons connected to each other through trillions of pathways — continually exchanging and processing information with other humans and the environment. Life is much more complex, dynamic and uncertain than we once assumed.

To describe this dynamic, complex and uncertain systemic whole, we need to evolve trans-disciplinary thinking that integrates the natural, social, biological sciences and arts by transcending disciplinary boundaries. Qian concluded that the only way to describe such systemic complexity and uncertainty is to integrate quantitative with qualitative narratives, exactly what the Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller advocates for in “Narrative Economics.”…(More)”.

Human behaviour: what scientists have learned about it from the pandemic


Stephen Reicher at The Conversation: “During the pandemic, a lot of assumptions were made about how people behave. Many of those assumptions were wrong, and they led to disastrous policies.

Several governments worried that their pandemic restrictions would quickly lead to “behavioural fatigue” so that people would stop adhering to restrictions. In the UK, the prime minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings recently admitted that this was the reason for not locking down the country sooner.

Meanwhile, former health secretary Matt Hancock revealed that the government’s failure to provide financial and other forms of support for people to self-isolate was down to their fear that the system “might be gamed”. He warned that people who tested positive may then falsely claim that they had been in contact with all their friends, so they could all get a payment.

These examples show just how deeply some governments distrust their citizens. As if the virus was not enough, the public was portrayed as an additional part of the problem. But is this an accurate view of human behaviour?

The distrust is based on two forms of reductionism – describing something complex in terms of its fundamental constituents. The first is limiting psychology to the characteristics – and more specifically the limitations – of individual minds. In this view the human psyche is inherently flawed, beset by biases that distort information. It is seen as incapable of dealing with complexity, probability and uncertainty – and tending to panic in a crisis.

This view is attractive to those in power. By emphasising the inability of people to govern themselves, it justifies the need for a government to look after them. Many governments subscribe to this view, having established so-called nudge units – behavioural science teams tasked with subtly manipulating people to make the “right” decisions, without them realising why, from eating less sugar to filing their taxes on time. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this approach is limited. As the pandemic has shown, it is particularly flawed when it comes to behaviour in a crisis.

In recent years, research has shown that the notion of people panicking in a crisis is something of a myth. People generally respond to crises in a measured and orderly way – they look after each other.

The key factor behind this behaviour is the emergence of a sense of shared identity. This extension of the self to include others helps us care for those around us and expect support from them. Resilience cannot be reduced to the qualities of individual people. It tends to be something that emerges in groups.

Another type of reductionism that governments adopt is “psychologism” – when you reduce the explanation of people’s behaviour to just psychology…(More)”.

Democracy in a Pandemic: Participation in response to Covid


Open Access Book by Involve: “Covid-19 has highlighted limitations in our democratic politics – but also lessons for how to deepen our democracy and more effectively respond to future crises.

In the face of an emergency, the working assumption all too often is that only a centralised, top-down response is possible. This book exposes the weakness of this assumption, making the case for deeper participation and deliberation in times of crises. During the pandemic, mutual aid and self-help groups have realised unmet needs. And forward-thinking organisations have shown that listening to and working with diverse social groups leads to more inclusive outcomes.

Participation and deliberation are not just possible in an emergency. They are valuable, perhaps even indispensable. 

This book draws together a diverse range of voices of activists, practitioners, policy makers, researchers and writers. Together they make visible the critical role played by participation and deliberation during the pandemic and make the case for enhanced engagement during and beyond emergency contexts.

Another, more democratic world can be realised in the face of a crisis. The contributors to this book offer us meaningful insights into what this could look like….(More)”.

The Predictive Power of Patents


Paper by Sabrina Safrin: “This article explains that domestic patenting activity may foreshadow a country’s level of regulation of path-breaking technologies. The article considers whether different governments will act with a light or a heavy regulatory hand when encountering a new disruptive technology. The article hypothesizes that part of the answer to this important regulatory, economic, and geopolitical question may lie in an unexpected place: the world’s patent offices. Countries with early and significant patent activity in an emerging technology are more likely to view themselves as having a stake in the technology and therefore will be less inclined to subject the technology to extensive health, safety and environmental regulation that would constrain it. The article introduces the term “patent footprint” to describe a country’s degree of patenting activity in a new technology, and the article posits that a country’s patent footprint may provide an early clue to its willingness or reluctance to strenuously regulate the new technology. Even more so, lack of geographic diversity in patent footprints may help predict whether an emerging technology will face extensive international regulation. Patent footprints provide a useful tool to policymakers, businesses, investors, and NGOs considering the health, safety, and environmental regulation of a disruptive technology. The predictive power of patent footprints adds to the literature on the broader function of patents in society….(More)”.

The State of Global Emotions


Gallup: “Nobody was alone in feeling more sad, angry, worried or stressed last year. Gallup’s latest Negative Experience Index, which annually tracks these experiences worldwide in more than 100 countries and areas, shows that collectively, the world was feeling the worst it had in 15 years. The index score reached a new high of 32 in 2020.

Line graph. The Negative Experience Index, an annual composite index of stress, anger, worry, sadness and physical pain, continued to rise in 2020, hitting a new record of 32.

Gallup asked adults in 115 countries and areas if they had five specific negative experiences on the day preceding the survey. Four in 10 adults said they had experienced worry (40%) or stress (40%), and just under three in 10 had experienced physical pain (29%) during a lot of the previous day. About one in four or more experienced sadness (27%) or anger (24%).

Already at or near record highs in 2019, experiences of worry, stress, sadness and anger continued to gain steam and set new records in 2020. Worry and sadness each rose one percentage point, anger rose two, and stress rocketed up five. The percentage of adults worldwide who experienced pain was the only index item that declined — dropping two points after holding steady for several years at 31%.

But 2020 officially became the most stressful year in recent history. The five-point jump from 35% in 2019 to 40% in 2020 represents nearly 190 million more people globally who experienced stress during a lot of the previous day.

Line graph. Reported stress worldwide soared to a record 40% in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worldwide, not everyone was feeling this stress to the same degree. Reported stress ranged from a high of 66% in Peru — which represents a new high for the country — to a low of 13% in Kyrgyzstan, where stress levels have historically been low and stayed low in 2020….(More)”

Why People Are So Awful Online


Roxane Gay at the New York Times: “When I joined Twitter 14 years ago, I was living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, attending graduate school. I lived in a town of around 4,000 people, with few Black people or other people of color, not many queer people and not many writers. Online is where I found a community beyond my graduate school peers. I followed and met other emerging writers, many of whom remain my truest friends. I got to share opinions, join in on memes, celebrate people’s personal joys, process the news with others and partake in the collective effervescence of watching awards shows with thousands of strangers.

Something fundamental has changed since then. I don’t enjoy most social media anymore. I’ve felt this way for a while, but I’m loath to admit it.

Increasingly, I’ve felt that online engagement is fueled by the hopelessness many people feel when we consider the state of the world and the challenges we deal with in our day-to-day lives. Online spaces offer the hopeful fiction of a tangible cause and effect — an injustice answered by an immediate consequence. On Twitter, we can wield a small measure of power, avenge wrongs, punish villains, exalt the pure of heart….

Lately, I’ve been thinking that what drives so much of the anger and antagonism online is our helplessness offline. Online we want to be good, to do good, but despite these lofty moral aspirations, there is little generosity or patience, let alone human kindness. There is a desperate yearning for emotional safety. There is a desperate hope that if we all become perfect enough and demand the same perfection from others, there will be no more harm or suffering.

It is infuriating. It is also entirely understandable. Some days, as I am reading the news, I feel as if I am drowning. I think most of us do. At least online, we can use our voices and know they can be heard by someone.

It’s no wonder that we seek control and justice online. It’s no wonder that the tenor of online engagement has devolved so precipitously. It’s no wonder that some of us have grown weary of it….(More)”